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Engraving: How to Get Started

Have you been thinking about giving engraving a go? Whether you want to liven up everyday household objects or make a personalised gift for someone special, engraving is all about practice, confidence and perseverance. In our handy beginner’s guide to engraving, we run you through everything from picking the right materials to the Dremel accessories that go with them, so you can start your engraving journey in no time.

Dremel accessories suitable for engraving.

Choose the right engraving accessories

There are three main kinds of accessories when it comes to engraving:

High Speed Cutters are varied accessories well-suited to engraving, as well as shaping, hollowing and grooving. Perfect for engraving soft materials like wood and leather.

Engraving Cutters are also suited for detail work, especially when the material isn’t so hard. Work just as well on wood and plastic as they do on softer metals like brass.

Diamond Wheel Points are designed specifically for fine-detail work. The bits are covered in diamond particles, which make them perfect for engraving harder materials, like glass.

The Flexible Shaft and Detailer’s Grip help your engraving project go that little bit more smoothly.

Choose the right attachments for your engraving project

Think of attachments as the things that help your project go that little bit more smoothly. The Flexible Shaft attaches to your Dremel in seconds, and the 127mm cable provides more comfort and flexibility during use. The weight of the Dremel is gone – perfect for engraving a wine glass, for example. Another handy attachment is the Detailer’s Grip, which fits on any rotary tool with a threaded nose piece. It transfers the weight of the tool to the palm of your hand for improved tool balance and control – especially useful when doing precise work such as engraving, carving, etching and polishing.

Materials like leather and soft metals – such as brass and copper – are easier to engrave.

Select a material to begin engraving

When you’re an engraving novice, it’s better to choose something a little more soft. Why? They’re simply easier for you to get the level of control you want while using your Dremel tool, which means they’re much for beginners. Metals like brass and copper are the softest (so leave that titanium watch until you’re a little more experienced!). Other soft materials include leather, plastics and wood.

The best surfaces to build up your engraving skills? Flat.

Focus on the SHAPE

When it comes to choosing an object to begin engraving, material isn’t the only important factor to consider. As well as thinking about soft materials (like soft metals, leather or wood) pay attention to the surface shape. The best shape to choose when starting out? Anything flat. With flat surfaces, you don’t have to worry about angles, or continually re-positioning the object or the tool. You just have to focus on getting used to how the tool feels during engraving – which is exactly how it should be when you’re new. Glass coasters, metal plaques and wooden cheese boards make good starting points. Another good start? A leather phone case. See our step-by-step guide here.

Gloves, goggles and a dust mask are all engraving essentials.

Take the correct safety measures

Now that you’ve got the right tools for the job and a surface that’s ready to be engraved, you’re probably itching to get started. But before you do, it’s time for a quick safety recap. Protect your hands with leather gloves; not only will they prevent cuts and scrapes, they’re also more resistant to wear and tear. Goggles and a dust mask are also engraving essentials – you don’t want to be breathing in tiny glass or metal shards (or getting it anywhere near your eyes). And if the antique serving platter you’ve got your eye on shows any signs of rust, step away with the engraving tool. Rust particles are a health hazard.

Clean glass, metal or wood equals better engraving.

Prepare the material

If you’re engraving glass, make sure it’s clean and dry. All traces of grease and washing liquid should be completely removed so you can see clearly, but also so you don’t encounter any issues during the transfer stage (step 7). Engraving wood? Make sure it’s untreated. If you’ve got your heart set on engraving a piece of wood that’s already been painted, you’ll have to sand it back and wipe it with a damp cloth before you begin. Once your surface is clean and dry, you’re ready to go.

Having a printed pattern to trace over is a great way to start out.

Transfer your pattern onto the material

You can always engrave free-hand, but having a pattern to trace over is a great way to start out. To transfer a pattern onto a metal surface, use carbon paper. Simply place the paper on the metal surface, lay the pattern on top and trace over it with a pencil. Engraving glass is even easier: pop the pattern underneath the glass, and you’ll be able to see straight through and use it as your guide. Just be sure to stick it to the glass so it doesn’t move around halfway through your engraving.

TIP: Always look straight on – looking at an angle means your lines have a greater chance of becoming skewed.

Holding your Dremel tool like a pencil gives you the greatest amount of control.

Use a pencil grip

When it comes to the engraving itself, it’s easier to hold the Dremel tool – or the Flexible Shaft – just like you would a pen or pencil. It’s already a movement you’re familiar with, so the logic follows that this familiarity provides you with the greatest level of confidence when it comes to handling your engraving tools. Which leads us to another very important tip: self-belief. When you’re new to engraving, things might take a while to go to plan – and that’s normal. Get a bit of practice in, be patient with yourself, and persevere: your confidence will grow and so will your engraving skills. And that’s when the real fun begins.