Saturday, August 7, 2010

The most boring post ever. No foolin'.

Attach your slobbercup before continuing.  This is going to be a tough read.  If you make it to the end, you really should query some knowledgeable authority to find out whether you still have a life or should maybe go and get one.  And don't comment, either.  I can't stand the idea of any of my readers being so pathetic that they'd actually read this...

See that blank area above?? That's what happens when I try to put in a "Read More" jump-break.  Probably because I've so thoroughly slaughtered the XML in my template.  Alas...

Anyway, when I got home from the early job at about 9:30 this moaning, my wife asked if I wanted french toast, pancakes or waffles.  (She's awesome).  Out of the butter-n-syrup breakfasty items, I usually favor french toast.  But we've had that a lot lately.  So I told her that pancakes and waffles were pretty much the same to me and to cook up whichever suited her and/or was easiest.  We don't do waffles all that often.  Maybe once every 3 months or so.  So she pulled out Old Reliable, the waffle iron that is seriously old.  My college roommate bought it at a garage sale for $.75 back in about 1990 and it was a tired lookin' thing even then, and he left it when he moved out.  My wife typically overdoes it when making these kinds of things, 'cuz it is a near certainty that a kid and/or grandkid will show up hungry.  It seems that last time Old Reliable was fired up (I'm guessing April, +/- a couple months) the last waffle was left in the iron.  Cooked but uneaten.  One might think that a pliestocene era waffle would be one dried out old thing.  Crispier than Pelosi's forehead.  NOT SO.  It retained a TRULY SURPRISING amount of moisture.  Either that, or MOLD IS HIGHLY HYGROSCOPIC!  This thing was moldier than pure mold.  Yuck.  If we didn't have so much invested in Old Reliable, I'd have taken the whole apparatus out to the garbage.  But no, that'd be like abandoning a friend in time of need.  So the missuz took the thing apart and set the "I dunno what they're called but they're made of iron and look waffly" pieces in a sinkful of bleachwater.  Where they remain as I type this.  Sadly, I expect this treatment will strip off the 40-odd years of built-up Pam this thing has acquired.  I imagine it'll be somewhere in the middle of Palin's second term when we've built enough of it back up that the waffles come out un-mangled.

Bored yet? 

Regular commenter and generally cool dude aA made mention recently of my trophy-making prowess.  While it is true that I have an abundance of said prowess, nowadays trophies make up a pretty small part of most engravers' work.  Including mine.  Trophies have been pretty much reduced to a commodity where vendors try to out-cheap each other.  In other words, they mostly suck and it's darned hard to make a buck selling them.

But that hasn't always been the case.  Trophies used to be a BIG DEAL.  That was because engraving was a pain in the rear.  You see, for the longest time, being an engraver meant wearing a monocle and tapping on a chisel with a little mallet.  That kind of engraving still goes on, but only it little niche markets like $20,000 Italian shotguns.  Fewer and fewer people know how to do it at all, and even fewer are actually good at it.  There is still an apprentice program in Austria that kicks out a small number of quality hand engravers every year.  But it is hard to get in and very challenging.  And when you graduate from it, you better hope the guys in Italy that make the $20k shotguns have an opening 'cuz no one else will hire you.  Sad, really, because the results are gorgeous.  But it is so painstaking as to be totally impractical.  So when this was the only real way to engrave, an engraved trophy was a real prize.

About the turn of the 20th century, the photolathe and the pantograph made it possible for semi-skilled people to do some decent engraving.  The photolathe involved an actual lathe with two drums mounted to it.  One held an original piece of black-and-white artwork on paper or film.  The other drum had wrapped around it a soft and flexible sheet of metal, like pewter or leaded brass.  As the drums turned, a kind of primitive optical scanner panned back and forth over the artwork.  When the scanner "saw" black it mechanically pushed an engraving stylus into the metal, and lifted the stylus when it "saw" white.  This method could even be used to reproduce portraits on the metal.  Really cool.  But it required an actual pen&ink artist and/or a lot of darkroom work to come up with the original paper artwork, and it was limited both in size and in the kinds of metals that could be engraved - those metals had to be soft enough to engrave easily, flexible enough to wrap around the drum, and resilient enough to be be straightened back out when the process was finished.  People still occasionally run a photolathe for old time's sake, but usage of this method peaked around the '50s or so and by the mid-'80s was mostly forgotten.

The pantograph went in a completely different direction.  An engraver would have vast collections of little brass letters in different typestyles, which would be clamped down in a tray and "traced" onto the surface being engraved.  These machines are still available for sale new, and I use one several times a week.  It is still the best way I've found for engraving on oddball shaped objects like jewelry and pocketknives.  But with both the pantograph and photolathe there is quite a bit of labor involved and a decent amount of skill required.  To this point engraving remained expensive, so trophies (which generally don't have much engraving) continued to be the award of choice for most customers.

Then in the mid-'80s, computer-driven systems began to appear.  One could type out a few words on one's TRS-80 computer and hit a button, and a few seconds later the engraving table would spit out a perfectly engraved piece.  Modern Windows versions make it even easier.  Suddenly engraving was easy, and everybody wanted tons of engraving on everything!  Fitting all of what one now wanted to say on a trophy was becoming problematic, so the marketplace quickly moved away from trophies and over to plaques.  Plaques, plaques, plaques!  Manufacturers of trophy components were at risk of going the way of the buggy whip so most all of them changed over to nasty plastic bowl, figures, columns and bases.  That has led to trophies being a low-margin product line that most engravers would rather not have to even mess with.  But Little League and Youth Soccer and such still buy a lot of them.  A guy can make a buck if the orders come in quantity.  Otherwise we try to steer people away from them or quote such a scary price they run away sobbing. 

Amazingly, even these computer-driven methods are beginning to get blasé.  People want the latest and greatest all the time, and plaques are starting to be considered a commodity like trophies.  We're seeing more demand for etched glass, crystal and acrylic these days.  And with the advent of laser engravers, any moron who knows CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator is about 5 minutes away from knowing how to be an engraver.  Gotta have something to differentiate oneself in the market.  The newest thing I've been pushing is a faux-3D effect I can get on metals like brass, aluminum or stainless steel.  By very precisely controlling the  direction of a diamond-tipped stylus on the engraving table, I can make lettering that looks absolutely 3D but is only about .002" inches deep.  Your eye will say "ooh, that's deep engraving!" but running your finger along it says "it's flat as a piece of paper" and your brain will say "that's cool!  I want it!" and I say "go to your bank and have 'em up the limit on your credit card there, sparky!"  It takes MANY concentric passes of the diamond, about .004" apart, to create the effect, and may take an hour or more to engrave.  When the machines are occupied on projects like these is when I find the time to post my silly stuff and browse around and see what kind of interesting posts my blogbuddies have up.  So tell my customers that this effect is worth the extra dough so I have more time to goof on the internet, okay?

You have now reached the end of the Most Boring Blog Post in History.  Yay for you.


  1. Wow! In preview mode, the jump-break doesn't work, and in "view post" after clicking publish it doesn't work. But then going to the blog from the dashboard, it finally worked!


  2. Inno, I was gonna tell you at the beginning that the jump break doesn't show up in Preview.

    Plus, it doesn't if someone is reading your post in a Google Reader. But, evidently you've already discovered that.

    Good post. I found it pretty interesting, and learned something. It was REAL interesting compared to what I was thinking about writing about.

    I think I'll just go mow some grass instead.

  3. Tis true we are cheapening away the passion of individual talent and expression for Chinks onna a cheap trophy. (Yep racist, I know, but Confusionious says alotta stuff I don't buy into.)

    Where have the days gone where our livelihoods were not a function key of our skill?

    I'll chip in and compute that the Intel you scribble has engraved many, "What The Hey" is Inno talkin' bout now, on my hard head.

    Don't lose the Zest for life, back in the 70's days the roomates and I knew it would cleanse anything except the waffeling of Pam when I asked her for a date! Dang that gal wuz well engraved, oops, I mean dowed.

  4. I don't think that this is boring at all. So, maybe that means that I'm boring, and your boring post appealed to my boring tendencies?

  5. Matt, I think you're right man. I didn't find it boring at all. I thought it was interesting, and I learned some things.

    What was it about, again?

  6. That was actually pretty interesting! Of course, I grew up an only child and often resorted to reading the encyclopedia when I couldn't find a playmate -- just picked a volume and page at random -- so, maybe you shouldn't rely on my judgement as to what is entertaining.

    The 3-D stuff sounds really cool! I just had my parent's sterling wedding cup (vintage 1952) engraved for Elder Daughter's wedding and it came back looking like the scripts were done at the same time. That's quite a skill you must have honed there, Mr. Artist Man.

    I'm not going to hold my breath about the waffley thing coming clean, though.

  7. Andy - Now ya tellz me!

    Teresa- Thanks. Hope we're still friends after my Romney post!

    Jaded - "Dang that gal wuz well engraved, oops, I mean dowed." may be the coolest thing e3ver said on my blog!

    Matt - your comment bores me. :)

    Andy (again) - please pay attention! The post was about moldy engravers who waffle on trophies.

    Moogie - Thanks. Engraving on a cylinder can be a pain. Engraving on a compound curve (like a tapered cup) is a double pain. Matching 60 year old script on a curve like that is even trickier. Sounds like you hired a guy who has a pretty good clue.

  8. I found Matt's comment to your post quite interesting. Does this mean I'm a hanger on or groupie of people who like people with boring tendencies?

    Oh well, time to head off to da bronx to see the Yankees beat the Red Sawks.

  9. Engraving done in Austria? Not Mexico? I'm suprised.

  10. Well, the post was far from boring to me as well, also, too. I always liked the pantograph, especially when I didn't know what it was. I used to think it was a way to write on trousers, but found out it had nothing to do with clothing.

    Moogie did what I did as a child, and my sister berated me for it. Until we became adults and she had to tap into some of that untapped "knowledge" that I aquired A-to-Z.

    I had a guy's name engraved on a .50 bullet for a pistol, disarmed of course, and put it in a special display for his retirement. I told him that everybody had a bullet out there with their name on it, and if he kept track of this one, he was in good shape. He said he's never gotten a finer gift.

    Can you do that? And how much would you charge? And could you make a plaque for me, "World's Best Fiend"?

    Jaded Fellow's comment rocks.

  11. Infidel - that's so "meta" I don't know how to answer you.

    JihadGene - Yep, right there where barry asked "how to say that in Austrian."

    aA - That bullet idea is exceedingly cool. My gun-nut retired Marine buddy would love one! Yeah, I could do that no prob. A walk in customer would have to hand over about $10 for that. For you, well, I could probably sharpen the pencil quite a bit. Gimme a ship-to address and I'll also send ya a "World's Best Fiend" plaque

  12. Inno, nothing you write is boring...except for the actual word "boring."


Family-friendly phrasing heartily encouraged.


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