gravers

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! 

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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!