Engraving on metal or wood has been an art practiced by artists and printers for centuries and much ink has been spilled on the subject. Today, engravings on plastics, gemstones and other difficult-to-work materials are made possible using laser cutters and other modern machinery. Despite all these rich and varied applications, nothing prevents you from starting to make engravings with a minimum of tools.
Method 1 of 3: engrave on metal
Step 1. Choose your tool
You can use a hammer and chisel, but stalls or chisels, whether manual or pneumatic, are generally inexpensive and offer more stability and control. You can also use a Dremel rotary tool that has a tungsten carbide bur.
- Engraving tips and cutters come in a multitude of shapes. Square shapes, which produce "V" cuts are the most versatile.
- Exceptionally soft metals can be engraved using a compass or a cutter, but the engraving may lack precision and lose its 3D appearance.
Step 2. Practice on a metal object
If you are starting your very first printmaking project, it is best not to start with family heirlooms. Practice on an object you won't be sad to damage. A soft metal such as copper or a bronze alloy and faster and easier to engrave than steel or other hard metals.
Step 3. Clean the metal
Clean the surface with a damp cloth and then remove all traces of moisture with a dry cloth. If the metal is still dirty, scrub it with soapy water and let it dry.
If the metal is covered with a protective finish, which is often the case with bronze, you do not need to remove it. However, the action of etching the metal will remove the finish, so you will need to reapply afterwards if you want to maintain the color uniformity of the metal
Step 4. Draw or print a pattern
If you are working on a small object or if this is your first print, draw or print a simple design with well-spaced lines. Delicate and detailed work is difficult to accomplish without practice, and the end result can look disjointed and blurry. You can draw the pattern directly on the metal. Alternatively, you can draw or print the design in full size and then follow the instructions below to learn how to transfer it to metal.
If you engrave letters, make sure they are as uniform as possible by engraving them between two straight and parallel lines that you would have drawn beforehand using a ruler
Step 5. Transfer the design to the metal if necessary
Follow this step only if you need to transfer your design to metal, otherwise, go directly to the next step. If you cannot find the equipment specifically listed, search online for one of the many methods available to transfer an image. Note that most will nevertheless require the use of specialized equipment.
- Apply varnish or shellac to the area you want to etch and wait until it is almost dry and a bit tacky.
- Draw the pattern on polyester film or Mylar film with a soft lead pencil.
- Cover the pattern with scotch tape. Scrub the back of the tape thoroughly with your fingernail or a burnisher, then lift it carefully. The pattern is now transferred to the tape.
- Stick the tape on the painted metal. Rub the tape with your using the same method before removing it.
Step 6. Use a clamp to secure the metal
Engraving will be much easier if you use a clamp or pliers to keep the metal from slipping. You can hold the metal in your hand using pliers, which will help you gain stability, but will increase the risk of cuts and scrapes. If you are using a power tool or a hammer and chisel, which must be held with two hands, it is strongly recommended that you use a clamp to secure the metal to a table or other stabilized surface.
Step 7. Engrave the pattern
You can now transform your design into an engraving with the chosen tool. Start by applying pressure to the tip of the angled tool to remove metal shavings. On your first few attempts, try to hold the tool at the same angle until you are done engraving. Start by carving straight lines in both directions until you have a visible and deep incision. This should serve as a starting point for you to create the other scoring lines. To carve complex lines, such as making the letter J, for example, start by engraving the segment made up of the straight line. Once this segment is completed, you can now burn the segment which is more difficult.
Step 8. Learn more
Printmaking is an art that a person can practice all their life and never stop improving. There are many options for people who want to learn new techniques, how to use an engraving machine, or who are just looking for practical advice on how to expand their range of tools.
- Find online engraving forums to join engraving communities. If you are interested in a certain style of engraving, you can find a forum or sub-forum dedicated to precious metals, steel, or other types of metal engravings.
- Find books on printmaking. A book on printmaking will likely offer more detailed information than what is available online. If you're not sure which book to read first, a burning forum is the place to ask.
- Learn the trade from local printmakers. You may need to sign up for a course offered by a community college or find a nearby printmaking studio that hosts one-off workshops. If you are serious and want to advance in the world of printmaking, consider volunteering your services to become an engraver's apprentice or enroll in a year-long program to study printmaking.
Method 2 of 3: Engrave on wood with a rotary tool
Step 1. Choose a rotary tool
Almost any Dremel brand rotary tool attachment or router bit can be used to score wood. A router table can be configured to make incisions of a constant depth to make the job easier. It is also recommended for engraving panels and creating simple woodcuts. Also, a hand-held tool makes it easier to change angles, allowing you to experiment with various types of incisions.
- It is strongly recommended to wear protective glasses while using any rotary tool to protect yourself from flying debris
- Use a CNC or CNC machine if you want to make intricate engravings with an extreme level of detail.
Step 2. Choose a bur to engrave
There are plenty of burs that you can use with your tool to create different incisions. Round end cutters are useful for hollow surfaces, while cylindrical end cutters are best suited for working on flat surfaces. Finally, the flame-shaped engraving cutter gives you good control over the appearance of the incision depending on the angle at which you hold the tool. If you decide to take the art of engraving a step further, there are many burs that are specialized and suitable for every type of application.
Step 3. Draw or transfer your design to the wood
When engraving wood, the level of detail is only limited by the width of your engraving tool and the precision of your hands. If you are not comfortable with the idea of making a freehand drawing, print it on a thin polyester film, such as Mylar film, and tape it to the wood with tape.
Step 4. Trace the pattern with the tool
Turn on the power tool and gently lower it onto the wood. Slowly and uninterruptedly follow all the lines of your pattern outline. Surprisingly, you need very little depth to make it look three-dimensional. So start by making a shallow groove, then go back under it until you are satisfied with the result.
Step 5. Paint the wood (optional)
If you want to create engravings that are more visible, you can paint the engraved part. Paint the original flat surface a different color to make it more visible. You can also protect the wood from wear with paint or clear varnish.
Method 3 of 3: Make a woodcut
Step 1. Choose engraving tools
You can use any of the many non-motorized or manual tools available. To create detailed images, like what you might find in a 19th century book, select two or three tools to vary the effects. Here are three types of commonly used traditional hand engraving tools.
- Elliptical tabs or "spitstickers" in English, are chisels that are used to carve fluid lines.
- The stalls are used to cut fine or wide lines, depending on the angle at which you hold the tool.
- Hollow gouges or scorps rounded or square ends are used to dig large parts into the wood to keep it white when printed. This tool is not necessary if you are not going to print.
Step 2. Apply a thin coat of ink to the wood
Take a bottle of black ink and using a brush or a cloth very thinly cover the wooden plate. This will put the engraved parts in relief, so it is imperative not to put too much ink to prevent it from imprinting below the surface.
Step 3. Check that the surface is well prepared
Let the ink dry completely. Then check that there are no small particles on the wood. If so, you can remove them by buffing them firmly with a paper towel.
Step 4. Block the plank of wood (optional)
A leather-covered sand pad is a great way to prop up the wood plank, providing sturdy support regardless of which direction you push. It is not advisable to secure the board to the table with a clamp, as you will need to reposition it while you are doing the engraving.
Step 5. Hold the engraving tools in your hand
Hold the tool in the same way you would hold a computer mouse, with the handle lightly held in the palm of your hand. Apply pressure to one side of the metal rod with your index finger and squeeze the other side with your thumb. Let the rounded end of the handle rest in the palm of your hand. As you engrave, you will apply pressure pushing against this rounded end.
Step 6. Burn the wood
Cut the wood by applying pressure on the slightly tilted tool to perform the engraving. Use the other hand to turn the plank of wood gently as you push forward with the tool. Make no more than an inch at a time before adjusting the hand position. It will probably take a bit of practice before you can make smooth incisions.
- If the tool goes in quickly and jams, the angle is probably too steep.
- The inclination of the "chisel" can be gently varied between a low angle for wider lines or a steep angle for finer lines. It may take a bit of practice to practice properly, but it's a great technique to master for woodcutting.
Step 7. Try various methods of approach
One way to start a woodcut is to incise the outlines of the image so that they are wider than necessary and polish the details with a smaller tool afterwards. There are many shading styles out there, but drawing a series of small, mostly parallel lines that overlap to look like falling rain often creates the most natural effect.
Step 8. Coat the board with ink
Once the engraving is complete, you can print the image on paper as many times as you want. For this, buy a bottle of black oil-based embossed printing ink. Put a very small amount on the flat, curved part of the board, then, using a hand roller or ink roller, spread it in a thin layer over the entire surface. Add more ink as needed and continue coating it with the roller, applying even pressure until the surface is smooth.
Step 9. Transfer the image to paper
Lay a sheet of paper on top of the wet board, being careful not to move it once it comes in contact with the ink. Rub the back of the paper with a burnisher. Lift the sheet after rubbing it, which should give you a printout of your image. Repeat as many times as needed, adding more ink if the plate dries out.
- If the burnisher does not slide easily, you can rub it into your hair to coat it with oil without marring the paper.
- Look for "print burnishers" as there are tools used by other professionals with the same name.
Step 10. Clean your tools
When printing is complete, wipe off the ink from the engraving and tools using mineral spirits or white spirit or vegetable oil and a clean rag. Keep your woodcut if you want to reuse it for other prints in the future.