Cafe interview with J.J. Roberts


Chief Administrator & Benevolent Dictator
Staff member
Nov 6, 2006
Covington, Louisiana
Occasionally, out of the clear blue, I've received a letter in the mail from J.J. Roberts. It might be an interesting article on hand engraving or maybe a copy of an article about an engraving handpiece from a really old American Rifleman magazine. I've grown to love these little surprises he sends! I don't believe J.J. and I have ever met in person, but I feel like I've know him for years. Of course you all know him as well. He's a frequent contributor in the Cafe and he's always here sharing advice and helping others. He exemplifies what the Cafe is all about.

J.J. came up through the engraving ranks the hard way, without the benefits of classes, videos, helpful forums and the free sharing of information we now take for granted. Back in the day you struggled, practiced, made a mess of things, and repeated the process until some things started to click. This tenacity and determination make him the man he is today, and I feel honored to know him.

Please give a round of applause for our own J.J. Roberts! :clapping::clapping;

::: Engraving :::

Q. What's your name?
A. James J. Roberts (J.J.)

Q. Where are you from?
A Kearny, NJ.

Q. How long have you been engraving?
A. It all started when I received James Meek's book in 1973.

Q. What made you want to become an engraver?
A. The first engraved gun I saw in a Stoger catalog in 1952, and in 1972 I was given a copy of Gun Digest.

Q. Are you a hobbyist or professional engraver?
A. Full time professional.

Q. How did you learn engraving?
A. Trial and error and lots of practice.

Q. What was your biggest obstacle when you first started?
A. Sharpening and tool control.

Q. Are you a hammer & chisel and/or push engraver, or do you use
pneumatic tools, or a combination of hand and power?
A. I, like many engravers back in the early 70s, used hammer & chisel and push gravers, and that's what I started with, but now in addition I also use the Lindsay Palm Control.

Q. What are your favorite books pertaining to engraving?
A. The Art of Engraving by James Meek.

Q. Of the old engraving masters, whose work is among your favorite?
A. Nimschke, Joseph Loy.

Q. What's the worst engraving mistake you ever made, and how did you fix it?
A. Slips with the hand graver. Fixed with hours of burnishing and polishing.

Q. What are the majority of your engraving jobs (guns, jewelry, etc)?
A. Sporting arms, pistols & knives.

Q. What type of magnification do you use (microscope, Optivisor, etc)?
A. I have a microscope, but use my Optivisors more.

Q. What part of engraving do you find the most challenging or difficult?
A. Sitting at my drafting table and trying to fit a design into an odd shape.

Q. What part of an engraving job do you dislike the most, and why?
A. I find lettering boring.

Q. What's your favorite part of an engraving job, and why?
A. Engraving animals and birds on sporting arms.

Q. Do you like or dislike lettering, and why?
A. I like script lettering which comes easy, maybe because of my good penmanship, but block is not my favorite.

Q. What kinds of engraving do you refuse to do?
A. I refuse to do initials and names by themselves.

Q. How do you rate the quality of engraving done today as opposed to
50 or 100 years ago?
A. It's really exciting to see the beautiful engraving that is being done here in American and around the world.

Q. Do you perceive any part of hand engraving as a dying art?
A. If anything i's alive and well, like no other time before.

Q. What country or countries impress you with their highly skilled engravers?
A. Italy and Germany.

Q. What affect has the internet had on your hand engraving?
A. When I receive a call from a client or student I ask them where they heard about me, and the internet is one answer.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn engraving?
A. Find a good teacher and to look over your shoulder and guide you.

::: Personal :::

Q. How many children do you have?
A. Three children..two daughters, son, and three grandchildren.

Q. What's the occupation of your wife/husband?
A. Retired from office administration and she collects & deals in costume jewelry both on the net and in an antique shop.

Q. If you have traveled, what was the most exciting country you
visited and what did you enjoy most?
A. I have never left the USA.

Q. What's the most interesting experience you had when meeting people?
A. Many people are amazed when they see hand engraving in person.

Q. Besides engraving, what are your hobbies and interests?
A. Collecting art and antiques, bird watching, drawing, walking my dog, or riding my bike.

Q. Where is your favorite place to be?
A. At home engraving and teaching.

Q. What's one thing of which you are most proud?
A. My three children and my grandchildren.

Q. When you were a child, who was your hero?
A. Roy Rogers who I met at a rodeo in NYC at the old Madison Square Garden in the 1940s.

Q. Tell us something few people know about you.
A. I spent my life in the printing trade.

Q. Where were you on September 11, 2001?
A. At home, I just sat down to eat breakfast and turned on the tv and the one tower was smoking. I yelled to my wife and in the next instant the second plane hit the other tower.

Q. Do you have any pet peeves?
A. People driving and talking on a cell phone.

Q. What is your favorite thing to do in your home town?
A. Going to antique shows & shops and used book stores.

Q. If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be?
A. Engraver Winston Churchill.

Q. What one person was most influential in your life?
A. My mother, my father and the WWII vets who trained and helped me in the printing trade.

Q. Who (living or deceased) would you most liked to have met?
A. Artist Andrew Wyeth.

Q. Describe what you would think of as a perfect day.
A. Have my children and grandchildren at home with me and my wife.

Q. Tell us a good short, clean joke.
A. Marriage is the only war where you get to sleep with the enemy.

Q. Is there anything else you'd like to say to the folks reading this?
A. Keep experimenting and pass on your knowledge. Keep up the good work.

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~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Nov 11, 2006
outside Albany in SW GA
Thanks JJ and Sam. I first saw JJ's work in Roger's first book back about 81. It is delightful to see his current work and read his great advise. Thank You JJ for continuing to share with us you wisdom and insights. Fred


~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Apr 10, 2007
Rockville, MD
JJ's passion and enthusiasm for hand engraving is genuine, generous, infectious and quite inspiring! JJ is always willing to talk about and share what he knows about engraving. It's a joy to talk to him. I have had many interesting conversations with JJ about art. He has a wide range of interests and insights that capture his breadth of knowledge and experience. This interview just begins to capture JJ's creativity and talent as an artist. Oh, and what a collection of books on art, guns and hand engraving.

Doc Mark

~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Nov 16, 2006
Hampton, Virginia
I met J.J. at Ken Hurst's first get together about 3 years ago. He is a fun, stimulating and informative ol' cuss, and I'm proud to have had the chance to talk to him on several occasions. He is always willing to share his vast knowledge of engraving and many students can base their ultimate success on having had him for a teacher. I'll miss not seeing him at Ken's this year.


Elite Cafe Member
Jan 17, 2007
Lincroft, NJ
Great interview. Met JJ at Ken Hurst's house as well. He is a great guy and good friend that has really been honest with his critiques and shared his knowledge.
Thanks Sam and thanks JJ!

Tim Wells

~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Nov 9, 2006
Dallas, Georgia
J.J is one fine gentleman. In fact, every time I think of him or Jim Small, that is the first thing that comes to mind, that timeless character trait of being a gentleman.

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