Buckeye Engraving celebrates 40 yearsof manufacturing custom metal stamps, marking dies, branding irons — and more!
By Lynn Ascrizzi
Ever since the first artists in prehistory pressed red-ocher handprints on a torch-lit cave wall, enterprising humans have sought to make personal and lasting impressions.
Fast-forward roughly 40,000 years. Today, in our quick-paced digital age, skilled technicians use complex technology to engrave the identifying signs and symbols that entrepreneurs use to mark their unique products.
One such sophisticated enterprise is Buckeye Engraving of Kent, Ohio. This year, the family-run business marks four decades of manufacturing top-notch, hand-finished, custom-made metal stamps and branding irons designed for business logos, serial numbers, decorative designs and other product marking.
A percentage of the company’s output is manufactured for industrial firms, such as stamps for injection molds and the like. But the majority of their products are made for small businesses. In fact, their work is a favorite with a wide variety of craftspeople — makers of leather handbags, belts, holsters, wallets and shop aprons, copper or silver jewelry, knives and knife sheaths, pipes, decorative woodwork and much more.
As the company motto puts it, “If it’s worth making, it’s worth marking.”
AT THE SHOP
Buckeye Engraving, which grew from its parent company, Raschke Engraving, is located in a 4,000-square-foot factory in the heart of Kent’s busy industrial district, an area with deep manufacturing roots as a mold-making center.
“We’re not a huge shop. We’ve got six people working here. Everybody works well — we’re a pretty good crew,” said company president Steve Broadbent, 60. He has been involved in the business of metal engraving since 1980. Today, the workforce includes his two sons: Adam, 33, and Sean, 35.
“Essentially, pretty much everybody in the shop is a jack-of-all-trades,” Adam said. “We run machines, do design work, have people do multiple tasks. We make hundreds of stamps and brands a month.”
He lives only 20 minutes from the job site, in Akron, an industrial city with a giant rubber and tire-making history. For him and his brother Sean, who lives in the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville, their dad’s shop has been an ongoing presence in their lives since they were kids. “I grew up with it,” Adam recalled. “I’d come in with Dad when I got a bit older. I’d do cleaning and other chores. Now Sean and I work here together.”
“We always liked to work with our hands,” Sean added. “There’s a lot of that kind of knowledge in the Midwest — people know how to make things. They’re good with fixing things on their own. It was a background we grew up with.”
That hands-on work ethic just might be stamped into the family’s DNA. Sean studied anthropology at the University of Akron, but “after college, I started working full time in the shop,” he said. Adam attended Stark State College in North Canton, Ohio, and then joined the shop team.
“I’m pretty lucky to have my two sons work with me,” Steve said. Given his decades of experience dealing with the technical challenges and changes in the industry, he could readily write a book on metal engraving, then and now.
“Back in the mid-’70s and ’80s, a lot of engraving was being done with pantographs,” he explained, of the instruments once commonly used for the mechanical copying and scaling of plans, drawings and diagrams. “You’d take the artwork (to be engraved) and transfer it onto an oversized master. Then, you’d reduce it. It was all manual — you’re glued to a machine. It was hands-on, from start to finish,” he recalled.
“But in the late ’80s and ’90s,” he added, “things changed to some of the new CNC (computer numerical control) machines. Later, CNCs became more user-friendly. The technology has made a few leaps and bounds in the last 20 years!”
The early CNCs were more basic than those made today. Mastering the technology involves a steep learning curve. “You’ve got to learn how the machines run to learn the programs. You just have to plow through it,” he said.
By all accounts, today’s CNC metalworking technology is a boon to users. The machines achieve greater precision, complexity and “repeatability” than is possible with manual machining. CNCs also boost accuracy, speed and flexibility, and certain models mill contoured shapes, like those produced in 3-D designs.
CNCs require a hefty investment, he acknowledged. “There are smaller ones, but for ours, you’re probably looking at from $50,000 to $100,000 for each machine. And then, there’s $2,000 to $3,000 in tooling on top of that.”
His shop has about six CNC milling machines. Theircomputerized controls and rotating cutting tools progressively remove metal from pieces being worked on. The end result is Buckeye Engraving’s custom-designed, stamps, marking dies and brands. Other shop tools include belt grinders, used to finish metal stamps.
“Everything we do is in high precision. When we’re machining we make sure everything is clean and sharp,” Adam said. “We do all our own heat treating. We also have a manual lathe to make some handles on.”
The majority of their manufactured stamps and dies are used for cold stamping; that is, they are not heated but struck manually with a hammer. “Somebody making jewelry might want to hand stamp with a hammer. But, if people don’t want to hand stamp, we make stamps that can be used in a press. A manual press is pretty popular with leather workers — the same thing with a clicker press. They leave a nice, clean impression. We don’t sell presses or make cutting dies,but we can modify stamps to fit any press,” he added.
The engraving company specializes in small-scale, high-detail stamps, the kind popular with a lot of jewelry makers. “For instance, they might be creating ring bands that are 1 millimeter thick. Or, they may want to stamp a small space on the back of a .925 silver earring or other non-ferrous metal (not containing iron), like copper, brass, nickel and aluminum,” he explained.
The shop’s limit on smallness is 1/32 of an inch. “We’ve become accustomed to how small we can make things and keep a stamp impressionfrom becoming a muddy mess,” he said.
The company’s custom branding irons are made of brass, for the best heat conductivity. “Brass is by far the most popular with our leather workers,” Adam noted. Branding irons come with a 10-inch steel shank, with a wooden handle for flame heating, or they can be made to fit an electric heating tool. The electric option comes with a temperature control unit that lets users dial in different temperatures, in order to get the best results on the different materials they’re working with, such as wood, paper, leather and plastics.
All company products are made in the Buckeye Engraving shop. The metals used, like steel and brass, are sourced from local businesses in Ohio.
Let’s say that you’re handcrafting leather moccasins and want them branded with a cat’s paw logo that includes your business name. How do you get started? What’s the process?
“If an individual knows what he wants, he can make designs or sketches,” Adam suggested. “Some people work up a sketch, but not everybody is computer savvy or knows what they want. If people don’t have a design, we’re willing to draw something up for them in-house, something they’d be proud to put on their products.”
The company does its design work using CAD (computer-aided design) software. Their machining process is done with CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) software. “We don’t charge for designing, unless it’s complex and we’re starting from scratch. If we can design fairly quickly, there’s no charge,” he said.
Most stamps for leather products range from $90 to $150, on average; jewelry stamps can be anywhere from $90 to $175. Costs can vary, depending upon the size and complexity of the project.
A “Request a Quote” form is posted at the company’s website (buckeyeengraving.com). Also, staff at Buckeye can help customers create artwork for their designs or use ready-made art, and help them choose a stamp with the right style and size. Free quotes are offered.
After a payment is made for an order, customers are emailed a design proof, made to scale. “They can print out the proof, cut it out and lay it on their product. They’re able to see it and adjust the size. Everything is custom,” he said.
About 80 percent of Buckeye Engraving products are made for small businesses. As far as design requests go, “the shop gets a little bit of everything,” Adam said. “We even made ‘ice stamps’ so a company could put its logo on ice cubes that end up in drinks.”
Another atypical customer is Mutiny Metals of Nampa, Idaho, an enterprise that hand pours silver bullion bars in different shapes and sizes and stamps them with pirate-themed designs. The business also makes silver shot and silver crystals.
“When I first started working with the owner, Kevin Bailey, his company was pushing the limits with complexity. I do all his custom designs — crazy, intricate, high-detail designs. He lets me run free for design work. The majority of his stamps use a hydraulic press for marking the bars,” he explained.
“We do have a number of repeat customers who are leathercrafters,” Sean added. For instance, he cited Fred’s Leather Shop, of Lake City, Florida, run by Fred J. Lammers. “We have helped him create new, custom stamp designs for his belt-making operation.”
Sean pointed out that a lot of customers might not be the most experienced, when it comes to designing. “But, we help them as best we can.” He recalled an order from someone who wanted detailed leather coasters for a wedding. “They used a clicker die to cut out the forms — a four-inch round with their name and date on it. The coasters showed the background skyline of the city where the couple was getting married.
“And, we did a job for a pipe maker who wanted to stamp leather pouches,” he continued. “The stamp used to brand the pouches had an intricate design — a thick, tawny owl perched on a pipe. We also do a lot of work for saddle and holster makers — usually pretty basic designs, with a maker’s mark.”
“We get a couple of walk-ins, but the majority of orders come through online,” his brother, Adam, said. “Online is huge to us — like Instagram and Facebook. We keep up with our website. And, we get a lot of customers through word of mouth.” An amazing variety of materials can be stamped. The company has made dies that can be pressed into hand-blown glass art and pottery.
Buckeye Engraving will be attending the Blade Show in Atlanta, Georgia, to be held June 5-7, 2020. Touted as the world’s largest knife show, the annual event attracts production knife makers. “Buckeye will be there. We’ve been doing this since 2005. We’ve gained a lot of customers that way,” Adam said. For more info on the trade show: bladeshow.com
WHAT’S AHEAD FOR THE 2020s?
Steve Broadbent vividly recalled “the shakedown time” that was 2008, when the economy tanked and thousands of businesses went bottom up. But, he was happy to say that Buckeye Engraving bucked the downtrend. “Buckeye grew every year, even in 2008. It grew not as much, but was always on the positive side. We were leaned out at that time. But we rode it out.”
Right now, “2020 looks OK,” he reflected. “For the last three to four years, our business has been going up. It’s been on the plus side.Things are pretty good. Hopefully, it keeps going. If it does, we can spend more money on people, software and machinery!” In the past few years, the company has taken on two new hires.
His son, Sean, is buoyed by what he sees is acting as a tangible and positive counterpoint to an ever-accelerating, highly mechanized culture.
“As we get more into things made by machines, more people are respecting handcrafted goods. The majority of our customer base is comprised of artists who are making things themselves, who do craft shows and art shows. We help them brand or put a stamp on their products and make them stand out. They’re going to need a relationship — something from our business to identify themselves as the makers,” he said.
4485 Crystal Parkway #200
Kent, Ohio 44240
Steve Broadbent, president
Hours: Mon — Fri., 8 a.m. — 5 p.m.
Instagram — @buckeyeengraving
Facebook — Buckeye Engraving