How to Engrave a Headstone

Written by gail cohen
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If you've spent time studying headstones, you know these artefacts chronicle and celebrate the lives of people throughout the ages--some of which hearken back centuries. Sure, there are plenty of whimsical ones, but all headstones have this in common--a combination of artistry and reverence, pairing skill and wisdom to produce a permanent record. If you're planning to engrave a stone, muster plenty of patience for this time-consuming task.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Hammers (2- and 3-pound)
  • Carbide chisels (point, flat, rondel)
  • Granite, marble or other headstone material
  • Polishing tools (rasps and rifflers)
  • Sandpaper (wet/dry)
  • Inscription template material (e.g., a sheet of heavy-duty plastic)
  • Xacto knife or stencil cutting tool
  • Safety equipment (glasses, respirator, ear protection, gloves)
  • Compressor (if using power tools)

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  1. 1

    Purchase a slab of granite, basalt, limestone, sandstone, marble or alabaster from a quarry or stone purveyor.

  2. 2

    Set up a work area in your garage or on a concrete surface that offers access to a nearby power supply.

  3. 3

    Don protective gear to safeguard your eyes, ears, face and hands from flying stone chips and loud noise.

  4. 4

    Use a point chisel and hammer to begin shaping the body of the headstone for fast removal of large chunks of stone.

  5. 5

    Use a tracing tool to achieve precise cuts like bevels and incisions, and a flat chisel--also called a rondel chisel--and rasps to further smooth the stone's surface.

  6. 6

    Add texture to the stone by employing a bushing tool to etch the surface with crosshatching or another pattern.

  7. 7

    Finish preparing the surface for engraving by stroking wet or dry silicone carbide sandpaper over the entire headstone.

  8. 8

    Buff the stone with a water-fed power polisher to achieve an ultra-smooth finish.

  9. 9

    Create a stencil for information you'll engrave on the headstone by transferring the name of the grave's occupant, dates of birth and death, religious symbols, scriptural passages, poems and other information to a piece of heavy-duty plastic sheeting.

  10. 10

    Use a cutting tool to remove interior parts of the letters and icons from the plastic template.

  11. 11

    Position the template atop the surface of the stone, taping it into place.

  12. 12

    Chisel out the text and images to complete the engraving process on the headstone.

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