Often my customers ask if I have electric branding iron handles. I am happy to provide them, but the real question is which one is best for your intended use. There are a handful of factors I think are useful to consider when deciding on which to purchase. If you would like an electric handle added to your order, please contact me.
Flame heated branding irons can be either aluminum or brass, but electric ones should only be made from brass. I learned that if the handle loosens, the heater in the iron can provide more heat than a few loose aluminum threads can pull out of it. Ultimately this can results in damage to the threads in the aluminum die. This means that the iron AND the handle are more expensive. Also, a triac based speed controller or other means of “dialing down” the temperature might be needed. This typically means about $110 in added expense for a typical complete system. There is less difference if you don’t own a propane torch already and need to buy that, too. Torches with bottles run anywhere from $17 – $40.
Heat up Time
The warm up times for flame or electric heated irons are different. Flame heated irons take about 3-4 minutes to get to temperature. Electric heated branding irons take about 20-30 minutes to be ready. If it is just for some tens of pieces, by the time the electric one is hot the job could already be finished with the flame heated handle. I have used both in my shop. I found the warm up time to be one more thing to plan around.
It wasn’t obvious to me that an electrically heated branding iron would need temperature control; however, I have learned through experience that the ideal temperature for producing the best detail is typically below the eventual stable temperature of many handle/iron combinations. This means using a scrap of test wood is still advisable for use with an electric handle to prevent overheating the iron and causing sloppy, over-burned marks. A triac based “router speed controller” is a good, inexpensive way to reduce the power sent to the heater when you figure out where to set the knob for consistent results. Each piece stamped with the iron will take heat out of it, so the setting may require some experimentation based on the time between pieces. If the time between pieces can be consistent, this can be convenient for long runs of hundreds of pieces.
Typically, I get 6-8 impressions from a branding iron before I need to give it another 30 seconds of heat over flame. So that means the break-even point of 20 minutes of heat-up time for an electric is 17 minutes x 2 heatings per minute * 7 pieces per heating = 252 pieces. After that first 250 pieces or so, an electric iron will save about a minute for every 14 pieces, so that can be an advantage that is worth the added expense.
A flame heated handle has no cord. The cord coming out of the back of an electric branding iron handle can be a bit of pain on smaller irons because it will tend to pull the back of the iron off-axis and might make one part of the mark lighter or maybe come completely out of contact with the wood. With practice and care, the pull from the cord can be compensated for with technique, but it is important to be mindful of it. On the flame heated irons, I will sometimes let them stand up on their own face and then apply pressure when they settle to prevent this.
As you can see from the above, the answer to “is an electric branding iron better than a manually heated branding iron?” is dependent on your use case and budget. If you’ve read the above I think you can make an informed purchase. If you have questions, comments, or corrections, please contact me.
I started Yeltrowshop LCC to show my kids that enterprising creativity and perseverance are rewarded and to provide them “character building work opportunities.” Now that they are grown, I’ve continued because I enjoy the creative outlet and the delighted reactions of my customers when they see their ideas come to life. The items I make in my shop can be viewed here.