Graving on my own

Concerning graving - is this something that I can try on my own - or
should I receive some type of education on it first? I am fine
learning a skill by reading - but I am not seeimgly able to find
much on graving. (Except in relation to guns - and I didn’t think
that engraving steel guns would be the same as copper & silver)

I am looking to do some simple basic primative line drawings on
copper (then eventually silver) that I can oxidize. I like using the
various kinds of pre-made design stamps - but when I try and do any
kind of line with a chisel, they come out crooked or one end is
deeper than another. I am using a steel chisel from a hardware store

  • as I didn’t want to invent in chasing tools if they were not
    applicable for what I wanted to do. (I also don’t have the capacity
    to work with pitch) One of the chiseles designs caused a bit of
    warping in the copper - which I later pounded out with a chasing
    hammer. I didn’t think to buy a plain line design stamp - but the
    more I think about it - It seems like engraving would better suit my

Yes - I am obviously pretty wet around the ears. (And tired)

While there are slight differences in some of the techniques
jewelers use for engraving, they are basically very similar. And,
while a book can’t replace the hands-on education you would receive
in a school or from a “master” I don’t see any reason why you
wouldn’t learn a lot of what you want to know from books.

You’ll still need some sort of fixture to hold your pieces to be
engraved. You said you can’t use pitch, but there are other methods
and devices. An engraving block is one such an item, but bring your
pocketbook for a good one.

If you don’t want to learn setting skills, only engraving
techniques, I say go for it.

James in SoFl

Stephanie, as a Postscript to my last post, you’ll need a book with
good graver sharpening instructions. Also, gravers can BITE DEEP!!!
Be extremely careful if you attempt this on your own.

James in SoFl

The last time I did graving was back in college in printmaking but
here goes- The tool is held differently than most other tools. The
wooden handle should fit into the fleshy pad below the palm, hand
held almost as a fist palm side down with the graver being pushed
away from the body with the arm flat to the surface. The graver tool
should cut away a v curl of metal as you push with the base of the
hand. Practice, practice, practice. You will need to know how to
sharpen the graver.


It is too bad that this got started off using an incorrect term.
There is no word in the English language, “to grave”, which is how
it is now being used on Orchid.

Engravers use gravers to engrave.
[Artisans use tools to cut.]
That says it all.

One of the reasons I have stayed out of this conversation is that so
few of the people who have posted info seem to know what they are
talking about. Engraving is one of those things about which there is
no point speaking. You can neither explain nor learn with words,
what is happening. It is the most difficult jewelry art to learn,
nearly impossible without a teacher, and takes the most time and
practice to master.

Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts, Inc.
760 Market Street
Suite 900
San Francisco, California 94102
tel: 415-391-4179
fax: 415-391-7570

Laurie if you want to know how to sharpen an Onglette or a Flat
graver, you can go to my web-site…There is an article just on this
method of how to sharpen and polish gravers. If the graver is not at
all sharpened correctly, no chance of that “V-curl” being produced. no charge for any supplied
download at will!

Gerry, the Cyber-Setter!

Engraving is one of those things about which there is no point
speaking. You can neither explain nor learn with words, what is
happening. It is the most difficult jewelry art to learn, nearly
impossible without a teacher, and takes the most time and practice
to master. 
I have to agree. You can learn only so much on any technique from a

book. Maybe if you were in prison and had nothing to do for years and
years, this would be a good way to keep sane (although having sharp
tools may not be warmly embraced by the warden…), but I cannot
imagine that you could ever master this technique in the “Real
World.” I have had many students over the years who boasted that
they were “self taught,” and while they might be fairly competent,
they had also acquired a lot of bad habits and wrong information
along the way. It was often difficult to re-train them, before they
could move ahead. There are a LOT of jewelers out there who mis-use
gravers, or don’t use them because they are “difficult to work
with.” This also applies to most every technique I can think of. For
every self-taught person who is doing it right, there are at least 10
who are doing it almost right or totally wrong. The willingness to be
self-taught, however, shows great desire to learn and real
motivation. These people usually make the best students, and they
soak up like a sponge.

I learned engraving from a master goldsmith almost 30 years ago. I

have a lot of books on engraving, and sometimes I find a snip of
that I didn’t know. But when I sit down next to someone
who really knows how to engrave…WOW! I can learn a lot in just 30
minutes! The belly angle, for example, depends on the size of your
hand, the type of graver, the handle used, and the arc of the line
you are cutting. I could show you how to determine this, but it would
be next to impossible to explain in a book. Whether you want to
learn to engrave, do fabrication, casting, mold cutting, or play
piano, find a GOOD teacher. You will probably also find a mentor in
that person, as well. A lot of my former students keep in touch with
me, and I am always happy to help them with their questions.

Take a five day workshop to start with. Learn how to PROPERLY set

up and sharpen your tools. Get an engraving ball, a couple of
gravers, a sharpening stone and some polishing papers, and practice,
practice, practice, practice until your hands hurt. Then take another
class. Even if you took the same class twice, you will learn things
that your “beginners mind” missed.

The price of one good class is worth more than the price of 100

good books.


Douglas Zaruba
33 N. Market St.
Frederick, MD

And just what do you propose people, like me, who have the
will/obsession to learn, but not the resources to pay for classes
nor the access to teachers that you insist we must have? Are we to
simply give up? No, I don’t think so. I will take my used gravers,
sharpening stones, books, internet, and metal scraps, etc. and I
will by-God figure this out on my own!


You do have the will and desire to learn. You should at least take
ONE class to learn the rudimentary basics in seeing how graver shaping
method is accomplished. Call this one class, an investment,…seeing
how you should prepare the handle, shaping of the graver, etc’s. Once
that you have seen this class, you can organise the rest of your
gravers all on your own time!

But geez don’t always feel you can go it alone, it doesn’t work like
this…even painters on canvass do take a lesson once in a while.
Just to steer themselves in the right track. I am an avid
photographer, but you know, I still take a few lessons now and then.

I beg you Dawn spend a few dollars and go to Metalwerx in Feb. 4-5-6
I will be there!

I will help you, be a part of this select group of intelligent
folks…then you can do whatever you want in the future, but learn
the “teacher-taught, basics” first…Gerry Lewy!

Now that’s the spirit! I taught myself how to use gravers and got
most of what I was looking for after a lot of messed up metal and cut
hands (be REALLY careful, you can do yourself a lot of damage with
those things).

Several years later I actually learned how to do it properly when I
took up printmaking and got pretty good at it, but I wasn’t far off
just based on reading and improvising.

Peter Malyon


I agree with those who recommend a good class in engraving as the
best way to learn this difficult skill. But short of that, there
are some ways to learn enough to find out whether or not you have a
sustained interest before investing time and money.

I have missed most of the comments made by others because I am
“hundreds” of emails behind. I am sure others have mentioned the
excellent James Meeks book.

As a novice, I highly recommend a book by B. T. Horpe, “Engraving on
Metal Made Easy,” Regal Publications, 1992

Engraving on Metal Made Easy
By B.T. Horpe

Price: $14.00

Media: Paperback
Manufacturer : University Publishing House, Inc.
Release data : 01 December, 1991

Though a misleading title, this book is very detailed and helpful
for getting started. Most of your time should be spent on correctly
sizing and holding the graver, and, sharpening the graver point. It
helps to be obsessive about the angles and condition of the graver
point because it becomes fun when you can glide across the metal and
do a controlled start and stop.

You won’t see examples of engraving on my website because I’m still
practicing, practicing, practicing (and enjoying it). Just go for



I had a customer come in to my store a couple of weeks ago with an
antique ring that needed extensive repair. When I quoted him the
price, he was shocked. “That’s too much money,” he replied.“It can’t
be that hard. I’ll just fix it myself.” Perhaps he will go out and
buy a lot of tools (perhaps used tools), get some “How-To” books on
jewelry repair, and repair his ring. Do you actually think he will be
successful? He may get it to look repaired, but will probably get
frustrated and quit (or totally destroy the piece).

The cost of a basic workshop is not that prohibitive, when you
consider the money and time you will waste buying used and worn out
tools that were made to fit somebody else, books with only some of
the you will need, and the frustration of struggling with
something that would be relatively successful if you had someone to
guide you. I should also warn you that it is not that difficult to
seriously injure yourself when an improperly sharpened graver slips.
Just ask anyone on this list who does engraving how many times they
have pulled a graver out of their hand! Books are written by people
like me, who have been doing this for so many years that we often
forget things that are second nature to us.

If you really can’t afford a workshop, then find someone in your
area who would be willing to give you some instruction. Trade your
time for their time, if you wish. Offer to clean the shop, run
errands, polish, anything… If you came to my shop, I would be
happy to make such an arrangement with someone who has the same
passion for the craft as I do. I would probably have some extra tools
that I could give you, to get you started. Get some instruction
BEFORE you spend any money on tools. Buying used tools takes an
experienced eye. An engraving ball that has a bent shaft or is
missing parts would not be apparent to a beginner, and used gravers
are most often worn out, may not be the right size for your hand, or
may have been modified for a task that you would not be aware of.

If you want to begin right away by looking at a book, do it with a
pencil. Set up an engraving ball with a large flat brass plate
attached to the top. Attach a sheet of paper to the brass plate. Trim
some pencils to match the size and feel of a graver. Holding the
pencil like a graver, start to draw by turning the ball into your
graver, and NOT by pushing the graver. This will take some getting
used to. You do not engrave so much by pushing the graver, but by
turning the ball. Do some of the exercises in the book. Practice
getting your lines straight and circles even. You can do this much on
your own, without an instructor.

Learning to engrave without working with someone is not impossible,
but it is close. Kinda like learning to fly a plane by reading a
book, or learning Karate from a video.

Good luck!
Douglas Zaruba
33 N. Market St.
Frederick, MD 21701
301 695-1107

yea, like learning to fly the plane with a book and the pilot just
croaked! I have lost count of how many scars from gravers that broke
the tip, my suggestion is try copper first. it’s a little softer to
start learning with… brass is harder and more likely to slip.

PS if ya really want to learn look for a gunsmith who engraves

... I am sure others have mentioned the excellent James Meeks book. 

FWIW, I think the book referred to here is:

“Art of Engraving: A Book of Instructions”, by James B. Meek

Art of Engraving: A Book of Instructions
By James B. Meek

Price: $47.95

Media: Hardcover
Manufacturer : Brownell
Release data : 01 June, 1973

Trevor F.


I would never presume to fix an antique or even a brand new piece
without the experience to do so. For some person off the street to
think so is pretty idiotic actually. I’m not quite as new to all
this as it may have originally sounded, although, I am still pretty
wet behind the ears.

The thing is that I am smart, artistic/talented, and driven. I want
to learn any way I can and I didn’t think that throwing out a
blanket, “you can’t do that”, was terribly fair.

I am aware that tools need to fit your hand and that they are
dangerous and sharp. Scars sometimes come with the obsession. Not
understanding that would be to ignore the small burn scars from
learning soldering.

It would be great if I lived in a city where there were workshops I
could trade my time for their time. That would be fun and
interesting, even in the tedious moments. I don’t know what I’d do
with the kids though. There is no one in my area, I live an hour
from everything.

You have good advice and I will put into practise everything I can.
But I won’t quit trying just because I’m not full of city money and
city polish.

Hi Dawn,

Here are a few suggestions you may or may not have thought of,
costing little or no money, to gain knowledge/insight/a look-see,
until you have the resources to attend more formal courses at, for
example, the Revere Academy in San Francisco.

Wherever you go in daily life, your church, your hair salon, the
grocery store, local jeweler, etc. ask some these acquaintances if
they know of anyone who can help you to learn what you want to
learn. Somebody’s friend, uncle, grandmother who may have never
held themselves out to be “teachers”, may actually have some
experience/knowledge you could take advantage of. I have actually
been to a gun show in Ventura, CA where an engraver was busy
engraving a fancy design in a bracelet blank - who would have ever
thought such a demo would be going on inside? First thing I
noticed was his hands and all t heir “wrapping” for safety (as well
as the scars)- a lesson learned.

Call up members of your local rock clubs - those folks don’t just
do rockhounding and lapidary work.

Ask your doctors, especially your dentist, if they have a jewelry
hobby, or one fo their colleagues who does - maybe they’re
proficient with gravers. You won’t know until you ask.

Ask your jewelry supply vendors if they know someone in your area
that they sell to that might be familiar with gravers. These
people might not give out that but they might agree to
pass your name and number on to their customer.

You don’t indicate what area you live in, but some in the Orchid
community might be doing workshops close by you - who knows?

I know I’ve gone on and on, but I hope this might help - there are
all kinds of resources available.


Engraver Marks!

I once knew a very well known hand Engraver, he did all the right
things including his administering “not wanted” tattoos…:>)
Tattoos…duh? shall I say these were caused by little stabbing of
the pointee parts of the graver hitting his holding hand and

From his upper Forefinger down to his base of his Thumb. Little
bluish markings & memories of his expert talents while at the
Engraving Ball.

What do I have…??? little well worn blisters of shellac dripping
down my shellac stick and there while “ultra-hot”, it sticks to the
skin!!! I have used up all of the many monosyllabic “expletive
deletes” while early in my apprenticeship days/years…Don’t try this
at home folks its not a learning experience you should encounter,
trust me!..:>)…“Gerry, the Cyber-Setter, eh!”

Hi All,

I watch that stuff about shellac. When I was an apprentice the
setter I work for bunt himself with shellac and got some in the
wound. Three hours later I was coming back from lunch. He was
running down the hall with blood dripping from his arm. I yelled
after him “what happened?” He yelled back “blood poisoning, I’m
going to the clinic on the second floor.” An hour later when he came
back to the shop on the seventh floor. I asked him why he had run to
clinic. “Look Jim if it gets to your heart you could be in lot of
trouble.” Maybe true or not true, but to this day I’m very careful
around the shellac, or diamond cement, or blue wax.

Finger tattoos make interesting stories to tell to apprentices. I’ve
got a couple but from mold knifes.

Jim Zimmerman