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Screwdrivers into gravers


Since I cannot afford to buy gravers to attempt what I want to do, I
though I would have to make some. I know I will need at least a few
for shaping spaces, not necessarily to become an engraver.

These are my initial attempts, as an exercise.

Step 1: Find a screwdriver you are willing to destroy.

These can easily be found for a dime each at yard sales.

Step 2: Use a hacksaw to cut the handle length down to where it can
easily fit inside your hand with thumb extended, just a regular
graver handle. Sand down the resulting rough edges for safer

Step 3: Using a permanent laundry marker, mark where your thumb ends
as you hold the graver.

Step 4: Hold the handle inside a vise. Use a cutoff wheel to mark the
top side in front of the handle with 3 shallow notches, the bottom
side with 2. This will indicate the top and bottom of the tool
respectively during use.

Step 5: Cut off the screwdriver blade, at about an inch beyond the
laundry mark, using the cutoff wheel.

Step 6: Use the stone side of a bench grinder to deburr the cut and
to make the end parallel with the handle.

Step 7: Cut the heel first, 45 degrees give or take with a slight
bend, based on your experience as a graver.

Having none, I judged this a good start. This has been advised to me
on at least one engraving group. This way, you have the proper angle
already before sharpening.

Step 8: Cut a “foot” just behind the heel. That is, given that we
dealing with a screwdriver shaft rather than commercial graver
material, we need to be sure that the pattern on the heel is
responsible for the line being cut.

Step 9: Cut desired shape on the heel, based on standard patterns for

Sharpen the pattern to knife edge, test point with thumbnail so that
the point stays on thumbnail.

Not having a stone handy, I held my graver in a vise and sharpened
the edges with a Dremel chain-saw dressing bit.

That dressing bit keeps them “sharp enough” for a little while.

These are my results on converting screwdrivers into gravers.

These are the tips on the gravers, close up. I made an onglette,
flat, round, lozenge, and knife.

The lozenge was my first attempt. I’m going to try that one again,

I don’t know if these are the largest ones I should make or smaller
to complete the collection. I can always damage more screwdrivers at
10 for a $1.00 USD.

Comments and advice?
Andrew Jonathan Fine

Screwdrivers are made of mild steel, not high carbon steel. They
cannot be hardened sufficiently to hold a cutting edge for any length
of time. Sure you’ll be able to cut for a while, but you’ll find
yourself re-sharpening much more frequently than with a properly
hardened/tempered tool.

But the idea of using them as practice material is a good one. I
suggest that once you are able to shape and sharpen your
screw-gravers well you should buy the small number of proper gravers
you will need. They’ll last you years.


I later became aware that I couldn’t get any really good closeups of
the graver points with a cellphone camera.

I decided instead to use my document scanner instead.

With the help of a book, I laid down each point carefully on the
glass so a high resolution image could be taken of it.

That way, I figure the masters there could tell me how I could do
better. Understand that I am starting from nothing, other than
engraving newsgroups and The Art of Engraving by Meeks. Also I only
want certain gravers as jewelery tools for spot use rather than to
learn to become an engraver.

Note that the surfaces were more or less flat to me under 8X
magnification (magnifying visor), but as you can see under high
resolution scanning the shapes are still quite rough. It’s very

Today, I got my wife’s permission to get a whetstone (course/fine
combination at True Value) and some honing oil, so that perhaps I can
practice Meek’s section on honing the gravers. I was able to persuade
her as I told her I also needed these to sharpen our kitchen knifes

I am using sheet aluminum for practice.

All scales are in millimeters:

First images, is the underside of what I intended to be a knife
point. Following that is the side view of same graver.

Next images, are the underside of a lozenge, with following side

Next images, are the underside of an onglette (sp?), with accompaning
side view

Next up, is the underside of an oval, I did not believe a side view
was necessary since it was similar to the knife.

Finally, is a round, no need for side view.

I’m going to try honing these and see how far that gets me.

One of the main questions I have is about relative size. Are the
gravers I made considered large, small, or somewhere in-between (that
I scanned with a ruler is besides the point :slight_smile: ?

Look, I know my results are Neolithic, so please be gentle.

Andrew Jonathan Fine

Another good step for you.


One thing you dont mention, have you tried hardening the end once
you have it to your liking? heat to cherry red, quench in cold water
and try and fileit!! you will soon know if its hardened more than its
original state.

Consider me officially embarrassed.

I had initially been under the impression that I was to lay the face
of the graver down on the metal to carve a track.

(Page 30 of The Art Of Engraving doesn’t really say which side is
down on a graver, I thought they were showing the faces upward for
the same of detail),

But all of the gravers made the same kinds of lines when I did that.

What I didn’t realize that the reason for this was that I was holding
the graver upside down. Page 32, Figure 2B was the ONLY diagram in
the book showing how a graver was meant to be use.

Which implies that on each graver I made, I need to remove material
on the opposite side, because its the TIP that describes the actual
cut, and the shape of the tip defines the sides of the track of the
metal which is cut.

So, I got tripped up by thinking too much like an engineer :slight_smile:

Andrew Jonathan Fine

One of the things that is learned is to make your own tools that do
the job you want. Looks like you are doing just that. Pictures were
fuzzy, but I feel that you are doing exactly what you need to to make
your tools.


Step 1: Find a screwdriver you are willing to destroy. 

Andrew, nodoubt there will be many replies to this tomorrow (today),
but right now it’s a clean slate.

Step 1: Forget about step one. Students should never try to teach
students - only a student would put that wholething together.

Screwdrivers - standard nails, too - are made from mild steel for
two reasons: It’s cheaper and it’s soft enough that it won’t destroy
screws. Mild steel is not graver material in any way, shape or form.
IOW, what you are doing is simply a glorious waste of time. They
can’t be sharpened at all to graver standards - yes, you canmake
them sharp but not THAT sharp. Then they will dull again almost
immediately. Not to mention bending…

You need tool steel -you MUST have tool steel to make any sort of
graver or chisel. It’s not optional. You can use old burs if you rig
up a handle. You can use punches of various sorts or you can buy
small quantities for cheap on Ebay and elsewhere. Don’t fiddle
around with screwdrivers…

I’ve used screwdrivers for similar purposes. They are certainly NOT
made of the same mild steel that nails are; they’re considerable
harder/tougher than that. (That’s in a general sort of way, I’ve
bought some dollar store offshore-made screwdrivers that might as
well have been made of nails.) Still, it is correct that generally
they not sufficiently hard retain an edge for any length of time.

One source of hard steel that I use quite often, notably for
punches, but also for cutting purposes, is old Allen keys. You can
heat them red hot and forge them to shape and then re-quench and
temper them to restore their hardness.

Indeed, if you’re going to be doing a lot of this sort of tool
making it would be good to search google and youtube for
instructional stuff on quenching and tempering. There’s a traditional
grinding wheel test for high carbon steel - you hold it against the
grinding wheel and if the sparks separate into multiple bushy
branches you have high carbon steel which is hard and can be quenched
and tempered; if the sparks fly mainly in single straight tracks it’s
not high carbon. But that is better seen than described and surely
there must be some youtube vids showing visually what to look for -
maybe among the knife-makers.

Likewise for quenching and tempering. It’s done by judging the
colours of the hot steel and is better seen than described. That
being said, in the late John Sinkankas’ book “Prospecting for
gemstones and Minerals” there’s a little section on making your own
chisels and other tools in which he gives an excellent description of
the process.

Hans Durstling

This is the second reply mentioning mild steel as the quality of

your cheap current chinese might be, but good quality say 1960’s are
made from high carbon steel which can be hardened.

Its so easy to find out before you go to all the trouble of making
your own graver from a screw driver bit.

Another place to find this high carbon steel is at concrete beam
making plants.

They use 1/8, 3/16, and 1/4 in dia high tensile wire pretensioned,
then cast the concrete around the wires.

they have yards of off cuts for free.

as I say so often here you need to ask the right questions, in this
case who uses high tensile ie hardenable rod /wire in the sizes i

Today, I got my wife's permission to get a whetstone (course/fine
combination at True Value) and some honing oil, so that perhaps I
can practice Meek's section on honing the gravers. I was able to
persuade her as I told her I also needed these to sharpen our
kitchen knifes (truth!). 

There are things which cannot be substituted, which are gravers made
from correct steel and sharpening stones. You need only one graver to
start with.

Square is the best first graver. It can be made from old square
needle file, or purchased. As far as sharpening stones there are no
flexibility. I am sorry, but you have wasted your money buying
whetstone. It must be medium India oil stone.

The best length is 12 inches. 8 inches are acceptable. It will be
slower but in your case it is not a problem. Using shorter stones is
possible, but flatness will be not as good and more frequent
resharpening would be required.

Fine Arkansas stone is mandatory as well. It is expensive, but it is
better to delay learning engraving, that start without it. I am aware
that in many books it is described as optional. From my experience it
is not. Unless graver is sharpened and honed to high degree of
perfection, the graver will not cut with ease. And if beginner has
to fight with tools, nothing can be learned. So if one cannot secure
proper tools, it is better to put it aside until tools can be

Leonid Surpin

Hi Andrew,

I commend your resourcefulness and your initiative. You definitely
have the attitude that it takes to become an accomplished metalsmith.

I won’t tell you what you want to do can’t be done. It can.
Metalsmiths all over the world prove that tools made out of other
things can work just as well if not better than the ones that are
specifically made for the job at hand. They prove it every day in one
way or another.

As some have said, most screwdrivers are made out of steel that’s
too soft to make a good graver and that’s true. There are however
some really good screwdrivers that are hard enough for work in
softer, non-ferrous metals, Snap On makes some as does Craftsman. The
problem is that they can cost twice as much as a graver would.

Go ahead and give that idea of yours a try. You might just find
something out that makes it all worthwhile, even if it doesn’t have
anything to do with engraving. What’s the worst that can happen? You
screw up an otherwise perfectly good screwdriver? Wish I could say
that’s all I’ve ever screwed up.

Dave Phelps

Screwdrivers are made of mild steel, not high carbon steel. They
cannot be hardened sufficiently to hold a cutting edge for any
length of time. 

Good point. Tool steel bar stock is available in small quantities in
an industrial supply, if you live near a city, or online if you
don’t. It can be easily heat-treated after shaping. Tell the supplier
the purpose and ask for suggestions. It won’t be 10-for-a-dollar, but
you can probably get more than you need for 20 bucks or so.

Al Balmer
Pine City, NY


A 3 foot length of 1/8" square W1 tool steel can be purchased from
McMaster-Carr for $5.00. You can make quite a few gravers from this.
If you want to go this way I can give you info on making your own
gravers. I find it a lot less hassle to buy them but it is not too
hard to make them.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts

Concrete nails of appropriate size and length are suitable for
making such gravers. You may grind and/or forge them into shape
followed by the usual heat treatment. Tool making is an important
aspect of metalsmithing and jewelry. I admire your enthusiasm.

Warm regards,

If you are Hardening, you heat until the steel reaches the critical
temperature. That is when the steel becomes none magnetic (around
bright orange heat). So when you are hardening have a magnet on

Also you can temper in your home oven, set temperature to 425 f and
leave for at least an hour. Do all your quenching in oil. I would
also Normalize, you heat to critical temperature and then air quench
I would do that at least 3 times. You can also harden more then once
just to make sure.

So the heat treatment cycle would be: Normalize at least 3 times,
Harden twice, clean and remove fire scale until tool is “bright”,
Temper for an hour (or straw colour) at 425 f. If you started with
decent tool steel you should have a graver that will hold a good edge
that doesn’t need sharpening all the time.

screwdrivers are much less capable than files, old files from garage
sales make great cutters, scrapers, knife blades, they can be
snapped to length by holding in vise and hitting with hammer, yes
safety glasses are necessary