Engraving Glass

Recently, Eric introduced me to the craft of glass engraving. It has always been something I’ve been interested in doing, even before I started down the road of being a letter-carver, so I was all too excited to give it a try.

Self-portrait of a would-be glass engraver…or horror movie baddie.

Self-portrait of a would-be glass engraver…or horror movie baddie.

Generally, glass engraving itself is the process of abrading, or scratching, a shape into the surface of glass. This can be done myriad ways, including by hand with a steel graver or scriber, but nowadays people usually use a dentist drill or a Dremel. Using these contraptions, a small diamond ball, or burr, spins at high speed and is used to engrave the glass. 

Eric’s Dremel motor attachment used for glass engraving.

Eric’s Dremel motor attachment used for glass engraving.

Eric had an old Dremel motor with a sort of pen attachment which he used to engrave glass, though everyone’s set up can be different. After speaking with Eric about the limitations and annoyances of working with the generally cumbersome corded attachment, I was able to find a battery-operated engraving pen online. This little tool, which is about the size of a large marker, allows for more control due to its decreased weight and absence of a cord. We’ve since each purchased one and they have become a primary engraving tool!

The process of engraving is a bit like letter-carving: you start with a drawing, then pounce it down on the glass, then start engraving. 

As most glass vessels are round or shapely, you will most likely not be working on a flat surface, so you have to take that into account when designing. Eric had me draw on tracing paper, which helped when I was trying to find the proper placement on a pair of wine glasses I wanted to engrave.

One of my designs pounced down onto a gouache surface.

One of my designs pounced down onto a gouache surface.

Once I had finished my drawings, Eric told me I should paint the glasses with either gouache or acrylic paint, so that I would have an opaque surface to pounce, or transfer, my design down onto using carbon paper.

Let the engraving begin!

Let the engraving begin!

With the design was down, Eric showed me how to engrave, which is basically scratching away the painted surface within the outline of the letters. It was a little tricky getting the hang of it (especially trying to avoid skipping the drill off of the glass), but I went slowly and did a little bit at a time, which helped me gradually gain confidence.

(Oh, I should mention I practiced on a milk bottle - Eric’s go-to practice vessel for engraving - before I tried engraving the wine glasses.)

My first glass engraving on a milk bottle: Holy Cow.

In order to practice building up letters, I engraved the centers of all of the letter strokes then washed the paint off and finished engraving freehand. As a result, my letters are far from perfect, but not having the safety net of the drawn outlines has raised the stakes of the engraving and forced me to really evaluate each letter as I build it up.

Building the letter from the initial rough engraving.

Building the letter from the initial rough engraving.

The wine glasses came out pretty rough, but I think they are a good starting point from which to build on. I’ve really enjoyed learning to engrave glass, and I can certainly see myself doing it for many years to come!

The first finished glass.

The first finished glass.

The second finished glass.

The second finished glass.