CRKT Burnley Squid Shishiaibori-style Engraved Bamboo Knife Tutorial

Beginning a hand engraved bamboo theme in sunken relief on a CRKT Squid knife, with an inlaid gold Ganesh cartouche.

I begin by mounting the knife on a special 2-piece hardwood holder (originally designed by engraver Mitch Moschetti). Don’t forget to tape the blade edge and point – don’t ask how I know to do this…

Note the cheap shopping bag between the knife and the grey Thermolock plastic for quick disassembly and easy cleanup. See, these bags do have a valid use after all…

The completed assembly with the bag removed and the knife in place. The copper bit is a thick shim between the scales to provide a solid base for later punch sculpting.

CRKT_Burnley_Squid_Bamboo_Knife_Tutorial_5The bamboo themed CRKT Squid with all lines cut in, first with a wide V-graver. The outside bamboo edges have been cut again with a narrower V-graver to make them much deeper. Next, I’ll begin sculpting the bamboo to a near “carved in the round” but completely below the surface. This is called shishiaibori carving, and ancient Japanese carving technique.

Here’s a graphic detailing the basic Japanese-style shishiaibori (sunken relief) process. Step 3 may or may not be needed, depending on the chosen engraving subject. Not shown is Step 6 using a flat nosed punch to smooth the carved surfaces.

After the outlines are deeply cut, then I go back with a flat graver and begin rounding over the edges of the bamboo stalks. It will take at least two passes of the flat graver to achieve the rounding I require, more passes may be required in some areas.

The second pass with the flat graver, removing another flat facet.

Here’s the bamboo themed CRKT Squid knife with the first steps of shishiaibori sculpting completed. Note the faceted look of the bamboo stems. Punch sculpting will smooth those facets out. Also, I’ve textured the bamboo leaves with a tiny round graver, leaving longitudinal cuts to define the texture of the bamboo leaves.

Once the basic carving with the flat graver is completed, I go back in with a flat faced punch and pound all the sharp edges of the carved facets into shape. This leaves a nice texture behind, and by either using a smooth faced punch or a textured face you can achieve all sorts of surface finishes. I’ve chosen a smooth texture for the bamboo. In the above three images, you can see the surface left behind by the flat graver versus the smooth punched surface.

Here’s a graphic detailing the basic wire inlay process. Should I need a wider inlay, I simply add in parallel wires, punching them down until the seams can no longer be seen. High karat gold (if it is clean!) will readily cold-weld to itself, resulting in a solid metal inlay.

Above, you can see the process of making the pockets for the gold wires. I begin by using a V-graver to make parallel cuts in the waste areas (1st and 2nd images above). I follow with tiny carbide burs to remove the excess metal (3rd image). Once the waste metal is removed, I follow by using a really tiny flat graver to undercut the edges. In this case, the wide areas of the trunk and ears require more than one width of gold wire (4th image). I also add tiny little hooks in the bottom of the inlay pockets for additional holding power for the gold wires.

Above (1st and 2nd images), I’m adding 24 karat gold wires (28 gauge AWG) into the pockets, lightly tacking them lightly into place with a small brass punch. The brass punch will flatten the gold nicely but won’t damage the surrounding steel. Once all the wires are in place I use the same brass punch to heavily smash the gold into place (3rd image). The gold will flow into the undercut edges and hooks, permanently locking it into place. A properly finished inlay like this will require complete destruction to remove the wire. In the 4th image you can see the inlay scraped and stoned completely flat.

A really tiny line cut around the edge of the gold with a really tiny V-graver (in the steel, not the gold!) adds definition (1st image above). I follow the definition line with stippling around the gold inlay to really make the cartouche pop. We’re nearly finished!

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A little chemical patination for the bamboo stems, followed by inking with a high quality flat black enamel really adds definition. The bamboo themed CRKT Squid knife finished! An evening or two for the inking to set up and a little quality control to detect what I might have missed, then it’s off to its new home.

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling


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Viking Dragon Pendant Tutorial

Titanium_Viking_Dragon_Pendant_Tutorial_35Titanium_Viking_Dragon_Pendant_Tutorial_34Titanium_Viking_Dragon_Pendant_Tutorial_1Here’s how a Viking dragon pendant design begins. I established the top half (dragon head) first with pencil, followed by inking, scanning and Adobe Photoshop cleanup. Then I tailored the lower half (dragon body) to the head. Above, the basic design is about half complete.

Fleshing out the details on the titanium Viking Dragon Pendant. I typically add to complex designs like this in increments, with lots of editing in between…notice the center image has a much different bottom to the Celtic knotwork than the version on the left.

Making the eighth inch thick Grade 2 titanium blank for the Viking Dragon Pendant. Sawing it out on the bandsaw. With a decent bi-metal bandsaw blade (I have a Starrett), this little Harbor Freight hunk-of-junk actually does a very credible job, sawing eighth inch thick titanium quickly and easily.

Grinding and filing the edges true.

Here I’m filing a crown on the front surface. The red is Sharpie™ permanent marker, which shows me the remaining low spots. As you might guess, filing titanium isn’t one of my favorite activities. I use a little pitch and glue it to a narrow hardwood chunk and hold it in the end vise of my woodworking bench – simple, but very handy.

I end up by sanding the blank to a satin finish using increasingly finer grit sandpaper, rubber cemented to hardwood blocks.

Here’s a handy little trick I use to file the edges of the titanium blank – a Jorgensen wood clamp held in the end vise of my woodworking bench.

Now to get design approval from my client and we’ll start this show…

I begin by mounting the knife on a hardwood holder (originally designed by engraver Mitch Moschetti) with Thermolock™ plastic. By the way, you can see the transfer on baking parchment in the upper image – I print out a number of patterns (mirror image, of course). It took me three tries to get everything centered properly on this one – and that’s not unusual.

I got the design transferred onto the titanium Viking Dragon Pendant, and mounted it in Thermolock, ready to start engraving. I use baking parchment, laser printer and dammar varnish.

Laser printer toner is actually a plastic that is melted onto paper – laser printed on kitchen baking parchment, the melted toner barely sticks to it.

Dammar varnish is a varnish that is painted onto a dry oil painting for protection – for this transfer I paint the varnish onto the metal, let it partially dry to VERY sticky, then burnish the baking parchment and toner – the toner comes off of the parchment and sticks to the varnish on the metal. Solvent will remove the varnish after engraving.

The titanium Viking Dragon Pendant with all of the basic design lines engraved…that turned out to be a lot of cutting! Next, I’ll begin to add in the gold inlays…

Here’s a graphic detailing the basic wire inlay process. Should I need a wider inlay, I simply add in parallel wires, punching them down until the seams can no longer be seen. High karat gold (if it is clean!) will readily cold-weld to itself, resulting in a solid metal inlay.

Inlaying most of the 24 karat gold in the titanium Viking Dragon Pendant. Above, you can see the four major steps (numbered in order) of making the pockets for the gold wire inlay. I begin by using a V-graver to make parallel cuts in the waste areas (Number 1 above). I follow with tiny carbide burs to remove the excess metal (Number 2). Once the waste metal is removed, I follow by using a really tiny flat graver to undercut the edges. In this case, the wide areas of these inlays require more than one width of gold wire, so I also add tiny little hooks in the bottom of the inlay pockets for additional holding power (Number 3).

Above (Number 4), I’m adding 24 karat gold wires (28 gauge AWG) into the pockets, lightly tacking them lightly into place with a small brass punch. The brass punch will flatten the gold nicely but won’t damage the surrounding steel.

Once all the wires are in place I use the same brass punch to heavily smash the gold into place. The gold will flow into the undercut edges and hooks, permanently locking it into place. A properly finished inlay like this will require complete destruction to remove the wire.

In the image above, you can see the inlay scraped and stoned completely flat. Four more inlays to go, but I’m done for today.

All of the of the 24 karat gold inlays are installed in the titanium Viking Dragon Pendant, except the eye, which will go in after sculpting the head. A really tiny line cut around the edge of the gold with a really tiny V-graver (in the titanium, not the gold!) adds definition (see the teeth and claws). I follow the definition line with stippling around the gold inlay to really make the gold pop.

Sculpting the head of the Titanium Viking Dragon Pendant. First, I remove the background around the head. I begin by using a V-graver to make parallel cuts in the waste areas (1st image above). I follow with tiny carbide burs to remove the excess metal (2nd image).

Next, I use flat gravers (images above) to begin sculpting the curly-cues on the head. I’ll follow with flat-nosed punches to smooth out the facets left by the flat gravers.

Above, the head has been fully sculpted. The final inking will be done with Rustoleum Flat Black Enamel, but these interim (and temporary) blackenings are just black Sharpie™ brand permanent marker.

Bit of a chore on the Titanium Viking Dragon Pendant – background removal. Not loads of fun, but the results end up being stunning…

Adding a little surprise to the Titanium Viking Dragon Pendant – and completing the background removal.

Not much longer on the Viking Dragon Pendant – maybe 70% of the background stippling completed. Stippling requires a lot of concentration and attention – not much fun, but in the end the resulting increased “fineness” is well worth it!

Stippling complete on the Viking Dragon Pendant, and the gold eye added. Shading and detailing left to go.

Above, you can see the fine shading cuts where the Celtic ribbons go under each other, and the crosshatching on the dragon’s tail. These will really leap out once they’re inked.

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The Viking Dragon Pendant is finished! Two and a half inches tall, in Grade 2 Titanium and 24 karat gold.  Just in time, since my compressor sacrificed its’ last gasp ringing this Dragon to life! Not to worry, though – new one in by the end of the week!

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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Engraved Case Knife Tutorial

Something new for me, four bolsters on a Case knife. I begin by scanning the knife and developing an outline of the bolsters. Then a pencil sketch of my design (above). I create the design in a much larger size than the actual bolsters.

The pencil drawing is followed by a careful inking, then removal of extraneous parts in Adobe Photoshop, and scaling to actual size. This results in a pattern I can transfer to the metal. Above is the finished patterns for the first side.

I begin by using a V-graver to cut all the lines from the pattern. Many of these I will cut again, and many others I will complete after I’ve inlaid the gold. Above, you can see the initial cuts and the Lindsay Palm Control Airgraver I used.

Above, I’m inlaying the 28 gauge 24 karat gold wire into the V-cut and undercut channels of the scroll.

Here you can see a closeup view of the front bolster with some of the gold wire tacked lightly into place. You can see in the scroll cut where I’ve used tiny flat gravers to undercut the edges. The soft gold will flow into these undercuts, permanently trapping the gold.

Above, after pounding in the gold wire, scraping it flat and stoning it completely flush with the surface of the bolster.

I’ve used a V-graver to cut parallel lines in the areas where I’m going to remove the background. This will help me keep the background nice and flat when I complete the removal.

Above I’ve used tiny carbide burs to remove the excess material in the background areas.

Here I’ve stippled the bottom surface of the background.

Here’s the back bolster, with my signature cartouche. I’ve tossed in a little temporary black Sharpie just to see how it will look at the final inking.

Above, the front bolster.

The first side of the Case knife is finished. Next, repeat everything in mirror image on the other side. With a few changes…

Above is what the gold wire looks like after I’ve used a small brass punch (which won’t damage the bolster metal) to really pound the soft 24 karat gold into the scroll inlay. This causes the excess gold to spread out in small bits of gold leaf, which is easily trimmed and removed with scrapers and abrasive stones.

Here’s all the gold inlaid in the other side of the little Case knife.

Almost there on the opposite side of the Case knife bolsters! But, I’m tired so I’ll leave the shading ’til tomorrow when I have a steady hand…

The Case knife bolsters are finished! This was fun, and I learned a lot. It’s a different experience engraving nickel silver and in such tiny spaces. Thanks for looking!

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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Millit Knives Pony NW Salmon Tutorial

Millit_Knives_Pony_NW_Salmon_Tutorial_1Here I’m starting a commission on a lovely little Millit Pony knife with copper scales. A sculpted salmon theme in NW Native American-style. Above, you can see the block I’ll use for holding the copper scales, covered in dark grey Thermolock™ plastic. You can also see the design transferred to the first scale, ready for engraving.

Above, I’ve cut the outlines of all the elements, and recut the outside outlines to make them deeper (see bottom image). Next, I’ll begin sculpting the interiors of the salmon in Japanese-style shishiaibori (sunken relief). A little dark patina helps the process…

Above, the top left image – I’ve used a small flat graver to round (inwards) the deep outside lines. Several times around, then I used a tiny steel punch to sculpt the interior surfaces smooth and contiguous (bottom left). This leaves a lovely texture behind. Next, I’ll add in the gold inlays, and recut all the interior lines. You can see a graphic explanation of the shishiaibori technique below.

Above is a simplified graphic explaining the Japanese Shishiaibori technique.

Here I’m adding the gold inlays – top left excavating and undercutting the pocket and raising a forest of tiny hooks in the bottom, tapping in parallel gold wires, then smoothing and recutting the details. Finally, stippling the dark areas, and voila, a gold eye!

The Millit Pony Knife Side A scale is complete. The inking process typically removes a little patina, but not to worry, copper will quickly regain it all on its’ own. Now on to the mirror image on SideB…

Here I’m working on the Millit Pony Knife opposite side mirror image. That’s it under the microscope. I’ve cut all the outlines and carved away the edges, so it’s now ready for punch sculpting.

Side B of the Millit Pony Knife is completely sculpted, and two of the 24 karat gold inlays are installed. Seven more to go…

Side B of the Millit Pony Knife – all of the 24 karat gold inlays are in, the inlays trimmed out, and a comparison with the finished Side A scale.

The Millit Pony Knife scales are complete. I’ll use a few days to allow the patina to mature, then they’ll get a coat of Renaissance Wax and into the mail.

Another view! Photo courtesy of

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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Koi and Waves Hobo HalfDollar Tutorial

How about a Koi-themed Hobo Nickel (OK, it’s actually a silver half dollar)?

Above, I’ve begun the coin carving by transferring my pattern to the face of the half dollar, and then using a V-graver to cut in all the lines.

Some folks like to remove the head or figure on a coin before engraving, leaving a nice flat area, but I tend to leave the extra metal for more sculpting.  Leaving the figure does tend to make things a little confusing, though…

Here I’ve relieved the background on the Koi and Waves Hobo Half Dollar.  Still looking a little confusing with the bits of Lady Liberty still showing.

Sometimes adding a dark patina to the coin helps with visualization.  That’s a bit better…

Beginning sculpting with flat gravers and steel punch.  The lighter colored areas are where I’ve been working.

Above, I used a small flat graver and have finished cutting back all of the various levels of the elements.  I’ve also finished smoothing and sculpting the Koi with a small steel punch.  Next, I’ll have to do the same for the waves.  I’ve also added the gold inlay for the eye – I sometimes tend to jump the gun on the eyes – they’re the window to the soul, and I like to see the life emerge by detailing the eyes…

Here, I’ve finished punch sculpting the waves.  Notice the nice texture the small, almost flat faced circular punch leaves behind (with slightly rounded edges).

In antique Japanese metalwork with wave motifs, you often see little round bits of gold inlaid into the surface, so I’ve decided to add them too.  Here I’m adding little dot inlays of 24 karat gold to the waves. I used a beading punch to make little circles, removed their insides with a tiny carbide bur and undercut with a tiny flat graver. These undercuts will allow the soft 24 karat gold to flow down into them, becoming trapped so the inlay can’t come out.

I find it convenient to melt a small ball of gold in the tiny 28 gauge wire I like to use for inlays.  This gives me a little more gold and conveniently allows a single piece inlay, rather than the multiple parallel wires I normally use for larger area inlays.

Above is an enlarged image of the little circular pocket (lower left corner) and the little ball of gold I’ve melted on the end of the gold wire.  In the top center you can see a completed gold inlay, with the excess gold flowing over the edges of the pocket.  I’ll scrape this excess off and then use an abrasive stone to really flatten and refine the gold inlay.

Above I’ve used a small brass punch to squish the gold ball into the inlay cavity.

Here’s a terrible enlarged image of the tiny ball squished into the inlay cavity.  Sorry for the terrible focus, but there’s no going back to reshoot.

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With the addition of a little patina and final touchups, the Koi and Waves Hobo HalfDollar is finished!  Above are two oblique views so you can get an idea of the depth of relief.

A view of the back, with my signature.

Koi_and_Waves_Hobo_HalfDollar_15And here she is, in all her glory, leaping for joy!

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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Titanium Dragonflies Pendant and Earrings Suite Tutorial

Beginning a titanium and gold dragonfly-themed pendant and earrings set.  The pendant is 2.25 inches high by 0.9 inches wide. Mirror image earrings are 0.9 inches high by 0.5 inches wide.

Above is the beginning of the Grade 2 titanium pendant and earrings. The pendant is one eighth of an inch thick, and the earrings are one sixteenth of an inch. I’ve cut all of the outlines with a V-graver, and washed away all the remaining design transfer.

Above I’ve cut the pockets in the eyes for gold inlays. Ive also undercut the edges and raising a field of tiny hooks in the bottom to catch hold of the parallel gold wires I’m going to inlay. A very important part of the planning for engravings such as these is when to add precious metal inlays. In this case, I want to add the 18 karat rose gold eyes and the 24 karat yellow gold body inlays as early as possible. Since these will be flush inlays I’ll need to stone the excess gold flat with the surface, and I don’t want to impact the engraved lines any more than I have to, so adding the inlays early on is very important.

Here I’ve added in several parallel 28 gauge rose gold wires and “tacked” them into place in the pockets below the surface of the metal with a small steel punch and light blows. Rose gold is such a hard alloy that I cant use my normal brass punch for this operation. Rose gold is terrible stuff to inlay, it work hardens instantly, but it’s the only way I know of to get a nice rosy/coppery color that won;t eventually darken.

Above, I’ve pounded (literally!) the wires into a single mass with pretty hard blows of the steel punch.

Here are both earrings with the rose gold inlaid in the eyes. Notice the excess gold overflowing the edges.

I’ve used a small scraper and a 600 grit diemakers abrasive stone to cut the rose gold flush with the surface of the titanium.

Above you can see the tiny cuts around the edges of the eyes that really make the gold inlays stand out from the background. I’ve also used a V-graver to cut parallel lines inside the bodies to begin removing the excess titanium in the inlay pockets.

I’ve used a small round carbide bur in a micromotor grinder to remove the rest of the body material. Small flat gravers would work as well.

On the left you can see the completed 24 karat yellow gold inlay after stoning and the tiny trim lines cut around the edges.

And all of the gold inlays complete.

The next chore is to remove all of the background material with parallel V-cuts and carbide burs. You can see various stages on both of the earrings.

After the background is completely removed, I use a small sharp carbide stippling point to make the background a uniform texture (left image).

Above is one of the earrings completed and inked. Notice how I used tiny V-cuts to detail the wings, and added in tiny shading cuts in the body segments. Inking darkens all the cuts and the background, really making the design and inlays come to life.

The completed pair of earrings. They’re about 3/4 of an inch long, Grade 2 titanium with 18 karat rose and 24 karat yellow gold inlays.

The earrings are done in the Titanium Dragonflies Pendant suite, but I need to quit procrastinating on the pendant. So, here I’m excavating the rose and yellow gold inlay cavities. Since I’ve covered the inlay process on the earrings, I won;t go into detail on the pendant inlays. They follow the same process, just larger spaces and some more expensive gold…

Excavating the eyes, undercuts and floor hooks.

Excavated body cavity.

I have to add the gold in several non-continuos spots, because the design has ribbons that cut across the body cavities.

Several stages of gold inlay, with the finished gold in the right image.

Removing the background (left image), and stippling in the right image. Stippling isn’t one of my favorite activities since it’s pretty much a high pressure (don’t screw it up now…) version of watching grass grow.

A couple of detail shots.

Adding detail in the wings. Note (right image) the stark difference between the detailed wing and the non-detailed. The bug begins to really come alive with detailed wings.

The Titanium Dragonfly Pendant and Earrings suite is complete. Grade 2 Titanium, 18 karat rose gold, 24 karat gold, sterling silver bail, 20 inch leather neck cord.

And a couple of detail images of the finished pendant and an earring.

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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Titanium Tiger and Bamboo Dogtag Tutorial


I’m starting a new project, a Tiger and Bamboo themed titanium dogtag in Japanese shishiaibori-style (sunken relief). All of the design is carved below the original surface of the metal. This has the advantage of protecting the engraving from damage and/or wear and tear.

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So far just extra deep outlines with some flat graver sculpting. Obtaining these very deep outlines is a bit of a tricky technique. I make several successive cuts with gravers of decreasing width, going deeper each time, but trying to make certain I don;t widen the original line width.

Above is a simplified graphic explaining the Japanese Shishiaibori technique.

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Lots more sculpting on the titanium Tiger and Bamboo Dogtag. The paw and the right hand bamboo stalk are finished. Notice how much smoother and refined the appearance of the second image is after using the punch to smooth the head. The punch leaves behind a nice texture as well.

I spent the day refining the punch sculpting and doing kitty dentistry. Above, I’m carving the teeth and tongue with burs.

Here, I’m punch sculpting the teeth. Notice how they immediately take on a smoother and more “toothy” look.

Here, using a tiny 90 degree V-graver to refine the border around the teeth, tongue and lips. This tiny, almost invisible to the naked eye line provides a very finished look to the mouth.

And, above, the whole dogtag.  I’ve done a little temporary inking with a Sharpie™ brand black permanent felt-tip marker.

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The titanium and 24 karat gold Tiger and Bamboo Dogtag is finished (except for inking). I’ve also added inlaid 24 karat gold eyes, and they’ve really made the tiger’s personality shine.

I often make my own titanium jewelry blanks, but this one is a Boker-manufactured grade 1 titanium dogtag. I got a great deal on a few blank ones, and couldn’t resist. The Grade 1 titanium engraves and sculpts like a dream!

Here it is in the finished configuration and inked. Now you can really see the stripes – they are simply tiny shading cuts, very closely spaced.

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Above are some oblique views of the Tiger and Bamboo Dogtag.

This one surprised me – it’s a LOT more effort than I had anticipated. Difficult modeling on the tiger, but these things occasionally sneak up on me.  I spent easily double the time I estimated working on this.  If I was to price it based solely on time and materials, the price would be double what I think I could realize for it.  I’ll have to reserve this sort of detailed sculpting for only the more involved pieces.

Hand engraved in Japanese-style shishiaibori (sunken relief), Grade 1 titanium and 24 karat gold, 20 inch leather neck cord included.

Thanks for Looking!
Tom Sterling

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Yellow Jacket Hobo Nickel Tutorial

Yellow_Jacket_Hobo_Nickel_Tutorial_0 The gold inlaid wasp I added to a recent knife I engraved for William Henry Studios turned out so splendidly I had to do a Hobo Nickel with the same theme.

Above, I’ve taken a 1930 Buffalo nickel and transferred a scaled yellow jacket design to it.

I begin the engraving process by cutting all the major outlines with a V-graver. This design is now indelible, and I can’t wipe it out with a misplaced finger…

Now begins the background removal process. Here I’ve used the same V-graver to cut parallel lines in all the spaces where I need to waste away the background. These V-cuts are a convenient way to measure the depth of background removal and make a smooth background of consistent depth.

I could use a flat graver to remove the excess background, but I find a tiny carbide bur is faster and just more convenient, at least in the initial stages of wasting away the unwanted background.

Above, I’ve removed the excess, and also used the same carbide bur to make a “scribble” textured background. Of course, now the yellow jacket is looking pretty flat, so I’ve got to do something about that…

Speaking of flat gravers, I begin to sculpt the yellow jacket abdomen, thorax and head by using a flat graver to cut away the top corners. I start with a 45 degree cut, then move up with the flat graver held at a shallower angle. I find twice around is a good start for most of my sculpted engravings.

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Above are two images taken at an oblique angle to try and illustrate the depth I’m working towards. You can see the two facets left at the top corners of the body shapes.

The flat graver leaves little facets when used at an angle. I could carve away those little facets with more work with the flat, but I’m going to exploit one the greatest aspects of engraving in metal – its’ ability to be moved. Above, I’ve used a tiny steel punch to hammer the body shapes smooth. You can see the attractive pebbled texture the tiny punch leaves behind. I’ve also used the punch the sculpt the wings. Additionally, I’ve carved the legs to provide a little vertical development. Perhaps you can see where they are lowest where they go under the body, climb up to the first joint, then descend back down to the “feet.”

The legs are still a little crude, too wide near the body, and some of the feet detail is missing. I used a tiny 90 degree V-graver and a tiny flat to trim around the lower edges of the body parts and legs – you can see the shiny spots in the background texture.

Getting down into tiny spaces is a problem, and I’ve solved that by manufacturing an even smaller carbide bur. You can see it in the image. I make these by grinding four tiny flats in a worn out ball bur – in this case, the tiniest round bur I’ve been able to purchase (about a half millimeter in diameter). I haven’t measured one of my tiny manufactured burs, but it’s a lot smaller, and comes to an even tinier point.

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Above, you can see two oblique images at this stage. Starting to look pretty good now.

The yellow jacket is sufficiently sculpted and trimmed so it’s time to add the gold inlays. Using gravers and carbide burs, I’ve excavated the cavities where the tiny 24 karat yellow gold wires will go. I’ve undercut the edges of the front cavity (see the blue arrow) with a tiny flat graver, and also cut three rows of tiny uplifted teeth, at three different angles. This provides a forest of tiny teeth in the bottom of the inlay cavity, as well as a continuous undercut around the bottom edge, for the gold to flow into and become permanently trapped.

Above, I’ve used a tiny brass punch to partially hammer a single soft gold wire along the rear edge of the inlay cavity. I’ll add in more parallel wires, lightly tapping them into place until the cavity is completely filled.

Here, you can see three parallel rows of wire in place. I’ll use the tiny brass punch to vigorously punch the gold wires into place. If I’ve done my job well, the extremely soft gold will flow into all of the teeth and undercuts, as well as cold-weld together into a single solid mass.

Here you cans see two completed inlays, which have been roughly scraped to remove excess gold. Next, I’ll use a very smooth carbide burnisher to remove the few remaining rough spots. After everything is smooth, I’ll use a tiny abrasive stone to really smooth the gold surface.

Here are the completed 24 karat gold inlays in the abdomen. Notice that I’ve used a tiny Vgraver to cut very fine lines in the cupro-nickel metal around the gold. This really provides a visual demarcation and makes the inlays really “pop.”

Above, I’ve also used a small round graver to cut the wing details in.

Yellow_Jacket_Hobo_Nickel_Tutorial_20 Yellow_Jacket_Hobo_Nickel_Tutorial_21 Yellow_Jacket_Hobo_Nickel_Tutorial_22 Yellow_Jacket_Hobo_Nickel_Tutorial_23
Here’s the Yellow Jacket Hobo Nickel finished! Six 24 karat gold inlays and a lot of carving.

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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CRKT Squid Widowmaker Tutorial


Starting on a new knife – this time a CRKT Burnley Squid. I’m trying to make this an affordable engraving, so it can be an EDC for us mortals, and not end up being a “Safe Queen.” Here I’ve shimmed the handle scales so my pounding won’t damage the mechanism, and cut the outlines. I’ve left the front bolster area clear of engraving so your thumb won’t abrade it.  Very important, I’ve also taped the very sharp blade.  No matter how much care you give, you will eventually brush up against that blade – don’t ask me how I know that.

Above, I’ve cut all the outlines and used a little solvent to get rid of my design transfer.

Here I’m beginning the process of sculpting the spider body in Japanese-style shishiaibori (sunken relief).   Shishiaibori is characterized by a sculpted carving below the surface of the metal, and outlined by very deep cuts.  At the blue arrow, you can see my original (single) outline cut.  The red arrow shows where I’ve used a narrower V-graver and cut a second time, deepening the original cut but not widening the cut.

Above, I’ve deepened all the outside lines, and I’m beginning to carve away the interior corner surfaces. Then I followed up with a small sculpting punch smoothing the surfaces, leaving a pleasing texture.

Above is a simplified graphic explaining the Shishiaibori technique.

Here’s the spider body finished.  I’ve used flat gravers to carve away the excess steel on the edges, and then smoothed everything with a tiny steel punch.

Above, you can see the first cut with a flat graver removing the top corner around the outside of a spider leg segment (the blue arrow).  The graver is held at about a 45 degree angle for this first cut, and cutting close to the bottom of the deep outlining cut.  I’ll go back again with the flat graver held at a shallower angle to cut the top corner again, then sculpt with a punch, leaving a nice texture.

Here in the left image, you can see the legs fully trimmed and sculpted.  In the right image, I added shading cuts on the legs and a big 24 karat gold eye…

And, finally after three days of engraving, here’s the CRKT Squid “Widowmaker” knife in all its glory.

Thanks for all your support and great comments, and Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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William Henry Rainforest Knife


Creating Side A of the William Henry Rainforest Knife

Here’s the drawing of my design. The folks at William Henry Studios wanted something with a rainforest theme. Unfortunately for them, my background as a microbiologist keeps creeping out, so a lot of my work focuses on the largely unseen drama that takes place in the hidden recesses of the world…

A William Henry Studio knife handle scale. I thought some of you might like to see the beginning – above is how the scale comes to me, beautifully machined and polished.

I feel a little badly, but the first thing I do is to destroy that lovely finish by stoning it, to eliminate glare under the microscope (center image). It’s not too much of a tragedy, because none of the surface you see will survive to the end.

And above, the ugly dude in the photo is my deer antler burnisher for transferring the pattern, which you can see on the steel knife scale.

I got the outlines cut in the @williamhenry_studio Rainforest knife scale today. Believe it or not, this is about 4 hours of cutting…

In this sequence of images I’m working on a small maquette to see how the lichen on the William Henry Studio Rainforest Knife might turn out. I’ve engraved, carved and punch sculpted the lichen, and that’s 18 karat green gold overlaid on the edges. I’m pleased with the lichen, but the gold edges might just be a bit much. So much of this style of engraving is trying to balance the detail and look/feel of each individual element with the overall impression…we’ll see…

A little more “adjustment” to the lichen, and a bit of overlay experimentation on a small maquette of the gecko. Seems that style of gold inlay isn’t going to work…my neighbor said it looks like the lizard has a walking harness on – so nope, nope, nope! I’ll use a less definite style of gold inlay for the stripes of the gecko. All my questions are now answered, so on to the actual work on the knife scales themselves.

Above, I’m actually operating on the knife itself, beginning to remove the background, and starting to detail the wood and bark as I go. Another big part of engraving and sculpting such a complicated design is the ordinal process – which parts you do before the other parts. Get the order wrong, and you can easily paint yourself into a corner…

More bark and wood detail, and lots more background removal. In general, I outline the design elements with gravers, and use carbide burs to carve away the background. Then, more detail with gravers, then burs, then lather, rinse, repeat…

Here I’m beginning to sculpt the gecko. I start by trimming the top edges of the lizard outlines with a tiny flat graver.

Above, you can see the facets left by the flat graver. Something with this level of depth I’ll generally make two passes with he flat graver. The first pass will be at 45 degrees from horizontal, than another pass at less than 45 degrees along the top edge of the previous facet.

Here, I’ve begun working with a small punch to smooth the graver cuts. You can see the pebbly texture along the bottom side of the gecko’s head. I really like how this texture gives you a “scaly” feel, so I’ll probably go with it…

And here’s the first round of rough sculpting finished. I’m really just trying to round things over in a general sense. I’ll go back later after the gold inlays are in and “adjust” anything that needs it.

Today felt like a wasp day on the Rainforest knife. At the left, I’ve removed the background and begun detailing the wasp with a small flat graver. On the right, I’ve started using flat graver and sculpting punch at the head, rounding things more gracefully. Features like legs are still a little too coarse, even though the entire wasp is only about half an inch long (12 mm).

More refinements with flat graver, sculpting punch and really tiny carbide burs. Suffice it to say a whole lot of finicky work with a tiny flat graver, then punch sculpting. It’s just about ready for the gold inlays…

Above, I’m working on the leaf and centipede, rounding the centipede with a flat graver

A lot of work on the dead leaf with small carbide burs, making it look, well, wrinkled and dead…

A more detailed image os the leaf. It’s also a good example of the order of things – I inlaid the centipede’s antennae early on in the process, because they are a flush inlay, with the top of the gold at the original surface of the steel knife handle scale. That way I don’t need to try a leave a reserved area for later inlay. This is strictly a value judgement…

Lastly, both leaf and centipede smoothed and sculpted with a tiny punch.

Above, I’m beginning to inlay rose gold in he centipede legs. Here, I’ve undercut V-graver cuts in the legs using a small flat graver (see the blue arrows). Hopefully the red gold will flow into these undercuts, trapping the gold into place.

Above, I’m punching in rose gold wire into the previously prepared undercuts. Rose gold is a real pain in the derriere – it work hardens instantly, so if your inlay technique is poor, the inlay will fail!

Once the gold is in place, punches, scrapers, gravers, burs are all pressed into service to shape and smooth the rose gold legs. Here, you can see the finished legs in the front half of the centipede.

The centipede legs are finally all inlaid in rose gold. It shouldn’t, but I’m always surprised – that’s a lot of legs…

Since I’m inlaying gold, I thought I might as well continue on with the wasp. Above, I’ve used a V-graver and carbide bur to excavate the pockets which will receive the gold.

Here, I’ve used 28 gauge rose gold wire to set into the first pocket. It’s pretty narrow, so only required two widths of wire. While the supplier of the gold claims it to be rose gold, I’m just not seeing the red in it, but it is a beautiful “peachy” color, so I’m going to call it peach gold. Among engravers, rose gold has a love/hate reputation – it is notorious for work hardening instantly, so lots of engravers shy away from it. This particular brand isn’t too terrible, but as it isn’t really red colored, it’s not really a solution for the red colored gold problem…

Above, I’ve set in all of the gold in the wasp’s abdomen. On a whim, I’ve added 24 karat yellow gold in the last pocket. I kind of like that… I’ve hammered all of the gold into place, filling all the undercuts, then used a tiny scraper to remove the excess. You can see all the scrapings around the edges.

Above are two images of the completed inlays, scraped, burnished, stoned flat, and a slight polish. I’ve also stippled the non-gold areas of the wasp so as to appear darker.

Lots of finicky detail work in the wasp. This image has a little temporary black Sharpie™ Permanent Marker inking just to see how it will look.

Above, I’ve finished sculpting the lizard, and added her gold eyes using a gold overlay technique.

Now to add the gecko’s gold stripes. Above, I’ve excavated the stripe areas, and undercut the edges.

Here I’ve not only undercut the edges of the pocket on the gecko’s head, but also raised a forest of tiny hooks on the bottom of the pocket. All of these will trap the gold permanently into place, and you can see me adding the first piece of 24 karat gold wire.

Above, all the wires in and hammered into place.

Here, I’ve used a V-graver to begin removing the waste material in the gecko body stripes. I’ll use a carbide bur and tiny grinder to remove the rest of the waste.

Above, I’m adding 24 karat gold to the gecko back. there’s still more to go in the tail stripe…

After looking at the wasp for a while, I decided it needed a tiny bit of gold inlaid in between the eyes – quality control is a never-ending process…

Above, the gecko is fully inlaid, with another dark stripe added. Also beginning the final steps on the front bolster with a bit of lichen. Not long left on this side…beginning to seem like forever!

The bolster needs a tiny gold spider. The legs are simple single wire inlays, but the body is actually several balls of 24 karat gold I melted on the ends of the gold wire. I hammered several of them together into a mass which extends above the surface, then used a body-shaped punch to do the initial shaping. A little trimming and gentle punch sculpting made everything nice and smooth.

A little texturing around the spider.

The above three images are of the finished Side A of the Rainforest knife! Now on to Side B, with poison dart frogs…

Creating Side B of the William Henry Rainforest Knife

Above, I’ve transferred my design onto Side B and cut them with a V-graver.

I’m not certain whether my idea for a small puddle with tadpoles in it will work so here’s a small experimental maquette for the poison dart frog tadpoles. Looks good to me, so on with the actual knife.

Above I’ve begun the background removal process. I’m mostly using carbide burs for this.

More refinement of the background. l’ve also inlaid green gold in the centipede antennae.

Above is the tiny earwig I added to the bare area on the front bolster, with inlaid gold details.

More progress – check out the earwig on the front bolster area.

Here you can see the earwig and the liverwort plant I added.

Above, the poison dart frog tadpoles in their tiny puddle.

The tadpoles and earwig are finished.

Here I’m finishing up the dead leaves. The blue arrows show me shaping the area between the ribs with a carbide bur.

Above, the blue and red arrows show where I’ve used a punch to soften the texture left by the carbide bur – blue is after the punch and red is before.

The two images above show the leaves in all of their deceased glory…

Here I’m adding in some grass in the in-between spaces. I’ve done a kind of interweaving to add a little interest. I first outlined them with a V-graver, and then removed the background with the tiny carbide bur in the image. That particular bur is 0.4 millimeters in diameter.

Above, I’m cleaning up the edges between the background and the grass leaves with a tiny flay graver (right hand side) and carving the top surface of the grass with a tiny round graver (left hand side).

Above you can see the three areas where I added the grass tufts.

Now it’s time to begin sculpting the tiny poison dart frog. Above, I’ve used a tiny flat graver to begin carving back the sharp edges of the frog. My first cut is about 45 degrees from vertical around the edges, followed by another time around at a more shallow angle (about 20 degrees). You can see the facets left behind by flat gravers. This sets the stage for the punch sculpting to follow.

Above is the poison dart frog after the punch sculpting. I really like the attractive texture the punch leaves behind – just like a frog’s pebbly-textured skin.

The home stretch – here’s the poison dart frog fully sculpted and ready for the gold inlay. You can also see where I’ve added a small gold inlay to the largest of the tadpoles.

I’ve excavated the areas for the gold and have the first gold wire in place.

Above, all the wires in place, and ready to be hammered permanently into place.

Here, all the gold has been inlaid and smoothed. A little quality control, followed by a good inking, and Side B will be finished.

Above, both sides finished, and ready to go to the good folks at William Henry Studios for assembly, and their new home.

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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