Directions for Engraving Wood With a Rotary Tool

Written by sara melone
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Directions for Engraving Wood With a Rotary Tool
Wood carving has been a hobby and an art form for many years. (saint kung fu master wooden carving image by alma_sacra from

A rotary tool is a versatile, hand-held power tool with a head that spins like a drill. It operates on batteries or a power cord. By attaching a variety of tips and extensions, you can use a rotary tool to sand surfaces, drill holes, clean tight spaces or cut nails and screws. With an engraving accessory, you can become your own wood engraver by carving designs or writing custom messages on a wooden gift or plaque.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Rotary tool
  • Wood-engraving accessories
  • Thin drawing paper (optional)
  • Transfer paper (optional)
  • Safety goggles

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  1. 1

    Prepare the wood you plan to engrave. If it needs to be carved or sanded, do so before engraving. Make sure the item you are engraving is already the right size and shape for the end product you want.

    Directions for Engraving Wood With a Rotary Tool
    Prepare the item to be engraved by cutting and sanding as needed. (wooden box (with clipping path) image by SBB from
  2. 2

    Draw the design you want to engrave. If you are a skilled artist, you can use a pencil to draw the design directly on the wood item. If not, there are several methods you can use to transfer designs onto wood. You can create your own stencils by drawing designs on paper, cutting them out and tracing around them with a pencil. Or, use transfer paper to draw your designs onto the wood. You can also use thin drawing paper with some level of transparency. Apply the paper to the wood and trace over the original drawing. If the wood is soft enough, a slight indentation will be left in the wood from the tip of the pencil pressing through the paper. You can then use this indentation as a guide for your engraving.

    Directions for Engraving Wood With a Rotary Tool
    Trace the image you would like to engrave before making any cuts with the rotary tool. (trace image by Gautier Willaume from
  3. 3

    Assemble the rotary tool according to the manufacturer's directions and attach the engraving tip. Engraving tips are generally made of carbide suitable for wood carving. They come in varying widths and shapes, ranging from flat tips (like a flathead screw driver) to fine points (like a needle). The tips can be changed as needed throughout the project for fine detailing work or engraving larger block letters and straight lines. An engraving-tip kit will provide directions explaining the best tip to use for different applications.

    Directions for Engraving Wood With a Rotary Tool
    Engraving tips can carve into wood or stone and can even etch glass. (engraver image by Chris Lofty from
  4. 4

    Choose a well-lit work area with a steady work surface. Put on safety goggles to protect your eyes from flying sawdust and wood chips. Test the engraving tip on a spare piece of wood to make sure it is the right size for your engraving. Start out slow with gentle pressure on the surface of the wood until you feel acclimated. A beginner will need practice to get a feel for how the tool works and how much pressure to apply. Your technique may need to change depending on whether you are using a soft wood or a hard wood.

    Directions for Engraving Wood With a Rotary Tool
    Engraving can enhance any common item in your home. (detail of engraved wood image by Tomo Jesenicnik from
  5. 5

    Once you are comfortable with the tool, set your wood piece on the work surface and carve out the tracing made earlier. You can carve the engraving deep into the wood surface, or it can be a shallow carving, depending on your preference. Finish with a light sanding to smooth the edges of the engraving.

    Directions for Engraving Wood With a Rotary Tool
    Engravings can be as simple or as detailed as you wish. (croix basque image by ninice64 from

Tips and warnings

  • Most hardware and home-improvement stores carry rotary tool accessories, and they can also be found online. You may want to order duplicate tips for when the tip size you have wears out. Thicker wood will wear out a delicate engraving tip faster. You will know it is beginning to wear if you have difficulty making the engraving cuts in the wood.
  • Never forget to wear safety goggles to protect your eyes when engraving any item.

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