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Remove labels from metal bars

You don’t leave old labels on … do you?!

Words And Photos By Gary A. Ritchie

Figure 1. I attached these floats to my Tiger Kitten with struts made from 1/8×3/4 inch aluminum bar stock.

Building model aircraft often involves the use of metal bars and tubes of various sizes and shapes. A common use of metal bars that comes to mind is in making landing gear struts, which are often constructed of 1/8-inch thick aluminum bar stock. I recently built a set of floats for a model airplane in which I used 3/4 x 1/8- inch aluminum bars for the struts that attach the floats to my airplane (Figure 1). Brass tubes and bars also find wide use in model building from fabricating control horns to making bushings. 

Figure 2. Metal tubes and bar stock often carry labels with bar codes and other identifying information. These are very hard to remove from the metal.

The manufacturers of these metals often use stick-on labels containing bar codes and other information to identify their products (Figure 2). No problem with that. The problem comes with trying to get them off. The labels are made from an extremely tough plastic-like material that is fastened to the metal with a very tenacious adhesive. I have tried many ways of getting these labels off – from soaking them in organic solvents to grinding them off with sandpaper or steel wool. These methods have either been ineffective or have defaced the metal with ugly marks.

Recently, quite by accident, I stumbled on a method of getting the labels and glue off metal bars that is simple, quick and effective. I would like to share it with you here in hopes that it will save you both time and effort. Here is how to do it.

Figure 3. The first step in getting the label off the metal is to heat it with a heat gun. After about 30 seconds of high heat the edges of the label will begin to curl up.

First take a heat gun, the type used to  shrink iron-on plastic film, and hold it close to the label while applying high heat. It’s a good idea to wear a protective glove here to prevent burning your hand. After about 30 seconds or so the edge will begin to curl up (Figure 3) as the label starts to break away from the adhesive. At this point, you can put the heat gun away and simply pull the label off with your fingers (Figure 4). If it doesn’t come off, apply more heat until it does.

Figure 4. After the label has curled up a quarter inch or so, it can be grabbed with your fingers and pulled off the metal.

After the label has been removed, a residue of adhesive will probably remain on the metal. To remove this, wet a cloth with rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol and dab it over the adhesive. Once the adhesive has absorbed the alcohol it will begin to dissolve and can be easily rubbed off (Figure 5).

Figure 5. The final step, removing the adhesive from the metal, is easily done with rubbing alcohol.

That’s all there is to it. The label is gone and the metal bar is clean as a whistle and ready to be incorporated into your beautiful model. Give it a try.

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