Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Using milgrain tools

i am learning the setting of small stones using bead raising with
gravers. Another tool we are using is a milgrain to make a
decorative edge after the bead is raised, and nicely rounded using
our beading tools. So far so good, but I have run into a problem
trying to make a milgrained pattern around the perimeter I
understand that I need to cut a groove with my graver so that the
milgrain tool will ride inside the groove. However, I am having
problems cutting the groove with the graver and wonder if there are
other ways to cut the groove. I don’t have a gravermax, or
gravermate and am doing the graving by hand.

I was told by a friend that it is not necessary to cut a groove, but
to just push the milgrain tool where I want the dimpled effect.
Another said to use a knife edged file to cut the groove.

If you advise me to continue to practice using the graver, which
graver should I use. So far I have tried the onglette, the round and
the flat graver, but found making the groove was difficult.


Hi Alma,

It’s not one groove you need, but two. The idea is to make two
parallel grooves, such that there is a peak between them that the
milligrain tool beads over. Imagine the central peak in a capital
letter “W”. That’s the idea. The sides of the milligrain tool ride
down in the grooves that you engraved away, which lets all the force
act on the central peak, beading it over.

Ideally, you angle your graver such that the outboard edges of the
two grooves are very shallowly angled, so it looks like you’d taken
a “W”, and pulled the two ends apart. (if you looked at it in cross
section.) So at the end of the day, there’s just a very shallow
depression on the outboard edges, with a very steep central peak
that’s gotten miligrained. If you’re sneaky enough, nobody notices
that the graining doesn’t actually stand proud of the real surface.
(Or, you can do deep outboard grooves, and bright cut them, so you
get a nice reflective trench, with milligrained balls down the
middle of it.

Normally, I’d use either a spit stick (Ongilette graver with a weird
grind) or a lozenge engraver. Or maybe start it with a lozenge to
get the central peak formed, and then use a wide-ish flat graver to
widen out the bevel on the outboard edges. It’d depend on what I had
ready to hand and sharp.


PS–> You don’t need an air graver. It certainly helps, but it’s not
required, and it’s probably best for your technique (in the long
run) if you learn to do it all by hand first.

It’ll be harder to learn, but when you do, you’ll really have it. At
that point you’re ready to use the power graver, rather than letting
it use you.

Hi Alma,

I’m pretty sure you’ll receive many advices from the expertise in
the Orchid, and I can also share my own experiences with you - just a
couple of months ago I took an intensive course of engraving/stone
setting for a month, which was a great fun and successful
experiaence, and I still remember some vivid impressions as a layman
in that field.

Cutting grooves with an onglet graver was the first learning step (A
of ABC, so to say), so if you have a serious problem with it, I
presume there is something definitely wrong with either your
1)sharpening method or 2)holding method or 3)your eyesight… BTW I
started my lessons with Rio’s onglet graver #3/0 1.35mm. But other
onglet gravers also should work.

  1. Likewise the other cutting tools, proper sharpening is pivotal
    for successful engraving- I’ve found the GRS power horn very much
    useful, but this is just up to your choice and depends on your
    sharpening experiences.

As for the angle at the point of the graver, I was advised to keep
it around 80 - 85 degree, but I ended up using 75 degree as best for
my hand’s strength and the material (silver or 18kt gold). In
general, if the angle is too shallow, the graver gets stuck into the
material. While if it’s too close to the 90 degree, it just pushes
the material away without cutting, leaving materials hung on both
edges of the groove.

  1. I hear holding styles of gravers are pretty variable. Whichever
    the style you choose, from my experience as a beginner, it was
    crucial to start practices with your best fit length and your best
    fit size of the wood handle. My teacher advised me to save a bit of
    additional length for economy and encouraged to rely on the
    plasticity/elasticity of the hand muscles.

Although that was a very reasonable advice, I found hard to get the
feeling itself if the graver remains too long and the handle too
large to handle with. So I’d rather advice to make it exactly the
right length for your very first one, and sharpen it properly. As it
becomes short, you can always change the handle to keep the total
length the same. (Once you get the feeling, you can always start
thinking of the economical aspect.)

  1. My eyesight is terrible, and even with my jeweller’s loupe (x2.3)
    I found it often very difficult to repeatedly cut on the same track.
    (For experienced engravers they seem to trust their hands rather than
    their eyes.) I usually work my engraving and stone setting works
    under microscope - works for me.

I remember getting the feeling of milgrain tools was difficult for
me, too.

It often slips, but with practice I came to know the feeling that my
palm pushes against the tool. Again, shortening the length of the
milgrain tool was necessary for my hands, I had to shorten by more
than 15mm for all of my milgrain tools.

Hope that helps, and have fun!

Alma- The mill grain tool does not ride inside the cut but on top of
the outside ridge. To properly bead set you must use a graver. When
we teach bead setting we spend at least one or two days teaching a
student just how to make, shorten, temper, sharpen and then polish
their gravers. It then takes a good bit of practice to learn to pre
cut. We also insist that our students learn to azure behind the

I used to work for a hack setter who used a bur or separating disc
to cut his metal for bead setting. The worst work I have ever seen.
It was just awful. He kept offering to teach me how to set. I
politely declined his offer.

At 60 with arthritis I no longer have the hand strength to do bead
setting. Really good bead setting is best done by someone who
specializes in it and does it every day. Still it’s important to
learn to do every phase of setting so that you if you do farm it, out
you know how to set up a piece to be set properly and to know if the
work you are getting is good or bad.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.

Jo Haemer

In my experience Alma, milgraine is best done with a groove engraved
on either side of the proposed milgraine line. Milgraine is not
normally applied in the groove, it is applied to the ridge formed
by two parallel and slightly angled “V” shaped grooves. Ideally the
ridge shape should be almost rectangular in cross-section, with the
sides being perpendicular to the top of the ridge; i. e. the surface
to be milgrained.

It can be done on a flat surface or 90 degree edge without grooves,
but the outside edge of the tool will create marks on the outside of
the milgraine that can be as deep or deeper than the milgraine. Some
people like these tool marks just fine, others find them quite
objectionable. In any case, they are almost impossible to remove
without removing or heavily damaging the milgraine in the process.

The grooves are best cut with a square (often referred to as a
lozenge) graver with highly polished cutting surfaces, held in a
manner that creates a “V”, angled away from the ridge on a flat
surface, or cut vertically on the edges of an angle, like on the
edges of a flat band.

A ridge with vertical sides is the objective, regardless of the
shape of the piece. The sharper and more even the grooves are and the
more defined the resulting ridge is, the better the milgraine looks
when finished.

While the depth of the groove is only important in that it should be
at least deep enough to allow the edges of the wheel to remain clear
of the bottom of the groove, the width of the ridge is very
important. It should be ever-so-slightly narrower than the milgraine
wheel. Too wide and you’ll get tool marks on either side of the
ridge, making it look sort of like a row of ice cream scoops instead
of a row of perfect hemispheres. Too narrow and the ridge will likely
collapse under the pressure of the wheel. The result of either is
kind of muddy, rough and unrefined looking.

The larger the beads (the higher the number of the tool) the wider
the ridge needs to be. Consequently, the higher number tools are
easier to work with. Anything smaller than a number 10 can be tricky.
I use a number 12 milgraine wheel for most of my work but I sometimes
use a 14 around the inside edges of ring shanks, the part that
touches the finger. I haven’t a clue what the numbers mean or how
they were derived.

When used as a decorative edge around bead set or pave set stones,
one side of the ridge is formed by the bright cut, the other is cut
with a square graver, leaving the ridge on the very edge of the
setting. After applying the milgraine I like to go over the grooves
with a square graver to remove any tool marks left by the outside
edge of the wheel. This cleans it up and really makes it pop in
contrast with the high-polish of the grooves. In the engraving world,
this is considered the “proper” method of applying and finishing

If the shape of the piece is such that you can get to all of it, you
can use a fine sawblade to cut the groove, say an 8/0 and then use a
knife edge rubber wheel to clean and polish it. You can also use a
knife edge file, but I find such a file incapable of creating the
sharp, clean grooves and the resulting sharp-edged ridge required for
top-notch milgraine.

In the end, nothing beats a sharp and polished square graver when it
comes to cutting grooves for milgraine. No power tools are really
necessary, either for cutting the grooves or rolling the wheel. It’s
been done quite successfully for many years with nothing more than
simple hand gravers and wooden mushroom handles with collets to hold
the milgraine tool.

I always shorten the tool by an inch or so to approximately the same
length as my graver. The full length tool as received from the mfr is
just too hard for me to control and I slip all over the place,
chewing up the ridge and leaving marks everywhere. What a mess that

Another thing that can make a mess of otherwise first-rate milgraine
is to go over it multiple times. The size and spacing of the
depressions in most milgraine tools are not absolutely identical, so
the spacing from hole to hole can be very slightly uneven. When
rolling over milgraine a second or third time, the depressions will
often not hit the beads with exactly the same spacing, and split
beads will often be the result. This makes it really muddy looking
too and is almost impossible to fix unless you catch it early.

Be very careful whenever you remove the tool from the ridge to
reposition the work or whatever, that you start again at precisely
the same place you stopped (the very last bead) and don’t roll it
back over where you just were. You can roll over it multiple times as
long as you don’t lift the tool from the work, ensuring that each
bead is further rounded and refined by the exact same hole that
formed it the first time. I’ll sometimes use a Sharpie to mark where
the last bead is so I don’t roll back too far while doing the next

There are also milgraine tools that are intended for use inside of a
groove. Instead of hollow cups around the edge of a tiny wheel, they
have much larger wheels with raised dimples on the circumference that
form round or oval depressions in the groove. This isn’t really
milgraine though and works best in straight lines. It doesn’t work
well in conjunction with stone setting. The tools are also quite
expensive and are intended to be used with other holding tools and
are designed to apply the pattern on bands or plain shanks. Although
the use of this type of “milgraine” is fairly limited by it’s very
nature, it has it’s uses, and in the proper application can be quite

Hope this helps!
Dave Phelps

As for the angle at the point of the graver, I was advised to keep
it around 80 - 85 degree, but I ended up using 75 degree as best
for my hand's strength and the material (silver or 18kt gold). In
general, if the angle is too shallow, the graver gets stuck into
the material. 

Graver angle should be between 45 and 60 degrees.

If cutting resistance is too much, the solution is to learn proper
graver sharpening.

Increasing the angle is a bad idea. The larger the angle the less
control over the graver.

I have wrote a few installments on my blog grouped under the rubric

Towards the end, there is discussion about gravers. It is
recommended to read all of the installments in order to understand
reasons behind recommendations on sharpening and heat-treating of

Leonid Surpin


first, the knife graver makes a “v” shaped cut so it’s not a great
choice for a groove but the graver used for the raising the strip of
metal towards the stone to make your bead with your beading punch
(though a bit oversimplified an explanation. The onglette makes an
"outward curved", or concave cut so again, the best choice perhaps
for a wheel on the millgrain tool that would theoretically roll along
the channel. The flat graver makes a flat bottomed cut so for
removing large amounts of metal this may be a good choice that is if
you are looking for a flat track. For stone setting- a spitsticker
(the old fashioned name i know it by) is for making fine pointed
outlines, particularly good for getting between stones!- it’s like a
chisel that makes a sloped cut into the metal so it gets between the
stones nicely.

When looking at and handling your millegrain tool or set, observe the
way the wheel works pushing it away from and towards you- (use
something like a piece of 3M tri-m-ite paper on a sheet of glass so
you’re polishing it as you really “learn” the tool !) until you get
the feel of it and what works best for you as far as getting enough
pressure on the tool to make the cut in the annealed but finished

Another thing is the pressure your thumb and/or forefinger puts on
either the graver or the millegrain tool to make a continuous cut. so
practising on the same metal as the workpiece is the best way to
learn the way you will personally get the result you want to from
whichever tool you are using. many books say practice on less
expensive metals is the way to go. I think, as do many others, that
this is absolutely wrong as the metal of the workpiece has a specific
hardness, so taking a scrap of silver or fine silver and making
repeated practice strokes with the tool you are learning gives you
the exact feel of the result you want to get out of your work with
the tool on that metal. also the average continuous movement a
beginner gets when learning a graver or millegrain tool will be
around a half inch give or take a few millimetres and one’s hand
strength and the sharpness of the tool. practice is essential. That’s
why I suggested just simply learning how to control the roll of the
millegrain tool on a piece of hard glass, then on the metal you will
use in your stone setting and bead making process. If you like taking
a piece of firm plasticine and making a plaque of it to see the shape
of the wheel rolling along something yields- so you can then select
the exact graver that will give you the kind of channel you want to
start your decorative edging. It may be a flat channel or sloping and
observing in the hard plasticine will help you choose - that is
provided you want to make a channel at all.

One of the I suppose you could call it a rule of making the
decorative edge is to have the workpiece fully finished before
applying the millegraining. You may want a mirror finish or matte-
it’s your design, just have the metal ready to go to the proverbial
sales case as soon as the decoration is put on the edge. For one
thing a sharp graver, if you decide you want to cut a channel at all,
will be easier to cut on a polished surface with an extremely sharp
graver. same for the millegrain tool it will cut easier on a polished
surface than not. If you don’t want a mirror polished edge that too
is fine, just realize that more pressure will be needed to lay it in.

Without a millegraining machine it isn’t an easy process. I
personally prefer non-electric machines so applaud your learning this
French originated technique and want you to realise it takes a great
deal of practice and trails to get it right. The cutting of a channel
is entirely up to you- it’s not a hard and fast rule that it must be
done. In some applications it makes it easier depending on the size
of the millegrain wheel (the larger the wheel the easier to use by
hand) There are other ways too, to get a millegrain edge on a flat
surface, but since you are asking a specific question I’ll stick to
that method! Your wrist will take a lot of stress in the process as
it must be rigid- so consider wearing a brace if its a lot of
practising you’re doing or even a long session of applying the
decoration. The work height has to be such that you can get a good
downward pressure and continuous movement as long s possible. If you
have a channel prepared that fits the wheel’s width it can make a
continuous motion easier to get an evenly cut millegrain edge. Even
is the name of the game. you can do it with some work and an
understanding of the tooling as it works with the metals you use in
your designs (unless its metal clay then it’s a no brainer!)…Just
choose wisely, keep the burins sharp, polished and cool when in use
(using a bit of wintergreen oil or other lubricant) and your stone
setting designs will be richer. You may even get to the point that
you want to have your own millegrain dies/punches made. You can also
consider using some equipment intended for say, ring stretching
converted to hold milling machine type millegrain wheels so it’s as
easy as turning the lever to impress the design on the metal/ring.
but that’s another post! good luck. rer

I want to thank all of the wonderful Orchidians who sent me very
helpful advice, on line and off line. I appreciate all the detailed
explanations and the time you took to explain it all to me.

I now understand a lot more about the process, the need to have
gravers well prepared and sharpened, which graver to use, and the
need for practice, practice, practice. Now to learn to make a nicely
cut groove with a well defined ridge for the milgrain tool. I will
practice on pieces of scrap silver so that I get the proper feel for
the graver. and then for the milgrain tool.

I have some lovely little stones ranging in size from 2.5 to 4mm
which I would love to bright set. I have been setting them in
prongs, in some of the pendants I have cast, just as accent detail,
but don’t like the way they jut out, and prefer them to have a nice
inset appearance such as one gets with bright cutting.

I will do some real serious practice, and hopefully get to the point
where I can set them properly, adding a milgrain border for a
special touch…

Thank you again, one and all.