Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Trying to engrave silver

I was a wood carver, never tried to what I call engrave a silver
pendant. Ihave some old ever liked wood carving tools. Can I adapt
these? I will play with copper first, before truing on silver. To
engrave a v shaped groovewhat angle to hold tool, or just get in
there and try. Must ask what gaugemetal to use? Thanks for any help!


Look at some gravers online at a supplier such as Rio Grande. I think
you will find that they donot resemble your wood carving tools.


Wood carving tools are really not suitable for engraving silver,
with one exception. Wood micro-carving tools can be used to engrave
and carve greenware (dry, pre-firing) fine silver, sterling or base
metal clays. They can also be used to create ‘printing’ or texture
plates, in a variety of materials, that can then be used to texture
pliable (unfired) metal clay.

In all other respects, wood carving tools, out of the box, are
unsuitable for use as metal-engraving tools. However, you might be
able to grind and polish the carving tips to make them approximate
metal gravers. The time involved might not make it worth it. The
exercise of doing it might be interesting to you, but, if your true
goal is to engrave silver, I would suggest just purchasing gravers.

Linda Kaye-Moses

Hello Jenny,

I am NOT expert or even very experienced engraving metals - but am a
long-lifetime woodworker and metal worker.

That said, whatever tools you end up using, the feel of copper is
very different than the feel of silver. You might learn something if
you practice on copper but the feedback you get through your hands
won’t necessarily translate across to silver. Likewise with other
metals like brass, bronze, etc ad infinitum. They all feel and cut
differently. Like the difference between carving white pine, walnut,
or oak - all different.

Second point - the same metal will feel and cut differently
depending on whether it is annealed or hardened - so that’s just
another thing to which you must pay attention.

On your basic question - using wood tools on metal - probably not a
good idea. Even if the hardness of the tools is similar, the
relatively thin cutting edges of wood-carving tools would make them
almost useless on metal; vulnerable to break or bend when pushed up
against metals which are much harder than wood. So, even if the
hardness and basic shape of the tool is adaptable, you would have to
regrind it to such radically different angles that it would then be
useless as a wood carving tool. So, what you would be doing is
destroying a set of wood carving tools (that is a loss) to make a
set of metal engraving tools. But have you gained any value? Plus
you have had to put in a lot of your time at a task which requires a
lot of expertise, likely ruining the temper along the way. Many
metal engravers, even when they buy off-the-shelf purpose-made
engraving tools then make subtle modifications according to their
experience. But there are no big secrets. Many books and, almost
certainly on Orchid archives, info on types and uses of engraving
tools easily available…

Good luck - Probably you should get some basic engraving tools and
do a little reading at least.

Marty - in the groove

The short answer to your question is no, woodworking tools are not
suitable for engraving on silver. Copper is an excellent metal for
learning to engrave, the gauge is up to you, but the main thing is
to use a thick enough gauge so as to prevent bending with the
pressure of cutting. Somewhere around 28 gauge would probably be
minimum, depending on how the piece is supported. I use 20 gauge
copper sheet as a warm-up metal when prepping for silver, platinum
and gold alloys, and mild steel sheet when prepping for harder
metals. Just like a musician warming up prior to singing or playing a
musical instrument in concert, I never just start on a project cold.
Engraving is too much a perishable skill to not warm up first.

Wood and metal, even very soft metal, are extremely different media.
The tools used to work them are extremely different too, as are the
techniques. Do an Internet search for engraving videos. There are
some really excellent ones out there and I think after watching a
couple, you’ll find the answers you are looking for.

I do both woodworking and engraving, the latter for a living. I love
them both because mastering either one can be the goal and work of
an entire lifetime. Best of luck!

Dave Phelps

Jenny - Good on you to want to learn how to engrave. There are so
few folks left who know how to hand engrave. Much of the engraving
you see today is done with a machine. Hand engraved pieces can be so
very beautiful and in the high end luxury trade hand engraving is
still desired by knowledgeable ad discriminating jewelry collectors.

Engraving and using gravers for setting stones or making designs or
lettering is ALL about the graver and it’s preparation.

The blades come in many shapes and widths. The handles are separate.
The blades will need to be mounted on the handles and then shortened
to your hand, ground and shaped and then polished. Some gravers are
shaped to engrave designs or letters. Some are shaped for stone

When I teach setting I often will spend an entire 6-8 hour day just
demonstrating graver prep and polishing.

If you want to engrave metals I would recommend you get a good book
on hand engraving or find online videos or someone who knows
engraving to show you how to prep the gravers. Once you can get a
nicely polished and well sharpened graver half the battle is over. If
you have a lousy graver you will just endure a lot of frustration.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer

Hello Jennifer,

The sharpening and shaping of engraving tools is a bit different
from wood chisels. I would start to practice engraving on 1mm thick
(18 Gauge) copper or brass sheet metal. You can find out more about
beginning engraving here:

PICK up a copy of the Art of Engraving by JB Meek. This book is
dated but still a good place to start.

Michael Edwards