When you’ve made the decision to learn hand engraving, you have
basically 3 options:
- Spend little or no money but lots and lots of time. You can get
by spending very little on one book (Meeks) and the most basic hand
tools. Hammer & chisel or hand pushed burins were all that was
available for the past couple of hundred years, and some astonishing
work was done with them and IS still being done by that method.
You can join one of the Internet forums and find mentors who will
take the time to help you. You can study the work of dozens if not
hundreds of professional engravers online. You can take all of this
and try to put it together into a workable plan for
You can also find plans and directions for making your own engraving
ball, gravers, and other bench tools in these forums. At last
estimate, I saw a price estimate of less than $200 for a pretty
complete homemade setup. This included an engraving ball - made out
of a recycled bowling ball and lathe chuck, half a dozen hand push
gravers - made from 1/8" lathe tools, a diamond disc power
sharpening system - using a mixer, blender, or can-opener motor, and
a bench - made out of a government surplus desk. It can be done!
When I began, 30 some years ago, we did not have this resource. It
was much harder to find and techniques were not shared.
There were far fewer engravers in those days, and they were very
protective of what they regarded as the “trade secrets” that made it
possible for them to make a living.
- You can spend a little money and save an enormous amount of time.
There are intensive private and public workshops or classes that you
can attend. These do cost, but are designed to save you more than
they cost - both in time AND money. You will usually SAVE more than
you would spend without the benefit of the education.
You will learn to use ALL of the tools and techniques properly -
under supervision. You are far less likely to develop bad habits
from the start. If you are lucky, you can find an instructor who
will let you try every available tool and method - and show you all
of the possibilities in every branch of engraving. At that point you
can begin to consider what you will need to purchase in the way of
tools and equipment to get the results that you are seeking. I see
too many students who have invested huge amounts of money in brand
new tools without having tried them first. You may well discover
that engraving is not for you.
- You can try to find an engraver who will agree to help train you
in his or her workshop. Usually you will have agreed to repay the
professional in the form of time and labor. This can be an ideal
situation if both parties get what they expect. It can also be
disastrous for either party. This is often the main reason why so
many engravers politely refuse to become involved in training
anyone. It takes months to acquire enough skills to make yourself
useful to the engraver who is teaching you. At that point he or she
is just breaking even with what it costs in time (and perhaps
materials to train someone. Also if both parties know or feel
that the relationship is to be a short one, it might not be
worthwhile to either party. What is more valuable to you? If you are
young, time is not as important. Money is probably in short supply.
If you are in your 40’s or older and seriously want to produce a
good body of work before it is too late time is extremely important.
Money may be a bit easier to come by. Short, intensive, private
skills workshops can be focused on exactly what you need. The cost
of these workshops is not expensive. (I see people spend 3 or 4
times as much for a set of rims for their vehicle!) You have an
opportunity to find out whether hand engraving is something you’d
like to continue as either a hobby or on a professional basis
without investing thus ands of dollars in advance. Learning
precision skills like hand engraving without formal instruction is
not impossible. I have done it myself. It was a pretty long and
miserable experience. Had I had the opportunities available today, I
know I would have found a way to take advantage of the intensive
training, and saved myself many years of eating beans and rice!
Think about your future customer. Would you like to be the first
patient of a surgeon who learned everything he knew from books and
tapes? Or take the first flight with a pilot who learned exclusively
from his online buddies?
The right instructor can stand over your shoulder and gently tell
you that what you are trying to do is upside down or backwards. Or
maybe even physically impossible! That you are holding your tool
improperly, or have chosen the wrong tool for the job. That there is
an easier, faster, or shorter ways to get the result you want. My
last advice is that if you do choose to learn from an instructor in
an intensive workshop or class, find someone who has done or is
doing specifically what you want to do. I also advise you to find an
instructor who is flexible and will teach you what YOU want to know
- not what has been printed in some curriculum. Someone who is
current in the field, as much has changed in 30 years. There are
plenty of incredibly gifted working instructors out there. It may
not always be easy to find someone in your particular area, you may
have to travel, but if you persevere - you will find what you are
Brian P. Marshall
Stockton Jewelry Arts School
2207 Lucile Ave.
Stockton, CA 95209 USA