Cafe Interview with John Barraclough


Chief Administrator & Benevolent Dictator
Staff member
Nov 6, 2006
Covington, Louisiana
::: Engraving :::

Q. What's your name?
A. John K. Barraclough, and thank you for asking me to participate. I'm honored.

Q. Where are you from?
A. I have lived outside Los Angeles, California for the last 55 years. I'm originally from England.

Q. How long have you been engraving?
A. Sixty-one years, on and off.

Q. What made you want to become an engraver?
A. I like guns, knives and art and admired the combination of them.

Q. Are you a hobbyist or professional engraver?
A. I'm a kinda lazy professional who doesn't work as hard as I once did. Didn't turn pro until the 70's. I had a design business before that and just engraved on the side.

Q. How did you learn engraving?
A. I was first introduced to it by an old English gun maker in about 1945. He was very reluctant to help me and really wanted to keep it a big
secret. I was a young steeplechase jockey at the time he didn't think I had the right to any of his knowledge. Later I emigrated to the United States. In the late 70's I read in the American Rifleman that the NRA had established an engraving program at Trinidad State College in Colorado, to be taught by Neil Hartliep. What a difference. Neil loved to teach and shared information very freely. A fine and warm gentleman who became a friend to everyone who was lucky enough to know him.

Q. What was your biggest obstacle when you first started?
A. The reluctance to exchange information in the old days.

Q. Are you a hammer & chisel and/or push engraver, or do you use pneumatic tools, or a combination of hand and power?
A. For many years I used only hammer and chisel and push tools. I still enjoy these and use them often. But I do have all the power assist tools that I am aware of and enjoy using them too.

Q. What are your favorite books pertaining to engraving?
A. There are just so many great books available to us now it's almost impossible to name them all without forgetting important ones , but here goes.

The Art of Engraving by James B. Meek, fine scroll books by friend Ron Smith,
the great L. D. Nimschke, Engraver, all the great reference books by
R.L. Wilson, Modern Custom Guns and Custom Arms Engraving by Tom Turpin,
all the great Dover books, The Double Gun Journal.
The new "How To" book published by FEGA and as recently revised by Andrew Biggs
has a world of engraving information and tips for engravers.
Must not forget the great Italian books published by Marco Nobili, the
fine old books by books by Bergling and so many other great volumes.
So many books.... so little time.
We are blessed to have this great wealth of information available to us.

Q. Of the old masters, who's work is among your favorite?
A. If we are talking engravers I would have to say:-

Rene Delcour, the Master of so many of the wonderful Liege engravers.
Joseph Fugger who mentored Robert Swartley and Winston Churchill.
Harry Kell who guided Ken Hunt and many others.
Lynton McKenzie, an inspiration to Sam Alfano and so many others.
Neil Hartliep who encouraged Lynn Wright, Scott Pilkington and more.
Frank Hendricks, who shared his great knowledge so gracefully with all.
L. D . Nimschke who left us such remarkable record of American engraving.
Gustave Young and his family of engravers.
The great Ulrich family.
And so many more.
To spare you, I won't start on Old Masters of fine art, literature, music and dance.

Q. What's the worst engraving mistake you ever made, and how did you fix
A. Some folks would rightly say it was when I started an engraving in the first place! After all, it is a great way to mess up a talented metal smiths fine work LOL.

Seriously, it was cutting both scroll backbones fully where there should have been space left for intertwining. I fixed it by inlaying soft iron binding wire into part of the line. The repair was invisible after the piece was blued.

Q. What are the majority of your engraving jobs (guns, jewelry, etc)?
A. About 60% guns and 15% each of knives and scrimshaw for grips and bolas.

Q. What type of magnification do you use (microscope, Optivisor, etc)?
A. I use mostly an Optivisor. I have two fine microscopes which I am trying to teach myself to use more.

Q. What part of engraving do you find the most challenging or difficult?
A. I would have to say settling on a good design and layout. Lots of research, blood, sweat and tears to get something that fills the bill and feels right for the job. It can be a challenge, but also very rewarding when it falls into place.

Q. What part of an engraving job do you dislike the most, and why?
A. I don't seem to work very well with tight deadlines and pressure anymore. Many years of that in both the design and engraving fields. Answered the fire bell too many times. I mostly try to avoid such jobs.

Q. What's your favorite part of an engraving job, and why?
A. It has to be seeing a satisfied and happy client who gets just a little more than they expected. That's better than money in the bank.

Q. Do you like or dislike lettering, and why?
A. Lettering is not one of my favorite things. I do it when it is a part of a job. Unless it's an old customer I don't take on purely lettering jobs but refer them to some of the engravers who are more proficient at it. I do like cutting logos or monograms and gold inlay into roll marked lettering.

Q. What kinds of engraving do you refuse to do?
A. I don't like working on jewelery and don't do any of it. I'm not set up for it and don't have any experience with it.

Q. How do you rate the quality of engraving done today as opposed to 50 or 100 years ago?
A. I think for the most part that engraving has improved and continues to improve. The quality of the work done in the past is, for the most part remarkably good when you consider the tools, lighting and optics that were available. This is especially true of the fine banknote style done by the Old Masters. Some of fine scenes shown in the smoke pulls of Nimschke's best work would challenge a lot of engravers to equal today.

Q. Do you perceive any part of hand engraving as a dying art?
A. I wish there was more wood engraving going on. Many fine prints were made this way in the past. With all the newer techniques, this seem to be little used.

Q. What country or countries impress you with their highly skilled engravers?
A. Wow! That's a loaded question. I'm sure to forget some great ones if I try to start naming them. I will just say that I think the good old US of A takes no back seat to anyone and is constantly pushing the envelope. Today there is a world wide Renaissance of fine engraving. I see masterpiece engraving from many sources and countries.

Q. What affect has the Internet had on your hand engraving?
A. I'm late to the computer field and can see what I have missed. That said, the free exchange of ideas and information on the Internet is a great help and a valuable resource. I see it as a great tool for improvement in my skills.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn engraving?
A. Study, read and draw. Visit and be part of the forums. Ask questions, seek good advise. Simple tools are fine to start and learn with. Don't be in a hurry to buy every complex tool, learn how the tools cut first. If at all possible attend a hands on class and try everything out.
Photographs help but show the illusion that the engraver creates. Buy a few good castings from Fega or other good engravers to see the actual
cutting and depth. Family and friends mean well, but their evaluation may not be the best. Ask for and accept kind and fair evaluation from respected working engravers.

I will add an attachment here. It's a thing a gave to all my beginning students. Sam will decide if it is too long to be included. If it is included please feel free to download and print it if you wish. I enjoy it as a constant reminder above my bench.

::: Personal :::

Q. How many children do you have?
A. Two, a daughter and a son.

Q. What's the occupation of your wife/husband?
A. My lady love is a retired RDA Dental nurse. She is now a full time shopper and Corvette driver. Life is hard, but someone has to do it.

Q. If you have traveled, what was the most exciting country you visited and what did you enjoy most?

A. Coming to the United States was a highlight of my life. I most enjoyed the people, the freedom and opportunity that was available to me in America.
Q. Do you have an interesting experience while traveling that you'd like
to share?

A. My ship dodging icebergs in the North Atlantic on my journey to Canada in 1950. As I was on a Cunard liner at the time it brought up some thoughts about the fate of the Titanic.

Q. What's the most interesting experience you had when meeting people?
A. The sincere and warm friendships that I have enjoyed with the members of the engraving community. Great people.

Q. Besides engraving, what are your hobbies and interests?
A. Travel, mostly in the USA. So much to see, so little time. Building, reading, cooking, listening to music, animals, farming and history.

Q. Where is your favorite place to be?
A. Just about anywhere with friends and good people.

Q. What’s one thing of which you are most proud?
A. I was blown away when the Firearms Engraver Guild presented me with the James B. Meek lifetime award. I still don't believe it happened, it doesn't seem real. It's been given less than a handful of times. Wow, that's the closest I ever want to come to a heart attack.

Q. When you were a child, who was your hero?
A. Other than my Dad, it was the other Winston Churchill, the wartime Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Q. Tell us something few people know about you.
A. If you have read all this you already know more about me than you wanted to.

Q. Where were you on September 11, 2001?
A. At home, trying to believe what I was seeing and thinking that these people have started WW3.

Q. Do you have any pet peeves?
A. Not too fond of mean spirited, spiteful people.

Q. What is your favorite thing to do in your home town?
A. We have a lot of good Asian restaurants where we can chow down.

Q. If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be?
A. Can I say that anyone who likes good food and music and interesting conversation......... and is willing to pay the whole tab???? That's not nice, John! Seriously, too many, I can't name just one.

Q. What one person was most influential in your life?
A. The trainer I apprenticed to in racing, Dick Perryman.

Q. Who (living or deceased) would you most liked to have met?
A. I would have liked to spend time with president Ronald Reagan. I greatly admired his simple values, great courage and fine sense of humor.

Q. Describe what you would think of as a perfect day.
A. Finding beauty in the people and things around me.

Q. Tell us a good short, clean joke.
A. There is a preacher and a cowboy sitting next to one another on the airplane. The cabin attendant asks the cowboy what he would like to drink. He orders a large Scotch and water. When he is served the attendant asks the preacher if he would like a Scotch too. The preacher indignantly replies "I'd rather be tied up by a woman of ill repute who has her way with me than have liquor touch my lips." The cowboy says
"Gee, can I send this drink back, I didn't know we had a choice."

Q. Is there anything else you'd like to say to the folks reading this?
A. Thank you for looking at my ramblings. Hope it didn't bore you too much, keep enjoying the Cafe. Hope to see many of you in Reno.
Good bye, good health and good luck.



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Peter E

~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Nov 9, 2006
Canton CT
Great interview. John seems like a remarkable man that has had an interesting life to say the least.

I recall a post Andrew Biggs put out on the forums as a tribute to John's racing career and acknowledging the inspiration and support given by John in Andrews learning engraving.

It would indeed be a pleasure to meet him.


Andrew Biggs

Nov 10, 2006
Christchurch, New Zealand
Great interview. John is a one in a million human being. He has more tricks under his engraving belt than Batman. You name it and John has 3 tools and methods of doing it. There are a lot of engravers out there that John has helped in their careers and is still doing so.

Best wishes


~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Nov 8, 2006
Ludington, MI
Great interview! What it doesn't tell you is that John has probably taught more engravers than just about anyone. And I must add... A true gentleman!!!


Elite Cafe Member
Nov 9, 2006
Arvada, CO
I guess you guys are right, that Bearclaw is a pretty good guy.;)
My first engraving class was with John, he taught a great class and had tons of information. He was very supportive then and has continued to be over the years. I owe John alot.

John, we'll all have to get together for dinner one night in Reno. Darcy and I are glad you two are doing well.


Dave London

~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Nov 12, 2006
Thanks Sam & John
Although we have never met it comes through that John B is a great artist and gentleman. Dave

Tim Wells

~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Nov 9, 2006
Dallas, Georgia
I just love this stuff! Great questions and a superb idea in the first place. Sam, I hope you archive these interviews. Mark my words; they are already treasures and will become more valuable to our hearts as the years go by.


Elite Cafe Member
Nov 9, 2006
Thanks to both of you Sam and John. I know both of you and rode through the interview as though I was sitting in Johns living room with you while the interview was unfolding.
Great idea for these interviews Sam.

John B.

:::Pledge Member:::
::::Pledge Member::::
Nov 9, 2006
Los Angeles area, California.
I better not try to mention you all by name and maybe forget someone.
It is heartfelt when I say that I want to thank you all for your kind and generous words and for reading my ramblings.
It's a great honor to be surrounded by such wonderfully talented and giving people on this forum.
I look forward to seeing all your interviews and learning more about the deep well of knowledge from which you speak.
If I may, as many of you did, I must single out our hosts and thank Sam and Abigail for creating this fantastic format for the free exchange of ideas.
Also a special thank you to my computer guru Andrew in New Zealand for pulling my chestnuts out of the fire by reworking my photograph.
Thank you all, stay well. Hope to see many of you In Reno.
May I wish you all a great Holiday season and a Merry Christmas.
John B.
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Elite Cafe Member
Nov 13, 2006
Mr. Barraclough,
Have you had any good plum brandy after a great asian meal, lately.

Andrew Biggs

Nov 10, 2006
Christchurch, New Zealand
Here are some more photos of John's beautiful work.