Types of hand engraving

January 27, 2022
hand engraving technique

Hand engraving at the beginning of the 21st century is on the verge of extinction. If you want to get a custom knife with hand engraving, it is best to look for a master at a thematic exhibition. True, the money will have to give fabulous – more than for an ordinary custom knife. Hand engraving significantly increases the cost of the product.

The main purpose of engraving is to identify weapons (for example, applying the manufacturer’s emblem or the name of the master to the blade) and personification (inscriptions, symbols) and decoration – patterns, drawings.


Bulino engraving technique

This is the first of several types of engraving that we will talk about today.

Its historical name is bulino, after the name of the main incisor that used in the Italian school of engravers. Of course, now more tools are used to implement it, but the principle itself has remained unchanged: the master conveys the texture of the depicted object and the play of chiaroscuro, cutting the metal surface with pressure of different strength and at different angles. Moreover, work with a thin needle is even preferable here than with an ordinary incisor: it allows to more accurately depict small details common to hunting subjects – for example, the texture of animal skins.

Once the cutting technique was used mainly for decorating guns, and then it was mastered by the masters of knife art, and it is so good that it is now associated, first of all, with bladed weapons. It is applied mainly to the metal parts of the scabbard and handles – bolsters, crosshairs, rivets, etc. Although occasionally this type of engraving is used on the blades themselves.

There are three types of bulino engraving: dotted, linear and mixed – from the names it is clear what this or that type looks like. Each master decides for himself personally in which technique to work, but for the most part, they have to be combined.

Bulino engraving technique

bulino engraving


bulino hand engraving guns

Hand engraving technique

If you have come across real hunting knives more than once (especially of the old model), you probably noticed how often a floral ornament is used in their engraving. This is no coincidence: at one time, each depicted plant had a deep symbolic meaning. The lotus symbolizes immortality, laurel – glory, oak – puissance, palm – peace and victory, grapevine – the mystery of the sacrament. It is these ornaments that were most often performed using the plane engraving technique. The peculiarity of this engraving is that two or more planes are created, using different gravers to achieve the correct relief effect. For example, an inscription or ornament will seem to protrude from the surrounding surface or, conversely, will be deepened into it. In the production of edged weapons, such a technique on blades is less common, as a rule – for decorating parts of a knife and scabbard.

engraving knife

hand engraving knives

Technique of execution of engraving

  1. Before applying a pattern to the surface, the master first grinds and polishes the surface.
  2. The drawing is applied with a thin pencil.
  3. The master outlines the contours of the future drawing with steel needles.
  4. The master engraves with dots or carves with lines the desired ornament. For planar engraving, the background is also processed – with special notches, which visually add volume.
  5. To accentuate the contrast, varnishes or oxidants are used to darken the cut grooves, and polishing agents are used to lighten areas without engraving.
  6. To give smoothness, the surface is sanded.

expensive knives

– Most engraved items are quenched to make the steel more resistant to corrosion.

– If during the engraving, gold and silver notches were made, then after quenched they will look even more beautiful.

– After engraving and quenching, the product is often blackened with a special paint – it enhances the contrast of the image.

engraving of knives


hand engraving technique

hand engraving knife

Chasing – oldest method of engraving

Chasing is a half sculpture of a rough shape and half bringing the work piece to the final look with the help of hammer cutters (bolhshtikhels, flachshtikhels, spitzshtikhels). For engraving, craftsmen use a rhomboid cutter, also known as a grabster, as well as a spitzstikhel with a section similar to a triangle with rounded edges, a steel needle, dyes and auxiliary tools – pencils, whitewash, a sharpening block, a steel ruler, magnifiers and microscopes.

As for the materials themselves, on which the engraving is done, a variety of steels and alloys are suitable (you need to take into account the degree of hardening of the metal on which the work is done), titanium, aluminum, as well as non-ferrous and precious metals.

Laser engraving technique

Such engraving is done everywhere and literally in 15–20 minutes. Usually, even in small towns there are workshops where you can leave the knife and get it back in half an hour with the desired inscription, emblem, drawing, and so on. The general principle of such an engraving is that the laser beam evaporates part of the metal so that this trace becomes visually noticeable. The most powerful lasers cut through the metal completely – this is the essence of ultra-precise and ultra-thin laser cutting.

CO2 laser engravers are not an expensive category. These engravers do not have an especially strong beam, and they are mainly used on wood, plastic, leather, etc. – that is, in our case, on handles and sheath. Such engravers received the CO2 marking due to the fact that the long infrared radiation with which they work is produced by the molecules of carbon dioxide.

A completely different type of radiation – for engravers of categories “yttrium aluminum garnet” (YAG), vanadate lasers and fiber lasers. Their working wavelength is designed to work with metals of the highest strength and hardness. The most powerful is the fiber laser.

laser engraving knife

Mechanical engraving technique

Modern mechanical metal engraving resembles the old techniques that we talked about; however, it is done, again, not by hand, but by a machine. The program guides the cutter according to the pattern that is assigned to it. For polishing or working on stainless steel, special cutter attachments are used. They allow forming embossed surfaces. A diamond tip is used for working with the hardest materials.

custom hunting knives

Knife etching (electro etching knives)

Another way to form patterns on a metal surface is electrochemical etching using an electrolyte liquid and using an electrode.

The old school of etching already knew how to imitate a Damascus steel pattern. If you come across a knife with a pattern similar to Damascus at a relatively cheap cost, do not rush to buy it, it may be a fake. Such patterns are made as follows: a part of the blade that is not subject to etching is covered with varnish, and the rest is exposed to acids. For etching, stainless steel used Lapis (caustic silver).

The etching process requires an electrolyte (orthophosphoric acid, hydrochloric acid and sulphuric acid), sources of direct, and alternating current. This method is suitable when the pattern on the steel is repeated (for example, when it comes to metal marking). Under the action of the current, the electrodes pull out metal particles from its surface; such a pattern is made with any depth.

Electrochemical etching is also called electroplating.

knife etching


In this blog post, we have explored some of the types of hand engraving and how they differ from each other. We have also discussed some of the benefits and challenges of hand engraving, as well as some tips on how to choose the best type of hand engraving for your project. We hope you have learned something new and interesting about this fascinating craft.

Hand engraving is a great way to personalize your jewelry, knives, accessories, gifts, or collectibles. It can also be a rewarding hobby or a lucrative career. Whether you want to do it yourself or hire someone else, hand engraving can make your metal objects more unique and valuable.

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Hand engraving at the beginning of the 21st century is on the verge of extinction. If you want to get a knife with hand engraving, it is best to look for a master at a thematic exhibition. True, the money will have to give fabulous - more than for an ordinary custom knife. Hand engraving significantly increases the cost of the product.
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