Wood engraving traces its origin down to the early 19th century. Initially started by Thomas Bewick, it involves cutting intricate patterns into the wood for printing images. It was this process that revolutionized the printing industry at a time when computerized imaging was not available.
Understandably the tools used for wood engraving are highly specialized, and, in this post, we discuss some of the most commonly used wood engraving tools. The scientific name of the wood engraver’s tool is the “burin.” Another name for these tools is “graver.”
Each tool has a specific function, and an experienced wood engraver will know precisely what to do with it. You can get information on the best wood for engraving in another of our interesting posts on this website. So, without much further ado, let’s take a look at the types of tools for wood engraving.
Wood engraving tools originate from metal cutting tools, which were used typically to cut copper in the printing process. They have shafts of hardened steel and end with a sharp-pointed tip specially designed not to cut too deep into the wood. The tool usually has a mushroom-shaped wooden handle.
These tools have varying shapes and sizes which help the artist cut the wood in a particular stroke. You can cut thin lines, remove all the extra material, and even cut straight or curved lines. Then other tools help you to create shading.
Before we go into the details of each specific tool here is a list of the general tools that an engraver may use:
- Sandbag with wooden stand
- Sharpening stone
- Oil can for oiling the stone
- Stand magnifier
- Box to hold the tools
- Brush for removing debris
All the above tools are arranged on a special workbench called the wood engraver’s workbench.
You can use the tint tool to cut the narrow spaces that occur between parallel lines.
We use the slipstriker to remove material from between thin lines. These lines would be curved or sometimes “stippling.” By stippling, we mean a pattern made of multiple dots.
With a lozenge graver, you can cut lines of different width and depth. The deeper the cut, the wider the incision you will get.
The scorper helps us to clear material from straight lines and to remove large areas of white.
How to Make Your Own Burins
You may face some difficulty in procuring engraving tools. Fortunately, it is possible to make your wood engraving tools if you have a simple setup for working on metal. Here, we provide you a step-by-step procedure for making engraving tools.
Once you have the basic idea of how to make such a tool, you can create many gravers of different shapes and sizes to suit your wood engraving requirements.
The procedure outlined below describes how to make a wood engraving tool out of a square section of high-speed steel. You can get this material from a steel stock supply shop, or these are also available online.
You will need:
- High-speed steel bar
- Honing guide
- Set square
- Fine grit emery paper
- Sharpening stone (whetstone)
- Vernier calipers
- Hand file
- Bench vice
- Self-grip wrench
- Wood stock for the handle
- Woodturning lathe
Shaping the Tip
The high-speed steel (HSS) will be challenging to work on because it is very hard. You can soften the metal by annealing the tip that you want to shape.
Using the blow torch, heat it the metallic tip until it is red. The heated portion of the metal will become soft, and you can easily file and shape it.
Now, using emery paper create an angled face at the end of your tooltip.
You can use the honing guide and set square to check the angle.
As you have created a face of the desired angle at the tooltip, you can create a sharp and fine cutting-edge using fine grit emery paper and a whetstone.
You have created your desired tooltip with the required angle, and you can harden the tip using your blowtorch again.
Heat the tip to about 1,450°F to 1,475°F. This temperature should be reached when the tip turns cherry red.
You can switch off the lights to see the redness of the metal better.
Once the tip is red-hot, dip it into a glass of cold water, and the metal should become hard. This process is known as water quenching.
Handy Tip: Use a magnet to check the degree of hardness. Steel usually ceases to be magnetic from about 1,425 °F onwards.
Drawing the Temper
Next, you need to “draw the temper.” This process involves heating the rest of the tool away from the tip until it changes color. It will prevent your tool from oxidation.
Again, using the blow torch, heat the rest of the metal part of the tool, keeping it away from the tip.
Moving the blow torch flame up and down, heat the metal until it takes on a straw coloration.
The metallic part of your tool is now ready.
Fitting the Handle
Using a piece of wood stock of appropriate size, you can make your graver handle yourself if you have a wood lathe. Or else, you can get someone to make one for you.
Ensure that there is a hole in the center of the wooden handle once done.
Now, insert the shaft of the graver into the wooden handle.
Your engraving tool is ready to use.
Wood engraving is an art that requires a lot of skill and patience. It can be an advantageous skill if you develop it in the right way. For getting the best results, you need to use appropriate tools.
Here, we have highlighted the different types of engraving tools that you can get. However, sometimes it may not be possible to procure all the tools that you require. In such a contingency, you can make your own tools.
In this post, we have highlighted a simple step-by-step procedure for making an engraving tool. By following this procedure, you can vary the size and shape to build up a considerable collection of different types of engraving tools.
We hope this information will be helpful to you for creating some beautiful designs as a wood engraver.
Featured Image by Hubertine Heijermans