Tools of the Engraving Trade

About five years ago, I went out on assignment to cover the Tools of the Trade show, near Toronto. About 30 or 40 dealers had tables covered, selling everything from your grandfather’s screwdrivers right up to plough planes worth thousands. I’d covered the show before, but that year I went with a mission of my own, to find wood engraving tools. I didn’t have much hope, but asked each dealer until I found one who handed me a plastic bag filled with the familiar “chopped” mushroom handle. It was literally a mixed bag, to say the least. The tools were very old. The handles showed either considerable airburn from the passage of time, or a lot of handling – probably both. I bought them.

Spitsticker showing the "shaved mushroom" handle.

Once home, I realized I had spitstickers and tint tools, perhaps a lining tool or two, but no burins. Clearly some had been better cared for than others: the angle of the points on some were absurd, and others had bowed faces, meaning they would need to be ground to the proper angle again. I ordered two burins from McClain’s, along with a Crocker sharpening jig, because I had no idea how to sharpen the tools, and they must be very sharp to work properly.

So here is my wood engraving kit so far:

Engraving tools.

At the top left, coarse and fine grain ceramic blocks for sharpening the blades. I use the Crocker sharpener prior to beginning work on another block to get the shape back on the top of the blades. While working on the block, I return fairly frequently to the stones to give the blades a touch-up. The Crocker jig works, but it’s not terribly well manufactured, so I’m keeping my eye open for something similar that has been better milled, perhaps in brass. I’m still having some trouble sharpening, and that’s causing some problems in my engravings.

Through the middle are the tools themselves. From left to right; a flat graver (with a full mushroom handle), a rather hefty scorper (or round graver), two spitstickers, a square head and a diamond head burins (from McClain’s), three tint tools (the second and third have points in need of reshaping), and finally two very odd looking tools that might be for stippling. At the bottom are some carving chisels that were in the bag, and one mushroom headed flat graver that needs some work,

The books say that gravers must be cut to fit the hand, and based on the early work I have done with these tools, this is most assuredly true. I’ll have to contact McClain’s or Lyons to see if they can cut the tools to my hand size.

Scorper or round graver

Scorper

Square burin and diamond burin

Spitsticker

Tint tool

Tint tools with badly shaped points.

Stippling tools (I think....)

 

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