Most mornings around here it’s time to wake up and smell the rubber. Fortunately for me, running the vulcanizer is my husband’s job. I’m really not too fond of the odor of cooking rubber. But then I remind myself that the stinky smell just means we’re one step closer to making a mortgage payment and putting food on the table.
Since making stamps is part of our daily routine we don’t find it too remarkable, but many of our customers have asked us how it’s done. We’ve even hosted some “field trips” here over the years for a privileged few. But for those of you who haven’t seen it, this post is for you.
The process all starts with me straining my brain for new ideas and trying to get into my creative mode. Sometimes the drawings just flow out of me, but sometimes it’s a painful ordeal that involves artist’s block. And then, honestly… once I get into my “zone” I can sometimes be a bit difficult to live with. I tend to become so focused on my work that I don’t want to be interrupted with foolish things like fixing dinner, answering the phone or even sleep. Poor, Bill! I’ve often said that I’d love to run away to a remote cabin somewhere with just my drawing tools and computer until I can get it all out of my system.
Anyway… once my pen and ink drawings are completed I scan them into the computer. I group the images together on pages… kind of like laying out a big puzzle. Then I email my pages to our engraver. The engraver takes my pages and converts them into deeply etched magnesium engravings. Creating these metal plates is the only part of the process that we don’t do in-house as it involves etching with acid and scary stuff like that.
After the UPS man delivers our new engravings it’s time for Bill to get to work. The metal plates are sprayed with silicone and placed face down on top of matrix boards. These then go into the vulcanizer where they are squeezed and “baked” so the images on the metal plates are pressed into the matrix boards which then become the molds for the rubber.
Magnesium plate (left) and matrix board (right)
Next, Bill cuts slabs from a big roll of raw rubber and lays them on top of the matrix boards. Release paper is placed on top of the rubber so that all that hot, melting rubber doesn’t stick to the vulcanizer.
Roll of raw rubber ready for cutting.
Now comes the smelly part where everything gets slid into the vulcanizer to be cured. The vulcanizer squeezes the rubber into the molds with about 20,000 lbs. of pressure and cooks it at 330 degrees for about 5 minutes.
Vulcanizers... small manual press (left) and larger automatic (right).
When the rubber comes out of the vulcanizer it is super hot! Bill wears gloves as he removes the release paper and then peels the hot rubber out of the molds.
Removing the release paper from the cooked rubber.
Pulling hot sheets of rubber from the molds.
Once the rubber has cooled it is attached to our sticky back cushion. Bill then uses his scroll saw to skillfully cut the rubber into the individual rubber dies.
Rubber with sticky back cushion attached.
Cutting out the rubber dies with the scroll saw.
Then it is time to prepare all the wood mounts for the stamps. Most of our wood comes in 18″ long strips in a variety of widths. Bill has to measure, cut and sand each piece of wood to accommodate all the different stamps we’ll be making. After the wood has been prepared he indexes the wood by stamping the appropriate image on top of the block.
Indexing the wood mounts.
The final step in the process is peeling off the paper and attaching the rubber dies to the mounts. I actually love this part of the process and make time to put stamps together as often as I can. I find it very relaxing and a little therapeutic… probably because it’s a nice change of pace from all the time I spend on the computer working on invoicing, correspondence, marketing and other fun stuff.
Assembling the rubber stamps.
So there you have it… a day in the life of a rubber stamp manufacturer. And that’s just some of what we do when we are home and working in our shop. What we do when we take our rubber on the road is a whole different story. I’ll save that for another post!
Hope you enjoyed the virtual field trip
Thanks for stopping by!