Dear Diary : BAJ : Engraving

Dear Diary : BAJ : Engraving

Dear Diary : BAJ : Engraving

I have always tried to make it clear that I am a designer, not a maker. In fact I only started designing as a preteen, bored in my parents meetings with workshops, so my entire practice and approach has been a little on the scatty and unorthodox side of things!

Increasingly my lack of bench skills and proper education in the world jewellery began to bother me and I could keenly feel the gaps in my knowledge so in March I enrolled on the Diploma in Jewellery Manufacture Level 2 at the British Academy of Jewellery (née Holts) and applied to BA Jewellery Design at Central Saint Martins where I will be heading in September. That covers all the bases, right?

I am starting a diary to show my tentative steps into the world of silversmithing (and show why I will continue to outsource a lot of the making!)

First up: engraving!

Engraving ɪnˈɡreɪvɪŋ,ɛnˈɡreɪvɪŋ noun  the process or art of engraving a design on a hard surface, especially to make a print.

Engraving Day 1

Our first exercise was the 'wheel' on the right. It was supposed to be a Tudor rose design, it did not go well. As I started marking out the design with my dividers (a tool like a geometry compass but with points on both legs) and scribe (a pointy steel stick for marking) I was exceedingly optimistic. I thought I was going to nail this, then I would be able to offer on-the-spot engraving for my designs and not have the delay and expense of sending them to the professionals. I was so wrong. I struggled to hold the graver (another steel pointy stick but sharp and specifically for general engraving) so the thumb and index finger of my right hand ached horribly as I gouged inaccurate shapes into the copper and then skidded and stabbed my left hand repeatedly. The second exercise was the bunny, this was more successful but being made up of small, short lines means he was as technically challenging as painting by flicking a toothbrush and I still ruined his eye by trying to add more detail.

Engraving Day 2 Tracing

The second day of engraving came the following week. I was determined and so I purchased my own graver and Arkansas stone (a sharpening stone) - surely I could do better using my own graver, cut to the correct length for my hand rather then the old school supplies? The design was a thorny floral pattern, less likely to show up a lack of symmetry than the Tudor rose.

Engraving day 2 tools

I love all the tools and processes that come with jewellery manufacture. So much has remained unchanged for hundreds or sometimes thousands of years. We were working on squares of copper sheet which we filed to remove the knife-sharp edges. (The metal should have a mirror polish before engraving but that would not be a good use of time at this level since the surface will to be covered in unintentional scratches imminently.) The Arkansas stone comes in a little wooden box which makes it feel like something precious in itself and the engraving is done leaning on a sandbag which is a little cushion of leather that looks like a piece of vintage cricket gear. The design was traced and then the reverse of the tracing paper was rolled with plasticine to leave a greasy residue which is lightly transferred onto the metal. 

Engraving day 2 burnishing

This design was better but still pretty dire. The marks here are made with the burnisher (a highly polished, curved-edged... well, it's another stick) which is used almost like a rubber to remove the dozens of unintentional lines. The burnisher is pressed firmly onto the copper and pushed back and forth in the same direction as the scratch and is surprisingly effective at pressing the metal together to make the lines less visible.

Engraving day 3 unicorns

Day 3: unicorns!

On the third day I finally started to feel like I was making progress. I finally managed to grasp that engraving is not gouging and so the graver is only held as quite a shallow angle against the metal. The marks do not have to be extremely deep to make enough of an impression to survive polishing and then the line can flow a lot more smoothly as it would with a pencil. Except the position of the hands is completely removed from how you would hold a pencil and my fingers still hurt as I write this two days later. Conclusion; needs more work.


That's all for now!