Gravermaxes for engraving startup

hello everyone

so i have what is probably an ignorant question, but what can you do
but ask. i’ve always been more drawn to fabriaction than casting. and
yet there are some ideas that i have that i could (with my given
skill set) only pull off through wax. and i may just go there. but
there’s something for me that has always struggled with wax because
the starting material isn’t precious. it’s almost as if i need the
threat of losing money in order to tap into my inner craftsmen and
be the perfectionist that i can be. i know how to carve wax. i also
know that it is possible to carve metal. directly. i think with a
gravermax machine although i’m not entirely sure what my options
are. i haven’t seen classes in my area for this kind of thing, and
though my usual method would just be to buy the gadget and see what
comes, gravermaxes are a pretty expensive experiment! so my
question(s) is (are)… is this the right “gadget”? how hard are they
to learn to work with? does it require instruction? could i do this
through dvd? if i were to get one, do i need to get the whole $3000
solution with the graver and the air compressor and the this and the
that or is there a more economical alternative that would work well
as an introduction and still allow me to accomplish more than i can
with my fordham and various attachments? is it a waste to get a
graver if you’re not really a stone setter? (i.e. i set stones but
only bezels - flush set or pave sends me running to the jewelry
district like the devil is on my tail and my first/last attempt at
prongs ended diastrously). anyway - any advice would be much
appreciated as always!


Hi Hilary, there is definetely a learning curve to engraving. You
don’t need 3k worth of equipment to try it though, pick up some
graver blanks from your jewelry supplier. You can also buy them
preshaped and presharpened then drill an undersized hole and burn it
into a handle. Now place your precious metal in a shellac stick or
hand vise and cut to your hearts content. A word of caution be very
aware of where your off hand is located at all times. When you slip,
and you will, it nice not to jab the very sharp tool into your hand
that is holding the work.

A gravermax or air graver will make moving the tool through the
metal easier but are not required to engrave metals. If you get a
chance watch any of Steve Lindsey’s videos on engraving, and no it’s
not that easy he is a master. If I’m not mistaken James Miller only
uses hand tools for engraving and his work is sublime.

Jim Doherty

i know how to carve wax. i also know that it is possible to carve
metal. directly. i think with a gravermax machine although i'm not
entirely sure what my options are. 

In this case, I am going to take off my hand-fabricator hat and
advice against it. If you gravitate towards sculptural form, wax is
the best medium. I think I understand what kinds of details you are
looking for. They are accomplished in chasing stage of the process.
Do not try to make them in wax.

Casters frequently boast their ability to reproduce details. What
should be understood is that the best casting is accomplished with
smooth surfaces. Surface details slowing metal flow and could cause
undesirable side effects. Make you models smooth and leave details
for chasing stage.

All mechanical engraving gadgets are production shortcuts. For the
artist it will be a waste of money. They do not contribute in any way
to creative process. They simply make removal of the metal easier.

Invest in good chasing hammer and learn to make chasing tools.
Creative tool making will improve your work more than anything else.

Leonid Surpin

Hi Hilary,

You probably don’t want a gravermax for large scale carving of
metal. Yes, if that’s really what you want to do, it’s one of the
only ways to do it, but it’d be sort of like trying to paint a
battleship with a toothbrush. Tool waaaay out of scale for the
results you seem to want.

If you’re after serious, large scale carving, hard jeweler’s wax
really is the most effective way to do it. And certainly much
easier than trying to hog off large amounts of metal with an
engraving tool, even a powered one. Engraving tools normally shave
off fractions of a millimeter or less, with shavings that can
resemble nothing so much as short lengths of fine metal hair. You
could chop out cubic millimeters of material with one, but you’d
spend the whole day doing it, when there are more appropriate


Thank you! I just ordered some engraving tools (hand tools) to get my
feet wet and I’m excited to track down the DVDs – I have a bad habit
of buying equipment and only months later learning how to use it.
Trying to sedate that demon! Really excited to see what I come up
with. And thanks for the word of warning as well! I did some serious
damage to my palms last year with just a triangular file and I have
no desire to repeat the experience - no need to get in touch with my
inner Christ in that way. Oy.

Wow! That’s incredibly freeing in an odd bizarre way. I have this
prejudice against casting. I will admit it. Although I do resort to
it from time to time when I’m actually trying to make things
affordable for sale to boutiques/etc. I think I got this itch a long
time ago when I saw a wedding ring a teacher of mine had made for
herself. It consisted of these beautiful waves crissing and crossing
into each other around the band. And I know she made it in a day.
And I know it wasn’t cast. And it had this wonderful hand-carved feel
and ever since then I’ve been trying to figure out how she did it.
(She’s one of those teachers who might not share her secrets and we
didn’t quite have the master/apprentice bond I would have hoped). But
as I think about it, I could certainly achieve the effect in wax and
probably no one would know the difference but me. She didn’t have a
gravermax either so again I am still stumped!! But I thank you for
your input. I think you are right. I love chasing and repousse, I’ve
just only experimented with it on 18 guage or lower so I hadn’t
thought about pushing the technique to its limits. Excited to try.

Thanks very much!
Best, Hilary

Hello Hilary,

Jim Doherty is correct in saying that I only use hand tools for
engraving and carving, also Leonid’s suggestion of buying some
chasing tools is a good one. I looked at your website and see that
you make jewellery and mostly small items. I like the way you use a
piercing saw in many of your designs. May I suggest that if you want
to fabricate items that may need carving, buy some hand gravers and
scorpers (these may be called flat gravers in the USA). When I make
small carvings such as heraldic animals, I will construct the piece
in soldered layers, file the rough shape then using scorpers I will
carve the detail, and if required I will use a chasing tool for
texturing the surface. I make my own chasing tools and texturing
tools from lengths of steel.

The attachment shows a badge that I made when I completed my
apprenticeship, as I was indentured as an apprentice to the
Goldsmith’s Company, I was required to make what was called my
“Masterpiece” in the last few months of my apprenticeship, this was
to show what skills I had achieved in my apprenticeship, the badge
was completely made by hand, by me as a twenty year old apprentice. I
made it all from flat sheet silver. My apprenticeship lasted nearly
six years and finished on my twenty first birthday.

I was taught to make everything by hand, although over time as I get
older I have invested in some modern tools to make working life a bit
easier. But I can still work when there are power cuts as most of my
work is hand work with hand tools.

Peace and good health to all.
James Miller FIPG

“Engraving gadgets”… Seems like your opinion about power
assisted engraving still is based on a general dislike for modern
tools ??? How about a flexshaft. It’s a mechanical drilling "gadget"
which also makes removal of the metal easier. Is that also a waste of
money to an artist, and does it have an negative impact on the
creative process… Hand engraving tools or power assisted
engraving tools are just two different tools, and if you compare
them, none of them makes you more creative or less creative. You get
excellent results using tool X, or tool Y when you get instructions
from a qualified teacher, practice A LOT in cutting and working on
your design skills.


Hilary - About ten years ago I bought a Gravermax. My thinking was
that I’m a smart person and can figure this thing out on my own.
Several years later I could turn it on, make little lines and hammer
set some stones. It was all amateurish.

When I finally decided to get serious I asked about a DVD for the
device. The nice lady at Glendo told me about the classes available.
I took a class for firearms engraving at a local college that teaches
gunsmithing from a terrific instructor. Initially I thought that the
class might be the wrong one but the basic techniques and how to use
the equipment are the same. Probably the most important thing I
learned is how to sharpen and use the different graver shapes.

Your short answer is to find a class taught by a GRS instructor.
Look up the classes on

I have since taken a class on carving precious metals where we had
the option to use hand tools or the Gravermax. My hands are much
happier with the Gravermax.

Take a class. That is the inexpensive way to figure out if you want
the equipment. The bad news is that you also need a good graver ball,
a reasonably quiet compressor and lots of accessories to make it all
work. Good tools are worth the money.

Judy Hoch

Ok! Just to correct whatever misleading statements i made, i have no
bias against tools, power tools or any modern conveniences at all!
Quite the opposite. If a genie showed up on my doorstep I’d have no
trouble rattling off a list of designs that i would love to see
beautifully executed. Definitely not a martyr. I’m not a huge fan of
casting because I enjoy the fabrication phase more than the finishing
and i think casting requires a longer finishing process. BUT my
question with the gravers had more to do with being careful that i
didn’t buy something that is beyond my current skill set and possibly
Ill suited to what i was trying to accomplish. Sorry if my tone was

Best, Hilary

Thanks so much for the advice - I’ll definitely look into some
classes. The gunsmithing class is a great anecdote! I so sympathize
with your story - I get all excited about something, buy the
equipment and think that I’ll figure it out. Often i do but…


I’m not sure that I follow Leonid’s logic. If making metal removal
more efficient doesn’t contribute to the creative process by freeing
one’s time to be creative, what does? I am a hand engraver, and I
also use power-assisted methods as well. I have two Gravermaxes, one
at my jewelry bench for all the various things the tool can assist in
jewelry making, setting stones, bright cutting, etc. and one at my
engraving bench, where I engrave everything from knives to wedding
vases. I will never surrender my hammers or my mounted gravers, most
all of which I make myself, but I am equally reluctant to swear off
power-assisted engraving techniques in the name of tradition. If
metal needs to be removed by graver, who cares how it happens? I
don’t care if you clench the graver in your teeth and beat on the
back of your head, if it works!

Yes, GRS tools cost money. I also believe that any engraver worth
their salt, can either push, or hammer a graver through steel by
hand. And I also believe that they can choose when to do it that way,
or to choose when a power-assist method is better. GRS tools take
years off the process of learning to cut metals with a graver. What
is that worth?

I use both methods, and truth be told, I probably spend more time
with my hand gravers, sometimes with the GRS hand-piece ready for any
little power assist I need to finish a stroke with the push of the
pedal. As far as time spent, most of my work is spent with my hand
tools; that said, most of the metal is removed with power-assisted
tools. That is to say, most of my time I spend is on the fine detail
I’ve spent my life perfecting. I do it by hand. For the rest of the
work, I’m thankful to have power-assist to buy me the time to do

I hope this contributes.
Hans Rohner

"Engraving gadgets"........ Seems like your opinion about power
assisted engraving still is based on a general dislike for modern
tools ??? How about a flexshaft. 

I do use flexshaft once in a while. Incidently, I ran engraving shop,
employed 8 engravers, whom I personally trained, so I think I know
something about engraving.

Power assisted gravers is a production shortcut. Frankly, if one
knows how to prepare and sharpen gravers, it is unnecessary. If one
cuts a lot of hard metal, there may be some use for it. For an
artist working on one of kind pieces, a lot of nuance is lost with

For a beginner it is absolutely no! Technique must acquired with
traditional gravers. After that, it is a personal choice.

Leonid Surpin


(She's one of those teachers who might not share her secrets and
we didn't quite have the master/apprentice bond I would have

I’ll excuse your prejudice against casting, for me whatever tools get
the results I want are prefered. What really makes my skin crawl is
the concept of a “teacher” not willing to share. There ought to be a
circle in hell for such creatures even if a new one is required.

Demand Designs
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing

For a beginner it is absolutely no! Technique must acquired with
traditional gravers. After that, it is a personal choice. 

There are other exceptions too, Leonid. I have one of the Lindsay
airgravers, and I love it. I didn’t used to need one, but these days,
I do. After 42 years with type one diabetes, I’ve got some problems
with neuropathy in my hands, and no longer have quite the strength or
control I used to have. the Airgraver lets me still do the same work
without having to stress out. And some of the engraving work I do is
more in the nature of carving, needing pretty deep cuts to model a
design pattern in fairly hard white golds. With just the hand tools,
I’d have to do these cuts with many successive shallower cuts. With
the airgraver, I can hog out a lot more metal than my poor old hands
ever could. Perhaps this doesn’t really qualify as fine engraving,
since it’s more brute force metal cutting. But it gets the job done.
Such tools are also useful for anyone who may know how to engrave,
but who simply doesn’t need to do it very often. Engraving really
well requires more than just knowing how to sharpen and control
tools. It also requires a certain muscle tone, and sufficiently
frequent practice to retain control, or you end up having to spend
the first half one one of those occasional jobs with your hand
relearning it’s technique. People who do it regularly, won’t need
this. But I recall one engraver I knew some 35 years ago who felt
keeping in practice sufficiently important for him, that when he went
on vacation, He’d take an engraving ball and tools and practice
plates with him, just to keep in hand muscles toned up. That may be
dedication beyond what everyone will do or needs, but the quality of
his work attested to his results. Now, perhaps you are sufficiently
skilled and practiced that you don’t find the above scenario to be
true for you. That’s great if so. But for some of us, just as some
older folks find a walking stick to be of use, the power gravers are
useful for more reasons that merely being production tools.

As with any tool, a change in the tool may result in less skill,
until someone is used to it. So you may be right that someone who’s
skilled in hand engraving would find less fine control with a power
tool. But I’d suggest that with practice, that fine control is
regained. A simple look at the type of work Steve Lindsay does with
his tools should be sufficient evidence that the tools do not lessen
the potential for top quality work in any way.

And while you are quite correct in the idea that for a beginner,
using a power graver will mean the beginner never learns to actually
control a hand graver. That’s true, of course. In simiular manner,
someone who owns a rolling mill and drawplates will never learn how
to hammer a chunk of metal into uniform sheet metal, and then cut and
shape wire from it. For my money, I’m not sure I mind having missed
those last skills. I’m just as happy knowing it’s how it was done,
and not being able to do it because I’ve got the faster tools now.
Likewise, if I were wishing to learn how to engrave, and could afford
a good power tool knowing it would cut down on the time it took me
before I could produce acceptable results, I’m not sure this would be
a bad thing. Yes, it limits the student to needing that power tool to
do the work. So less skill is learned. The control over the hand
powered tool isn’t learned if it isn’t required for the power tool.
Certainly this is not good for tradition. But I’m not sure it’s so
bad for the craftsman who may be more interested in getting to the
point where he or she can produce the desired results.

It’s somewhat traditional for experienced craftspeople to be prone
to looking down at the newer generation who’ve somehow bypassed the
skills we had to learn. “Kids these days” is a refrain in professions
in addition to just parenting. We had to learn it the old way, so
damn it, they should need to, and if they don’t, then they’re not
learning the right way, or learning as much. Shameful. Right? That’s
the way the argument seems to go in many cases. But how much of this
is real, and how much of it is simply resistance on the part of an
older generation to change and improvements that we didn’t have?

And I can’t say I know the answer to that for certain. On the one
hand, I feel it’s valuable for students and learning craftspeople to
learn as much about the heritage, history, and previous methods as
possible, even if they don’t need to do everything the hard way any
more. The education enriches and deepens the understanding of the
craft. And it gives a greater appreciation of the craft, both the
older methods and the new, for people now doing things the "new"
way. But at the same time, sometimes spending lots of time learning
the traditional methods when there have been improvements in
technology or available tools and materials, simply means that people
spend time reinventing the wheel and learning to drive a horse drawn
carriage rather than learning how to drive with the latest
automobiles. For some, learning about horses and carriages will be
useful, enlightening, and enriching. For others, they may simply want
to drive to work…

Peter Rowe

making metal removal more efficient doesn't contribute to the
creative process by freeing one's time to be creative, what does? 

Instead of taking about engraving, I am going to give an example from
cooking. Several years ago, I had dinner in Le Cheval de Jade. It is
a small restaurant couple of hours north of Montreal. For desert they
served a simple Genoise filled with pastry cream. Quality of genoise
was sublime. There are probably 1000 of ways to make genoise using
mechanical assists, chemical assists and etc. But the results range
from putrid to don’t care. The only way to make it, so someone would
not mind driving 2 hours, is to whip eggs by hand slowly in copper
bowl. It take 40 minutes to get the foam to the right consistency.
Mechanical mixers could do it much faster, but taste is not there. I
guess it all comes to whether or not extra quality justifies extra
effort. It does for me, but it may be less important to someone else.

Leonid Surpin

If making metal removal more efficient doesn't contribute to the
creative process by freeing one's time to be creative, what does? 

Doesn’t seem like a difficult concept, Hans. I never argue with
Ludditesbecause they are happy as they are, by and large, and I just
leave them be. I have no machine engraver of any kind, first of all,
but I’ll throw in a couple of cents.

As I recall, the OP talked about ~carving~, which is entirely
different from engraving. Engraving is a line-art thing, which is
easily done with hand tools (easy meaning strength and force, not
that it’s easily mastered).

Carving can mean anything, including removing 3mm of material,
hammer and chisel, etc. Entirely different animals, though they are

And not to confuse the issue, but many on
swear by and prefer the Lindsay tool heRe:
That COULD be partly because he hosts the forum, but I doubt it.
Interested people might look into it… Again, I don’t have one,

Sorry to be late to this (and for missing out on some other great
discussions) but it’s been crazy busy around here.

Correct me if I’m wrong Hilary, but I interpret in your original
post that you wish to do sculpting style work similar to wax carving,
but directly in the metal, without the wax and casting part. Using a
Gravermax or similar tool for carving and sculpting metal is sort of
like using a hammer and chisel to cut down a tree. It’ll work, but
there are better, more efficient and faster ways to do it. Power
gravers are best suited to engraving and comparatively light material
removal and don’t work very well for hogging out big chunks of metal.
Files, burs and sawframes are much better suited for heavy material
removal, which is what it sounds to me like you really are after.

So, if you want to learn to engrave, a Gravermax or Lindsay
AirGraver are both great tools, but if carving and sculpting metal is
your objective, a good set of files, a flexshaft, micromotor or even
a high-speed air-powered handpiece and a good selection of burs would
be a much better choice. And a whole lot cheaper.

Dave Phelps

I admire Leonid’s spirit, but I think the food analogy limps a
little. In the case of whipping eggs for 40 minutes in a copper bowl,
if there is no other way to accomplish that result, then nothing else
will do. Point taken. If there were a mechanized way to achieve the
exact same result, wouldn’t a chief be foolish to stand and whip eggs
for 40 minutes when he could be creating something that demands more
breadth of skill and experience? I see the value in learning to do
things by hand, in order to understand the process and gain a feel
for the medium. Then one can tell if their mechanized, or, in our
case, power assisted methods are giving us the same products. Results
attained with power assisted methods are in no way inferior to those
attained by hammer and chisel or hand pushed graver. We’re not
choosing between putrid or don’t care, and palatable here. Is it
better if the method chosen is more difficult and takes longer when
the result is the same? If so, then I suggest that we really all just
gird our loins, clench our chisels in our teeth and beat on the backs
of our heads. Surely that is harder to master and will take more
time. The results? I’m guessing not as good.

However you do it, make the chips fly!
Kind regards,
Hans Rohner

Hi Dave -

Thanks so much for the tip! You’re exactly right - I was looking
primarily to carve, so perhaps what i need to do is get some new
burrs. I have a flexshaft already and though i’ve used it to carve
wax in the past, I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that the
only thing I was lacking was metal burrs rather than wax burrs.
Anyway, thanks again!