Engraving, whether as its own art form or as a process for preparing a block for printmaking, is an art with history that stretches hundreds of years. While traditional tools are available for purists or novices testing out the medium, technology has improved the techniques available for artists to scratch their vision into a hard surface without the finger cramps and exhaustion that was once part of practicing the art form.
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Although there's nothing fancy about traditional gravers, they've helped engravers get the job done for centuries. A tool with a hardened point used to scratch away the medium in which you engrave, gravers come in many shapes, from traditional stylus-shaped gravers to ones with rounded handles like awls. Different sized and shaped tips allow you to approach your work with tips that produce different effects in your engraving. Because they're not powered, when you use a graver you must supply the force necessary to cut your medium, which can be a labour-intensive process in some situations.
An inexpensive option for engravers who want a little extra help with their etching, electric engravers are handheld electric tools that operate from standard AC current. When started, the entire engraver oscillates at rates of several thousand times each second. These oscillations vibrate into the cutting tip, which is similar to that of a traditional graver. The microscopic oscillations of the tip do the cutting, and you simply guide electric engravers rather than forcing them through the material being engraved.
Developed as a miniature application of air tools used by professional mechanics and other shop workers, air-driven engravers eliminate the vibrations created by oscillating hand engravers. Air pressure works to spin an engraving tip at thousands of revolutions per minute, and you use this rotation to power cut rather than use brute force. Many air-driven engravers feature swappable tips, so you're able to select shapes and sizes similar to those of a traditional graver.
Rotary Tool Attachment
Manufacturers of all-purpose rotary tools such as Bosch and Dremel manufacture bits designed for engraving in a variety of media. As with air-driven engravers, these tips are available in different sizes and shapes to suit your project, and rotary tools' adjustable rotation speed allows you to tailor the force used to engrave to avoid splitting and burning in softer media. Unless you use a stylus attachment in conjunction with the rotary tool, these may be too bulky and hard to handle for very fine engraving.
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