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!



While I’m Waiting

While I wait for my new tools to arrive, I figured I would talk about why I chose to pursue hand engraving for my learning project. In some ways, I have been around hand engraved items all my life. I love the style and beauty of engraved scrollwork on the western  belt buckles, spurs and conchos that I’ve seen all my life thanks to horses and rodeo.

I have competed in rodeos since I was four years old. My older sisters were involved and whatever they did, I wanted to do too. I still compete in rodeo and barrel racers. It is something that I want to be involved in for the rest of my life. Rodeo is how I met my husband, I was on a rodeo scholarship through college, my sisters and the rest of my family are all involved in rodeo in some way. I have spent weekends in the stands watching my niece and nephews compete on the junior high and high school levels and countless hours in the pickup traveling with my sisters to events across Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas.



A photo from my early barrel racing career. Photo courtesy of the author.

Rodeo has its own culture (and it is a facet of the western lifestyle). Belt buckles hold meaning in the western world, it is a representation or a résumé, if you will. Belt buckles are often given as awards in rodeo.  They come in many different sizes and styles, with different types of metal, stones and engraving. Buckle makers each have their own style and are distinctive. Engraving is not just for belt buckles, but it is seen on conchos, spurs and other metal items used by Cowboys and cowgirls daily.

Over the course of my lifetime, I have won too many buckles to count. Most are displayed in our living room, but some are stored away- we simply do not have the room to display all of them in our little house.


Buckles displayed in my home. Photo courtesy of the author

Being surrounded by this beauty made me want to look into how they’re made, or at least how to complete one step in the process. I never really thought it was a skill I’d pursue, but thanks to ECMP 355 I get that chance!

There are other skills I could have chosen that are related to rodeo, ranching and my life, but I am pretty spoiled by my family- they are a talented bunch. My father-in-law and both sisters-in-law create custom leather pieces, my husband draws and sculpts, my mother taught me to sew, and my husband’s grandma knits and crochets. I wanted to try something different, something that is tied to the western way of life and my thoughts turned to hand engraving!



Photo courtesy of RKLeather via Facebook

I am looking forward to learning more about engraving. I’ve watched a few videos and read posts on engraving forums, but there is only so much I can do until my supplies arrive! The weather has been nice and so I’ve been filling my time (when not in the classroom) by riding my barrel horse and dreaming of Springtime!

Until next time, keep learning!


Personal Learning Project: the Beginning

As a part of my ECMP 355 course (Computers in Education), I am to engage in a personal learning project this semester. It was difficult for me to choose a subject! There are so many things I want to learn, but I wanted a skill or hobby that I’ve never tried before

As my husband and I drove from Calgary on Thursday we bandied a few ideas around, but many of our ideas were things I’ve tried before (such as sewing, leather tooling and painting). As we drove by Brooks, an idea hit me! Metal engraving! I’ve never worked with metal and I can incorporate those skills with my other hobbies (mainly leather work, I can create conchos to place on my leather work!) and I can share my newfound skills with my family and friends!

After I decided what I wanted to do, I needed to find information on how to get started. This took some googling while my awesome husband drove (thanks, honey!). Wikihow is the first link to pop up, followed by an article titled “how to do engraving easy and make it look decent” on instructables.com. The second article was about labeling tools with the owner’s name, rather than the art of metal engraving.

Wikihow recommends the use of a pneumatic graver (what the heck is that?) but other options are a hammer and chisel, a Dremel tool or a craft knife. I began the search for a pneumatic graver, they come highly recommended by a few different websites and engraving forums. One problem, I am just learning and this is a professional tool (not to mention out of my price point at the moment). More searching found a forum post on handengravingforum.com titled “A Beginner’s Progress Plans, Tutors Tips and Informational Link” and it is gold. I would have spent a lot of money on a tool that I am not ready to handle without this post! The author shared pictures of his hand gravers that were his first tools, before he moved on to a pneumatic graver.

Although the Wikihow article had simple steps and urges the reader to learn more about engraving, it left many details out (like the hand graver). In addition to learning about hand engraving, my first foray into learning on the internet made me realize a few things: keep digging (sometimes more information is needed), there are people out there that are willing to help you get started, bookmark anything you make think is relevant to your subject (I now have a folder in my bookmarks for engraving information so I don’t lose it!).
I am looking forward to learning more about metal engraving and sharing my journey with you! I can’t wait until my tools arrive in the next few weeks (thanks to Amazon!).

Until next time, keep learning!