Lets Learn Engraving!


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Due to the amount of interest in my new hobby, I figured I'd start a thread that we could all participate in.

The plan is to start compiling resources, research, reference sources, tool designs, projects, tips, tricks, and a log of our progress. As many know, this is a brand new skill that I'm digging into, so I'm no expert. Hopefully, together we can progress faster than going it alone. So all you would be engravers, pick up an iron brush and dig in. If we have any experienced engravers, I think I can speak for everyone interested when I say please feel free to share.

With that in mind, here are a few resources. We can update this as we go To keep a master list so let me know what you guys are finding out there.

This is the site started by Steve Lindsay the creator of the Lindsay air graver. Lots of good info.

Sam Alfano's Tips and Tricks for Hand Engraving

A good working history of engraving.

General glossary of engraving.

An excellent all media engraver's forum.

Let's get started, shall we?
I'll start with what is already out there. Here are a few pics of my current work.






Currently I'm hand engraving using push gravers, and mostly in aluminum. I have dabbled with the engine covers on my CB750. My goal is to work my way up to engraving on firearms, knives, and engines.

I started with these:

My gravers were made out of HSS (high speed steel) drill shanks that I scrounged. Most of what I'm reading suggests that cobalt is the best metal, followed by HSS. High carbon steel is serviceable, but is considered old tech. I did however watch a vid on you tube where a guy used a concrete nail.

I also cut a couple of handles out of some scrap hardwood. I basically used these images to get my shapes down.


Tools for Wood Engraving.
1. Elliptic. 2. Gouge. 3. Chisel. 4. Tint. 5. Lozenge. 6. Graver. 7. Tool for Pine. 8. Tool in Handle.

There isn't a lot of information out there for push engraving so I hit the power graving sites. Most recommend a 45* on both square and round gravers. For what I've been doing I've been using a lot sharper angles.
You may have noticed I have a couple of spokes in my graves. The metal ended up being a bit too soft, and only worked for more broad angled, heavier tools.
Welcome aboard GS. Will do sir.

Step 1: Making gravers.

As I said above my gravers are made from round stock. Most pros use either square stock, or square blanks with rounded shanks. Rounds are, ironically enough easily made from round stock. I had several worn out 3mm round HSS engraving drills, so that is what I used.

The first 4 types of gravers you'll need are flats, squares, onglettes, and rounds.


Rounds are straight forward. I chucked up a drill on the drill press and cut it to length (I'm still experimenting with lengths). The next step was to grind a 45* angle with the belt sander. Pretty easy so far. a round is used to cut a rounded bottom trench, so that was really about it.

The next was the onglet. The ones I'm using are just about the same design as a round. The only difference is after cutting to length I spun it on the press and used a file to taper it to a 15* point. Think ice pick. The i threw it on the sander for a 45* bevel as well.


Square gravers were a little harder to pull off with round stock. As the name implies it starts with square stock, so I had to grind the tips to a roughly square profile. then you grind a 45* angle diagonally making a diamond face with a pointed leading edge. I wanted finer cuts and line so my edges were brought in making a sharper leading point.


Flats are basically chisels. Most produced for air-assisted engraving are quite thin, <1mm. Since I'm push graving, and wanting to learn traditional Japanese metal carving I mad mine the width if the stock so I could use it like a wood plane to smooth curves. One side was ground at a long sloping angle 20* or so, and a 35*-45* cutting heel was ground into the opposite side.


To finish them off I threw a sheet of 400 grit wet/dry paper on a flat surface (granite cutting board) and honed all the faces. The cutting edges got run on 1000 grit for a quick polish.

That gives me a fairly good collection for basic push, or hammer and chisel engraving. I drilled a few holes in a scrap of maple for a quick holder. My next task is to come up with a vise.

Just for fun, some amazing engraving video.

Traditional Japanese hammer and chisel.

Crazy, Jay, thanks guys. I'll try to keep progressing, and keep the info coming.

Basic parts of a graver. In print plate making it is called a burin.

Here is an incredibly comprehensive description of gravers, their parts, and sharpening angles. Like most sources he uses a sharpening guide, but the theory is easily applied to manual sharpening.

The next hurdle is holding the material being engraved.

In the tiger tsuba videos the artist uses a traditional method of holding called a pitch bowl. As it sounds a pitch bowl is a hemisphere bowl, filled with pitch, and placed in a round base. The pitch is heated and the workpiece is hot glued in place. I'm considering actually trying to hot glue a coin down for my next project. You can get pitch bowls from most jeweler suppliers.


This kit can be bought for $60 - $70 usd here http://shorinternational.com/ChasingTool.php

Here is a cheaper alternative, with a write up here: http://www.ganoksin.com/borisat/nenam/jeweler-pitch.htm

He also has a design out of cast concrete here: http://www.ganoksin.com/borisat/nenam/ballpage.htm

Here is a metal pitch bowl made from a bearing race and a base cut off of a propane cylinder.

Here is the tsuba guy prepping the pitch bowl:

The next technology for holding is the ball vise. It is basically a modern spin on the pitch bowl. It is a modular vise set on a steel ball base. They are pretty cost prohibitive starting at $300+. You can get these at most jeweler suppliers and engraving sites.

The final technique is a simple drill press vise mounted to whatever base you have available. You can pick these up pretty cheap at Home Depot or any tool supply house.

Here is a version of that mounted on an old timers rotating table made from what appears to be a truck axle!
WOW! Those first two videos absolutly mesmerized me for the full 30 or so minutes. Way cool stuff.
Here is my take on the concrete ball vise plan posted here.

You'll need.
round vase or bowl
flat chunk of metal for a top
tools to cut and shape metal top
2-4 bolts (depending on size of mold)
piece of bar that will fit in the mold
concrete (I used fiberglass reenforced quickcrete)

I wanted more of a round shape than a steel bowl, and I wanted mine to be a bit smaller. I hit the stores and found the perfect bud vase/fish bowl for $1.97.

I needed a flat surface for either 'pitch' or to mount a vise. I scraped up a chunk of aluminum, and cut it to the shape of the top of the vase. Next I fit two bolts through the aluminum and down to a piece of flat bar for an anchor. I welded the bolts to the anchor to keep them from turning.

Test fit in the mold. Notice the bolts are head down with the nut above the work surface.

I filled the mold to the top, and dropped in the anchor with the work surface attached. I should have packed the concrete with something to get the bubbles out, but I didn't, and the finished product ended up with a lot of holes. Force in the anchor, and make sure the top is flush and the concrete is leveled off.

The weights were probably overkill. The next afternoon I tapped around the glass with a wrench and peeled away the pieces like shelling a hard boiled egg. The previously mentioned holes annoyed me so I sifted the rocks out of a cup of concrete and made a patch/skim coat. Let that dry, then folded up a fluffy towel for a base, and boom, insta-ball vise. All I need now is a piece of pipe for a base.

A little high temp hot glue to hold a coin in place:

Finished a couple of quarters for MBS


Very cool thread.
FYI: I have v.1 of the airgraver oscillating nicely, working out a method of varyng both stroke length and frequency independently without sacrificing 'power'. Still need to get a tungsten slug to make a proper hammer as stainless mushrooms pretty quickly due to higher psi requirements.
I noticed yesterday, that Harbor Freight had a selection of "needle files" that had all the cross sections you mentioned and more. They should be the right hardness, and just need the cutting angle ground in.
Plus you could still use them as files. 8)
Hey 4eyes, here is a comprehensive tutorial for making gravers using needle files.

Based on the above tutorial, I did some 'smithing.

I want to turn this into gravers and chisels.

Using this.

I'm not sure What kind of steel the circlip is, but one finished and treated it holds an edge well. I heated it in smallish sections with the torch, and beat it to shape on the 'anvil'.


Here is the first one.

All sharpened, heated to cherry, quenched in oil, and polished on 2000 grit auto paper.


Here is the results of half a days work.


These all came from one old bastard file and one circlip. The files had to be 'forged' in a charcoal fire that i stoked to temp using the air compressor for bellows. All in all a simple project. Heat to cherry, let cool. Heat to cherry, hit with a hammer (repeat as necessary). Let cool and grind to shape, without overheating the tip. Heat 1/2 inch below the tip until the tip is the white straw color, and quench in oil or salt water.

TIP: I used oil because I'm engraving fairly soft metals, and could sacrifice a little harness to keep the tip from getting brittle. The tutorial used salt water, which cools faster, but some alloys will crack and such if cooled too fast. With pieces this small oil should quench fast enough to get a nice edge.

And here is the latest piece for our buddy JustinLonghorn (or Norsehorn depending on who you ask).
I'm gonna need something like that for my XS, my SR, my BMW.... :D Def for the XS's run on the salt next August.
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