Skull and Dead Eye Tavern Ring Tutorial

Starting a new tellurium copper Tavern Ring, this time a single large skull, with a few surprises yet to come. Stay tuned…

Tellurium copper machines and carves more like brass than copper. Pure copper is really gummy, but tellurium copper is great! PS – don’t confuse tellurium copper with beryllium copper. The beryllium copper is a health hazard…

Beginning the cut with my Nomad 883 by Carbide 3D. This is a 1/8 inch diameter end mill. I lean toward the 2 flute coated carbides. I’ve been using 9200 rpm and very conservative feeds for 1/8 and 1/16 inch diameter end mills. 250 mm/min feed and 25 mm/min plunge, 0.1 mm step downs.

After a few passes with a 1/16 inch diameter ball end mill.

Above, the machining of the skull is completed. Tomorrow, I’ll machine the teeth at the top. All together, this will be about six hours of milling for the skull and teeth in total.

Here I’m using a jeweler’s saw and 2/0 blade to cut the remaining material of the teeth profiles.

Above is a closeup of cutting the teeth profiles, removing the material left from the milling.

Now I need to remove the center material from the finger hole. I leave a thin web of material on the bottom so that center circle of copper won’t bind the cutter when the last little bit is removed and shear off the brittle (and expensive…) carbide end mill.

Here, I’ve added a texture using a round nosed punch in my Lindsay Airgraver, and added a little patina to get rid of that raw copper color. Rather than my usual round of using flat faced punches to remove the CNC milling marks, I’ve left the tiny marks in place. I’ve decided I like that effect here…

Hand engraving a cracked mud surface on the tellurium copper Tavern Ring.

Here I’ve darkened the freshly engraved cuts and finished and signed the back side. Tomorrow, I’ll start a little bit of extra fun…

The tellurium copper Tavern Ring needs a creepy double inlaid “dead” eye…I’ll create it from a tapered peg of naturally shed moose antler and a really tiny taper of ebony. These double inlaid eyes are a holdover from my netsuke carving days. For a look at some of my netsuke carvings, please go here: Above, I’ve turned a tiny tapered peg from a piece of naturally shed moose antler. The taper creates a very tight friction fit, and I’ve sealed the deal with some epoxy glue.

Here I’ve carved off some of the excess antler with my NSK Electer micromotor grinder and tiny carbide ball burs. Don’t bother with anything but carbide burs, because metals and abrasive materials like antler ruin steel burs very quickly.

Above I’ve carved the white of the eyeball to the correct size, and carved (not drilled) a hole for the ebony pupil.

Here I’m using a tiny Sherline™ metal cutting lathe to machine a very tiny tapered ebony peg. Tapered again so I’ll get such a tight fit you won’t be able to detect a seam where the black ebony contacts the white antler. Turning such a tiny tapered peg takes a good bit of finesse…

I’ve glued the ebony peg in place with superglue. These tiny double inlaid eyes are about the only place I find superglue useful for anything other than a temporary hold.

Here’s the finished, really creepy double inlaid eye.

And a few more views, just in case you haven’t gotten bored with it so far…

The tellurium copper Tavern Ring turned out so well it needs a desktop stand. Above I’m creating the stand out of black walnut and naturally shed elk antler.

Here’s the Tavern Ring temporarily installed in the walnut display box. I need to add a turned round of moose antler over the round central area, so I’ll be able to use a tapered antler peg to retain the Tavern Ring.

Above are all the pieces of the stand.

How do you hold a Tavern Ring (which is actually a small single finger brass knuckle). Like so…

And the finished tellurium copper Tavern Ring in its’ stand.

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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Knapadonia Challenge Coin Tutorial

I’m curious to see if I can make this work: a coining die so I can create small copper challenge coins in my little 20 ton press. Every year, I try to create an art object as a fundraising opportunity for a local knapping group I attend. August is our annual “knap-in” at Knapadonia, located on the North end of Whidbey Island, near Seattle. Hopefully these little challenge coins will raise funds for “Krapadonia” – the porta-potties we rent for the attendees.

Here’s the start of creating a CNC’d coin die out of 12L14 Ledloy steel. I’ve chosen this particular steel because it will machine well in my tiny little Nomad 883 desktop CNC mill, and because I have it on hand in the correct diameter. As so many have pointed out in my Facebook and Instagram posts, yes, harden-able tool steel would make a better, longer lasting die. Also, as several have pointed out with the authority of experts, that my tiny 20 ton press won’t work, that a 100 ton press would be the smallest that would be capable of such a feat. Now, with the hindsight of having done the “impossible,” I’ve rediscovered what I learned so many times before. It seems I’ve spent my life accomplishing the impossible, only to find out that I’m not particularly extraordinary, just that “impossible” is simply the state of someone else’s mind. I’ve also found that a closed mind and an open mouth seem to be natural partners…

Above are the Ledloy steel blank, with the center point already located and marked, along with some blue painter’s tape and some copper wire for wrapping.

The blue painter’s tape creates a little well for containing a puddle of coolant. I wrap the copper wire around the base of the painter’s tape in case the coolant I’ll use (WD-40™) decides to attack the glue of the tape. Have I mentioned I’m a belt and suspenders kind of guy?

Here’s the die blank installed in the CNC mill, with a small puddle of coolant. Below are the Feeds and Speeds I used for milling the steel die.
Nomad 883 Feeds and Speeds (mild steel)
RPM     Depth of Cut     Feed                      Plunge
8800      0.002 inches        3.0 inches/min     1.0 inches/min

Of course, the die isn’t the only bits I’ll need to pull this off. I’ll also need a flat faced steel pusher and a large tube to keep the pusher, copper coin blank and die all aligned while I apply 20 tons (40,000 pounds per square inch) of pressure.

Above are the completed steel die, aluminum alignment tube and flat faced steel pusher.

Here’s how the parts go together…

Above is the first pressing from the challenge coin die. I had a 3/4″ circle of 1/4″ thick annealed tellurium copper for the first attempt. I’m going to call this one a failure…while it looks good, it took 7 or 8 annealings and 20 ton pressings to get a complete impression. Too much work, so I’ll make another shallower die and try again.

Above is a closer view of the first pressing.

Above is the new die with a shallower arrowhead milled into the surface, hopefully to take fewer pressings to obtain a good impression. I’ve also engraved the lettering around the edges. BUT, oops…do you see the problem? Talked myself into it, out of it, and into it again. That’s what I get for doing critical work when I’m tired…

Above, I’m using my Lindsay Palm Control Airgraver to hand engrave the lettering for the coin.

Above, the resulting copper coin after just 2 pressings and annealings. I’ll take that – time to make the lettering for the back and start production… It kind of looks like an ancient Greek coin with the backward lettering…

So, I lathe-turned away the lettering, at the same time making the arrowhead a little shallower – probably a good thing! Above, I’m engraving the new lettering, properly mirror-imaged on the coin die this time.

Above is the completed coin die, with mirrored lettering. Much better…

Here’s the first pressing with the corrected coining die. Only two pressings and annealings, and a good impression.

Here’s the production version of the Knapadonia Challenge Coin die system, with all the bits and bobs of the die system. In order to get by with the smaller press and multiple pressings, I needed two different steel pusher cylinders. There was no problem re-indexing the front face (arrowhead) of the coin after the first pressing, but I didn’t have much faith that I would be able to index the reverse side die, so I made the first pressing with the blank faced steel pusher, then re-annealed the coin and used the engraved “not all who wander” steel pusher for the second pressing. I also made the first pressing while the copper coin was red hot with the smooth pusher.

Above, engraving the “not all who wander” lettering for the reverse of the coin.

The completed “not all who wander” pusher.

Above are 4 views of the first coin. I wanted these to look like ancient Roman or Greek coins, and I think I achieved that…

So, now it’s time to begin coin production. I weighed out multiple bits of clean scrap copper, approximately 0.4 ounces each. I determined the quantity by weighing the original tellurium copper scrap blank that just happened to turn out about perfect. A blind-squirrel moment for me (even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while)!

Above I’m using an oxyacetylene torch to melt the scrap copper into a (mostly) round blob, then into the pickle for quench and copper skin oxide removal. Don’t forget to use your proper light filter googles – the acetylene flame is dangerously bright and can burn your eyes.

Above is the first batch of copper blobs, ready to hammer (somewhat) flat on the anvil.

Here they are after hammering flat. I test each one agains the aluminum alignment tube to make certain they aren’t to large in any dimension to fit inside the tube. Finding out they’re too big while glowing hot isn’t the best of times to try and adjust their diameter…

Above, the first few completed, along with a few silver challenge coins ‘cause I can…

The Knapadonia Challenge Coins are complete. Most copper, a few in silver. It took two pressings each in a 20 ton press to get a full impression. They kind of look like I just dug up a hoard of ancient Roman coins. Turns out the impossible isn’t impossible if you understand a little metallurgy and use a bit of ingenuity…

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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Knapped Steel Neck Knife

Last August, I spent a week working at our local knap-in, where lots of stone tool knappers come and hobknob with each other. Lots of work, but lots of fun as well!

While at the knap-in, I saw a friend’s artwork (see the lovely little stone neck knives above, with decorated rawhide sheaths), and decided to make something like them, only mine will be made in steel, not rock.

I started today on the blade, roughing it out from a steel bar.

Above is the roughed out blade and tiny antler handle.

Above I’m using an angle grinder to carve the blade to a lens-shaped cross section.  At this point the blade is roughed out and ready to begin carving knapping flake scars in it.

Above is the Foredom handpiece with narrow sanding drum I’ll carve the flake scars with.

Here are the first few flake scars carved in.

Here I’ve finished carving the blade, blued it to dark color, and made a copper cap for the end of the antler handle. Next, I’ve got to glue it all up.

Above, I’m getting the knife glued up. I have to start on the rawhide sheath, engrave the knife butt, and decide what will go on the front of the sheath. Oh, and have to make a chain and hardware for the neck chain. Lots of work yet.

I’m working on the sheath today. I’ve used regular vegetable tanned leather to make the liner, glued up with contact cement. I drilled the holes in the drill press with a sharpened finishing nail as an awl. You can see the little piece of goat rawhide I’ll use for the covering, and the copper rings for attaching the chain.

I finished the knife and engraved the little copper buttcap, but haven’t finished the sheath yet.  The above photos courtesy of

Finally got it finished, with copper chain and hardware, and a tiny copper snake sheath decoration.  The above photos also courtesy of

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling


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Stag Beetle Tavern Ring Tutorial

Starting a “Tavern Ring” (with thanks to for the name I blatantly stole from him…), in tellurium copper. I’m planning to add a stainless steel inlay using my hare-brained scheme technique. Hope it works…

Marking out and cutting the blank to size. The little walnut doodad on the left is a mockup of the tavern ring.

Above, I’m CNC milling the teeth into the front side of the tellurium copper blank, using 1/8 inch diameter carbide square end mill and a 1/16 inch diameter carbide ball nose end mill, no coolant.

Above, the CNC is milling out the finger hole.

Here are the teeth seen from from the edge. I’m going to have to cut the cusps into these things…a dentist friend of mine took a look at these and remarked that the original teeth scanned for the computer model must have belonged to a pretty old person.

Carving the cusps with carbide burs.

Doing a little dental work on the CNC’d teeth on the tellurium copper Tavern Ring. Notice the 24 karat gold filling…

The finished tellurium copper blank can be seen in the above two images.

Starting to add a 1/8 inch thick 416 stainless steel stag beetle to the tellurium copper Tavern Ring. I’ll use a laser printer transfer to put my design on the steel, then engrave those lines with my Lindsay Airgraver. The engraved lines will help my jeweler’s saw blade track better as I saw out the beetle.

Sawing with a 2/0 Rio Grande Laser Gold jeweler’s saw blade…a lot of sawing.

Above is the beetle completely separated from the parent metal, and laid in place on the tavern ring. About 2 hours with a jeweler’s saw…

Work holding small parts is always a problem. I often find my little antique pin vise useful for holding tiny things while I clean them up with a jeweler’s file.

Two 20 ton pressings installed the stainless steel stag beetle in the tellurium copper Tavern Ring.

Moving that much metal deformed the copper, and in hammering it back into shape, the beetle popped out. I used that as an opportunity to slip in some silver solder, then punched the copper sides in flush with the steel. That puppy ain’t going anywhere now… Compare how close the copper is pushed up against the sides of the steel in this image with the previous image.

Starting to hand engrave and carve the stainless steel stag beetle in the tellurium copper Tavern Ring. Above, I’ve engraved the body part separations in a lot deeper.

Above, I’m using a carbide bur to begin sculpting the beetle jaws.

Most of what you see here has been done with carbide burs in my NSK micromotor grinder.

Above, I’ve used a tiny scraper to begin cleaning up the striations left by the little carbide burs.

Here’s the head being sculpted and smoothed with tiny punches.

Above, the steel parts of the beetle have been completed, and I’ve added some patina ‘cause I’m impatient and I want to see how it will look when finished.

Above, engraving the legs of the stainless steel stag beetle in the tellurium copper Tavern Ring. A bit fiddly, but it’s necessary….and there are six of them…

Above, I’ve excavated the background with carbide burs. the legs are still flat and square at this point.

Above, I’ve used a tiny punch to round over the tops of a leg. You can see the difference between the top leg and the square/flat bottom leg. You can see the tiny punch I made from an old grinding bur that did the sculpting.

Finished the right side legs of the stainless steel stag beetle in the tellurium copper Tavern Ring. See the difference between the finished legs on the right side and the unfinished left side legs?

I’ve had a request to see the Stag Beetle Tavern Ring in hand to get a sense of the actual size. Ask and ye shall receive…

The Stag Beetle Tavern Ring is a single finger knuck (SFK).  2 7/8 inches long by 1 1/2 inches wide by 1/4 inches thick (51.7mm x 38.1mm x 6.35mm), the body is machined and hand carved and hand engraved by Tom Sterling of tellurium copper. The finger hole is 1 inch in diameter (25.4mm).  The hand carved and hand engraved stag beetle is created from 416 stainless steel.

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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Hydraulic Press Inlay Tutorial

Another hare-brained scheme – I have a couple of leftover stainless steel cutouts from making my better half’s earrings. It occurred to me to press them into thick copper for a pendant. Here’s the result so far…

Above are the two stainless steel remnants and a 1/8 inch thick piece of copper bar.

I’m pretty much ad libbing this as I go along. I’ve placed the two steel remnants in a “pleasing” arrangement and superglued them down so they won’t move.

Above, I’ve placed the copper and superglued steel remnants in the press. The big round chunk of steel I’m using as a “pusher.” My press is designed for forging hot steel, so the surfaces are a little rough, and the smoother face of the steel “pusher” won’t mar things as badly.

Here’s the entire hydraulic press, with the pusher and victim installed.

Above, I’ve pressed (3 times at 20 tons) the leftover 410 stainless steel cutouts into the annealed 1/8 inch thick copper bar. Notice how the sides of the copper bar are no longer straight, and are bulging a little bit. When the press shoved the steel into the copper, the incompressible metal has to go somewhere, hence the bulges.

I was planning to remove the cutouts and solder them in, but they’re stuck tight, so I’ve just used a textured punch to move the copper over flush to the steel, very similar to Japanese-style inlays. These steel inlays aren’t going to budge… Compare how tight the copper is against the sides of the steel in this image with the previous image. The previous image has large, obvious gaps, and now I can’t even see the cracks between the copper and steel in the microscope.

Above, I’ve shaped the copper bar into a teardrop pendant shape.

Here I’ve engraved the steel gecko and frog man with crosshatches reminiscent of Australian Aboriginal art. As I indicated, I’m pretty much just going with the flow here.

Above, I’ve begun carving the copper surface with small carbide burs. I don’t really have much of a plan here, just to do something that looks a bit like rough rock.

Here’s the Frog Man Gecko Pendant finished. 410 stainless steel and copper, about 2 inches tall. I’ll call this another successful hare-brained scheme with a promising technique. Easiest inlay I’ve ever done…I’m beginning to think there’s something in this technique…

The press/inlay harebrained scheme worked out so well I decided to see if it was a fluke. So, here’s a 410 stainless steel dead dried minnow on the beach, in copper.

Above, I’ve engraved my dead minnow into 1/16 inch thick 410 stainless steel. I’ve found that engraving patterns into the metal before I saw them out with a fine jeweler’s saw helps the tiny blades to track better.

Here’s the sawn out minnow in place on 1/8 inch thick copper bar. I’ve superglued it into place.

Above is the steel minnow installed with a single 20 ton press. Only one was needed since there’s not much surface area to this tiny minnow. Looking good so far… Notice how much the sides of the copper have been distorted by the metal being shoved out of the way. Don’t get your finger caught in the press!!!!

The above two image illustrate pushing the copper up flush against the steel sides of the dead minnow with a small textured punch.

Above is the business end of the tiny punch I use for moving the copper. It also leaves a nice texture. I simply ground a 3/32 inch square piece of high carbon steel round, and to the diameter I thought I needed, then engraved crosshatches in the face. Hardened with a plumber’s torch and quenched in beeswax, I don’t even bother to temper these.

Above, I’m using flat gravers and a flat punch to sculpt and detail the dried fish.

Here’s a closeup of the minnow’s head after trimming the sides with a flat graver.

Above, I’ve spent some time refining the flat facets left by the flat gravers with a small round flat faced punch. Also beginning to detail the gill section.

I haven’t given you much of an indication of the size of this tiny minnow, so here you go…

Well, I guess by now you know how I operate, so there has to be a little gold…

I envision this pretty classic Japanese themed dead fish as drying on a beach, so there needs to be some small rocks…

I’ve used a graver in several passes around the rocks to cut their outlines quite deeply.

Here, I’ve used carbide burs to excavate around the rocks to expose the sand.

And a little patina since I’m dying to see how this will look when finished… I’ve also used a tiny flat faced punch to round and slightly texture the rocks.

I’ve used a really tiny bur to put in what I call “scribble” texture. To the naked eye, this really does look like sand.

With the addition of rocks and sand texture, the Dead Fish on the Beach Pendant is finished. Looks like my hare-brained inlay scheme is a success…

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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Combined CNC and Hand Engraving on a Hobo Silver Dollar with Handprint Skull

After a few successes with wood, moose antler and brass it’s time for something a little more challenging. There have been a few technical glitches and broken end mills along the way, but I’m confident enough I’ll risk a $20 silver dollar to make a Hobo Nickel…

First, however, I need to come up with a way to hold the silver dollar securely enough that it won’t come loose during milling. That would be a total disaster…so I need to make a special holding fixture, Above, I begin that process by sawing off a suitable bit of aluminum with my trusty Harbor Freight bandsaw…works great as long as you team it up with a good quality bimetal blade… This was about 20 minutes to cut this thick stuff.

Here’s the smaller block, turned out pretty darn square. Looking good so far, but don’t get cocky…

Making an insert to hold silver dollar coins in my CNC mill vise. Here’s the block in the little milling vise, with the dollar laid on top for scale. I’ll mill out a pocket the same size as the coin, but not quite as deep so a little bit of coin will remain sticking out of the top. Then I’ll saw through the center (left to right in this image). The saw kerf should leave enough gap so the vise will close enough for a good grip.

That worked so well I milled a half dollar-sized pocket on the other side. Hare-brained scheme to come, so stay tuned…

Above, I’ve marked the center of the dollar, installed it into the holding fixture and zero’ed everything. It’s now ready for cutting…fingers crossed.

Here, I’ve roughed out everything with a small 1/16th inch diameter square end mill. Still looking good.

Here’s the raw cuts after using a finer 1/16th inch diameter ball nose mill. That looks better but there are still mill marks, and nowhere near good enough for a hand engraved product. I could probably use much smaller steps, but I don’t think it will ever be as good as hand engraving and would take a lot longer during the milling process. Not a problem, though, since I’m only intending to use the mill for “roughing out” things, to be finished by hand later.

Above, I darkened the silver for a better contrast for the photo. Well I’ll be a suck-egg mule, but the beginning of my hare-brained scheme actually came off without a hitch with a little help and advice from Apollo of Carbide3D (thanks Apollo!)… A Hobo Nickel to be (Yes, I know it’s actually a Hobo Dollar…don’t quibble…)

Well, what’s a good Hobo Dollar without a little gold inlay? We’ll add a gold tooth… Above are the basic steps of inlay – excavating the inlay pocket, undercutting the edges and raising tiny teeth in the bottom, lightly laying in the 24 karat gold wires, and finally pounding them in securely. The undercuts and tiny teeth make a strictly mechanical bond for tiny pure gold wires.

Here’s the gold inlay scraped and stoned flat, with a tiny engraved cut around the edges for excellent definition.

Inlaying a 24 karat gold tooth in the hare-brained scheme. Looking better all the time…I’m beginning to think there’s some merit to this…

Continuing the hare-brained scheme by sculpting away the little artifacts left by CNC. Now I’ll attack the chief limitation of using CNC for really fine work – the tiny milling marks that are left behind, seemingly no matter what I do. If you look closely above in the upper left, notice the fillet left by the tiny ball end mill (blue arrows). In the image in the lower right I’ve removed that little problem with a graver.

The above image has half of the skull sculpted and carved (screen right) removing the milling marks. Compare the smoother right side (your right…) to the left side with the milling marks that look like a plowed field. The right has been punch sculpted (with some carving as well) to remove the furrows…

Above is my foot controlled Lindsay Nitro G20 airgraver and the sculpting punch I used.

So you thought the hare-brained scheme was finished? No, no, no. You should be so lucky… It simply cries out for a tiny gold spider…

Above, I’ve begun the standard process of inlay – excavation, tiny bottom hooks/undercutting, followed by melting tiny balls of gold on the end of the wires. I want lots of gold to make the spider body stand proud of the surface.

Continuing on with the spider by sculpting, smoothing and trimming.

Inlaying the tiny little legs. Very fiddly work…

Above, the tiny legs scraped and smoothed. Once they’re stoned and then outlined with tiny cuts, the spider will be finished.

Above is the finished Handprint Skull Hobo Silver Dollar, so the hare-brained scheme is completed and now it’s safe to go back in the water… turned out to be not so hare-brained after all…and saved a whole lot of time during the CNC roughing out phase.

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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Combining CNC and Engraving Tutorial

Here’s the reason I haven’t been posting the last several weeks – I’m learning CNC (Computer Numeric Control milling). Here are my latest successful efforts (emphasis on the successful…). The desert ironwood skull is inspired by a similar one by Jim Wirth ( to provide me with something more complex than the comparatively simple seahorses. You should also check out his sales site at: Some cool stuff there.

I’ve been curious as to how well modern CNC machines can mill things in order to help with my engraving business. I’m intending to use the CNC as the stepping off point for further engraving and embellishment, and hoping it will save some time up front by roughing out deep carvings that I probably wouldn’t attempt any other way.

Above is my little desktop Nomad 883 CNC mill, by It comes with enough software to do some pretty decent modeling, and the software you need to control it with for both Mac and Windows.

Above is a fairly small moose antler rectangle that I modeled with the included software and cut using 1/8th and 1/16th inch diameter endmills, and a really tiny 1/32 inch diameter end mill for the teeth.

Above, I’m CNCing the moose antler skull-thingy. Had a small technical difficulty I’ll have to sort out, so I finished a little of it by hand. Awesome little machine!

I’ve finally decided on using Fusion 360 CAD/CAM software (free for small shops – for the 3D work, and Carbide Create (included with the machine) for 2.5D. 1/8 inch square end mill for the facing and roughing, and a 1/16 inch ball mill for the final. I’m still trying to figure out which of the several cutting strategies Fusion 360 gives for best operation. And I’m not too concerned with the mill marks, since eventually I’m going to be doing this in metal and forging the remaining surfaces, as well as engraving embellishments to go far beyond what the mill is capable of.

Moose antler pendant and earring suite. Petroglyphs – good times today! The earrings are about an inch tall. All three parts were cut simultaneously on the Nomad 883 mill from a single piece of moose antler.

Here’s one in brass. I’ll be doing something on the other side, then enhancing everything with hand engraving techniques.

Above is the little mill in action. The brass rectangle is about 2 inches tall. Fun, and challenging!

Above, I’ve sculpted away the little artifacts left by CNC. Milling marks seem to be the chief limitation of using CNC for really fine work.

I added a spiral handprint on the reverse side. The front side is finished by forge sculpting the skull, engraving the tiny details and texturing the flat surface. We’ll call this one done… I learned a lot! I think this will eventually become very useful to me. There is a pretty steep learning curve here, between the software and the milling machine. Fusion 360 is an extremely comprehensive CAD/CAM system with lots to learn. I have done some shade tree machining in the past, so that proved very helpful with the milling machine and workholding. Also, my past dabbles in 3D computer modeling didn’t hurt me any… Overall, I’m very pleased with what I’ve managed to do in a pretty short timespan and look forward to much more challenging work in the future.

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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Engraving Sampler CRKT Squid Knife Tutorial

Above is a small test (rose gold inlay) for a new project – an engraving sampler pocket knife for myself, so I have a sample of my work with me at all times. I made my old sampler knife a fair bit ago, and it no longer adequately represents my skills. I’m encouraged by this result, so we’ll continue on with the sampler knife…

Working on an engraving sampler pocket knife for myself, so I have a sample of my work with me at all times. I figured out what I needed to know on the rose gold test piece. Above, the initial lines have all been cut on the CRKT Squid knife.

Adding rose gold inlays to my engraving sampler pocket knife for myself. This is pretty slow going, the steel is pretty hard and rose gold isn’t easy to inlay.  I’m spending an awful lot of time resharpening my undercutting flat gravers when I break them…

Finished with the dragon’s breath gold inlays on my engraving sampler pocket knife for myself. Between the hard steel and the green and two rose golds, the toughest inlays I’ve ever done – there are four colors of gold in each of these two images…

Inlaying 24 karat yellow gold in the dragon’s talons on my engraving sampler pocket knife. 1 excavated pocket. 2 undercut edges. 3 hooks in pocket floor. 4 gold wires tacked in place. 5 wires flattened and permanent. 6 scraped flush and burnished. 7 stoned flush and outlined.

All the gold inlays on my engraving sampler pocket knife are finished and outlined. Also completed the sculpting of the dragon head. Next up, background removal in all of those tiny recesses…

Adding some (sort of) Fine English Scroll to my engraving sampler pocket knife. Also starting to remove some of the background…

Finished detailing the (sort of) Fine English Scroll.  It’s really starting to look like fire and smoke…

OK, the Christmas holidays are over, so it’s back to work on my Viking Dragon engraving sampler pocket knife. Working on the rest of the background removal…

Continuing removing the background of my Viking Dragon engraving sampler pocket knife. Sorry this is going so slow, but I just have to push on through this uninteresting part…

The background removal is completed. The next uninteresting part will be stippling the background – not my favorite part, but the results are always so stunning that I voluntarily suffer through it…

Ugh! Stippling the background of the Viking Dragon engraving sampler pocket knife – not my favorite part… several hours for maybe 20% of the task. Lots to go yet…

After heroic effort, I’ve finally finished stippling the background of the Viking Dragon engraving sampler pocket knife! Now some interesting things will begin to happen…finally.

Above I’ve finished the interior hatching on the Celtic knots! Except the spot I missed… Basic rule of engraving – you have to put it in front of somebody else in order to see a problem area…

Finished the Viking Dragon engraving sampler pocket knife! I’ll live with it for a few days to see if I need to do anything else…

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

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Bear Skull Blade Fetish Tutorial

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A new project, with a recycled tiny bear skull carved from antler I found hidden away in a forgotten box. I can no longer carve organic materials for health reasons, and this will be the last of my wood, antler or ivory carvings. Also a small piece of shaped 1075 carbon steel which will become more obvious shortly…

The Bear Skull Fetish will have a “stone” turkeytail blade done in my signature “knapped steel” style. Here is how I “knap” the steel using a small drum sander in my Foredom™ flex shaft grinder. You can see three “flakes” I’ve ground into the steel blade (red arrow).

The above is an example of “percussion” knapping. This blade is a heat-treated jasper, knapped by my friend, Dr Joe Higgins. Percussion knapping removes flakes by using a small but dense object to strike flakes from the stone. Percussion flakes are larger, wider and deeper than pressure flakes. I usually simulate percussion flakes in my steel blade work – simply because I like the looks better.

Above, the blade is mostly finished. I need to cut it out from the parent steel bar (it’s much easier to hold like this…) and add the notches.

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The Bear Skull Fetish “knapped steel” style turkeytail blade is complete, with a simple cold blue finish. Next, I’ve got to make a complicated silver bail, which you’ll see if it works out. If not, I’ll disavow ever having done it…deny, deny, deny. Wish me luck.

Here’s my soldering setup for the complicated little silver bail.

The Bear Skull Fetish Pendant with the successfully fabricated silver bail. I ended up silver soldering it so it won’t ever come off!

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The Bear Skull Fetish Pendant lashed onto the “knapped steel” blade with red Irish linen cord. Soaked with thinned clear epoxy to make it absolutely permanent. In the top left image, you can see the “serving” I added to tie everything off. The curved needle (lower image) helps thread the cord through the tight spots.

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The Bear Skull Fetish Pendant finished, with 3 inch long 1075 “knapped steel” blade, hand carved moose antler, silver hardware, red Irish linen cord, 20 inch long 3mm leather neck cord.

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling


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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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