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Ten Common Mistakes Made By Beginners


1.) POOR FORM - If you're right-handed, the graver should be held in the right hand with the tool cutting from east to west, since the tool naturally points in that direction when held correctly. Quite often beginners will attempt to engrave from south to north. This is poor form and control is very difficult to maintain. Left handers should cut from west to east. The tool is held stationary and the vise rotates into the tool.

2.) FOOT PEDAL ERRORS - The handpiece should not be stroking until the tool is placed on the metal. Attempting to accurately place a running handpiece onto the surface of your work is an exercise in frustration. Don't press the foot pedal until the tool is in place and ready to cut.

3.) VISE ROTATION ERRORS - The vise can only be rotated as far as the left hand comfortably turn it. At this point you should stop your handpiece and reposition your left hand on the vise, then resume cutting. If the handpiece contiues to run while you reposition your hand, irregularities and flat spots on what should be smooth curves will occur. I realize that when you stop a cut in progress and then start again you run the risk of having what I call a stop-and-start spot in your line. You will overcome this with practice.

4.) LACK OF BACK-CUTTING - When a graver enters the metal it produces a tapered start before it reaches desired width. For many things such as shading, this tapering is very desirable. For many other things this tapered end makes the work look unfinished. For instance, the corners of a border should have a clean, crisp intersection. Neglecting to back-cut areas like this says you're either in a hurry to finish the job or you don't really care how it looks. It only takes a few seconds to a 1000% difference. Do it. Back-cutting should also be done on block lettering.

5.) BADLY SHAPED SCROLLS - The backbone line of a scroll should faithfully follow the perfect spiraling proportion of the chambered nautilus shell. The number of turns of a scroll is a matter of personal preferance, but the proportion should be rigidly adhered to. The engraver should take as much time as necessary to draw correctly proportioned backbone lines. This line is the most important line in your scrollwork, and defines the quality of the design. You can have the best tool control and do the finest shading in the world, but if the scrolls are not executed with correct proportion, the quality suffers severely.

6.) INCORRECT MICROSCOPE SETUP - Set eyepieces to zero. Zoom scope to maximum magnification. Focus. Zoom scope to lowest magnification. Adjust eyepiece focus if needed. Not following this procedure results in an out-of-focus microscope each time it's zoomed, causing frustration and lost time.

7.) CENTERING VISE FOR MICROSCOPE USE - The area you're engraving MUST be under the microscope's objective lens. If you use the GRS Turntable base, be sure to use the centering post to place the microscope over the center of the turntable's rotation. Once centering has been established, lock the microscope into position and don't move it. Chasing the work around with the microscope is frustrating and costs you a tremendous amount of lost time. If you're using another turntable base, do whatever necessary to place the microscope directly over its center of rotation and then lock it down. This is extremely important. Don't make the mistake of not keeping your work properly centered.

8.) INCORRECT HANDPIECE TUNING - The air pressure must be adjusted correctly for optimum handpiece performance. If the air pressure is to high, the foot pedal must depressed too far before the handpiece begins tapping. This makes a hissing sound from the pedal and results in poor handpiece performance. Increasing the air pressure only makes the problem worse. Too little air pressure causes excessive handpiece vibration with little or no usable performance.
Tuning procedure: Lower the air pressure to zero. Hold the handpiece upright in your left hand while you increase the air pressure by adjusting the regulator with your right hand. You will feel the handpiece begin to flutter and then begin tapping as you increase pressure. Keep going until the tapping stops. This procedure tunes the handpiece with the foot throttle for optimum performance, so there is no foot pedal travel before the handpiece starts tapping. If you have a GraverMach, even finer tuning can be achieved with the Bias control.

9.) WORKING WITH DULL GRAVERS - If you notice a change in graver performance or behavior, chances are you need to resharpen. If you have a microscope, zoom to maximum magnification and inspect the point of the tool. If the point is broken or appears dull, resharpen the face and heel. Continuing to engrave with a dull tool only frustrates the engraver and the quality of the work suffers. If you're unsure if the tool is dull, then resharpen. Sometimes a dull or broken graver can be difficult for an inexperienced engraver to detect.

10.) DEBURRING WORK - The inexperienced engraver will quite often produce engraving that feels rough to the touch, as they haven't developed the graver control and finesse of more experienced engravers (don't worry, it'll come). If you pass your finger across your finished work and feel sharp burs, then the work must be lightly sanded by 2000 grit (or finer) abrasive paper. I caution you about sanding your engraving because it's very easy to spoil good work. It should be kept to an absolute minimum, and done BEFORE the final shading lines are cut. If you sand shaded work, you will certainly wreck many hours of labor with a few passes of sandpaper. Debur your work once it's outlined and/or the background has been removed, and bring to a final finish and stop. After the shading is done, no further sanding should be done. I should note that there's nothing wrong with feeling sharp, crisp engraving, but a rough surface with burs definitely needs attenti on. Quite often individual burs can be carefully trimmed off with a graver under high power magnification. If you've blackened your finished engraving, burs and rough edges can hold paint, and this can make the finished work look quite bad. Tutorial end