The Difference between Etching and Engraving

Discussion in 'Restoration & Razor Making How-To's.....' started by BillEllis, Feb 11, 2009.

  1. Pay attention! There is a pop quiz at the end... :biggrin:

    Actually, this is just an FYI to file away in your memory banks. It has to do with the discussions I have read where two completely different processes are mentioned in regards to razors and knives. Those two entirely different things are etching and engraving.

    Etching is a process where an image or lettering is "burned" in steel with the aid of both an ac and dc current via a series electrical circuit that sees through a prepared stencil. Stencils are made by transmitting light over an image that is printed on acetate and projects onto a special stencil material. After the stencil is "developed" in a solution it is then temporarily affixed on the steel where the image is desired.

    First the etching machine is turned to a set value DC current. Two leads come from it and end at the steel with an alligator clip for ground and the other with a special pad holding an electrolyte solution to create the burn.

    The lightly saturated absorbent pad is placed on the stencil for a few seconds at a time with light pressure. After 2 or 3 cycles, the machine is switched over to the AC current and the process is repeated. Simply put, the DC current gives depth to the image and the AC current turns the lettering or design black in color.

    The first photos show the stencils, then the machine, and the leads attached to the pad that holds the electrolyte.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2009
  2. mdunn

    mdunn Moderator Emeritus

    Bill - if you used less AC would it come out grey-ish? and if you use a couple of different stencils with different ammounts of DC could you get a 3Dish effect?

    (they might be silly questions - but im a silly person with no idea about etching)
  3. The next process is engraving. This is where metal is not removed chemically, but by actually carving it out of the way by using different shaped tools called gravers. They are mini chisels, so to speak. Engraving can be accomplished by hand or with the aid of a machine that makes it a tad easier to cut the lines. The system you see at my work station runs about $3,000, not to count the gravers that usually run about $8 apiece.

    The handset that they fit in (the thingie with the three bands around the handle) is not something you would want to lose on a regular basis as they run about $265 each. The other little gem that looks like a dental drill runs at 300,000 rpm. Yes, 300 thousand and it costs a tad over $325. It's not a cheap hobby. I took a pic looking through the eyepiece so you can see the magnification. Of course, you see a better picture when you look through the scope with a set of eyeballs rather than a camera lens.

    You can see one of the blades I have been working on that is in the vice. It shows engraving for my name and engraving for the rope pattern on the spine. That is a NOS blade and is already hardened so I have to use my dental handpiece and diamond bits to do the work.
  4. You can get a grey by just rubbing it with a cloth that has been dampened with MEK or similar smelly stuff. Etching really does cut into the steel. The more you expose the steel to the DC current, the deeper it goes. Too much exposure messes up the surrounding area of the design.

    Here are etches.
    A skinning knife


    And this is engraving...

    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 8, 2017
  5. Just pointing out that etching of razor designs was classically achieved by means of an acid.

    The design would be applied to the razor either by means of a painted on resist (or else as pre-printed resist on fine tissue paper)after which a strong acid would be applied to the exposed area which would eat into the steel, creating the desired design.
  6. If I am correct then this below is called engraving?
    I am not totally sure but it sure looks badass in person :biggrin:



    Oh and in case you gents were wondering there is only 1 who does work like this :ouch1:

  7. Absolutely. Thanks for the addition. I didn't mean to exclude this method. It is definitely the pioneering way to get all those great designs on the blades and such. My motivation for comparing the two methods I started out with was due to references I have seen lately where engraving was referred to as etching... and vice versa. Another method is laser etching, and Thirdeye has the most precise and appealing designs you could ever ask for.

    In case there are those who may wonder about the markings on the tangs that look relatively deep, they were done with stamps before the heat treating process.
  8. Yes... all the work on this blade is engraving. And thanks for the compliment. It is appreciated more than you could possibly know.
  9. Great thread Bill! I also see you have the pricy GRS Ball Vise! I could only afford the GRS Multi-purpose Vise. :crying:
  10. I wanted that one, but my internet was out that weekend :mad:

  11. This one features Aneiling and Etching......:biggrin:

    BTW, Nice looking work as always Bill...

  12. Bill's engraving is the best I have ever seen! My Ellis engraved straight is just gorgeous and every time I use it I stop and admire the engraving and just as importantly to me is how well the engraving is intergrated into the design so that the engraving and the blade and scales all complement themselves and none overwhelms the others. THey come together to make a simply beautiful piece.:thumbup1:
  13. I realized the two (etching and engraving) were not one and the same, but this is an extremely interesting read on the differences and techniques involved. Thanks Bill! Awesome photos too!
  14. Bill,

    Thanks for the detailed encapsulation of the two methods I have a couple of old Grelots that are ecthed but have a patina over them from aging or lack of care by prior owners. What is the preferred method of removing the patina and staining without removing the etching?

  15. Looks easy! I think I'll try it!!:wink:.....:biggrin:........:rolleyes:

    Great thread. Thanks for taking the time to reveal some of the magic that goes on behind the curtain.
  16. What is the clay/plastic looking stuff holding and protecting the blade?
  17. Removal of any kind of stain will likely remove many etches as well. It will not remove the deeper ones, but gold wash is a goner. Always use the least abrasive choice and then choose the coarser methods. A uniform patina looks good, but if it is blotchy or has any oxidation, then I'd remove it. Something as simple as shaving cream as medium on the end of a cloth and some elbow grease and an index finger can even work.

    It's called Thermo Loc. I get it from my engraving supply store. It comes in round rods about 10 inches long and I throw it in the microwave for about 25 seconds. The heat makes it like putty and you can mold it into different shapes or create holding jigs for the thing you are working on. When it cools, it becomes like a semi hard plastic that protects and holds everything in place.

    The best thing about the stuff is that you can use it over and over again by reheating it. It can be ordered with some dandy pre-formed slotted templates to help make what you are working on removable and put right back in place to do more work. If any of you want to get some of the stuff, ask for Linda. Tell her I sent you and ask her to explain more if you need it. And if you want to learn how to engrave... go ahead and sign up while you are at it. :biggrin:
  18. Great stuff Bill. It is always a treat to see a master craftsman share his work and his knowledge.

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