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I'd like to mark chains so that I can identify each one out of a few chains of the same model.

Any idea how I can do this in a way that will survive exposure to solvents / lubricants / use on the drivetrain?

Background for anyone interested: I've got a few chains in rotation which I strip back & lubricate in a batch. I'd like to leave one chain installed on the bike while I re-lubricate as it's a bit time consuming, and I'd like to get roughly the same wear across chains by rotating through which chain is left installed while I work on the rest.

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    I don't believe this is possible. (Though maybe by inserting an extra quick link (if your chain uses them). One chain would have the link one link from the original quick link, the next chain three links away, etc.) – Daniel R Hicks Jan 16 at 1:27
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    Run a zip tie between some of the plates? – whatsisname Jan 16 at 2:21
  • Use different color chains! You can get rainbow ones, gold ones, silver ones, grey ones...if you’re on SRAM EAGLE it makes it even better (lots of color choices there). – MaplePanda Jan 16 at 8:01
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    If you're using Shimano chains, then the letter markings should correspond to the date of manufacture, documented in the link. Obviously, this would require chains manufactured on different dates. bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/69009/… – Weiwen Ng Jan 16 at 11:50
  • @whatsisname a metal paperclip might be a good way to connect an identifying tag to the chain too. Reusable. – Criggie Jan 16 at 21:45
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Attach a large washer to the chain with some binding wire. Use a centre punch to mark the washer with one to several dots and keep a log of those. The washer will stay attached while you clean the chains and the marking won't be washed off by a solvent.

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    Good idea - and you can hang/wire the marked washer of the chain on the bike, on your chain cleaning gear to help keep it all sorted. Kinda like dog tags. – Criggie Jan 16 at 9:43
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    @Criggie: The dog tag was the idea. If OP has numbering/lettering punches it be better still. – Carel Jan 16 at 13:39
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I would honestly keep track of them with a tag somehow off the bike vs. mark the physical chain.

However, if you really want to mark the chain, I would make a mark like a scratch on the master-link of each chain to achieve what you are trying to do. This way you know where to look to id the chain. Perhaps us a chisel tip or punch to literally make your mark.

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    Concur - no paint or pen will stick to a chain (I've tried), an engraved number might stay visible. I'd suggest marking one of the end inner links instead of the master link, to avoid problems if they get swapped around between chains. – Criggie Jan 16 at 8:04
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    The chain links are hardened steel, making a scratch won’t be easy and notching with e.g. a file would create a weak point. – Michael Jan 16 at 9:04
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    @Carel Use a tungsten carbide scribe, not a file to scratch in a mark. I recommend straight lines only like ticks, crosses, and tees, not fancy letters or symbol with curves, since you may need multiple passes. Or a pointed stone if you are desperate. – DKNguyen Jan 16 at 23:45
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The only thing I can think of is to use master links from different brands (Shimano, SRAM, Wipperman, KMC …). They usually tell you not to mix master links and chains but in my experience it works great.

On older (≤8 speed) chains you might be able to put a nice, thin scratch on the face of pins with the edge of a file. On newer chains the pins don’t stick out anymore.

As Daniel suggests, additional master links or closing pins at a certain distance could be used as well.

Of course in storage you have lots of options, for example zip-ties or (electrical) cables wrapped/tied around the chain work great.

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    I would avoid mixing masterlinks on different brand chains even if they look like they may work. – Tude Productions Jan 16 at 11:38
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This is dependent on your choice of chain, but KMC chains are available in many colors. Wipperman chains are available in a couple of different finishes. And their master links are also available in a couple of different finishes (I've used KMC master links with Shimano chains without incident, fwiw).

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Use a tungsten carbide scribe. I recommend straight lines only like ticks, crosses, and tees, not fancy letters or symbol with curves, since you may need multiple passes.

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