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Fastest, Most Cost-Effective Way to Mark Firearms

Before mass production of firearms became commonplace, each gun was handmade and engraved with decorations or images on the metal of the lock, barrel and hardware of the gun. Today, as gun owners continue to want pieces with artistic flair, manufacturers are turning to technologically-advanced laser engraving systems to apply the decoration with increasing skill and precision.

The "Golden Age" of gun engraving is usually considered to be the second half of the 1800s. During this period, nearly all gun manufacturers created elegantly engraved firearms for their wealthier customers. American firearms engraving came into its own during this era, as it evolved into a large flowing scroll work. Firearms engraving continued into the 20th century, when it began to decline. The years after WWII saw a renewal of the art of firearms engraving, and certain gun makers, including Smith & Wesson and Colt, still custom-produce firearms for those wanting an individually engraved piece.

Today, laser engraving systems can be used for this purpose as well as serialization and customization of firearms. Especially with the stringent government rules on gun serialization, the firearms industry has found laser engraving technology to be a great solution for the decoration and identification of guns.

Laser system users include large firearms manufacturers as well as smaller firearms retailers and dealers, gun ranges, gun shows and some jewelers and private businesses, according to James Gervais, president and COO, LaserStar Technologies.

According to the ATF Guidebook, licensed manufacturers and importers are required to mark firearms manufactured or imported with specific identifying information. The serial number must be conspicuously engraved, cast or stamped (impressed) on the firearm frame or receiver. The serial number cannot duplicate the serial number appearing on any other firearm the importer previously imported.

Other information that needs to be engraved on the firearm includes the caliber or gauge, the name of the manufacturer or importer, the model (if such designation has been made), and the city and state (two-letter state abbreviation is acceptable) of the manufacturer or importer, and, in the case of an imported firearm, the name of the country in which it was manufactured.

This information can go on the frame, receiver, barrel or slide of the gun. Engraving the lower receiver is usually the best option as the upper receivers can be swapped out without needing to re-engrave the piece.

For firearms imported after January 30, 2002, ATF Guidelines say engraving, casting or stamping (impressing) of the serial number must be to a minimum depth of 0.003 in. and in a print size no smaller than 1/16 in.

There is no minimum print size required for the other required information, other than it has to be legible and conspicuous "in a manner not susceptible of being readily obliterated, altered or removed," Gervais says.

Laser Engraving is the Way

It is important when selecting a laser engraving system for marking firearms to make sure it meets the ATF Guidelines for depth and size requirements. Selecting the wrong configuration can result in the inability to meet these requirements.

LaserStar's FiberCube Laser Engraving Systems can achieve the necessary size and depth.

"This machine is perfect for engraving firearms, due to the very small and detailed engravings at depths up to 0.040 in.(1mm)," Gervais says. "Also, the engravings can be completed very quickly depending on the size and complexity of the engraving. In addition to being faster, a laser beam is much smaller than a tool bit, so it also looks crisper and cleaner than traditional methods of engraving. This tool never wears out, breaks or gets dull causing improper depth or size."

The FiberCube Laser Engraving System also empowers firearms manufacturers and enthusiasts to personalize their guns. Customization for sportsmen, first responders and veterans provide a unique way to create a one-of-a-kind piece. Even complex images can be accurately rendered using laser engraving technologies, produce crisp lines, incredible detail and beautiful craftsmanship.

LaserStar's StarFX Laser Engraving Software was developed exclusively for the firearms industry through hundreds of applications and requests by manufacturers and aftermarket retailers. Its purpose was to provide an easy-to-use, straightforward method to create amazing graphics and visual effects on all types of firearms as well as other items.

A variety of textures, depths, and shadings from black to white are supplied in the standard package. This software allows the user to import an image from many different graphics and CAD file types then separate areas of the image into regions. Each region can then have a texture, depth or shading applied to it as easy as "coloring in a coloring book."

Patterns and effects are only limited by the user's imagination and with the recent introduction of Laserstar's "Color Effect" module some materials such as stainless steel can have actual colors applied in this "paint by numbers" method. Imagine the American Flag draped on the slide of your gun in actual, Red, White and Blue or the "Guns and Roses" image with actual "red roses."

LaserStar's FiberCube product line with StarFX Software is the perfect solution for any arena of the firearms and tactical weapons industry. It provides a safe Class 1 environment that requires no special protective eye wear or any other OSHA-type safety requirements. It is tabletop in size and plugs into a standard office outlet. It can also accommodate any of the available options or laser power levels (10-100 Watts). Three sizes are currently available, the original FiberCube (standard size), the FiberCube Compact (for smaller applications) and the new FiberCubeXL (for larger applications). They are all application specific and depend on the volume and size of the parts to be marked all the way to accommodating rifle barrels and receivers.

Operator tasks are also simple, a part is loaded into the system, if the programmable focus adjustment is available focus is set automatically. Otherwise it is manually set with the dual focus alignment diodes, the red laser trace feature draws a visible red box showing the location of the image to be lased, either the part can be moved into that location or the location itself can be moved with the software (with the appropriate fixturing, no alignment is necessary). The safety door is then closed and the part is marked.

Other Laser Engraving Options Available

LaserStar also has Class 4 laser engraving systems available that are open systems. The open laser engraving systems have no size restrictions, because they are not enclosed. This type of laser engraving solution is for small-to-large size parts or more of a job shop environment. However, companies using open systems need to have extra safety precautions available such as eye wear and safety curtains when using these systems.

Another option available is their FiberCube Laser Engraving Tower Workstations. The tower workstations create a true production option. The FiberCube Tower Systems are available in multiple body sizes, the T24, T36 and T42, which are application specific depending on customer part size.

While all of these engraving products provide a perfect solution to the firearms and tactical weapon market, they are just as effective in any industry. Laser engraving is a great tool for many different materials including: aluminum, stainless steel, titanium, copper, iron, brass, exotic metals and composites. Images can be engraved before or after custom coating (including hard coat anodize, custom color or Cerakote processes) to optimize the color fill, natural shadowing and polishing effects of the final result.

"While today's firearms engravers have a variety of technologies to choose from, such as chemical etching, traditional CNC machining, stamping, pen stamping and others, none can match laser engraving for quality, versatility and "stunning effects" with none of the disadvantages of tool wear and breakage, Gervais says. "There is not a faster more cost-effective process."

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