Cue Decal Re-creations

 

 As my interest in antique cue restoration grew, my attention quickly turned to the billiard cue decal. To accurately restore a billiard cue I must also be able to replace a damaged or missing decal. In talking to the experts in the decal production business, I learned that there have been two types of decals used on billiard cues. The first and oldest process is called a varnish-fix decal. As a varnish fix decal is technically difficult and time consuming to apply a second type of decal gained popularity in the 1940's. This second type of decal is called a water-mount decal which many people refer to as a "water-slide" decal. Hobbyists who have built a plastic model car from a kit are familiar with the water-slide decals that are included for final decorating.

The Brunswick decals were varnish-fix decals up until the Willie Hoppe cue was introduced in the 1940's with a water-mount decal application process. Older vanish-fix Brunswick decals were quit durable. The decal would wear away from the top down, leaving only a slight impression of where the decal had been. The adhesive on a water-mount decal is dextrose (corn starch). The water-mount decal's bond to the cue was not great and when the decal is bumped or dented the decal will chip off. The original Willie Hoppe decal shown in Picture #1 is a water-mount decal. It is a great example of how a water-mount decal will chip away if bumped due to the poor adhesion of the dextrose (corn starch) used on these decals. A varnish-fix decal will not chip in this manner as the varnish adhesion is far superior. If an early Brunswick eagle decal appears chipped you will see the underlying wood had chipped out as well. Even though varnish-fix decals are much harder to apply I felt it important to create decals using this old technology. My feeling is that you should not do a billiard cue restoration, including a decal, if the decal is not correct in design, creation and application.

 

001 Decal Rec

Picture # 1

UNDERSTANDING HOW VARNISH-FIX CUE DECALS ARE MADE AND APPLIED:

Below is a schematic of a varnish-fix decal. A varnish-fix decal is one of the oldest and rarest types of decals available. They are the thinnest, most durable and the most beautiful form of decal available. A varnish-fix decal can be quite detailed, with parts of the decal being separated from the remainder of the decal. For example if you look at the Brunswick eagle in the first white ringed decal the company made, the eagles wings and the banner appear nearly separated from the outer ring. This decal can be set on the cue before the stabilizing paper is removed. A water-mount decal on the other hand would have a clear film to hold the print ink in place and you would not see the wood in the openings of the decal.

 

001a Decal Rec

I believe there is only one company remaining in the United States that can create a screen print varnish-fix decal. This type of decal starts with a rare duplex paper that is no longer manufactured. This paper consists of a stiff white backing paper, a release layer of dextrose and translucent tissue paper. Now comes the interesting and challenging task for the screen print company, the image is screen printed in reverse order. By this I mean the lines or detail that you see first on the decal are first printed on the duplex paper. The image is then built up with the last lacquer print layer to be applied being the back ground. Creating a varnish-fix decal is a very complicated screen printing process which explains why there is only one company remaining in the United States that has the raw materials and the creative skill necessary to produce a varnish-fix decal.

A varnish-fix decal is mounted by applying a very thin layer of spar urethane vanish to the back of the cue and wait for it to tack up before setting the decal on the cue butt. It is estimated that there are fewer than 100 decal installers left in the world, including myself, who can successfully apply a varnish-fix decal. Needless to say learning to apply these decals has been an ongoing learning process. I have had countless do-overs as I developed the skill in apply these decals. A restored cue with a varnish-fix decal is correct in every way to the original cue decal that Brunswick applied over 100 years ago.

Because it is such a complicated process, let me show you the steps in applying these decals so you can better understand the time and effort required to correctly restore a Brunswick billiard cue:

Before a decal is applied the old lacquer applied at the Brunswick factory some 100 years earlier must be removed from the cue and the cue is very lightly sanded. One coat of new clear lacquer is applied to the area where the decal will be placed and the lacquer allowed to dry overnight.

Picture # 2 shows a varnish-fix decal from the printer. Notice the image you see is the back of the decal which was the last thing printed. I have started to peel the tissue paper from the white backing paper so that I can more easily remove the tissue paper and decal at a later point in time.

 

002 Decal Rec

Picture #2

 

While it hard to see, I am applying a thin layer of spar urethane to the back of the decal in Picture # 3.

 

003 Decal Rec

Picture #3

 

The varnish is allowed to dry for a short time so that the vanish will begin to tack up and excess solvents are not trapped under the decal as shown in Picture # 4.

 

004 Decal Rec

Picture # 4

 

While waiting for the varnish to tack, I put duct tape on the cue and mark the vertical points so that when the decal is set on the cue it is properly centered. See Picture # 5 below.

 

005 Decal Rec

Picture # 5

 

After a few minutes waiting for the vanish to begin to tack, peel the decal from the white paper backing stock. When the decal is turned over you can now see the face of the decal.

 

006 Decal Rec

Picture # 6

 

Center the decal on the cue as shown in Picture #7. I take care to have the decal positioned before I set it down as it cannot be moved around like a water-mount decal.

 

007 Decal Rec

Picture # 7

 

I lightly rub the decal to insure good contact without moving the decal as shown in picture # 8.

 

008 Decal Rec

Picture # 8

 

After a few minutes, a wet paper towel is used to get the translucent tissue paper moist so that it will release from the decal as shown in Picture #9.

 

009 Decal Rec

Picture # 9

As you can see in Picture # 10 the tissue paper will lift off of the cue leaving the decal.

 

010 Decal Rec

Picture #10

 

A wet paper towel is used to insure the decal is in contact with the cue. Because the varnish has not completely dried, most of the varnish that was beyond the decal or in the open spaces around the eagle can be lightly rubbed away as shown in Picture #11.

 

011 Decal Rec

Picture # 11

 

The cue is set aside for several day to insure the vanish under the decal has completely cured. Before applying the lacquer finish to the cue as was done in the Brunswick factory, it is important to remove any remaining spar urethane varnish that was used to adhere the decal to the cue. If this is not done the lacquer finish will not adhere properly to the varnish. Using a paper towel that is dampened with lacquer thinner, I wipe the area of the cue where there may be remains of the varnish. Great care is required to insure the decal itself is not affected. See Picture #12.

 

012 Decal Rec

Picture #12

Finally several coats of clear lacquer are applied to the cue and decal in much the same manner as was done 100 years earlier. As those who use lacquer to finish fine furniture know, lacquer softens the layer below and the two coats become one. The decal itself is pigmented lacquer. Thus it becomes one with the finish above it. That is why an early Brunswick decal looks like it is a part of the finish (see Picture #13). By comparison a water-fix decal like the Willie Hoppe decal Brunswick used in the 1940's is noticeably raised and is one piece with not cut outs.

 

013 Decal Rec

Picture #13

The varnish-fix decal, that I use when restoring an early Brunswick cue, is costly to create, technically challenging as well as time consuming to apply. However, if you have a valuable antique cue, in need of being restored, a varnish-fix decal is the only correct decal and process to use.


UNDERSTANDING HOW WATER-FIX CUE DECALS ARE MADE AND APPLIED:

014 Decal Rec

Water-fix (water slide) decals replaced varnish-fix decals in the mid-1900's due to their ease of application. The down side of these decals is the beauty and detail of the earlier decals was lost. These decals look like a printed piece of paper the was adhered to the cue. Brunswick began using water-fix with the introduction of the Willie Hoppe cue in the early 1940's.

The illuatration above shows the layering of a water-fix decal. The screen printing process starts with a backing paper to which a dextrose (corn starch) layer has been applied. Unlike varnish-fix decals the screen printing begins with the printer applying a clear coat to the paper. Then a lacquer pigmented background goes down first. The imaged is then layer up one color at a time. Finally another clear layer is applied. When you see a water slide decal on a cue you always see the clear halo bordering the decal. The obvious thickness and the halo are the easiest way to distinqish a water-fix decal from a varnish-fix decal. A water slide decal on a Brunswick cue that is earlier than a Willie Hoppe is quite noticable and in my opinion detracts from the beauty and value of a carefully restored antique cue.

As all modelers know, when a water-fix decal is immersed in water for a short time the dextrose layer is moistened and the decal will slide off of the backing paper onto the cue. The decal can be easily manuvered into a correct position on the cue. The decal is lightly rubbed with a dry paper towel from the center to the edges of the decal to remove trapped air and seal the decal. Care must be taken to not move the decal during this step. The cue is then left for at least 24 hours and then a clear lacquer is applied to the cue to finish it in the same manner as Brunswick did some 70 years earlier. The cues below are all restored Willie Hoppe Cues with correct decals.

015 Decal Rec

Both varnish-fix and water-fix decals are avialable for purchase. However, applying farnish-fix decals is a learning process and application of these decals is best left to me. Unless you are an accomomplished restorer of antique cues you will redo a number of decals before you develop the talent to install these varnish-fix decals.

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