By Nick Pernokas
The saddle was old and had seen some miles. So was the old man who was looking at it. The tradeshow was large and full of saddles, but the workmanship on this saddle had caught his eye. It reminded him of one he’d had when he was younger. As he examined the saddle for the maker’s name, he could only find a name in one place. The stamp was tiny and illegible. Time had finished the job of making this saddle maker anonymous. The old man stood up and shrugged. It was a shame that someone who had put that much pride in his work didn’t seem to have had as much in his name.
That’s where Tim Purdy comes in. When Tim decided to leave the “corporate” life, he and his wife, Sherri, were looking for a simpler life where they could run their own business. As a technical sales rep, and then as a sales and marketing manager, Tim had traveled the globe. Sherri had held the homestead together and raised their two children. The Oregon natives began to research well-established small businesses in search of one that would suit their needs.
“We were looking at what could we afford, what could we make a living at and what we would enjoy doing,” says Tim. “The field was wide open.”
Finally a business that met their criteria was found in Boise, Idaho. Tim purchased Steel Stamps in 2014. The company, formerly Harper Manufacturing, had been started by the Harper family over three decades earlier in Las Vegas, Nevada. In 2013, Tim Harper had sold the business to someone who moved it to Boise.
Steel Stamps is well known in the leather business for their “maker’s mark” stamps, but one look at their website will impress you with all of the other products they make and all of the mediums that they are used in. Steel Stamps also makes custom-designed steel stamps for jewelers, locksmiths, knife makers, blacksmiths, farriers, clay artists, wood crafters and a host of industrial applications. They also manufacture a wide selection of jewelry design stamps, as well as a unique selection of leather-tooling stamps.
The jewelry business is a large market for Steel Stamps. Making jewelry is an easy craft to get started in on many levels, from hobbyist to professional. For creative people, it is fairly easy to learn the needed skills on the internet and the forms of expression are unlimited. Not only do these people use maker stamps, but design stamps are extremely popular. A design stamp is a small picture of an object like a bird or a tree. These figures are extremely popular with jewelry makers. Harper Manufacturing had always been on the forefront of making these stamps.
For saddle makers who also make their own silver trim, Steel Stamp’s expertise in dealing with precious metals can really help them out.
The Purdys have kept all of Harper’s original products, and the processes for making them, the same. They have tried to make the business more efficient. This has helped to keep prices down… even as raw materials, like good steel, have gone up.
The steel that Tim uses is an O1 tool steel. Tim uses a lot of it in the maker’s marks. A good maker’s mark stamp for leather must be heavy to keep it from bouncing and creating duplicate impressions. The cutting edge for the impression is deeper for the leather stamps than stamps for silver or steel. This avoids getting pressure from the background on the leather and creates a bold imprint. It also makes it easy to re-center the tool in its imprint and re-strike it if it needs to be evened out. The steel is hardened and then tempered. Every tool made is physically tested to make sure it meets its specifications. The leather name stamps are even stout enough to use on wood, copper or brass as well, which gives them a lot of flexibility.
“This is a lifetime tool. You cannot wear this tool out,” says Tim.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to designing the perfect stamp to represent a craftsman’s business. Tim can work from digitized, camera-ready art to a rough sketch. He even has a contract artist available if necessary.
“Eighty-five percent of the layout design art I do myself and there’s no charge for that.”
Tim feels that good spacing is everything in designing a leather stamp. The deeper you go, the more you open up the leather and push things together. If you design your own logo, you should look at it printed and reduced to the actual stamp size. If the lines are getting close on a printed image, they’ll only get worse when they’re stamped into leather. Block letters generally imprint better than cursive writing on a smaller leather stamp. Tim’s largest stamps are a 3-inch circle, but most makers’ stamps are smaller. One-and-a-half-inch stamps are the most popular for saddles, followed by 1 ¾-inch ones. A 1-inch tool is the most popular with belt and wallet makers. It’s typical for a maker to have a small and a large stamp for various sizes of work.
“We do really well in the custom arena and custom leather is a very strong suit for us.”
Tim, Sherri and two employees handle everything at their 2500-square-foot facility. This allows them to have a personal touch when dealing with their customers. They stand behind their products and are proud of their customer service.
“The craftsmen we serve tend to be small family businesses like ourselves. They understand the value of quality tools, they are willing to invest in the best and, in turn, have very high expectations.”
If you don’t want to be that “anonymous” saddle maker, you can check out Steel Stamps Inc. at www.steelstampsinc.com, or call Tim at 208-345-2550.
Steel Stamps Inc
1846 W. Airport Way
Boise, ID. 83705