Engraving Vocabulary

My tools are set to arrive sometime this week, but I thought I would cover some key terms in the hand engraving game. When I began researching how to hand engrave, I encountered a few forum posts that really helped me understand what I needed for tools and set up, but I didn’t really understand half of what the posters were saying! It is important to understand the terminology of engraving when learning to skill. Luckily, I found the Engraving Glossary. It has a page for each letter of the alphabet and easy to understand definitions of general engraving terms, gun engraving terms and common engraving terms in German, French and Italian. This webpage is a wealth of knowledge for a raw beginner such as me!

Here are a few terms to help you understand hand engraving a little better. Most are summarized from the Engraving Glossary, but I did add a few notes of my own.

Acanthus- A decorative leaf design, also used in leather tooling. It was described to me (from a leather tooling standpoint) as a “space filler” around flowers and other focal points of a leather design.

An example of acanthus leaf design. Also visible is the backbone of the design. Retrieved from Engravers’ Cafe. 

Backbone- The main spiral on which leaves and tendrils are applied in an engraving design.

Back Cut- To cut over the same line. Can be done with a different graver or with the same graver, just held at a different angle than the first cut.

Beading- Creating tiny domes in the surface of metal with a beading punch. It is usually used as a background.

Cross-hatching- Technique used to create an effect of shading by drawing closely spaced parallel lines.

Elbow- Describes a scroll that lacks the circular look because a part is not as circular as it should be. An elbow may be found in the work of a beginner because of poor design choice or lack of tool control.

Graver- A hand tool used to engrave metal or other materials. Can be a hand tool or can be powered by a compressor.

An example of a graver. Photo courtesy of lindsayengraving.com


Stippling- A method of creating texture using dots or circles, mainly in the background. This is one term that I had no idea what it meant until I looked it up in the Glossary!

Western Bright Cut- The style of engraving that I am used to seeing. It is used on western silver jewellery and cowboy gear such as belt buckles, spurs, bits and conchos. Cuts appear to be deep and reflective. The scrolls have a backbone that is done with a wiggle tool.

An example of Western Bright Cut style engraving. One can see the backbone of the spirals has the distinctive wiggle tool pattern that the style is known for. Photo courtesy of the author

Wiggle Tool- A tool shaped like a flat chisel used to engrave a zigzag pattern.

While I am waiting for my (much) anticipated tools, I am currently researching on how to create engraving patterns. I can see many similarities between engraving patterns and leather tooling patterns, but there are differences too. Some leather tooling patterns (depending on the piece) are a bit simpler and details are added via stamps and shading rather than cross-hatching. I think learning how to cross-hatch will be the biggest challenge for me, since it is a technique that I am unfamiliar with

I think today I will crack out my sketchbook and begin creating patterns that I can create when my supplies get here. I am looking forward to learning more about hand engraving and I can’t wait to share my progress with everyone!

Until next time, keep learning!



4 thoughts on “Engraving Vocabulary

  1. This is such a unique learning project! I definitely know what you mean when you said that you didn’t understand what any of the posts were talking about. That’s how I felt when I started learning how to play the accordion and they kept using terms I have never even heard of before. Sometimes the best learning is what comes before you even pick up your tools. I am glad you were able to find a glossary that helped you out! I look forward to seeing some of your finished products 🙂


    1. There certainly is a learning curve! I keep stumbling on new information (or new tools!) and it’s like a light bulb every time! I found out right after I wrote the post that a wiggle tool is actually a flat graver…


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