Cafe Interview with Sam Welch


~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Nov 9, 2006
Doylestown, PA
Thread starter #1
The Engraver's Cafe is pleased to bring you another great interview from one of our very own members. It's always a pleasure to find out more about someone, especially when he has the skill and experience of a lifetime at this art.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Sam Welch.

::: Engraving :::

Q. What's your name?
A. Sam Welch. Actually my first name is George but only my brother calls me that, and only when he is mad at me.

Q. Where are you from?
A. I was born and raised in southwest Arkansas though I spent my first 1 1/2 years in Paso Robles, CA and have lived also in Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Alaska, and of course Utah. Also spent some time on Guam.

Q. How long have you been engraving?
A. I started studying engraving in '67, so that comes to 40 years.

Q. What made you want to become an engraver?
A. I had the great good fortune to be a neighbor of Ray Viramontez in '67 and was introduced to the art by him. Ray learned to engrave from Werner Schuck in Germany while stationed there with the USAF. I was impressed that a mere mortal could do that work and jumped at Ray's offer to show me how it was done.

Q. Are you a hobbyist or professional engraver?
A. I started with the idea of it being a hobby that I could develop and someday in retirement have something really interesting to do. The more I got into it the more I preferred it over my "day" job with the National Weather Service. I was part-time from '78 to '85 and full-time thereafter.

Q. How did you learn engraving?
A. After Ray showed me the basics of scroll and inlay, I have been teaching myself ever since. There has been a lot of help along the way from Ray and other engravers, FEGA, and of course from studying many, many photos of engraving. And lots of experience.

Q. What was your biggest obstacle when you first started?
A. My biggest obstacle was I think universal...that of sharpening a tool that would cut a good clean line and go where I wanted it to go, which is probably more important than a clean line.

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 started with hammer and chisel and must admit that at the time it seemed to have a certain mystic appeal to me. However, in '74 I bought a Gravermeister and never really looked back. That coupled with an optivisor and really "getting into" the work helped a lot in learning what kind of tool shape worked and how it worked. Though the pneumatic hammer provides power, I have always thought of it more as providing control. I probably use less of the power side than most, so yes, I do some pushing. I still have my hammer and resort to it at times for punching in iron wire, or platinum. Also some chasing.

Q. What are your favorite books pertaining to engraving?
A. My first book was the second edition of Gun Engraving Review and I spent many hours studying the photos. However, Meek's book The Art of Engraving would be my choice as it contains so much useful information on how to engrave. Just about every thing I do is in that book in one form or another. I of course have many other books now with photos of great current work from all over the world and cherish them all!

Q. Of the old engraving masters, whose work is among your favorite?
A. I have grown to like many of them but my first favorite and a lasting choice was Kornbrath.

Q. What's the worst engraving mistake you ever made, and how did you fix it?
A. Probably the worst "mistake" was taking in a Ruger O/U stainless shotgun that was so hard that I almost couldn't engrave it. I got through that one and swore off of them from then on. I did once misread instructions and put a number in the wrong place. It was easily fixed with iron inlay (using cuttings from the same gun). Otherwise I can't think of any real "ooops" types of mistakes.

Q. What is the majority of your engraving jobs (guns, jewelry, etc)?
A. I started with gun engraving and have pretty much stuck with that. I have done a few knives, mostly to be cased with a gun I engraved, and have done a few bolo ties. The name of my business is Sam Welch Gun Engraving which seems to ward off other types of customers.

Q. What type of magnification do you use (microscope, Optivisor, etc)?
A. I use a #10 Optivisor for all my cutting. I do have a microscope and occasionally will use it to do some detail work such as sculpting an eyeball, or nostril, etc. When I first got the 'scope I sat down, cranked it up to 30 power and proceeded to cut my name. Looked like I was cutting the Grand Canyon. When I finished I backed away and took a was too small to read. That toned down my enthusiasm right off.

Q. What part of engraving do you find the most challenging or difficult?
A. Well, the most difficult is hard metal which eats tool points. The most challenging is the art work...also the most rewarding I think for most engravers.

Q. What part of an engraving job do you dislike the most, and why?
A. I don't dislike any of it but polishing comes close. Especially when there are lots of tool marks that are deeper than shading lines and must be gotten rid of. Eats up a lot of time I would rather spend cutting metal.

Q. What's your favorite part of an engraving job, and why?
A. The favorite part is watching the design as it develops, especially scenes. I can, fortunately, watch this for hour upon hour, which is what it takes to engrave a design in the first place. As to why, I'm just wierd I suppose.

Q. Do you like or dislike lettering, and why?
A. You can usually tell if an engraver came into the trade through gun engraving or jewelry engraving by their approach (like or dislike) of lettering. Jewelry engravers learn lettering first and like it. Gun engravers learn lettering last and tolerate it. I have gotten past the toleration point but it took a long time.

Q. What kinds of engraving do you refuse to do?
A. I have been asked over the years to do some work for which I just don't either have the proper tools or proper experience, such as lettering, especially inside rings or that type of work. I also don't plan to learn how or gather the proper tools. I can't say I have been approached to do something I thought improper as yet but then my time frame and price would tend to send that kind of client elsewhere.

Q. How do you rate the quality of engraving done today as opposed to 50 or 100 years ago?
A. Indeed today's collection of top engravers are far ahead of the past engravers...but then look whose shoulders they had available to stand on. In fact I think there are a lot of really talented engravers today and thanks to our better communications are pushing the art way ahead.

Q. Do you perceive any part of hand engraving as a dying art?
A. With the internet bringing engravers together from around the world, thanks to sites such as this, it not only isn't dying at all, but greatly expanding. In fact, with so much knowledge and help available today I think I could really get good...if I weren't so old. This is a way of saying that I expect the young engravers of today to be better and better tomorrow! I engraved for 13 years before I met or talked with another engraver, other than Ray Viramontez, and also before I attended my first gun show. That was in '80 when our group got together to discuss the forming of the guild that became FEGA. Boy have times changed!! But! And there is that word. I don't really see anyone doing the banknote style that Robert Swartley does.

Q. What country or countries impress you with their highly skilled engravers?
A. What can I say? Belgium, U.K., Italy, France, U.S.A., are obvious choices and I know I am leaving out some fine engravers though I don't mean to. I used to be surprised when an unknown engraver of quality suddenly appeared as if from nowhere, but it seems to happen much more often these days. I'm sure the internet has a lot to do with this and all for the better.

Q. What affect has the internet had on your hand engraving?
A. I am not sure it has had much if any affect on my engraving but it surely is helping those who are just beginning the journey. I think FEGA has had a tremendous affect on my engraving and my life for that matter, long before the internet came about. All the lifelong friends I have made from being involved with the guild and all the friendly competition have added significantly to the enjoyment of life for me. It is what spurred me to resign a good paying job to chase the dream. I have never regretted the change.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn engraving?
A. Get Meek's book The Art of Engraving, read it numerous times, and then either find a nearby engraver who will help, or attend the Reno show each year, and yes, be sure to have a computer and internet access. But above all, study and practice. If you don't enjoy that, try something else.

::: Personal :::

Q. How many children do you have?
A. I have one son and grandson, and one stepson and stepgranddaughter.

Q. What's the occupation of your wife/husband?
A. My late wife, Wilma, was an office manager for the Kodiak Island Borough (county) and before that a clerk for the district judge.

Q. If you have traveled, what was the most exciting country you visited and what did you enjoy most?
A. I was in Texas once. Took me 15 months to get out. Actually, my only real travel was Alaska. I worked all over the state for a while before settling in Kodiak. I was on Shemya at the end of the Aleutians, Cold Bay, Kotzebue, Unalakleet, Yakutat, Chandalar Lake, Barrow and Point Barrow, Summit, King Salmon (hunting) and a lot of back country. You haven't lived until you spend a winter in northern Alaska! I did spend 6 months on Guam in '66 with the USAF working with the B-52 heavy bomb wing as a meteorologist.

Q. Do you have an interesting experience while traveling that you'd like to share?
A. There were lots of interesting experiences in Alaska but not just one that stands out. I will say that when you shoot a moose, the joke is on you!

Q. What's the most interesting experience you had when meeting people?
A. Not so much interesting experiences as interesting people. One of the Colonels I worked with in Georgia had been the bombardier on the Enola Gay. There were several other people along that line that I had the pleasure of meeting.

Q. Besides engraving, what are your hobbies and interests?
A. I probably have too many interests/hobbies, but I enjoy them all. Old cars, old radios, astronomy, history, model aircraft to name a few. Engraving tops them all.

Q. Where is your favorite place to be?
A. I am probably happiest right here at home. I have my work bench and hobbies to keep each and every day filled and all the beautiful scenery you could want. And the climate is good and it is very quiet and peaceful here. We only have about 300 people in Castle Valley with no commercial property and minimum lot size is 5 acres so plenty of elbow room. I am also blessed with great neighbors.

Q. What's one thing of which you are most proud?
A. My son.

Q. When you were a child, who was your hero?
A. I think when I was a child I wasn't smart enough to have a hero. Dad was great and I suppose that would be the choice.

Q. Tell us something few people know about you.
A. I'm very shy. Well, what are you laughing at?

Q. Where were you on September 11, 2001?
A. I went to Moab for shopping and had stopped at the local auto parts store for the morning coffee clutch that gathers there. When someone told me about an airliner flying into the trade tower I thought it was a very poor joke. Alas, if only it had been.

Q. Do you have any pet peeves?
A. Yes, people who come around curves on my side of the road!!! GRRRR!!

Q. What is your favorite thing to do in your home town?
A. There really isn't anything to "do" in Castle Valley, except of course enjoy my own property and lifestyle...I guess enjoying each day would fit this question.

Q. If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be?
A. If we are talking live people, I guess whoever would pay the bill. If we are including people from the past, probably Winston Churchill. (WSC)

Q. What one person was most influential in your life?
A. That would have to be Dad. He put me to work at an early age and taught me it wouldn't hurt. I can in fact lay right down beside it and sleep like a babe.

Q. Who (living or deceased) would you most liked to have met?
A. That would be a toss-up between Winston Churchill and Michelangelo.
There are many others who would qualify to be sure.

Q. Describe what you would think of as a perfect day.
A. Each new day is perfect, until proven otherwise and that seldom happens. When you are doing what you want to do, how could it be otherwise?

Q. Tell us a good short, clean joke.
A. I hear a lot of jokes but I never seem to remember them. I really do have a good sense of humor. Really!

Q. Is there anything else you'd like to say to the folks reading this?
A. Yeah, get back to engraving, you are wasting time!



~ Elite 1000 Member ~
::::Pledge Member::::
Jan 31, 2007
Castle Valley, UT in the Red Rock country
Good morning gentlemen. Thanks for the kind words. Andrew, just think of me as little george welchington , I cannot tell a lie! See, I do have a sense of humor. Glen, give my regards to Mr. Long. Johnny B, it has been a long and cherished friendship.
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Chief Administrator & Benevolent Dictator
Staff member
Nov 6, 2006
Covington, Louisiana
Brilliant interview. Brilliant engraving. True gentleman if there every was one. Thanks for taking the time to do this, Sam. You have a big fan base out there, including me.

~The other Sam


~ Elite 1000 Member ~
::::Pledge Member::::
Jan 31, 2007
Castle Valley, UT in the Red Rock country
Gosh Sam, you set a high standard there. I guess that means I will have to be nice to everyone, all the time. A tough row to hoe! And thanks for the compliments, not to mention your service to our engraving family with this web site. Regards, S.

Hi Steve. Glad you like them and thank you! S


~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Nov 8, 2006
Ludington, MI
Thanks for doing the interview and showing some photos! Needless to say, I've known you long enough to know your first name was George! I also know the on the Engravers Choice Award plaque, the name Welch appears more than anyone else!!! You've been an inspiration for many over the years including one Michigan engraver!!

Peter E

~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Nov 9, 2006
Canton CT
These interviews are really excellent. A pleasure to read and see such superb work.

As was already said many times and will continue i'm sure....this is a great forum.

Thanks to all.



~ Elite 1000 Member ~
::::Pledge Member::::
Jan 31, 2007
Castle Valley, UT in the Red Rock country
Dwayne, you are so right! I count my blessings every day. I have for a long time now thought that happyness is "an inside job" to quote myself and give thanks every day for that blessing. And to know so many fine people in the engraving community is high on my list. Thank you! S

PS...Rex, have you upgraded FEGA 1 to a starship yet??


~ Elite 1000 Member ~
::::Pledge Member::::
Jan 31, 2007
Castle Valley, UT in the Red Rock country
Rex, a new compressor isn't that big a deal...especially in hot and humid wx. Of course the labor and freon adds up on top of it.

Thanks Weldon! Isn't that your shotgun on the front of The Engraver? Looking forward to that issue! S