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Japanese engraving

I’m in the next year going to Japan. While I was in the area of
Tokyo and Kyoto I think it would be neat to visit some shops that do
engraving. The Japanese version of fine line engraving that they do
with light, long handled hammers is called Kebori. There was a lot of
this style of work done on samurai sword guards, known as Tasubo’s.

Has anyone visited shops in Tokyo or Kyoto that specialize in this?
Can people this visit and where are they?

Jim Zimmerman

Ive never been to Japan but did tons of research on this. Here is
one school on Higo-Zogan, its a start at least.

Also, Naohiro Yamada, master metalsmith, is going to be teaching two
classes at the Revere Academy this April. One of the classes is on
the Hori style of engraving.

Lastly, try the Hiko Misuno Jewelry College, they might be able to
point you in the right direction.

Good luck,

Hello Everyone,

I have a question and am hoping someone can give me some insight. I
am fairly new to the jewelry world. I love chasing and repousse’
with Argentium and after taking a class with a master, I am
practicing the art in my home studio. I also love the look of
engraving and am considering taking an upcoming class from Japanese
Master Naohiro Yamada. My hope is to be better informed before I
make a financial commitment to take the class.

I’ve searched the internet for some info regarding the differences
between Japanese engraving and the engraving that is typically
practiced here in the U.S. I know the tools are slightly different,
but can someone explain to me why Japanese engraving isn’t seen more
on jewelry, particularly chased and repoussed’ items? I understand
that some areas of a metal design may become too thin to engrave
without piercing the piece, but I can envision, let’s say, a
bracelet cuff that has been chased and repoussed’, patinated, and
then further detailed (slightly) by engraving. It could be a
spectacular piece - given good craftsmanship was applied.

I’ve watched the jewelry market for many, many years and I don’t
recall seeing a combination of chasing and repousse’ and engraving.
It makes me think that there is a reason and that I’m missing
something here.

And, can someone tell me why I don’t see more Japanese hand
engraving? I know it’s one of those “lost arts”, but isn’t it one of
those techniques that can set someone’s work apart from the next guy
making handcrafted jewelry? Aside from the tools, is there a
difference between Japanese engraving and the other engraving
techniques commonly practiced here in the U.S. ?

I would greatly appreciate any clarification on this topic.

Vicki Stone

It might be worth Googling Samurai sword hilts (tsuba); these were
often engraved and/or inlaid quite exquisitely, the work being done
on steel. In one style, the design is engraved into the main metal
with an undercut, and is then inlaid with another alloy. In another
style, the design is actually chiselled in a meticulous crosshatch
pattern, raising tiny beads of metal, over which very, very thin gold
sheet is rubbed. I know this doesn’t sound much like Western style
engraving, but the techniques are absolutely fascinating, and, like
so many of the Japanese art forms, the history and meaning behind
virtually every action is equally fascinating. Whether or not you
achieve sufficient skill (or fall sufficiently under the spell of
these techniques to spend the time you will need to achieve the
skill) I’m pretty sure you won’t feel you wasted your money by taking
the class.

I’ve found a lot of practical discussion of Japanese metalwork
technique here:

along with a bunch of very lovely work.


Next April, Japanese metalsmith Naohiro Yamada will be one of the
presenters during the annual Masters Symposium at the Revere Academy
in San Francisco.

His classes include Japanese Hori Engraving, April 2-3, 2011

and Japanese Chasing, Engraving, and Inlay, April 4-8, 2011

Many of my students have studied with Sensei Yamada in his previous
sessions at Revere and have great praise for his instruction.

Michael David Sturlin

Hi Vicki,

I’m not sure why there’s not more Japanese engraving out there, I
can only guess that like in the West until the last few years of the
twentieth century, engraving as a trade and an art had all but died.
In America, if not for the efforts of a very few, very dedicated
individuals, it might have died out completely. It wasn’t until the
early 1980’s when the Firearms Engravers Guild of America (FEGA) was
formed, that a resurgence of engraving began in the West. Before
that, there was hardly any literature at all anywhere, few tools
available (you had to make your own), very few schools that taught
engraving beyond the most basic skills and even fewer talented
engravers willing to share their secrets. Everything an engraver
learned had to be self-taught, or was learned from a mentor that
jealously guarded their knowledge, willing to share with only one or
two people they considered worthy, often only after a long and
difficult apprenticeship. I suspect it might still be that way in
Japan, even today. I know that’s how they treat the equally ancient
art of sword making. There’s no such thing as a “Weekend Samurai
Sword Making Workshop” in Japan. Not for any amount of money.
Japanese swordmakers are legendary for keeping those techniques
extremely well protected and secret, treating the craft almost as a
religion and a military secret.

Thanks mainly to the efforts of FEGA, and the American ideal of
pursuit of profit in the manufacture and marketing of tools, things
have changed pretty dramatically here in the States since then. There
are many different sources of and many places to take
beginner to highly advanced classes now. I would highly recommend you
check out GRS for their classes, and compare prices. The initial
experience of a beginner’s class will tell you whether you want to
proceed with higher education with a Japanese Master. It might just
be that you can learn everything you need for a lot less money.
That’s assuming you’re in the US, of course.

As to the differences in tools, you are very likely to find that the
differences in tools may be greater from engraver to engraver than
from any geographical or historical perspective. I don’t know any two
accomplished engravers that shape their tools exactly the same, or
for that matter, that do anything the same. If they do, one of them
isn’t necessary.

I think the main reason you don’t see much in the way of engraved
embossed work is that it is extraordinarily difficult to do and the
financial reward in the eyes of most engravers would most likely make
it an artform not worth mastering. The angular relationship of the
cutting edges on a graver and the surface being cut must remain
almost perfectly constant for there to be any degree of accuracy,
meaning that the surface must be relatively flat (or at least
uniformly curved) or the graver must move considerably to maintain
that very specific angle to the work. A complex three dimensional
surface therefore is almost impossible to cut accurately as the
angles that the graver must be positioned can change dramatically in
just a millimeter or two. There must also be room to maneuver the
graver (hammer and chisel techniques require less room than hand
gravers), deep depressions can’t be cut in any direction other than

But just because it hasn’t been done before, is no reason that it
can’t be done now though, especially if you were to design your
repousse and chasing specifically for your engraving. Ron Smith, one
of the finest engravers of our time and a founding member of FEGA
wrote in his beautiful book “Advanced Drawing of Scrolls” that -

"Creativity, balance, rhythm, order, peace, movement, and grace are
the things that you will find in quality scroll drawing, but
creativity lies around the edges, on the fringes of what has been
done and what has not.

“Pioneers and risk takers are essential to our [referring to
engravers’] survival and evolution, and this applies to art as well
as life.”

The good news Vicki, is that you have found a wide open field out
there, just waiting for a pioneer like you to open up and explore.

Dave Phelps

To David Phelps,

Thank you for your response. You understood my question and
completely answered it. I appreciate the time that you took to be so
thorough in your explanation of why chasing and repousse’ is not
often (if ever) accompanied with engraving.

And, thank you for your words of encouragement as well. I’m a very
fortunate person at this time in my life in that I can take the time
to explore, pursue the training to learn the various techniques that
appeal to me, and practice…practice…practice.

As I said earlier, I’m pretty much a newbie to the jewelry making
world and even newer to the Orchid forum. David, with your very apt
response, along with a number of other contributors to Orchid, have
motivated me a make my first monetary donation to Orchid.

Thank you.
Vicki Stone

Historically and traditionally the Japanese did not have jewelry as
we know it in the West. Their clothing, hair ornaments, swords, the
inro with its netsuke, and other accoutrements of living could be
incredibly done if rich or noble. In fact only nobility could dress
in the finest clothing. You will have to look at sword furnituRe:
menuki, fuchi kashira, tsuba, etc. to see metal work techniques. For
women hair ornaments and the obidome could be a source of metal