Switch Labels

by Jerry Petersen

One of Swingin Shepherd’s (my 1954, 24 foot Shepherd hardtop) restoration challenges was labeling its nine push-pull electric switches. The prior owner had used brass strip labels that were tacked-on under the switches. After refinishing the dash, I couldn’t bring myself to reinstalling these tack-on labels. I recalled that several Chris Craft boats used chrome washer labels. For example, my friend’s 1961, 23 foot Sea Skiff has chrome washer labels under all of its dash switches.

Unfortunately, my normal restorer supply contacts were no help. In addition, I do have GPS and sonar switches that are not that common. My 1954 Shepherd came with a factory installed vacuum tube sonar! My solution started at my friendly Ace Hardware store, where I bought a box of standard half inch brass washers. They are actually 9/16 inch ID, 1.25 inch OD. I sorted through the box to find the ones with the most uniform OD’s. I then proceeded to further smooth these washer edges by filing their OD’s while they were spinning on a dowel in my drill press. Next came polishing on my buffing wheel. Figure 1 shows a rough washer and a polished one.

I used one of my computer graphics programs to create circular text for the labels in various font sizes until I had one that worked. I actually printed it out on clear mailing labels which could be stuck onto washers for examination. I also made nylon bushings to fit into the washer ID’s, since my switches have a 3/8 inch OD versus the washer’s 9/16 inch ID. Again my Ace Hardware store came in handy, since they had the right diameter nylon bushings, but in one inch length. I merely cut off slices of the needed thickness on my band saw (with the bushing on a wooden dowel). Figure 1 also shows one of these nylon bushing slices.

Fortunately, I found a versatile local engraver that could cut square grove letters in the desired circular arc. Figure 2 shows a washer with the “Bilge” label so engraved. The last task was chrome plating.
Figure 3 shows all nine switch labels in place on my Shepherd dash, along with the ignition and starter button. I’m glad I went to the extra effort, since I think the dash now has a much more classic wooden boat look that it did with the tack-on labels.