Engraving is an art form performed by cutting or incising the surface of a material to create a design or pattern. The process is performed by many methods on metal, wood, glass and stone.
Incisions are created using the hand held burin to chisel the material, diamond tipped stylus to literally scratch their way into the material, carbide cutters to route the material or lasers to burn into the material.
Each method has the same goal, to produce a pattern or design on the surface of the material.
This art form has been with us since the beginning of recorded history. The reality is that it was probably the earliest means to record history. Long before anyone figured out how to create pigments, paints or inks, hard rocks were used to scratch images onto softer rocks or cave walls.
Today it not only still records history, it is a major part of it.
While much older it is closely associated with the development of the printing industry. The earliest printing presses relied on blocks of wood and copper that were prepared by skilled craftsmen to create the printing blocks. Virtually all printed images and much of the type used from the 1400's through the early 1900's were produced in such a way.
Some of the finest examples are found on money and stamps.
Today the art form is primarily used for the purposes of personalization or for decoration on jewelry, watches, awards, knives and guns.
Graver The graver is the basic cutting tool used by the hand engraver. It is the piece of hard steel that is sharpened to make the actual cut. The graver can be made of round or square stock about 1/8" in width. The length of the graver depends on the length of the handle used. Commercial gravers are available already shaped and sharpened.
Burin The burin is the tool made when the handle and the graver are put together. The handle is made to fit in the ball of the hand and hold the graver in the proper position for engraving.
Vice There are many shapes and sizes of engraving vices. The most common is called the ball vice by virtue of it's shape. This vice is designed to be repositioned and rotated to allow the work to move to always be in the proper relationship to the cutter.
Hammer Engravers use small precision hammers to tap the graver through tougher materials. Some engravers may keep many hammers of different weights so they can vary the blow to the graver without changing their stroke. When a hammer is used the graver is placed in a metal handle to better take the blow and allow the engraver a better grip.
The bench is also equipped with an assortment of sharpening stones, files, and other small hand tools.
With your burin in hand you are ready to make your first cut. Actually I should say with your burin properly located in your hand. The idea is to guide the graver with your fore finger and thumb while you push on the handle with the ball of your hand. Sort of like the inch worm you work your way through the cut one push at a time.
If you have your graver sharpened properly it should immediately enter into the surface of the material cutting a precision swath sort of like a farmers plow into the earth.
The engraver will shape his gravers to perform a certain type of cut. This is one of the areas that makes hand engraving superior to other forms. The engraving can consist of many types of cuts to create many different effects on a single piece of artwork. The engravers bench may have hundreds of prepared gravers collected over many jobs. Most engravers have their favorites but also have a supply ready to shape into that special cut just for that job.
The actual cutting is but one of the skills of the engraver. The quality of the cut is directly proportional to the quality of the shaping, sharpening and finishing of the graver. The engraver must master the preparation of the graver in order to perform quality work.
Diamond drag is probably the most used type of engraving used today. It is used on everything from jewelry to trophies.
The diamond drag method is as it's name implies, A precision pointed shape diamond is attached to the end of the spindle. It is then forced into the material with downward pressure and drug around scratching out the desired pattern.
Diamond drag works best on softer metals such as aluminum, brass or gold. Harder metals such as stainless steel do not allow enough penetration to allow enough visibility of the work. Diamond drag offers the ability to engrave very small letters using just one pass to form the letters or larger letters by making them bolder by using multiple parallel lines to make the letters bolder.
To the naked eye diamond drag produces a clean sharp line that reflects light very well producing reasonable contrast.
The pantograph changed the engraving industry shortly after the turn of the century much like computers did in the 1980's- 90's. The pantograph is a tracing machine that allowed an original master to be reduced when engraved. This machine is capable of diamond drag engraving or if a motor and spindle attached could do rotary engraving.
Brass fonts became popular for the pantograph. These were letters engraved deeply into brass that could be placed on the pantograph to be traced from. The pantograph is capable of reducing the size of the font but is not able to compress the font in one direction.
Computerized engraving allows complex designs to be repeated as many times as needed and made the process much faster. A plotter with an engraving spindle attached is connected to a computer which controls it. Most computer driven machines are capable of diamond drag and rotary engraving. A skilled computerized engraver must be able to generate custom graphics and corporate logos as well as perform layout and design work.
Laser engravers are similar to computer engravers except that a laser head replaces the spindle to perform the engraving. Lasers are very limited as to their capabilities and what they can engrave upon.
Our door knockers are machine engraved using the diamond drag engraving method.