Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How to Engrave

Decorating metal is infectious. So many metalsmiths start off stamping, move on to etching and then want to expand their skill to learn how to engrave.

Engraving is an ancient technique of cutting a design into metal. Engraving is used to show ownership and to decorate metal objects. You can find examples of elaborate engraved jewelry, housewares, swords and guns and other armor in museums throughout the world. Engraving is an easy technique to learn but a difficult technique to master. Practice engraving on scrap metal before you try to engrave your project.

Sketch your Design
Plan your engraved design. Make a sketch on a piece of paper.

Prepare the Metal
Clean the metal with dish soap and water. Dry. Remove any scratches or other damage to the metal using sandpaper.

Transfer your design to the metal. Use a laser printer to copy your design. Put the ink side of the copy against the metal. Apply heat to the back of the paper using an iron until the ink transfers to the metal. Touch up the design, if needed, using a permanent black marker.

Secure the Metal
Secure the metal using an engraving block, shellac stick or vise. Check to be sure the metal cannot move at all.

Cut the Metal with a Graver
Use a graver to cut the design into the metal. Tim McCreight recommends in The Complete Metalsmith that engravers "hold the graver between your fingertips and along the length of your thumb." Push the sharp graver across the metal following your design. Vary the engraved lines by rolling the graver as you cut.

Change Gravers
Change gravers to add shading and dimension. Different gravers cut different width and shaped lines. Gravers are made in flat, knife, round and other shapes.

For examples of commercially made gravers, see the links below:

Sharpen Your Graver
There are two secrets to engraving. The first is practice. Engraving is easy to learn but difficult to do well. The more you practice, the better your engraving will get. The second tip is working with a sharp graver. Stop from time to time, check your graver and sharpen your graver when it starts to dull. "How to Sharpen a Graver" is the subject of another blog entry, for the mean time check out this tool:

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