Few people understand the skills and attention to detail involved in the traditional craft of hand engraving. It is a diverse craft with a long history that is intrinsically entwined with human culture. Historically hand engraving has been used in both practical and decorative applications ranging from hunting arms to royal seals, from coins and bank notes to jewellery.
All hand engraving starts with a basic tool called a graver: a length of square section tempered steel hammered into a mushroom-shaped handle usually made of wood. The length of steel is fixed into the handle so that when viewed from the front the diagonal axis of the square end runs vertically and horizontally, i.e. the corner of the square is at the bottom.
Certain ‘faces’ are ground onto the tip and polished in order to cut a basic line. In section this ‘line’ is v-shaped, following exactly the cross section of the tool used to cut it. The application of facets to the cutting tip is called ‘setting up’. Different steel sections will create different types of cut, for example, lozenge, flat, half round and square.
With a graver a skilled practitioner can cut many materials but here we are mainly concerned with metals: steel, copper, brass and gilding metal are the base metals, with silver, gold, palladium and platinum the precious metals.
This basic tool has been used by engravers for centuries. But just because something sounds simple, does not mean it’s easy! In the right hands it can produce absolutely extraordinary work.
There are many areas of activity within hand engraving and often practitioners will specialise in specific areas. Click on the links above to discover some of the different types of hand engraving being practised today.