Hand Metal Engraving Tools

Written by victoria mcgrath
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Hand Metal Engraving Tools
Expert engravers etch portraits on national coin currency. (Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Many expert engravers compare the art of hand engraving to the work of tattoo artists. Hand metal engravers design letters, words, images and portraits on paper and reduce them in size. They block the sketch on the metal item and pencil in the details, with precise, symmetrical accuracy. Experts use hand metal engravers to engrave sentimental words in wedding rings, initials on Rolex watches and presidents' images on commemorative coins. Hand-held metal engravers require strong metal tips and specialised pistons.

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Piston Speed Range

An expert engraver works rapidly with the speed and efficiency of the tool. Hand metal engraving tools measure speed by strokes per minute (SPM). The speed range varies based on the type of piston. According to Lindsay Engraving, a stainless piston averages 2,400 to 15,000 SPM and a tungsten piston averages 1,500 to 11,000 SPM. The piston choice depends on the material used and the level of the engraver's skill and technique. Increased speed enables an engraver to move the tool across the metal faster and complete projects more efficiently without breaking the tip of the tool.

Control of Hand Piece

An engraver holds the hand tool with a steady hand. A hand-held metal hand engraver operates by a motorised control box, foot pedal or hand pedal. A hand engraving tool with a motorised control box vibrates with a constant humming noise. Smooth engraving requires a skilled technician to adjust for the vibrations. The engraver uses a foot or hand pedal to power the tool intermittently. He pushes down on the pedal to begin each individual detail and releases the pedal as he finishes. A hand pedal works simultaneously with the controls on the handle and therefore requires less hand-to-foot coordination. Air compression and a clean idle facilitate smooth operation and easy control.

Type of Tool and Metal

The type of metal engraving tool varies depending on the type of metal, the type of design and the engraver's technique. Engravers work with gold, silver, copper and steel. The metal must be light enough for the engraver to etch by hand. A harder metal such as titanium requires machine or mechanical engraving. Experts harden the tips of their tools for maximum efficiency. The tip of the tool must be harder than the material it engraves or else the tip bends or breaks on contact. The tip style also influences the design. An engraver may prefer a wide-angle tool with a flat engraver for western-style etching or a square-tip tool with a sharp corner for portraits.

Parts of a Hand Metal Engraver

Professional engravers personalise their engraving tools. A hand-held device fits well in the palm of the engraver's hand. Engravers work faster with small, portable units that flow with the movements of the hand. The handle of a metal engraver can be small and narrow or round like a mushroom top. Black rubber handles grip well. More elaborate handles use stainless steel, white ivory, polished wood and Damascus. A hand metal engraver kit includes the handpiece, a regulator, the motorised control box, a foot or hand pedal, a stainless or tungsten piston, and graver blanks. Graver blanks fit into the tip or nose of the hand-held engraver tool and can be shaped, sharpened and replaced based on the type of project. Carbon dioxide regulators and adaptors provide air compression as needed.

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