Engraving as an art form has been with us for most of our history. Initially hand tools were utilized to cut lines and patterns into a surface area to produce patterns and designs. These days computers control the process and cutting is not always done. In the earliest times the hand tools were sharpened stones which were utilized to cut into softer stones. Prehistoric man would document his experiences by carving images into the walls of caves. Some of their artwork from the prehistoric era remains on the surfaces of caves to this day.
Today engraving is becoming a bit misunderstood. Like many terms today, the meaning is being re-defined to serve the times. Earlier definitions of the term included words like incising and cutting. This would lead one to believe that something is being cut into. Today the definition must include etching and marking as modern methods do not always include cutting into anything.
It did not take long for man to begin utilizing metal for his engraving tools once it became accessible. Soon they were using tools created from iron and steel to cut into softer metals and alloys like copper, brass and pewter. As skill improved complex designs became collectible fine art. On many occasions the engraving became more precious than the item itself.
Up to this time the entire job was performed by hand. An artist would draw out the work manually. When the art was prepared the artist would use specially honed hand tools known as burins to cut and carve the art into the project one line at a time. The procedure required great skill. The engraver not only needed to create the artwork, they would have to make and sharpen their tools to cut precisely. This process was extremely time-consuming and required great skill and expertise. People at the top of this trade are recognized as masters.
During the early 1900's a machine began use in the profession known as the pantograph. It made the process faster and easier for the operator. The pantograph is a tracing machine. It is designed in a way that the stylus is used to follow a an original or pattern. On another part of the machine the cutter would duplicate the pattern accurately, usually smaller than the original. Cutting it into the project material. The pantograph was a staple tool in most jewelry stores and was the state-of-the-art for quite some time.
Today, computer controlled engraving is the standard. This method has made engraving affordable to the consumer as well as quite rapidly prepared. As computers progress so does the art form. Modern computer driven machines are designed to be easy to operate. A person learning the hand methods required years to perfect their craft. A computer operated system can be operated within hours with minimal computer skills. Today the skills required by an engraver are in the form of computer graphics and layout.
It is true that computer controlled engraving cannot reproduce the intricate cuts and designs possible only with hand engraving. The computer methods do provide speed and exactness. Today both methods are employed. The hand methods have been modernized and are practiced as an art form. Computer engraving is utilized in many industries as well as practiced as and art form.
There is a wide range of uses for engraving. One of the earliest commercial uses revolved around the invention of the printing press. Images were carved into blocks of wood that could be placed into the printing press to reproduce the images. All early printing prepared their images in this manner. Of course metal engraving advanced rapidly also. Engraving was performed on everything from door knockers and name plates to trophies and awards.
Engraving is an important part of our past. As time and technology goes on, it will play an important part of our future as well.
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