Homemade cheap graver

Hello there, this is my first post here. English is not my native language, so I apologize for any mistake I could make.
I started jewelry two years ago, at first I was doing some wire wrapping with recycled paperclips and electric cables, then i discovered that jewelry was a great job, involving more different techniques than any other job. Then I learned using a flex shaft with the cheapest one i could find, then I got interested in soldering, then i wanted to get better colors on copper, so i had to learn about chemistry, since there’s no commercial product available for jewelers where I live. Then i wanted to learn more about chasing and repoussé. Made a dozen of punches and stamps out of nails, but that was too small, so i made twenty more out of grade 8 bolts. Getting to this point, i had to learn more about steel, I had to build a forge, find a good anvil (a train rail), etc… But i had no money. That was the funniest part, I think, since I had to make almost every tool or chemical, without any knowledge. Internet helped a lot, of course, and so did Ganoksin.

So now, after i’m getting to the point where i want to learn more about hand-pushed engraving. (and eventually, hammer and chisel).
As always, I could not find any graver where I live, and since i don’t know if I want to spend money on tools i could make myself, I bought some piano wire for the blade, found an old brass pin vise and a door handle in the garbage out there, and made this. Less than 1$. One hour. Works great, now i want to learn everything about hand engraving ! (Will have to make a good engraving vise first. This is so hard and dangerous to do holding the metal with the other hand.)

The piano wire is formed to an onglet shape, then quenched and tempered to hold a sharp edge. I might have to make a wider onglet, this one looks more like a knife. Cuts pretty well into mild steel, aluminium and copper. Cuts fingers, too…
I don’t know if it will retain its cutting edge for a very long time, but I can sharpen it every so often, A whole day of practice and thousands of cuts has not altered it in any way, so i guess it’s gonna work. Masonry nails do a poor job, compared to this steel.

Any advice on what kind of graver shapes I should practice with first ? Anyone has used piano wire to make gravers before ?

Thanks for everything.



Hi Pierre…
I’m not sure about giving you advice, I think it’s the other way around… You could make a great business out of both your graver handles and gravers…
I’ll buy some !
This is very similar to the way I was taught as an apprentice.
I would take steel rod, shape it, oil quench red hot, clean and heat to a straw brown & quench in oil again.
50 years later, still using some of them…
I think it is as simple as what works…
you clearly got that far if you can harden steel sufficiently to engrave steel !
I learned to bias my graver faces toward the right or left, depending on the direction I was cutting.
As tool holding, a piece of an old broom handle, dowel, file handle etc with dop wax is still my preference…
Given you’re inherent creativity… what will you come up with ? (holding with your hand is not really a good long term solution…).
My compliments, while you present this as a primitive approach, I think what you’re doing (and your thinking) is quite elegant…


Steel nails will perform well too and they are much easier to get in a hardware store.

Having the tools is one thing , sharpening them in a perfect shape and keeping them sharp is another.
Lindsay has template made out of plastic board which can help you to do that.
You can make them yourself, have a look on youtube for information.

Good luck.


Thank you very much for your comments and advices.
Later i might post photos of what can be done with this graver, but for now i’m still filling blanks with straight and curved lines, so there’s not much room for creativity yet, maybe in a few days i’ll be able to make a simple project. Biasing the graver’s face toward left/right makes wider lines, a bit like calligraphy or scrollwork, right ?

I did try using steel nails before, it worked great for chasing and repoussé, though a bit small, but they weren’t able to hold a sharp edge for a while. Maybe i was not heat-treating it properly, i’ll try again someday, with different nails. Maybe quenching in sodium hyrdroxide/water will make it harder, from what i’ve read about quenching mediums.

The graver sharpening template is great ! Less mistakes and easier setup. I saw another video demonstrating a wooden one before, but this one is much easier to understand. I like the idea of using a “domino” electric connection to hold the blade. The one i saw uses a threaded bar that goes all the way through the template, but that’s simpler and even cheaper, and they throw away a lot of electrical stuff in the garbage here, as well as many other things. (Broken silver jewelry, oxygen, torches, drill, presses, fresh food… People consume and waste a lot here in France…)

About an engraving vise, I don’t play bowling, but I found this :

Looks good, but I migtht have trouble finding that bowling ball… And i’d like to have small holes in the vise to place small pins. The ones they sell here cost more than 200$, so that’s gonna be my next project

Thanks alot :slight_smile:

[Edit : That is a shot put ball, not a bowling one, maybe i can find something similar, after all… Here they play “Pétanque” with big steel balls.]

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Congratulations Pierre for your resilient curiosity and overcoming obstacles. I never thought of using piano wire. Old piano wire was ductile iron. Did you use old (late 19th century / early 20th century wire? What diameter?
(Lucky) EileenWhere tools are readily available. . .

Thanks a lot great video!

Thanks again for your attention. I’m using piano wire from a model engineering shop. It might be 1085 steel, i’m not quite sure. What i know is that it has a rather high percent of carbon and some manganese in it. Old piano wires cannot be worked the same way, and won’t retain any cutting edge, I guess…
A broken jigsaw blade will work nicely too, from what I’ve read. Maybe even better, since it’s HSS and not spring steel.

For this one i used a 4mm “wire” Looks more like a bar to me, but that’s how they call it…
Good results could be achieved with a smaller diameter, I guess.

Finally, this is what i use now as an alternative to a vise, to get started working :
(Those lines are quite ugly yet, but i feel like i’m getting a little better. I find this technique quite challenging.)

Also, found this :

Looks really funny, but that could do the job :slight_smile:


Hi Pierre,
I admire your creativity. The most fun I have ever had was assembling a jeweler’s bench from an old watchmakers desk and filling it with tools mostly collected from here and there and/or repurposed. You can make most gravers from what is called in the US “drill rod” which can be obtained from metals dealers and perhaps from scrap yards. I suppose you could also use old drills. Any high carbon steel will temper. The sparks that the steel throws when ground will tell you if it is high carbon or not…consult a blacksmith site about the proper spark pattern for high carbon steel, there will be pictures of how the shower of sparks looks.

If pressed for money I would not look for an engraving block. As Jim Grahl said, a shellac stick is an old jeweler’s way of holding pieces to work on. Uses lapidary wax on a broom handle, perhaps with a larger circle of wood fastened to the top of the broom handle for a larger piece (brooch, etc.). If you need pins in the vise jaws, there are cheap "universal work holders which you can buy for under $20. Scroll down this page to see one with a handle on it:

If the handle is removed, the work holder will fit in the jaws of a vise. You could buy a small vise on a locking ball to put it in. I have one of these and it was under $20, clamps to my bench.
You mention chasing and repousse…IDK how you are holding your work. If needed for engraving, etc., one could use roofing pitch, perhaps with plaster of paris and/or tallow added to make jeweler’s pitch, just look up the formula. You can put this into an oven pan or about any convenient container. You may be able to find a small, cheap stainless steel bowl to hold it and fit into a ring like the cast iron pitch bowls do.
When I am rich from selling my jewelry maybe I will get a GSR system…until then I have found various convenient work arounds…and so will you. Best of luck in your work!

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aloped http://orchid.ganoksin.com/users/aloped wrote - February 9, 2017, 8:15am

Steel nails will perform well too and they are much easier to get in a
hardware store.

Having the tools is one thing , sharpening them in a perfect shape and
keeping them sharp is another.

A heavy grade of music wire would be a much better choice than a nail for something (like a graver) requiring a sharp and durable edge. Nails are made from mild steel, which doesn’t harden; they need to bend when required, and not to shatter or chip. But music wire is made from high-carbon steel, which can be hardened by heating to red and quenching, then tempered (softened) to the appropriate degree by re-heating to a specific temperature corresponding to an oxidation color apparent on the outside, if it’s polished, then quenched. For gravers, a “straw” color is good. Depending on the type of steel, oil or water is generally used for quenching; oil works a little slower, which can keep stress cracks from forming.

Andrew Werby

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The steel nails I’m reffering to are steel and can be used for fastening purpose in concrete.
They rather break then bent. The purpose of this nail is not to give a tenth of a millimeter.
They have a Hrc of 52-54 which is -more or less- comparable with Vh of 550-590.
I don’t think you can call this soft and the edge stay’s pretty sharp depending which metal is engraved.

By the way, I’m not reffering to the nails used in that videoclip.
I don’t know the specifications of that type of steel.
The steel nails I know -in Belgium- are blueisch-black.

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Hello Pierre,
Love your ingenuity!! The tool is quite lovely - porcelain handled and all. It looks comfortable to use. Very impressive. Can’t wait to see what you make to hold the metal for engraving. Do share with use.

Judy in Kansas, who has finally recovered from the long, long drive back from Tucson. Good memories of the Orchid gathering and all the conversation as well as putting faces to names. ORCHID ROCKS!

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Hello again, and thank you so much for your comments ! It’s really pleasant and helpful to read you all.

I like the way engraver’s pitch holds the work. I had to mix it with some rough natural pitch to prevent it from breaking too much (i’m using the same natural pitch, mixed with ashes and linseed oil, to work on chasing & repoussé), but i think it will do the job for a few months. Allows me to keep practicing while i find everything i need to make a good and pretty vise. I plan to make it all by myself, but maybe i’ll buy a cheap holding vise and recycle it.

About steel nails, they sell cheap “high-carbon” masonry nails here in France, they are blueisch-black too, but i was never able to make a good blade out of them. They do work great as punches, quenching in salt-water without tempering, but i think you have access to much better nails than i do.

Reading your comments makes me want to share more photos of my homemade tools and bench, i think within a few days i’ll post a collection on the bench exchange. My father is a woodworking teacher, so i made the whole bench with his help, and his (giant) machines. From cutting the tree (beech wood) to finished product, with ventilation system and lot of space. Needs a lot of improvements, but i was,quite content when we made it.

Thanks again !

Some useful shapes. You can use any tool steel as long as it is hardenable.
Some are oil quench, some are water.

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Love those handles, and your English is way better than most I know.

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Hi Pierre,
your original post intrigued me as in all the 20? years I have been posting 1st on Rec. crafts jewellery, then here on this forum there hasnt been anyone that has shown the resourcefulness that you have in your terms of reference ie, how do you get the tools to do what you want with no money?
so I wanted to reply to say that there is piano wire and there is wire from a piano, the latter is never thicker than 1.5mm so you would need a very shoht piece to use as a graver. you answered that in your next post!. then I asked myself how is it that such a beginner as you has the background to invent so many solutions? Perhaps I thought you had been in the military of came from a family that had always been solving problems in the way they lived.
so again you gave us the clue! that your father is a teacher of wood work.
there is the answer to my query, it saved me writing to ask.
however, all beginners need a mentor to praise and also the critisize you. We call it the carrot and stick approach.
I would therefore like to ask you the following question.
What do you plan to do with your engraving skills? ie what COMMERCIAL product do you see making? because its just fine to be very good but its NO good if you cant or do not sell what you make.
this is the 3rd part of being a hand worker. The 1st is the design, the 2nd is the making .
I look forward to hearing what your plans are for this 3rd part.
With best wishes
Ted in Dorset UK.
PS, where in France are you? maybe not too far from here. If you really want to see how a proper jewellery making factory works, I have one here, you would be welcome to visit. we have a camper van for you to stop over…


Hi again.
Your comments are really encouraging, many thanks :slight_smile: !
I never thought it would grab the attention of so many people.

The graver shapes are really useful, thank you. Today i made another blade, with a slightly wider angle and a shorter shank.It works even better, it’s much easier to use and allows me to make beautiful wide curves like they do in scrollwork. I must admit it’s the hardest technique i ever tried, and will cost me a lot of time to learn. But so was soldering when i started, and when i was wire-wrapping paperclips, i never thought i would be doing this today.

When it comes to selling, i’m one of the worst, i guess…
I got tons of jewelry rotting in a bag that i’m too afraid, or too lazy to sell.
I started an etsy shop some time ago, put a few photos of wire-wrapped bracelets, and then left it, without communicating the link to anybody. When people ask me why, i tell them it’s because i haven’t made all the photos yet, which is true, i only did a dozen with my cellphone, but then it fell and broke, so i could not continue.
A week ago, i bought myself a real camera (That was a bit hard to ‘DIY’ ^^). But now i need to learn more about photography…Those graver photos are one of the attempts to get myself into it. I guess in a few weeks i’ll have a working etsy shop and i’ll be able to share the link. Many people tell me they are waiting for it, so i feel quite ashamed not to do it, but i’m really afraid of what could happen. What if my jewelry breaks ? What if i’m not setting my stones correctly ? What if… etc … I know that sounds stupid, as every time i went to markets people told me i must do a website to give the link to their friends, but i’m really afraid.
I feel like, as a beginner, i should not sell anything before i master the techniques. And as there’s no way to truly ‘master’ an art, i’m stuck. That’s absurd, of course :smiley: But hopefully i’ll overcome this difficulty soon enough.

Thanks for reminding me that, i tend to force myself to forget about it, but if i want to keep working i’ll have to think about it. (especially if i want to start working on precious metals)
I live in Marseille, that’s in the southern part of France, so it might be hard to travel to UK for now, but i’d love to see a real workshop someday, or even just meet a jeweller and see his work would be great, as i never did.

Here are the photos of my second blade, i’ll make a few more tomorrow with the references you gave me. (I must make some sharpening templates…)

(Hi-res, click twice to enlarge)

Many thanks,

Hi Pierre,

Carpenters nail sets work well when repurposed as chasing & repouse punches.
Inexpensive and easy to find.
Hope this is of use.


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Dear Pierre,

I believe you will do very well, for you are intelligent, ethical, and humble. I look forward to seeing your work as you move forward.

Best regards,



Hello Pierre again,
Thank you for your latest thoughts, especially about your fear of selling
more on this later.
Now some more questions from me.

  1. how old are you?
    2.Do you have a job? ie earn a living at something?
    3.how many hours a day or week can you spend making your work?
  2. perhaps you live at your family home? and
  3. what size working space do you have?
    Now to selling.
    for example, If you wish practice your repusse skills, you could start by cutting out say a circle 50mm in 1mm copper, fix to your pitch. then repusse around your initials into the copper so they are raised. make a hole in it and put a jump ring through in 3mm copper. then a leather thong. as a pendant.
    when you have done that make the same for another person with their initials.
    Practice this so you become fast.
    Then you can repeat this in say a 70/30 brass, and eventually in sterling.
    Then the next step would be to make a buckle back to which you rivet this repusse front. i would buy it from you if you made it. also people all wear trousers so need belts and buckles to hold them up. A utilitarian product BUT it will make you money!!.
    now the buckle back. The best metal for this is from a scrap yard. you are lucky! you live in a sea port. There you will have scrap yards where non ferrous metals come in. you need to ask for hot sea water trunking say 50 to 75mm dia pipe. this is a cupro nickel alloy , nice and ductile when annealed. you split the pipe lengthwise with a jig saw, open up and you have some lovely bronze sheet. more on the buckle back making next time.
    also, I would like to see the wire wrap bracelets you made.
    Pictures please!
    finally, have you made your own initials into a punch with which to sign your work?
    you must do this.

Hi again and thanks for your attention.
I’m 22, i don’t have any job, but i don’t spend a lot of money so that’s fine for now, i’m lucky enough to have a family to support me. I do earn a bit of money selling jewelry, but that’s not much for now. Once i went to a market and earned about 200€, that was quite a lot for only 5 pieces of jewelry. The most expensive one (80€) was a wire-wrapped necklace with some chased brass plates, patinated with rokusho. Maybe that was too expensive. Maybe too cheap. I still don’t know much about the prices. The ones i’ve put on etsy are much more expensive than what i think they’re worth, but this time i listened to my friends and tried not to cut prices too much. I still think they’re too expensive, though. I know professionals dislike when “amateurs” cut their prices, so i did the contrary to avoid bothering anybody.

The time i spend on working is really different every day. I can spend entire nights or days working and experimenting, and the next day i won’t do anything but watch jewelry videos and read about blacksmithing, chemistry or whatever. There’s not a single day without jewelry in my mind. I do spend all my life into it, even if i’m not working a lot. I also spend lot of time making tools and repairing broken things from the garbage to save money
I still have to find some kind of rythm, that would help me. But working with constraints drives me mad, and i have trouble working on things people ask me or tell me to do.
Whenever i make something for free, it’s the best work i do. The jewelry i gave as gifts is the best i could ever make. That’s kinda strange, but i feel relieved of any stress when i’m doing something i know people will like for sure, because it’s a gift.

I don’t live in my family’s home.
For a while i was travelling with a backpack and a tent, within Spain and France, but then i met people living freely, in abandonned houses, recycling everything they could, from food to furniture. That got me into making jewelry. I learned a lot with these people, they were not jewelers but could repair almost everything with anything. Many of my tools were made in this period, we had lots of space, lots of raw material, and a common experience to share.
But that life was illegal, we had to move on to another house every 6 months or so. I was too tired to continue living like this, so i gave up, i’m now living with my girlfriend in an appartment. That’s small. Too small. We live, work and sleep in the same room we work both (her as an illustrator). That’s why i had to make a ventilation and filtering system.
We’re lucky enough to have a small balcony, so i can make the dangerous stuff outside, but we plan on moving away from the city as soon as we can.
All my workspace/storage is a tiny 2x3 meters space, but for now that’s fine, i can still keep working.

About the photos, i’m sending you my etsy webpage in a message. For now i have to take photos of what i made recently, because those are things i made last year. Then i’ll share the link in public. (I must admit i’m not proud enough of what i did last year, so i really need to put the recent things along with it before sharing. I should not have made that webpage so fast, because right now i’m paying to have them online. Not much, but still is something…)

I never did a punch with my initials, but i’m planning to make one with my logo sooner or later. I like the idea of stamping my work. Of course i’ll share the pictures :slight_smile:

Never thought about the scrap yard, but that’s a wonderful idea ! They do forbid the selling of cupro-nickel jewelry here in France, though, but i already did a lot of nickel silver jewelry. Those will be molten and worked into other decorative objects someday, i guess… That was quite disapointing reading the law… Belt buckles might be allowed, though, as it’s not really considered as “jewelry”.
About scrap metal, there’s a lot of scrap copper, brass and bronze in the garbage here. I never bought copper or brass plates, as i can find a good weight of them out there.
Aluminium is even easier to find, but i don’t like it. I do use some to practice engraving ( = waste a lot of plates), but i prefer copper alloys.

Once again, many thanks for your attention, that is really helpful.