How to hand engrave metal

Updated February 21, 2017

Metal engraving is a process with a wide variety of uses. Inscribe your name or initials on metal tools and equipment to identify them as your property, etch artwork onto metal objects, jewellery and keepsakes, or create metal signage or plaques. Using an electric engraver, you can engrave on metal freehand or with the use of stencils. Hand-held electric engravers are affordable and typically have a point with a carbide tip for effective and easy engraving. You can use them on glass, wood, plastic or ceramics.

Plan your design and outline it onto the metal so you can follow the shapes and lines when engraving. Several options exist for outlining your design onto the metal. Use a wax pencil to draw freehand on the metal or to trace along the edges of a stencil cutout; print the design on label paper, which you can then cut out like a stencil and stick to the metal as an outline for engraving within it; or use a transfer paper to transfer your design directly from paper to the metal surface.

Place the metal on a solid work surface and start the engraver. Hold the engraver the same way you hold a pencil. Always use light, consistent pressure.

Begin by engraving the outlines. Fill in shapes by making successive, adjoining lines. Create shading by making a concentration of lines that gradually disperse then disappear. For shading, use lines that echo and run parallel with the natural form and shape of the image in order to create a more dimensional appearance. Stop occasionally during the process and use a soft cloth to wipe the surface and remove any dust. Pick up the piece to inspect your progress. Look to see if you missed any areas so you can go back and fix them.

Clean any residual wax from the waxed paper or adhesive from the label paper with a grease remover.


Always work with adequate lighting so you can sufficiently see your progress and the details of your design. Some electric engravers come with a series of bits that you can interchange to make different kinds of lines and marks.

Things You'll Need

  • Wax crayon, label paper or transfer paper
  • Electric engraver
  • Soft cloth
  • Grease remover
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About the Author

Mason Howard is an artist and writer in Minneapolis. Howard's work has been published in the "Creative Quarterly Journal of Art & Design" and "New American Paintings." He has also written for art exhibition catalogs and publications. Howard's recent writing includes covering popular culture, home improvement, cooking, health and fitness. He received his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Minnesota.