engraving

Learning Project Summary

When this semester began and I learned that I had to work on a “learning project,” I was doubtful. I figured it would be a drain on my time and that I would hate it. I was wrong. I enjoyed learning about engraving and I’d love to learn more about it. There are three day courses I can take from professionals to hone my technique. I am saving up for one of those courses!

If I had to describe my learning project journey in one word, it would be “roller-coaster.” On my trip from Calgary, I was sky-high with my expectations and how much I was going to accomplish with this project this semester. To say that I overestimated myself- is an understatement. I learned lots about engraving, more about myself and tons about online learning.

To kick off my list of things learned, I will start with organization. It is important to organize your research materials as sources can be scattered across the internet with various authors/contributors and information can differ depending on the source. I have an “engraving” folder on Chrome and my Safari browser on my iPhone. This really helped me stay organized. I also utilized Evernote to write notes, save websites and save pictures for inspiration. It even has a handy-dandy Chrome extension to help you!

Access to certain pieces of information may be limited and information is not always free. Sometimes you have to buy or rent a digital copy of a video, pay for a membership or invest in private lessons via video conference or phone call. This isn’t new to me, private lessons via phone call or video are common in the barrel racing world.

Having a network is important. I didn’t get the opportunity to establish an engraving network like I have for teaching, though I did gain information via online forums available to me. I believe the quality of my learning project suffered from my lack of network. I did gain some great sources from Twitter thanks to the Hobo Nickel Society. They responded to my tweet!

This reinforced another idea- don’t be afraid to ask for help! Someone in your network may be able to help you!

Don’t forget to reflect and learn from failure. Accept failure when it happens, explore why it happened and move on with what you learned from the experience. I know I failed mostly from a lack of practice and a lack of tools (you need the right tool for the job!), but I can still improve my skills with the tools I have and I can always buy more tools.

My last project is incomplete. I began engraving a pair of stirrups (See my post with stirrup inspiration!), but life got in the way. I plan on finishing the pair, but it might take me awhile to get them completed while we are calving and I am working full-time. Below are some photos of my process and a few of my projects this semester! I hope everyone had as much fun as I did when it came to their learning project this class! I’m considering a new learning project in the Fall, I just have to decide what I want to pursue.

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Wiggle Engraving

So I decided to play around with wriggle engraving the other week. I’m so sorry that I’m a few weeks behind, between calving season and subbing I’ve had a pretty full schedule!

I saw this engraved trumpet while on a google search adventure and I absolutely loved this design! I had to try something like it!

Fig. 6, 69, Engraving Detail

Detail on the engraved trumpet.

Online learning is difficult, especially if the concept or skill is particularly detailed or not well-known. Engraving is a skill that is all detail. Engraving well involves attention to detail, knowledge of the tools and materials involved and a whole lot of feel. I don’t have great feel yet, but with practice and perseverance, my feel will develop.

Until then, I will keep practicing and honing my skills! After this bracelet, I began engraving an aluminum stirrup (I’ll post about it later) and I’m so excited about how it is turning out!

This is my attempt at wiggle engraving.

Learning online is great, however; it poses its own challenges to different learners. I am very much a hands-on type learner. I like to try new things and experiment until I find a strategy that works for me. With engraving, it is a great strategy, but it can get expensive when I need new materials to experiment with or if I need a new tool to try a new technique.

Sometimes our students don’t learn the same way we teach. That’s OK, great even! We as teachers need to acknowledge those differences and structure our classroom in such a way that everyone can learn in different ways.

Failure as a teacher

With the weather being kinda crappy out, I decided I might as well work on my learning project. 

I decided to tackled this tutorial on the Engraving Forum. It is a step by step demo of the basic western bright cut engraving. 

Screenshot taken from hand engraving forum


I quickly realized this basic tutorial isn’t as easy as the engraving forum members made it out. I am a raw beginner, working for the first time with brass with limited tools. Most of the members are either professionals, or have been practicing for awhile. 

Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.

 Morihei Ueshiba

I did give it a try, despite missing some of the tools listed. 

I sharpened my tools, put a piece on my vise and began. I failed. Miserably. 

Wiggle engraving the backbone was step one.


Step one went fairly well. Wiggle graving is a skill I know how to do. After that, I was lost. My graver slipped (a few times) resulting in scratches. And no matter what I did, I couldn’t make cuts like the author. 

This reminded me of teaching in a classroom setting. We will have students who struggle, who fail at tasks, and who wrestle with a concept. We need to help them learn to wrestle with hard concepts and not give up on learning just because it’s hard. 

A picture of my failure.


I failed today, but I won’t quit. I will go tool shopping (who doesn’t like shopping?) and learn more about engraving and practice more. 

Who else has struggled with something to do with their learning projects? 
PS: I just had an epiphany about making sure we have all the tools before implementing something new in our classroom such as a new app or piece of technology! 

Sharpening a Graver

So I have been practising, I promise. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and so I dislike sharing my seriously flawed practice pieces to date. I will, eventually. 

Since I have been using my gravers, they need to be sharpened. The first set of tools I bought were unshaped and I had a difficult time shaping them for my use. My wonderful husband bought me a few gravers for my birthday and these came pre-shaped. They are definitely my new favourites! 

Onglette graver shaped by me on the left and pre-shaped square graver on the right

Even though my favourite came pre-shaped, I do need to sharpen it. I found this video by Sam Alfano on YouTube and it was quite useful. 

Sam Alfano shows the tools he uses to hand sharpen, I don’t have the exact same but I do have similar pieces. 

He goes into detail, showing the viewer how to hold the graver while sharpening and explains why it is important to check and see if you are sharpening the sides even. 

A few things that I found difficult are: it is hard to see the angle of graver on the stone in his video. He uses a piece of steel as a guide (I don’t know the width of said piece) and he clearly says that hand sharpening is a lot of trial and error. 

And another obstacle I’ve encountered is that my ceramic stone is not flat, but has an angled surface. I’m really going to have to play with sharpening to get the hand of it, especially with the tools I have on hand. 

My angled ceramic sharpening stone


He also recommends a sharpening fixture which is currently out of my budget, but definitely on my wish list!

Overall, it is a pretty good source and I subscribed to Sam’s YouTube channel so I can learn more about engraving. 

My graver, sharpeners, notes and inspiration on my work table!

So after sharpening, here is a video of my graver. I think it’s slightly uneven, and I will have to keep working on my sharpening skills! 

Getting Started!

Gravers? Check. 

Practice blanks? Check. 

Rotating vise? Check. 

Sharpening stone? Check. 

It looks like I’m ready to begin engraving! In my first learning project post, I mentioned a forum post for beginners (I believe I described it as “gold”) and the post author mentioned making straight cuts in a practice plate to learn tool control. I decided to take his advice.  

At the time, I didn’t have a vise but I thought a makeshift lazy Susan with something sticky to hold my practice plate would do. That plan did not work out. If my gravers had actually been sharpened (yeah, I did not realize I needed to sharpen my tools once I got them!) I probably would have stabbed my self in the hand. 

My gravers. Only one is sharpened. Sharpening is something that is going to take a lot of practice!

My serious lack of a vise led to a trip to town and some tool shopping. Some friendly help at my local Peavey Mart set me up and I am the proud owner of a vise! 

My current set up. My husband has on his to-make list, a wooden table (or engraver’s bench). But this (kinda) works for now.


Now it is time for me to try this engraving stuff out! In the vise is a small piece of aluminum to practice on. I did learn later that it isn’t the ideal metal, but I’m on a budget and it is what I have. 

The first graver I sharpened is a knife graver. These are used for straight lines and accent lines. So the first scratches I made were straight. 

The straight lines are made with a knife graver. The silly curves are made with an onglette graver which I will do a majority of my work with.


I then decided to try making some curves. Most engraving is based around scrollwork and circles. This is harder than I thought it would be! 

My graver is digging in the metal instead of still gliding. This might be from my sharpening technique (or lack of!) or it could be the aluminum being difficult or the fact that my vise isn’t attached to my table yet).  I’ll practice some more and maybe work on sharpening my gravers while nagging my husband to set up my engravers bench!

Sometimes we get frustrated with a problem or concept. It is important that we take a step back and contemplate what the problem might be. In math, maybe we are missing a variable. Just like I was missing a properly sharpened graver. 

In addition to doers, we need to be problem solvers and our own cheerleaders. Sometimes our  students might run into problems and get frustrated. We might need to fill those roles for our students so they don’t give up, that they learn to wrestle with a problem and think like a problem solver. 

Update: I made little progress today, but that is ok. I managed a few curves and even a zigzag line. Little progress is better than no progress! 

I was getting frustrated with my set up and so I figured it best to retire for the day before the feeling escalated. 

The day’s practice plate. It is not much, but I did learn a few things!

News Flash and Google Books

I found a great source today. I was browsing the engraving forum when I stumbled upon a post of Techniques and Resources that are an inexpensive way to give it a try. 

One of those links (I haven’t checked all of them out yet!) was a book on Google Books about drawing acanthus leaves (what the heck is that?! See my post about engraving terms if you just asked that!). According to the author of the post this book is a “must Havel for drawing scrolls and acanthus leaves. 

I downloaded it. 

I discovered it was published in 1896. Years language reflects that. There is a bit of a learning curve on reading what the author is saying and taking directions from it. 

The example the book gave and what I ended up with based on the written directions


This is going to take some time. Time that I have since I forgot to order a vise to hold my engraving projects. 

At least I’m learning something while I wait?

This reminds me that we all have different learning styles. No two students learn exactly the same way and we need to acknowledge that while teaching. 

We also need to help our students when they are struggling. They need encouragement and the tools to keep going and trying even when the task is difficult. 

What roadblocks has anyone else encountered for their learning projects?