Firearms Engraving Transfers, Les Schowe, Mike Dubber

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 Transferring a Transparency Design to a Knife Side


     Each Inkjet transparency is a film on which there is a coating on one side of the film, and onto which the black ink of the design has been printed in mirror image.  These instructions will refer to this as the “printed side” of the transparency.  Please note, that when reading any lettering on a transparency design: If you can read the lettering properly, that you are looking at the printed side of the sheet, and if you are reading the lettering in mirror image, that you are looking from the non-inked, or back, side of the sheet.   When transferring an image the user should see all lettering in mirror image, which means that the inked side of the transparency is properly aligned against the steel of the knife.   Also note: that if one is still in doubt as to which side is the printed side, and which side is the back side of the transparency, one can moisten both the thumb and forefinger, pinch a corner of the transparency, and the side to which the thumb or forefinger sticks is the printed side of the transparency sheet.     

     It would be very difficult, and unwieldy, to transfer a design to the side of the knife while positioning the entire Transparency Sheet.   This process can made much easier by removing the individual designs from of the full transparency sheet with an “X-ACTO” knife, or precision scissors, before burnishing the transfer onto the knife.  When cutting out the design with the X-ACTO knife, place the transparency sheet, printed side down, on a smooth surface, and then cut the design out with the X-ACTO knife from the back side.      Leave a very small amount of excess film on one edge – usually the top edge of the design - where a small piece of Scotch Magic Tape can be placed to act as a hinge, and also to hold the small design piece in place while burnishing the design onto the knife.  The cut out piece of film containing a single individual design is now referred to as a “film-piece”.      Before the design on the film-piece can be transferred to the knife, a light coating of Transfer Magic  Solution (marketed by Tom White*) should first be placed on the surface of the knife steel.  Use a “Q-Tip” to complete this process, and allow the Transfer Magic coating to dry completely before attempting the transfer.   Please note that contact information for Tom White, the manufacturer of Transfer Magic, can be found on the “Links” page of  

     Tom White sells 2 types of Transfer Magic solution, a clear colored solution and a white colored solution. Both solutions work excellently with Engraving Transfers products.  One can also use a homemade solution – known as the “Mike Cirelli” Solution, Mike is the inventor - which has many formulations.  I use an 18% solution of dammar varnish and Zippo Lighter Fluid (This mixture is made by mixing one unit of Dammar Varnish with 4½ units of Zippo Lighter Fluid.)      

Transfer Method:

     After applying the transfer solution, wait for the solution to dry appropriately, and then position the film-piece on the knife using the small piece of Scotch Magic Tape at the top of the film-piece. This will hold the film piece securely in place and to act as a hinge.  Tape only the top edge of the transparency to allow the transparency to stretch normally during the burnishing process.  When the film-piece has been properly centered on the knife side, and secured by the tape, the design can be transferred to the knife surface by rubbing the back side of the film with a steel burnisher.  It is preferred that the knife be held firmly in an appropriate jig or fixture during the burnishing process. This should be done under adequate magnification – OptiVisor, Microscope, or whatever means of magnification necessary to clearly achieve accurate placement of the film-piece.  Begin by burnishing at the taped edge and in the center of the film-piece, and burnish from the center towards the edges.  When burnishing is completed, carefully raise the bottom of the film-piece, hinging on the piece of Scotch Magic Tape, to see if any portion of the transfer might have been missed.  If any portion has been missed, carefully lower/hinge the film-piece back into alignment, and then re-burnish the missing line segments.  

     This kit contains Tom White’s latest generation of transparency sheets.  A single design from a film-piece can be transferred up to 3 times.  If your initial transfer is not acceptable, or aligned properly, remove it with denatured alcohol, and then redo the transfer process entirely using the same film-piece.   The transparency sheets contain multiple images to allow for errors and re-transfers.  If all images of one side of the design are used up without a successful transfer, please submit a self-addressed stamped envelope, along with a $10 replacement fee and additional transfer images of that section will be returned to you.

Some Helpful Hints, a Personal perspective from Les Schowe:

1)   When I cut out the designs, I first place the transpareny sheet, print side down (to reduce the rubbing off any ink with my hand motion, and contaminating the ink with oils from my hand), on a piece of polyethylene plastic sheet  (Actually any smooth plastic sheeting will work).  I then cut out the designs with a very sharp X-ACTO knife from the back side.  I then write the letter "S", with a red sharpie, on the back side of the design so that I can more easily determine the print side from the back side of the film-piece at transfer time.  If I can read the "S" normally (not as a mirror image) I know I have properly placed the printed side of the film-piece down against the knife steel.  I know that this may sound a little silly and unnecessary, but there have been many times that I have placed a design on the steel, up-side-down, and then destroyed the transfer on the film-piece when I tried to burnish the design on to the steel.   This can be quit annoying and it wastes Transfers.

2)    When I cut out the individual design from the transparency sheet, I normally cut as close as possible to the ink of the design with my X-ACTO knife.    Note however: that one should leave a little excess sheet at the top of the film-piece to allow for the connection of the Scotch Magic Tape piece discussed above.

3)    Please note that the film-piece will squish/expand a little as it is burnished on to the steel.  This is why it is important to start and the center of the film-piece, and work outwards toward the edges while burnishing the design onto the steel.   If one burnishes in the opposite direction – from the edges of the film-piece toward the center – a very small bubble will form which will cause problems in the accurate transfer of the design.   

4)    You will find that you do not need a lot of pressure placed on the burnisher.  A stiff but moderate pressure is adequate.   A little practice might be necessary.  

5)    As a final note, I do the placement of the film-piece, and the burnishing of the design under my microscope, using the minimum amount of magnification.  This helps me to achieve perfect alignment.  I can also lift the free edge of the film piece after burnishing to see clearly if I have missed any of the lines, and I can then re-align the film piece and redo the burnishing of any missed line fragments.

Holding the Spyderco Dragonfly Knife, and similar folding knives for Engraving

by Mike Dubber

     Engraving knives is much like engraving any other object, if you hold it tightly, and eliminate any vibration or movement, it will be easier to engrave. Movement and vibration are the enemies of bright, clean lines and graver wear.  

     Knives are not particularly delicate, but clamping them directly in the vice jaws is never recommended. Pressure against the blade can damage both the blade and the knife body or spring.  Engraving with the blade open is also an invitation to disaster, so close the knife and use some method of securing it on a base that can be the tightened into the vice jaws.  I like GRS ThermoLoc for the Spyderco knives.  It’s a quick and easy way to hold the knife and prevent damage – and it’s easy to remove after you have finished the work.  Use a hard wood block (like oak), drill some holes in the bock to hold the Thermoloc in place and heat it up.  Then cover any opening (like the drilled holes in the knife handle) with tape and press the knife in place, and then form a dam around the edges.  Thermoloc can be easily formed around an irregular object like a curved knife body while it is still warm. Likewise, when the job is finished it can be easily removed by applying a little heat from a heat gun.

Spyderco Stainless

     The stainless steel in the Spyderco brand knives is very engraver friendly!  Actually it’s a pleasure to cut compared to most stainless Steel. Hold it tight like this, use a little cutting fluid, and you will enjoy the work!  Spyerco stainless cuts clean and bright with both a 90 or 120 Degree graver.  Flare , bright and fine detail lines are all easily achieved with Uniform Parallel graver geometry.