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Advice for novice hand engraving

Can anyone recommend good resources for a complete novice at hand
engraving? I’ve spent a few hours playing with some metal, and really
enjoyed it, so I’d like to invest a few more hours, and see if I want
to take it further.

Good books, youtube videos, blogs…etc would all be appreciated.

I’ve been looking for videos on youtube, but so many of them use a
powered engraving tool. No offense to those of you that use one, but
every time I hear that noise on the videos, I switch them off! I’m
trying to understand awide range of medieval skills, so electrical
devices are a no-no.

I know that nothing beats proper teaching, but I’m not in the
position to pay to be tutored - what I have is an abundance of time,
and access to the right tools.

Jamie Hall

Jamie, I was taught basic hand engraving by my Grandfather when I was
an apprentice back in the 1960s, my Grandfather gave me a book in
1964 called " Engraving on Precious Metals" by A. Brittain, S.
Wolpert and P. Morton. I checked on Amazon and it is still in print

This book is a mine of and taught me a lot, although I
always preferred to engrave pictures and designs rather than
letterwork. The attachment shows a couple of my early engraving
efforts from 40+ years ago, engraved on copper.

Peace and good health to all
James miller FIPG

No engraver’s library would be complete without the following

Art of Engraving” by James B. Meek (1973) An over-view of the
art, tools and techniques, written for the engraver and collector. A
very comprehensive, beautiful book, but not a whole lot of basic
how-to info (just enough). This is the very first book you should
get, imho.

Jewelry Engraver’s Manual” by R. Allen Hardy and John J. Bowman
(original edition 1954, revised 1976)

Engraving on Precious Metals” by A. Brittain and P. Morton (1958).
Both of these books were originally intended to be textbooks in
British engraving schools, so they primarily concern themselves with
lettering and reflect 1950’s tools, techniques and sensibilities.
Although much of the content is very useful, things have changed.
There is no longer a need to learn how to properly temper a graver,
there was no such thing as a copier for enlarging, reducing and
transferring artwork in the Fifties (it’s SO much easier now) and it
seems that there were no female engravers then, for a couple of
examples. There is also precious little concerning
design beyond basic lettering in either of these books. There may
have been some later revisions to these books, I got my copies of all
three in 1976. At least one of these two books should be on your
“need to have” list.

“Advanced Drawing of Scrolls” by Ron Smith. (2005)

Arguably, the hardest tool to master in engraving is the pencil.
Regardless of your skill with a graver, if you can’t draw it, you
can’t cut it. With that thought in mind, this book is by far the best
I have ever seen. Ron Smith not only discusses the work and design
theories of historical masters and demonstrates the various engraving
styles by breaking them down into components for study and emulation,
he talks about the art of engraving, the past, present and future of
engraving and what it takes and means to be an engraver. There is
also a gallery of his work, some of which is truly mind blowing. A
genuine work of art, artistically, philosophically and technically.
The only (as far as I know) real textbook on the do’s and don’ts of
engraving design theory.

You won’t find much in the way of how-to concerning graver
preparation or cutting in this book however. This is a study of the
very essence of engraving - lines. Wide, hairline, flanged and
shading and how they can be used effectively to interact with light,
draw and direct the eye and trigger emotion. I would recommend that
this book be your first or second purchase after “The Art of
Engraving”. It’s that good. If you ever hope to move beyond copying
other people’s work or cutting letters or other simple two
dimensional designs, a study of the intricacies of engraving design
will almost certainly be required and learning it concurrently with
learning the basics will put you that much farther ahead. It used to
be that you had to put in many hours with a pencil and paper before
you were allowed to touch a graver. In fact, touching graver to metal
was about the last thing you did when learning to engrave the
old-school way. The old school engravers considered a fundamental
understanding of design concepts to be that important.

It’s a lot more fun and satisfying to engrave your own, well
balanced and planned designs than the designs and drawings of someone
else. It’s easier because you know how it was designed to be cut and
it comes out better because you are already one with the design and
have no need to figure anything out as you go (or re-design on the
fly 'cause you cut over something you shouldn’t have. There are a lot
of crossing and intersecting lines in engraving and it’s easy to get
confused as to which line goes over or under which if you didn’t draw
it. And gravers don’t come with erasers if you incorrectly decide to
gamble and drive on with a prominent loop rather than risk putting a
“stop-start” mark half-way through it - just before the intersection.
Talk about drawing the eye and triggering an emotion).

Two books for lettering styles and design inspiration that I use
quite frequently aRe:

“Art Alphabet & Lettering” (1914) and “Art Monograms & Lettering”
(1908), both by J.M. Bergling. If you are interested in heraldry, the
foundation of the modern engraving trade, “Heraldic Designs and
Engravings” (1913, revised and enlarged 1994) by J.M. Bergling and A.
Tuston Hay is very interesting. Several of those coats of arms will
each give you cutting practice for a week.

All of these titles are available at GRS.

Two forums I might recommend are iGraver and Both are operated by Sam Alfano, a
very talented engraver in his own right. Much of the content is
oriented towards power-assist, but you will find them useful
nonetheless. When watching videos containing air-powered tools, just
turn down the volume and pretend you’re watching hand-powered
engraving. With the possible exception of thumb placement, there is
virtually no difference in the way both are accomplished, you just
have to work a little harder with hand-power. is the site run by Steve Lindsay.
It is oriented towards the use of the Lindsay AirGraver systems, but
again, there is an awful lot of good info there for you as well.

FEGA, the Firearm Engraver’s Guild of America
( ) also has a lot of really good
resources available. Their “How-To Handbook” is priceless with
hundreds of tips and lots of instruction from members on every topic
related to engraving. Well worth the price of membership all by

Teaching yourself engraving can be quite a challenge, there’s a heck
of a lot to it, but it can be done. Up until about fifteen or twenty
years ago, if you didn’t have a family member that did it, that was
about your only choice. Good luck Jamie!

Dave Phelps

To get a base understanding of Hand Engraving, I recommend “The Art
of Engraving” by James Meek.

A lot of it is just practice. But it does help a lot if you have the
fundamentals down, like how to correctly sharpen your tools and how
to hold them. My two apprentices just took the hand engraving course
with Jason Marchiafava at the new Approach School for Jewelers in
Virginia Beach. They are very happy with it, but still need a lot of
practice. It was 90% hand engraving. They only talked about powered
equipment in the last session, briefly.

Stephen Walker

Andover, NY

I know that nothing beats proper teaching, but I'm not in the
position to pay to be tutored - what I have is an abundance of
time, and access to the right tools. 

And that is all you need. Engraving have very little secrets, except
the obvious one is the need to practice. The very good book, that I
have no hesitation to recommend is "The Jewelry Engravings Manual"
by Allen Hardy. It is more than affordable, and to the point. There
is not a sentence in that little book, that I can argue with. It only
deals with lettering, but that is the foundation of the skill.
Master that and everything else shall fall into places. And do
yourself a favor. Even if you have access to motorized hone, put it
aside and practice sharpening by hand. Another pointer I can give is
to allow your self enough time to learn tool preparation and
maintenance. Most of the frustration comes from spending more time
sharpening than engraving. If that will start happening to you -
stop, and go over tool preparation procedure.

Leonid Surpin

I agree, many of the videos are simply an infomercial for
powergravers. I’m beginning also and I wanted to try the hand
technique before investing in any rediculously expensive equipment.
The Art of Engraving by James Meek seems pretty good so far but I’m
more interested in making rings look Victorian than I am in guns and
belt buckles.

"Advanced Drawing of Scrolls" by Ron Smith. (2005) 

Arguably, the hardest tool to master in engraving is the pencil.
Regardless of your skill with a graver, if you can’t draw it, you
can’t cut it.

Since I’m a hack engraver :slight_smile: the only advise I’d give is to have
sharp tools and don’t expect to be good at it for awhile.

Most of the advise on design is about classical engraving, and to
approach that (if you want to) you need to understand the acanthus.
It’s a real plant but as a design element it’s evolved so much and so
often - since the Greeks if not before - that there’s some part of it
almost everywhere. Even in contemporary design, if you look close.
There are various sources out there… I read a fascinating study
tracing it’s evolution, once, but I don’t recall the name. I’d
suggest searching Google books for “acanthus” and there’s a new book
available for sale, too. Try Amazon but here’s a good one on Google:

Thank God for Orchid’s version of tinyurl…

Hi Jamie

A good place to start would be the book ‘The Jewelry Engravers Manual’ by R. Allen Hardy and John J Bowman. You have to read it
carefully but it is really interesting. When you start get some
copper sheet to practice on. Some useful websites are; [PDF File]

and there is good starting point tutorial here 

Hope you have fun learning.

good luck

Dear Jamie

if you like a good complete novice for engraving, i recommend a book
that i find very interesting, because it has every technique you can
imagine for metals and it helped me allot ( Jewelry Techniques by
Anastasia Young) i hope you will find it interesting too

Thanks for your advice, everyone, including Scott, who emailed me

I’ve copied and pasted all the responses, so I can search through the
titles and forums in detail.

Jamie Hall

I have to make a comment about this thread. Everyone has a wealth of
on this subject and I was particularly blown away by
James Miller’s engravings. The talent on this Ganoksin is
unbelievable and that all of you are so willing to share brings me
great joy and appreciation. I learn so much every day.

It also makes me feel as if I am barking up the wrong tree
sometimes. I believe the comment about the importance of having the
ability to draw in order to be a good engraver is true for designing
anything at all and implementing it.

I can’t draw. So as a result, I struggle with great ideas in my head
for designs, but struggling to implement them because of that. Any
ideas how to overcome this handicap? If I could learn to draw my life
would be so easier.

Thanks again to all of your fabulous people. Grateful in Syracuse

Cynthia Cameron Design


For script and general engraver tips I recommend a book published in
about 1904 called “modern letter engraving” by Fred Holmes Rees.

Mike Kersley
Hertfordshire UK

Hi Cynthia.

I can't draw. So as a result, I struggle with great ideas in my
head for designs, but struggling to implement them because of that.
Any ideas how to overcome this handicap? If I could learn to draw
my life would be so easier.

So you can’t draw. Learn. (yeah, I know, easier said than done.) What
I mean by that is that you may never be the instinctive draftsman
that DaVinci was, but even he had to study and practice. It’s
entirely possible to teach yourself to be a decent draftsman. Step
one: simple old basic figure drawing 101. If you’re in Syracuse,
check to see whether SU is still doing the community ed figure
drawing classes. (I’m an SU alum, god help me.) Then go. And make
yourself keep going. The real “secret” to learning to draw
is…drawing. A lot. Just simple, brute force practice. Practice
drawing small things, big things, landscapes and insects. Half of it
is learning to see. The other half is learning to draw what you see.
(sounds glib, I know, but it really is that simple) The only catch is
that “simple” is where “hard” hides.

For whatever that’s worth. Check out SU’s community ed classes. (Or
maybe the Everson is doing some?) (You want to see draftsmanship?
Check out the Everson’s collection of Maxfield Parrish paintings.)

Regards, Brian (Who’s so out of practice that straight lines are a bit
iffy right now…)

Arguably, the hardest tool to master in engraving is the pencil.
Regardless of your skill with a graver, if you can't draw it, you
can't cut it. 

Couldn’t agree more with the above quote. I would suggest Sam
Alfano’s DVD on scroll drawing. Excellent worth every
penny, and more captivating than a book :slight_smile:

GRS ( ) and Sam
( ) both sell it online. I’m not
affiliated, just a happy customer.


Cynthia - Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain is a great book.
Check for it at the library if you don’t want to buy it. You will be
amazed at how quickly you can draw well after practicing some of the
exercises in that book. It’s a matter of “seeing” and that’s
something we all need practice doing. Too often we just don’t “see”
what we should.

Other than that, it is truly a matter of practice and more practice.
But to begin is to simply not be afraid of trying. And though I
originally was a commercial art major in college and could draw quite
well, I still found “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” a
truly interesting and helpful book.


Hi my friend,

I’ve found that with today’s printers and scanners one can make
copies of small scrolls from books that Dover sells, and line
drawings to help one either trace to get the feel of how to move
naturally when drawing. I then start by doodling at first and find
that the repetition of lines becomes helpful in the first step to a
finished design. You’ll get better with time, but with the new
transfer techniques you can put an image on a piece of copper to
start some trial cutting. I suggest that you learn sharpening skills
as this is another art in itself that will only improve with patience
and practice.

Good luck

Hi Cynthia,

I saw your post and it reminded me of when I started art collage. I
had trouble with drawing perspective and several other members of my
class had problems drawing anything at all. Our teachers advice was
the following. Everyone can learn to draw, it only takes practice.
Now Im sure you have heard that before and it seems rather trite and
unhelpful, however I do have to say that it does work.

There are also some very good books, some that even come with
templates like "Techniques of Jewelry Illustration & Color Rendering’ by Adolfo Mattiello. The illustrations and instructions
are very good however it is mainly about rings, but it does show you
how to produce multiple views for the rings and how to produce
working drawings as well as colour rendering.

Hope this helps. Good luck.


Being able to draw out your designs is really an invaluable skill. I
don’t just mean the kind of doodling, and free-flowing sort of
sketching that captures the essence of a thought or idea, but to be
able to break that idea down into some kind of plan which will
eventually result in a beautiful creation. I have always enjoyed
sketching, and had some training in mechanical drawing (pre-cad
days), but am not an “artist” by my own definition. What I have found
is that if I am having trouble defining any one part of a design in
my drawings, I am going to run into problems when I try to execute
that design, be it in wax, or fabrication. The design will need more
clarification and refining before it’s ready to be created.
Otherwise, you tend to box yourself into a corner when you are
half-way through your piece, and the answers are less elegant than
you hoped at best, or impossible at worst.

There is a book called “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”, I’m
not sure of the author at the moment, but it has been really helpful
for me to get my own brain out of the way of “seeing” what I am
trying to draw. Actually, it is the “trying to draw” part that gets
in the way of the “seeing” part. We tend to draw some representation
of what our brain decides the part is, rather than drawing what our
eyes or mind really sees. The examples of her beginning students and
then examples of work by the same students several weeks later is

Keep a small sketchbook handy, and don’t bother trying to finish
pieces. Sometimes, just capturing an essence of a design idea will
lead to others down the line when you look back over your sketches.
Go to the library and take out books on any and all art that
interests you. Try to copy the lines of the ideas or pictures, using
some of the processes in the “Drawing” book. Set some time aside to
allow for that creative process to happen, dream away and have fun.

Melissa Veres, engraver

Greetings Cynthia:

Drawing and learning to draw can be fun. A good way to start is to
buy a notebook and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Look at and make
a habit of collecting drawings or designs you like. Google search
images for art nouveau, icons, logos, or animal or flower designs.
This will get you started. Commercial logos will give you a good idea
of how to simplify a drawing that must be reduced for jewelry size.
It might not seem related, but check out a library book on
cartooning. My favorite was How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. This
book gave a lot of guidance on how to draw people and animals.

Draw, flub, and redraw until you get the swerve and style you like.

Sally Parker