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Mounting Your Rubber Stamps

11/28/2002
by Silent Doug

Finding a hand-carved stamp in a letterbox is delightful, but it's equally disappointing to find a cracked or broken stamp. Nearly all of the soft carving materials that are used for making stamps, from Staedtler Mars erasers to Speedball Speedy Cut, can be easily damaged during normal use in a letterbox. The best way to protect your handiwork is to mount your stamps on wood or some other material.

While mounted stamps are more durable and will last longer in a letterbox, another reason to back your stamps is that it's usually easier to get a clean impression of a mounted stamp in a letterboxer's journal. The stamp is easier to handle (for little and big fingers alike) and also provides a firm surface for pressing onto paper. Finally, if you stamp the image on the mount before affixing it to the stamp, it will be easy for letterboxers to see which end of the stamp is the top. (Anyone who has stamped an image upside-down in their journal can attest to the helpfulness of this feature!)

While some rubber stamp aficionados use Lucite to back their stamps, it's probably easier to work with wood for your letterbox stamps. Thin pieces of wood, between 1/8" and 1/4" in thickness, work especially well in a letterbox where size is important; the stamp and journal can fit in a smaller container than they would if the mounted stamp were any thicker. In general, hard woods with a tight grain will accept the stamped image without blurring as much as softer woods.

Cut and sanded wood backing
Cut the wood a little larger than the stamp, and sand edges smooth. (Copyright © 2002 Silent Doug.
Wal-Mart sells 3/16" thick pieces of wood in its crafts section that work well for mounting stamps. They come in packages of six 3" x 6" sheets for about a dollar. These pieces are easy to cut and sand, and accept the image of the stamp nicely. On the Web, Schlabaugh & Sons sells inexpensive hardwood blanks with reasonable shipping charges.

Your first step in mounting the stamp (after carving the stamp, of course) is to cut the wood to size. Another advantage of using a thin blank of wood is that it's easy to cut with a handsaw; an inexpensive miter box and some clamps can help you make square cuts. Cut the wood 1/16" to 1/8" of an inch larger than the stamp.

Next, sand the edges and face of the wood to remove rough edges and create a good surface for the stamp image. Start with medium grade sandpaper, around 100 grit, and move up to fine grade, 220 grit or higher. Remember, you only need to sand the side of the wood where the image will be placed and not the side where the stamp will be glued.

Scored stamp back
Score the back of the rubber with a knife to ensure a strong bond. (Copyright © 2002 Silent Doug.
Clean the wood with a dry cloth to remove all the dust, and then stamp the image on the face of the wood. It's a good idea to practice on paper or even on a piece of scrap wood to get an idea of how long you should press down to get a good impression on the wood. If the image doesn't come out just right, simply sand it down and try again.

After the stamped image is dry, apply two coats of clear spray gloss (polyurethane or lacquer) to the wood, following the instructions on the can. Let those coats dry overnight, sand lightly with a very fine grade sandpaper, and then spray a final clear coat.

Finished rubber stamp mount
The finished, mounted rubber stamp. (Copyright © 2002 Silent Doug.
Once the final gloss coat is dry, you're ready to glue the stamp to the mount. The right glue is essential for a solid bond. The glue must be waterproof, temperature resistant, able to bond rubber and wood, and able to stand up to compression while being stamped. White glue, "superglue," contact cement and rubber cement are probably not up to the job. Instead, look for a product called "Goop" (either Plumber's Goop or Household Goop), or a silicon adhesive (such as made by GE). These are water- and temperature-resistant, and will bond different textured surfaces quite well. These adhesives are flexible, so they 'give' a bit when stressed instead of pulling apart.

It's important that you coat the wood backing evenly with the glue and then press the mount and stamp together firmly. Make sure that the front of the stamp is perfectly flat -- if the stamp warps because the glue is uneven, you won't get a good image from the stamp. To assure a strong bond, you can score the back of the stamp in a cross-hatch pattern with a knife to give the glue some additional bonding strength. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions and let the glue cure for at least 24 to 48 hours before sealing it in the letterbox.

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