DIY Reusable (Hopefully) Etching Stencils

At about the same time that I have decided to leave my job and try to make a living as a knifemaker, I have also decided to number the blades that I make. And since my logo is my initials in Glagolitic script, it seemed only logical to use Glagolitic numbering too. Almost nobody will be able to read the numerals without aid (including me), but I do think that arabic numerals would look a bit odd in combination with my logo, so I have decided to go through with the use of Glagolitsa.

The numerals consist mostly of straight lines and dots, so it is kinda easy to cut them in adhesive tape with a scalpel tip. But it costs relatively a lot of time – I have spent about ten minutes per blade since I have moved into two-number digits and things will only get more and more complicated after that. So for a long time, I was thinking about how to make stencils.

I could not use the same method that I use for my logo, because the numerals are so tiny that even if I were able to cut them into the 1 mm silicone sheet, the etching solution would have trouble reaching the surface through such a narrow, water-repelling, canal anyway. I needed something thinner. Like a sheet of paper. But how to waterproof a sheet of paper? I have tried it with wax in the past, and that did not work. Beeswax contaminated the surfaces and paraffin wax is not elastic enough. It would be ideal to infuse the paper with silicone, somehow, but how? I was thinking about trying to buy pouring silicone for forms, but I was reluctant to spend money on it not knowing upfront if it will be of any use.

And then I got a much simpler idea, so simple that it does make me wonder how come I did not come up with it sooner – linseed oil. I have printed my numerals on a sheet of paper, soaked it thoroughly in linseed oil, and left it harden for a few days. The resulting sheet was repelling water and bendy enough to adhere reliably to the blades, whilst stiff enough for me to be able to cut the numerals.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

Each stencil has two parts – one for vertical lines, one for the rest, since oftentimes it is not possible to cut the whole number at once for obvious reasons. The oiled paper is also transparent enough to be able to place the second part over the first reliably-ish enough.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

Since the stencils are so small that some unwanted etching around the edge of the stencil is a real risk, I have made a round shield from silicone to protect the surrounding area and also to provide a better seal for the stencil itself. And when I was at it, I have made two new graphite etching electrodes with the felt permanently attached to the graphite. One with big rectangular felt (left) for the logos (not used yet) and one with a soft, round tip specifically for the numerals.

And I am pleased to say that it all works. I was numbering blades 40-48 just a few days ago and it took me a lot less time than before – and this time I still had to cut the numerals into the paper. Next time I should be even faster because the stencils are already cut and I see no reason why they should not last until the next batch of blades is ready for etching. Here you can see one test-etch of the number 40 on the tang and the number 41 on the blade.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

The numbers are not perfect, but they are not worse-looking than they were before. Indeed it could be argued that if the numerals were perfect, it would undercut the handmade look of my knives which always have some minor irregularities in them no matter what I do. Or it could be argued that I am setting my goals too low, well…

We shall see what the public decides once the pandemic is over and I can go and sort out all the necessary paperwork to be able to actually sell them.



  1. Ice Swimmer says

    Paperwork? What does that include, apart from VAT payment arrangements and other tax stuff?

    At least, I think kitchen and garden knives don’t require CE marking and an EU declaration of conformity* and no Notified Bodies are involved in assessing the conformity to EU regulations for said sharp objects.

    * = in an electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) course, the lecturer told us to transfer our property titles to our spouses if we ever had to sign a declaration of conformity for any electrical or electronic equipment, as EMC problems are hard to predict accurately (which is no fault of EU, propagation and reflection of radio waves and RF signals is a fickle thing) and they can be expensive to fix, if the equipment interferes with broadcasting, telecommunications, medical equipment etc.

  2. Ice Swimmer says

    Giliell @ 2

    That is a good point. I’d imagine people who buy handmade products appreciate attention to detail.

    What’s also amazing is how different can the alphabets descended from the Greek alphabet can look, from fairly similar modern Greek, Cyrillic and Latin capital letters to more divergent-looking Glagolitsa and Runes.

  3. says

    @Giliell, thank you for seeing it that way :-)

    @Ice Swimmer, “the paperwork” means I have to visit in person three government agencies (financial bureau, health insurance, and business register) and register as a self-employed person for taxation purposes. I am putting this off because although my mother is finally fully vaccinated, my father is not (he is still in the hospital) and if I get sick, she is buggered since she is not capable of some things anymore, going to the town for shopping being one of them.
    I will not be obliged to pay VAT, for that I would have to have turnover over 40.000€ a year and I do not believe I will ever manage that with knives. I will be lucky to have one-tenth of that this year and possibly ever.

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