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How hard is engraving to do?

Hats off to all you engravers on the list! How hard is engraving to
do? Ridiculously difficult.

Rather than doing the boring thing of buying a card for my husband
for our anniversary, I decided to make a little silver card complete
with hinge and engrave it. Well you know how stupid I am and that I
don’t really do practicing. It was kind of a spur of the moment
decision. Well you can guess what a mess I made of it. I melted and
rolled out my own 1mm sheet for the two pieces, sawed and filed them
to shape. I constructed the hinge components (another first for me)
and soldered them on, then I made sure the pieces were well annealed
before attempting to engrave.

I scribed the words I wanted to engrave, mounted the pieces in
thermo- loc in my vice and had a go. After a couple of attempted
lines that skidded off into parts I didn’t want any marks, I sort of
got a feel for the depth and pressure to use in order to get a nice
bit of silver curling out of the grooves. But the most difficult
thing I found was actually trying to stop when I got to the end of a
line. I’ve done calligraphy for a few years a long time ago and there
are similarities in that you often have to do a line in two goes,
from both ends, but in calligraphy you’re pulling the nib along
whereas in engraving you’re pushing. So I tried doing the lines from
both ends and had a higher degree of success. The inside of the
"card" was supposed to say “Happy fifth anniversary” but I was having
such trouble that I decided to merely put a large figure 5 and the
letters TH after it, then get rid of all extraneous scratches and
scribe marks. Needless to say, I had rather a lot of clean-up to do
on it but I got there in the end and he absolutely loves it. The
hinge went well and has inspired me to have a go at making a locket
soon. I’ve got the engraving bug though, and will be practicing lots.

Helen Hill

A great description. I like your gung-ho attitude: any pictures?

Hi Helen,

Engraving is difficult. The basic principles are easy. I am teaching
a student at present how to engrave. He seems to have a natural
aptitude. Engraving does require a certain amount of physical
strength and determination.

It is important to harden and sharpen the engraving tool correctly.
I don’t know if you are using a diamond cut engraver or scorper. It is
worth buying an Arkansas sharpening stone to sharpen your gravers
with. They are quite expensive, but worth the money. Gravers should
be heat hardened to a light blue colour and then plunged in water. I
had an engraving tutor who told me that most gravers and scorpers are
made to long.

The handle should fit snugly in the palm of your hand and the
cutting edge should protrude about an inch beyond your index finger.
This means that the graver has a shorter life, but is easier to use.
To see if the graver is sharp enough, you should be able to get the
cutting edge to very lightly catch the back of you thumb nail. If this
doesn’t happen, the cutting edge is blunt.

Engraving is a very desirable skill as there are fewer hand
engravers around today. Good luck with your quest!


I, too, am wanting to learn engraving. I bought a set of engravers
and handles from Rio a few months back and they have been sitting in
a drawer in my bench because I am perplexed about how to get them
ready to use. Several of engravers themselves are FAR too long. They
measure just over 6 inches!!! This measurement is without the handle
attached. I can see I would have NO control over them with that type
of length. Is there a way to shorten the steel? You may laugh, but I
have to tell you, I tried using my jeweler’s saw (because in the past
I have used it for SO many other cutting applications beyond my
jeweler’s bench with great success) but the hardened steel of the
engravers basically sheered off the cutting teeth on the saw blade!!!


Shorten them? Try snapping them off in a vice and then grinding the
parts to shape. Think of it as getting two gravers for the price of
one. (And you’re still getting took on the price, IMHO. For simple
gravers it’s too easy to get a bit of tool steel, shape it with a
grinder and harden and temper it.)

When I was buying them I would break them in two and use the grinder
to create two of them. Later I just started making my own. (And not
much after that I stopped kidding myself about my engraving skills.)

But yes, you definitely need to shorten them. Someone recommended
putting the handle in your palm and having the point about 1" beyond
your index finger. That, or shorter, is a good length.

And polish the working end! Polish, polish, polish. When it’s slick
it glides through even unhardened steel. If it’s the least bit dull
the **** thing goes all over the place.


Shortening gravers is not difficult. Use the edge of a grinding wheel
to “cut” the metal on both sides until a a thin piece remains. Place
the graver in a vise point down, wearing safety gear, hit the graver
sideways and snap off the excess metal at the base. Then grind the
rough end to the shape you want to fit into a graver handle. When set
into the handle I like the working end to be about even with the tip
of my index finger.

Good luck, Jim Doherty

Thanks for the advice Richard.

I got my gravers from Orchid’s Gery Lewy and they arrived sharpened
ready for their first use. I had to mount them in the handles. From
what you say, they are about the right length. Gery very generously
provides CD’s on how to sharpen the gravers, plus lots of printed
material. I need to have another good read of all his info. I’ll get
practicing. I think some sheets of copper for the task might be a
good idea.


mount the graver in a vise with the amount that you want to remove
protruding above the jaws of the vise, you can hit this with a
hammer and that piece will break cleanly off, watch out for the
flying steel. you can also grip that piece with a large set of
pliers, like draw tongs, and give it a quick push and it will break
off without bouncing all around the room. no vise? not a problem,
just score the steel with a cut off disc (AKA seperating disc) grip
with pliers or ring clamp and snap off the excess.

good luck!!

I haven’t fully perused the September issue of “Art Jewelry”, but it
has an article on “Get Started Engraving”. It looks like a nice to
start with article. Maybe that will help out and I am sure there are
artist on this forum that would be willing to chime in.

I too wish to learn how to engrave.

Ken Moore

One other thing about engraving. On soft metals like silver and
copper you can use a burnisher to polish out scratches and lines that
didn’t go where you wanted them to. You’ve got to bear down on the
burnisher, though.


I, too, am wanting to learn engraving. 

Engraving is a lifetime endeavor. The basics are pretty easy, but if
you want to be good, it’s gonna take years and miles of lines. There
are no short cuts. It’s not all that different from oil painting.
Putting color on canvas is easy, creating art, well, that’s a
different story. Also like painting with oils, it doesn’t pay very
well, at least until you become very, very good. Then it can pay

Books to get and devour for the metalsmith / aspiring engraver:

“The Art of Engraving”, by James B. Meek (any relation to Brian
Meek, aka Alberic?) absolutely the first book you need.

“The Jewelry Engraver’s Manual” by R. Allen Hardy and John J. Bowman

“Engraving on Precious Metals” by A. Britain and P. Morton.

Anything by Ron Smith.

There are many, many, others. A search of the archives on The
Engraver’s Cafe forum will yield hundreds, try this link:

The two major suppliers of tools are GRS and Lindsay. Both have
websites, and much is written on the pros and cons of both companies,
their tools and philosophies. There are others, but these are the two

You must be able to draw if you want to engrave. My Dad always told
me “if you can’t draw it, you can’t cut it”. No more true words have
ever been spoken. If you get and study those three or four books, get
yourself a draftsman’s pencil and sharpener, a few sketch pads and
spend a few hours scouring The Engraver’s Cafe
( and the Engraving Forum
(, you’ll be able to get a feel for
what’s in store for you if you want to be an engraver.

Happy cutting,

I am perplexed about how to get them ready to use. Several of
engravers themselves are FAR too long. They measure just over 6
inches!!! This measurement is without the handle attached. I can
see I would have NO control over them with that type of length. Is
there a way to shorten the steel? 

Properly preparing the gravers is the first step to any work with
gravers, from stone setting to engraving, and it’s an important one.
Improperly prepared and sharpened gravers will be almost impossible
to get decent work from, and can actually be dangerous in use.

First, mount the graver securely on it’s handle. The style of graver
handle is a matter of choice, based on the size of your hand, how you
like it to feel, etc. One way to mount a graver it to hold it in a
vise, the tang pointing up. Predrill an undersized hole in the graver
handle if it doesn’t already have one. Heat the back end of the tank
with a torch to bright red hot, then quickly drive the handle down
onto the tang with a mallet. Allow to cool, quench if you like. The
graver will burn it’s way into the wood creating a perfectly fitted
socket in the wood, which tightens down on the tang as the wood and
the tang cool down again.

Then size the graver. Again, this is a bit of a matter of
preference, but in general, hold the graver in your hand as though
using it (the handle in it’s appropriate place in your palm, and
extend your thumb as far down the graver as you comfortably can. Mark
that length, or maybe a slight bit more. That, for many people, is
about the right length to start with. In use, the graver will get
shorter over time, and that will be OK, but much longer than this is
usually harder to control, so you start by shortening it to that

Shorten the graver by putting it, again, in a good sturdy vise or
hand clamp, held by the vise jaws on the “good” part of the graver,
with the excess waste section protruding up above the vise jaws. WEAR
SAFETY GLASSES. Hit the extended end of the graver with a hammer. It
will snap right off and go flying away. You can hold a cloth towel
behind that waste part when you hit it to catch that section if you

Now comes the work. Sharpening the thing. For most gravers, the
first part it grinding off the back of the graver so it tapers from
the handle to the point. Depending on the shape and type of graver,
the thickness can be tapered anywhere from about half the original
thickness at the tip, to as little as a millimeter in thickness,
leaving just a delicate small tip of the graver at it’s tip. The main
point is that the working end of the graver should be no larger than
needed to produce the cuts you wish, in order both to better see what
you’re doing in sometimes tight quarters, but also so that you don’t
have to grind off so much while sharpening and resharpening.

After the back is cut down to your desired taper towards the point,
you then sharpen the graver.

And that skill takes more than a quick message to describe. I’d
suggest getting a good book on engraving that shows the proper angles
and geometries for a proper point. There’s lots of good info on Steve
Lindsay’s web site on sharpening, as well as tons of other aspects of
hand engraving. Plus lots of examples you’ll drool over… and
engraving discussion forums there where you can ask a bunch of
engraving experts and enthousiasts ( Steve,
of course, is the inventor and builder of the Lindsay air graver line
of power engraving handpieces. These things make hand engraving a LOT
faster and easier both to learn, and to do. This type of tool will
cut your learning time way way down. The same is true of the popular
GRS brand of power engraving handpieces. Personally, I prefer Steve’s
tools. Built by Steve, they work and look like a fine swiss watch or
piece of jewelry as much as a fine tool. I prefer the operation,
look, and feel of the Lindsay handpieces to the GRS tools, but it
should also be said that the GRS tools are fine quality as well, and
cost a bit less, I think.

Usual disclaimers Re: Steve Lindsay’s site and tools. I’ve no
personal stake in either. I’m just a highly satisfied customer, and
as you’ll be when you see his site and work, totally blown away by
what he does with these tools…

Peter Rowe

I am learning hand engraving right now. I have some great teachers.
I haven’t much time to post at the moment, but I will write more
later. As for shortening the graver:

Put the graver in a vise, line it up where you want to break it. Take
a pair of heavy duty pliers in both hands and grasp the top and
carefully toggle it from one side to the other and it will snap
right off. The gravers should be tempered steel and and therefore
very brittle and easy to snap.

May I suggest a book for anyone interested in learning the technique
of hand engraving, it is published by NAG press which is apart of
Robert Hale books, soon be my publisher. The book is also available
via Amazon for 23 dollarsin the USA or 16 poundsin the UK. This book
is called: “Engraving on Precious Metals” by A. Brittain and P.
Morton I purchased my copy of this book back in 1964 when I first
started learning hand engraving.

Peace and good health to all
James Miller FIPG a goldsmith in th UK

Hi Robert,

I’m too embarrassed to show any pictures. I think I’ll practice a
LOT more first. I attempted bead setting as well today and a bit more
engraving. The stone stayed in even through two 15 minute stints in
my ultrasonic! I did crush the first stone when I was trying to
round the beads so had to drill it out, cut a bigger seat, cut new
beads and set a bigger stone. I’ll be practicing that a lot too
before I’m brave enough to show any pictures.

Your website sounds good!


I’ll second Ken’s suggestion. On page 68 after the article on
"Getting Started ", there is an additional article called “All About
Gravers”. A student brought the issue in to class the other day and
we liked it enough to make a copy. The photos are very useful.We also
have the books that David Phelps suggested.


I bought a set of engravers and handles .. snip 

JOLT (Just One Little Thing). The tool used for engraving is called a
graver; the person who uses the the tool is the engraver.

Regards, Gary Wooding

I’ll second Ken’s suggestion. On page 68 after the article on
"Getting Started ", there is an additional article called “All About
Gravers”. A student brought the issue in to class the other day and
we liked it enough to make a copy. The photos are very useful.We also
have the books that David Phelps suggested.


Hi Helen,

I have a friend who is a retired master engraver - he made his
living by engraving high quality guns. He taught me how to engrave
and I can verify that, although the basic principles are pretty easy,
it takes lots and lots of practise to get anywhere near proficient. If
you are anywhere close to the Midlands I’m certain that he would be
willing to give you a few lessons.

Regards, Gary Wooding

Engraving is very hard to do. The number of engraving tools for
resale is evidence.

It’s similar to learning to write all over again. It takes the
patience of Job. You’re an adult and you have to go back to the
equivalent of the 5th grade.

First a distinction: What Gerry Levy is doing is not engraving; he’s
using gravers to set stones. If you want to leave to use gravers to
set stones you should take Gerry’s class.

If you want to learn to engrave it’s entirely different. And you
should take a class just to find out what’s what. I think it would be
virtually impossible to teach yourself. It would be very frustrating.
There are so many things to attend to, such as body position, how to
start a cut, etc. The best texts do not cover all these details.

James Meek’s “Art of Engraving” and “Engraving on Precious
Metals” are two necessary texts. It would probably a good idea to
read those two books to see what your in for. If you’re still
interested; it’s practice, practice, practice. Again I think it’s a
necessity to take a class unless you find a tutor.

I’ve been practicing for a long time and I enjoy it; but if you’re
looking for quick results it’s not going to happen. I spend a couple
of hours practicing most days. I’m a slow learner but I learn a
little bit each session. Progress is incremental.

The major change in engraving is methods for sharpening gravers.
Properly sharpening a graver may be 80% of it. A properly sharpened
graver is an absolute necessity. If your graver is not properly
sharpened it can drive you to distraction. So, how do you know if
your graver is properly sharpened. There are sharpening fixtures and
diamond laps that make it easier but it’s an investment

I don’t think you’ll learn online; although you can learn of the
difficulties and the pitfalls.

Anything is possible; and some people have more aptitude than