Copying tool makers marks (i)

One of the more challenging things to do is properly document a maker’s mark from a tool by means of photography. I’m not talking the ones on wood, but rather the imprints in metal. The problem sometimes lies in the metal producing reflections, which are difficult to photograph, or even post-process. One way of reproducing stamps is by using ink to imprint the mark on paper. The problem with this technique is that it can be quite messy.  Another technique is to use a smoke print which uses soot from a candle.

Smoke print

Firstly clean the mark. This can be done using a rag to polish the metal, or some 000 steel wool if extracting the imprint from a wooden plane. Light a candle, and hold a piece of fine metal mesh (metal fly-screen) over the flame to interrupt the combustion, and produce black smoke. Let the soot (i.e. carbon particles) from the smoke deposit on the mark.


Examples of using soot from candle smoke to copy the manufacturers markings on a chisel (left) and plane blade (right)

When sufficient soot has been deposited, apply a small piece of clear adhesive tape, pressing down slightly (I used a folded cloth to apply pressure). The soot will adhere to the tape. Peel off the tape, and press down on a piece of white paper.


The soot image on the clear tape, and the scanned version.

The trick is that the carbon is able to cover the surface uniformly, and even if it gets down into the impressions, only the carbon on the surface will adhere to the tape. This makes it perfect to pick up fine detail. The smoke prints can then be easily digitized using a scanner, and cleaned up.


The smoke print of the plane blade mark showing the fine details (left), and the digitally cleaned up version (right).

I have tried this technique on plane blades and chisels, and have to say it works really quite well. I haven’t tried it on a wooden plane, but I suspect it will work in the same manner (maybe in the future).


2 thoughts on “Copying tool makers marks (i)

  1. Sylvain says:

    Interesting technique.
    When a little boy, used to make “money” to play with brother and sister by putting a paper on a coin and rubbing a pencil on it.
    I once saw somebody use the paper and pencil technique to read old tombstone inscriptions.

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