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How to Engrave Metal: 4 Practical Methods Explained

by Winnie Li Posted on October 18, 2023

Metal engraving is the art of inscribing designs or patterns onto metal surfaces. This technique elevates the appearance of various objects, transforming them from ordinary to extraordinary. From jewelry to everyday tools, engraving adds elegance and individuality.

metal jewelry engraving

Beyond aesthetics, engraving serves practical purposes. It is used for marking items for identification, be it a name on a bracelet or a serial number on machinery. This adds a layer of security and aids in the quick recognition of items.

Curious about the methods to achieve this? This comprehensive article will introduce you to four practical metal engraving techniques along with their appropriate tools and procedures.

In This Article

  • Method 1: Hand Engraving Metal
  • Method 2: Rotary Engraving Metal
  • Method 3: CNC Engraving Metal
  • Method 4: Laser Engraving Metal
  • FAQs of Metal Engraving

Method 1: Hand Engraving Metal

Hand engraving is the traditional and oldest method for imprinting designs into metal. In this technique, a skilled artisan, carves designs onto a chosen metal surface with specialized hand tools. Each stroke is deliberate, and the technique demands a keen eye for detail and a steady hand. The process is labor-intensive; however, the outcome is a unique masterpiece that may not be duplicated.

Sometimes, this process is also termed ‘push engraving’. The name ‘push’ derives from the action of pushing the tool into the material to leave a mark.

Hand engraving is best suited for soft materials like silver, gold, copper, and brass. You may work on harder metals, but it becomes more challenging to engrave. In terms of applications, engraving shines in areas where personalization and artistry are paramount. This includes jewelry, ceremonial artifacts, and metal artwork.

Tools Needed for Hand Engraving Metal

Hand engraving has evolved over the years but the basic tools have been the same. However, they’ve got more hand-friendly designs. Here are some of those basic tools:

Gravers (or Burins): Gravers are the primary tools used in hand engraving. They are like small chisels with various shapes and sizes. Each one has some specific purpose. For instance:

  • Flat Graver is used for shading and creating broad cuts.
  • Round Graver (or Point Graver) is a deal for fine-line engravings and detailed work.
  • Onglette Graver creates very fine lines and is often used in script lettering.
  • Knife Graver is used for cutting straight, sharp lines.

Ball Vise: This is a spherical vise that holds the piece being engraved. It allows the engraver to rotate and position the workpiece at various angles for easier access.

Sharpening Stones: Gravers need to be kept sharp for clean and precise cuts. Sharpening stones, normally made of diamond or Arkansas stone, are used for this purpose.

How to Engrave Metal by Hand?

Metal engraving by hand is an art and you may excel at it with practice. However, for those just starting, here’s a simplified method for hand engraving:

  • Sketch your desired design or print it. You can use regular paper or opt for a vinyl sticker, depending on your preference.
  • sketch design for hand metal engraving

    ©Sam Alfano – YouTube

  • If using a paper printout, position it on the metal surface. Dab with acetone to transfer the design onto the metal.
  • transfer the design onto the metal for engraving
  • Secure the metal piece in a vise. This will make sure the metal remains stationary during the engraving.
  • Grip the graver firmly in your primary hand. Angle it at approximately 45 degrees relative to the metal’s surface.
  • hand engraving metal
  • With a consistent and controlled force, glide the graver across the metal to etch your design. The combination of angle and pressure will influence the engraving's depth and breadth.
  • For detailed patterns or curves, pivot the metal while maintaining the graver's position. This technique aids in achieving intricate designs.
  • After completing the engraving, clean the metal to eliminate any residual particles.
  • If you wish, coat the engraved section with a protective layer or lacquer. This step is especially recommended when working with metals prone to tarnish, like silver.

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Method 2: Rotary Engraving Metal

As the engraving technique evolved, power/rotary tools were introduced for engraving metal. Still, the process is mechanical and involves manual skill but the tool is electrically powered. In this technique, a cutter is mounted with a rotating tool. It spins at high speeds and drives into the metal to create designs.

The depth and width of the engraving can be adjusted by selecting different cutters and by controlling the pressure applied. In contrast to hand engraving, it effectively works on all metals, even the harder ones. It is a popular method for creating nameplates, badges, and signage.

Tools Needed for Rotary Engraving Metal

Rotary Engraver (Dremel): It is a handheld tool known for its versatility in engraving. It is compact, powerful, adjustable in speed, and can hold various kinds of engraving bits. 

Tool Bits: Diamond bits, hard and durable, are the most common choice for engraving metals. Apart from them, carbide and stainless-steel bits are also used.

Clamps: You may need clamps for holding the accessories. However, in many cases, it’s optional as one can work without it.

How to Engrave Metal with a Rotary Tool?

  • Clean the piece or ornament you want to engrave using alcohol.
  • clean the metal surface for rotary engraving

    ©Cornelius Creations – YouTube

  • Draft your desired design on a vinyl sticker for easy application to the metal. Alternatively, you may use the print method we talked about earlier.
  • draft the design on a vinyl sticker
  • Place the sticker on the metal, trace the design with a permanent marker, and then remove the sticker.
  • trace the design on the metal surface
  • Insert the bit in Dremel, and power it. Use a diamond engraving bit for the best results.
  • engrave metal with a rotary tool
  • Start with a lower speed setting and gradually increase as needed. For metal, a higher speed is often more effective.
  • engrave metal with a rotary tool
  • Touch the tip of the engraving bit to the metal and follow your design or pattern. Apply steady pressure, but not too much to avoid slipping. For deeper engravings, go over the design multiple times.
  • Once you have finished engraving, turn off the Dremel. Use a soft brush or cloth to remove any metal shavings from the engraved design.
  • remove metal shavings from the engraved design

Method 3: CNC Engraving Metal

CNC engraving is an advanced form of rotary engraving with no manual intervention. It harnesses the power of computer-controlled machinery to transfer intricate designs onto metal surfaces.

For CNC engraving, designs are first imported into dedicated software. These digital blueprints are then transformed into a series of precise machine movements. The CNC machine’s tool bit, often a spinning cutter, follows these directives and etches the design onto the metal. All metals are great candidates for CNC engraving.

A notable subset of CNC engraving is "diamond drag engraving." This technique differs in that it doesn't rely on a rotating tool. Instead, a diamond-tipped implement, which doesn't spin, is gently pulled across the metal. This action creates fine, elegant lines on the surface. The diamond's inherent hardness yields clean and consistent markings. This method is valued for tasks requiring detailed and refined engravings, such as on jewelry or ceremonial items.

Tools Needed for CNC Engraving Metal

CNC engraving, as its name suggests requires a CNC setup plus tool bits for engraving metals. 

CNC Machine: A Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine is a computer-controlled device that can manipulate tools around up to five axes. It interprets a computer-aided design (CAD) file to instruct the tool’s operation and carve 2D and 3D designs.

Tool Bits: The effectiveness of a CNC machine is largely dependent on the tool bits it uses. Some common tools required for metal engraving are:

  • V-bits are used for finer details. They come in different angles, usually 30, 45, or 60 degrees, which determines the depth and width of the engraving.
  • Diamond Cutters are used for detailed engraving on harder materials. The diamond tip provides a fine finish and a longer tool life.
  • Twist Drills are for drilling holes. 

How to Engrave Metal with a CNC?

  • Securely clamp the metal sheet onto the CNC machine. If the sheet is particularly thin, use an adhesive bond to stick to the base plate. 
  • secure the metal sheet onto the cnc machine

    ©Wesley Treat – YouTube

  • Choose and insert the appropriate drill bit into the CNC machine. The choice of bit should be based on the thickness of the metal material.
  • cnc machine for metal engraving
  • Load the desired design into the CNC machine. This design dictates the pattern or image the machine will engrave onto the metal sheet. Start the engraving process. 
  • cnc engraving metal
  • After the engraving is complete, use a nylon flap to polish and clean the engraved area. This step helps in removing any burrs or rough edges.
  • polish the engraved area
  • Apply a lacquer stick to the engraved design. The purpose of the lacquer stick is to highlight and accentuate the engraved design. Wipe away any excess lacquer from the metal surface with a cloth.
  • apply a lacquer sticker to the engraved area
  • Use a buffing wheel to further enhance the surface finish of the engraved metal. This step adds a shiny, polished look to the metal, making the engraving more visually appealing.
  • engraved metal buffing

Method 4: Laser Engraving Metal

To date, laser engraving is the latest and most advanced technique for inscribing designs onto metal surfaces. Unlike traditional methods that rely on manual tools, laser engraving uses a concentrated laser beam to etch designs onto materials. This intense beam melts the surface and erodes the material, leaving a permanent mark on the material.

laser engraving metal

For industrial metal engraving, fiber lasers are the most suitable choice. However, for small businesses, desktop laser engravers, housing CO2, diode, or IR lasers work fine. However, when working with certain metals like stainless steel using a CO2 laser, a special coating might be required. This is because stainless steel can reflect the CO2 laser, making engraving less effective.

Laser engraving’s versatility is evident in the range of metals it can work with. Metals such as stainless steel, titanium, aluminum, copper, gold, and silver are all great candidates for this technique.

Since metal laser engravers are now available in a compact and safer form, their use case has increased. For instance, jewelry stores can use them to craft personalized pieces adorned with intricate details. Similarly, trophy makers can inscribe awards with names, dates, and accolades with unparalleled clarity. Furthermore, artisans in the personalized crafts segment can produce bespoke items that boast a professional and polished finish.

laser engraved metal jewelry

Tools Needed for Laser Engraving Metal

Ideally, only a suitable laser engraver is required for laser engraving. Diode and IR laser machines are recommended for small businesses.

xTool F1: The Fastest Diode Laser Engraver for Metals

xtool f1 laser engraver

xTool F1 is probably the fastest diode laser engraver ever made. Thanks to its Galvo technology, it reaches an engraving speed of 4000mm/s. This speed is comparable to high-end, industrial fiber lasers. Imagine you can create a metal business card in 5 seconds!

xtool f1 engraves a metal business card in 5 seconds

Speed isn’t the only highlight, it’s super portable and accurate. It weighs just 4.6 kg and has a handheld design, which makes engravings a breeze. Plus, its accuracy of 0.00199 mm is unmatched. No other compact diode laser matches that.

high resolution metal engraving

The best part is it has come in two different laser modules, a 10W diode and a 2W IR. The diode laser is ideal for engraving and cutting common materials like wood, paper, leather, acrylic, and IR modules are especially for engraving metals like stainless steel, copper, silver, and Aluminum and plastics.

Think of laser engraving tumblers, particularly stainless-steel ones? It can engrave them too; it’s compatible with xTool’s rotary attachment, RA2 Pro. Its enclosed design ensures no fumes or lasers, keeping it safe for all users.

How to Laser Engrave Metal?

Laser engraving is the simplest, yet you need to be careful when using a laser and adhere to all instructions mentioned by the manufacturer.

Here’s a step-wise procedure, you can follow for laser engraving metal with xTool F1.

  • First, you need a laser engraver file. You may design in XCS software or import from another software.
  • Position your chosen metal onto the xTool F1. If it is a round object like a tumbler, you will the attachment, xTool RA2 Pro.
  • image17.jpg__PID:d8197aa5-d688-475f-bc0d-61d0be8b451b
  • Once you’ve placed, open XCS software. By default, the mode is ‘laser flat’, if you’re working with a cylindrical object, change it to ‘laser cylindrical’. 
  • Input the thickness of your metal or its diameter. This allows the machine to adjust its laser head for optimal engraving depth. Alternatively, there’s a knob on the machine to manually adjust the height.
  • Now, drag your design into the software. At this point, configuring the settings is pivotal as it influences the final appearance of your engraving. Stick to the parameter settings recommended by xTool for optimal results.
  • image19.png__PID:7aa5d688-875f-4c0d-a1d0-be8b451b4334
  • Before initiating the engraving process, xTool F1 offers a unique blue light preview feature. This provides an illuminated projection of the final engraving. Or you may use the framing option. Both are great for any last-minute adjustments.
  • Once satisfied with the preview, press the start button. With the xTool F1's impressive speed of 4000 mm/s, your engraving completion time ranges from seconds to minutes, depending on the design's complexity.
  • image20.jpg__PID:a5d68887-5ffc-4d61-90be-8b451b433486
  • You may need multiple passes if you want to achieve more depth. Clean the surface after the engraving process is complete.

xTool F1 Ultra Fast Laser Engraver

metal laser engraver

Price:

$1,599.00
$1,999.00
Learn More >>

FAQs of Metal Engraving

How to engrave metal?

Metal engraving can be done via four techniques. Traditionalists may opt for hand engraving using precise gravers, while others might prefer the mechanical approach of a rotary tool. For those leaning towards modern methods, CNC machines offer detailed precision, and for the utmost simplicity and efficiency, laser engraving machines stand out.

What is the best way to engrave metal?

For precision, ease, and versatility, laser engraving stands as the premier choice. Modern laser engravers can imprint intricate designs on both flat and contoured metal surfaces. This makes them the go-to method for professionals.

Can all metals be engraved?

Yes, all metals, including precious ones like gold, silver, and platinum, and common ones like aluminum, copper, stainless steel, and brass are all engravable using the aforementioned techniques.

How to engrave metal jewelry?

For jewelry engraving, rotary tools are a popular choice, but laser engraving machines offer unparalleled precision and detail. Especially for intricate jewelry designs, laser engraving is the most suitable method.

Conclusion

Metal engraving has come a long way. In the past, artists used hand engraving techniques, carefully carving designs onto metal surfaces. It was a slow process, requiring a lot of skill and patience.

Then came rotary engraving and CNC machines, which made the process quicker and added more precision. But the real game-changer has been the introduction of laser machines. Compatc laser devices like xTool F1, have made engraving simpler than ever before. Now, tasks that used to take hours and a lot of effort can be done in just a few minutes.

With tools like these, anyone can engrave metal crafts or jewelry at home, making the art of engraving more accessible to everyone.

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