Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Uncovering faint markings on tools

Since I had the USB microscope at my desk, I played a bit with it, it's so much fun :-)

I thought I shared with you some of the methods I used to uncover markings on tools, besides my calibrated (when wearing glasses) Mark 1 Eyeballs.
Seriously being very near sighted, I see better and bigger without glasses but only up close.

For many years, markings were stamped, even on saw plates before they switched to an acid etch.
Problem always been, some of these markings were faint to start with, because of a worn out stamp or just not struck properly.  Add about a hundred years or so of uses and abuses and some of these markings practically faded away, being abraded or, HORROR, on moulding planes had their nose cut off an inch or so to store them with the remainder of the herd which got standardized to 9-1/2 inch later on.  That meant chopping off 1/2 in or a good inch :-(

And to add even more with the difficulties of reading them, metal rusted and wood get abraded or worn by repeat handling.

I used all the following tricks to help me out uncover markings.

One of the oldest trick in plane collecting is to used Talcum powder to enhance the contrast of the stamping against the darker colored wood.  Take a pic, turned it into a black and white pic, clean up the pic a bit and you have the classic markings imprints you often see in books

Rubbed on Johnson Baby Powder (talcum powder)

Classic examples shown
From Guide to Canadian Plane Makers & Hardware Dealers 3rd Edition

There are of course a few ways to take pics, a camera (preferably digital), the camera in your phone and the scanner... YES, your scanner

As is

Talcum enhanced
Both scanned in the scanner

The remnants of the powder afterward.  Will easily washed away.
Pic from USB microscope

The letters before the talcum powder

You can see a faint depression where the makers stamp should be.
J. Welton being the owner stamp.
Having a hard time getting it to stand out. Start with a "B" or "H"  I believe.
It is in two lines BTW

Talking of whom, the gentleman J, Welton grew up and lived on my street back when we were living in Tremont NS.  He passed long before we bought a house on his street, but his house was still own by Weltons.
I got these by attending the Welton's house estate when the last one passed.  There was a serious tool collector in attendance and he quickly overbid me several times.  I got the crumbs ... But I was happy to get some.

There is a small cemetery at the end of my street I went to it to look up his tombstone to make some pencil rubbing on paper.  It started to rain when I was doing that but it did not curbed my enthusiastic research, I just went back home to fetch my special note pad paper which let you write in the rain :-)

Once you have a digitized picture you can manipulated it to enhance or reduce light, contrast, colors etc.  No special software required, I simply used MS Paint and Window pictures.
Yes, you could tweaked it even more and probably better using specialized software such as Photoshop Elements ($$) or Gimp (free download)

That piece was recently de-rusted Evaporust, wire wheel, Autosol etc
I simply used the built in photo editor in Windows 10
You can clearly see 94 in this pic.

That is the mouth adjusting lever on my No 19 Excelsior Block plane.
Being an easily removable part, it can be swapped
Shown prior to de-rusting. Nickel plated flaking off and rusty

In a previous USB microscope view I thought I saw a 94??
And sure enough that would be part of the patent date 
PAT. FEB. 20. 94.

Proving my lever is original to the Type 3  I have.

The real tricky part is the lighting.  How much light and from what angle will obscure or reveal small indentations.  That "94" for example, I had to really tilted the microscope around and varies the light to get it.  And even after all that, by varying some parameters with the software made it stand out even more.  Pretty sophisticated and inexpensive method for uncovering markings if you ask me.

Part of the success is knowing where to expect to find markings.
On wooden planes, the maker stamp will more than often be found stamped in the nose of the plane (its front), sometimes along with its Model No 


No 29
Image from my scanner, and yes it is a Fore plane

Versus picture from camera.
You get a more even illumination from the scanner
which makes it easier to manipulate later.

But more often the Model Number and or size would be found on the heel (the rear of the plane)

Hollow & Round


No 180

On braces, you will often see the stamping's, Makers and Model No on the upper arm of the bow.

STANLEY BTCo (Bell Telephone Co)

No 923-8 IN

Brace bits have their sizes (No 4 to 16) stamped on their tapered butt, while the makers would be between the butt and the start of the twist, cutting edge etc.  Look for it nearer the butt end.
It never cease to amazed me what Evaporust has revealed to me thru the years.  

10 (10/16, or 5/8)



The Number 7 size under the microscope

It is a twist nose bit

The business end. The thing at the end is a bit of wood left
Its a working bit :-)

Plane blades have their maker's marking clearly (?) stamped near the top.
But they are often obscured in rust.  Evaporust is a god sent in those cases since it only dissolved the rust, will not attack the good metal.


Recently cleaned

Close up on the DA in ADAM.

Hard to see but you can somewhat discerned the arched logo

Logo unearthed after de-rusting

I could go on and on, but to be successful you only required two things.
A cleaned object, de-rusted and some prior knowledge of where you would expect to find markings.
After that the method you used is up to you, personally I am sold to the digital domain.  Much easier than the old pencil rubbing's on paper and talcum powder enhanced prints. 

Bob, with a seemingly accumulating pile of tools around his PC, Oups :-) 


  1. Bob you had my looking for USB scopes on my lunch break. I found two likely candidates for Linux. What are the specs for your scope? Both of the ones I found are 2MB up to 250X and 500X. From the pics you posted yours looks like it would do everything I want it to do for me.

  2. If I recalled correctly I got mine from AMScope about a year or so ago.
    Don't remember the specs but 2 Mp seems about right. I can changed the resolutions of the pics, It is currently set at VGA resolution, could be much higher, but I find VGA a good compromise to put them up on my blogs. As long as it would work on Linux you are good to go, either that or get one that plug directly in your phone. Bit more portable that way. Good luck. It is a great tool but again stand is flimsy at 20-30$ range


  3. Thanx Bob you helped me spend some more stimulus money.

  4. Doing a quick search I saw they now have them with built in WIFI.
    Looking at mine closer it says 40X-1000X. I was wondering how on hell you can get that magnification when it only seems to focus at whatever range i used it. There is a small red Zoom button on one side. Tried it, there are about 4 discrete steps of magnification.
    But Im not convinced it goes up to 1000X ??? On the other side the small red button is to snap pics. I rarely used that, I snap pics on my PC with the mouse. less vibrations that way. The flimsy mount? I can obviously works around that :-). Seen some with a gooseneck holder, that sound like a dumb idea, how do you expect it to stay put. The slightest vibration throw off the pics.


  5. I loved these close-up pics. One of my favorite things from my working life in medical device manufacturing was using a microscope. Even got to use electron microscopes at times. The quality of standard light microscopes can make a huge difference. And if you can't hold the business end steady, it's useless. If Ralph reads this, I hope he gets something with a good adjustable stand.

  6. Bob,

    As usual, good information. I'm still on the fence as to getting another microscope but I expect it will happen for no other reason than getting deep into the sharpening weeds. Luckily I'm not dealing with very much rust these days.


  7. Great news Ken, can't wait to see those scratches pics.

    For years, i used a 3 pieces set of magnifiers loupes to look at my edges, it apparently look very dangerous for someone else looking at me doing it. Without my glasses my focal point get closer:-)

    This is a heck of a lot easier, safer looking and i get to focus my images on my 24 in monitor. Being digital i can easily share my "views" and you get to explore the microworld.

    Looking forward to your pics, Ken :-)