Concerning the business of engraving.

Jonathan.Silas

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This may be one of the more ignorant questions ever to grace this forum, so I will apologize in advance. But how does one actually go from scratching in copper, steel and silver to actually getting paid. Do you gentlemen (and ladies) make what you want then just post it for sale? Do you take practice plates to jewelry stores and ask for work? What about mail order work? I'm not yet near ready to take on paying work, but a surprise divorce has left me at something of a crossroads. I'm trying to make what plans I can because the next few years are going to be ones of massive change. My current job has been stable if low paying for the last 13 years, on my own it is not going to be nearly enough. Considering moving into HVAC and getting up every morning at 5 to practice my cuts until I'm confident enough to take on engraving jobs.... but and this is the point of this rambling, what is the best way for a neophyte to do that? Ide love to hear the opinions, feedback, and general wisdom of those of you that have made this journey before.

Best regards
Jon
 

John B.

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Hello Jon, and sorry to hear of your divorce and financial problems.
I believe I read that you engrave with hammer and chisel and that is a strength in marketing.
If you can attend a few decent gun shows this is a plan that worked for me and many of my students.
Before the show, while at home, where you can take the time to get it right, cut the lines and borders on some parts or steel belt buckle banks.
At the show start the undercuts for inlaying the borders, using H&C.
Be sure to have your graver in a metal handle.
The tap-tap of the hammer on the steel graver handle will draw a crowd around you to see what is going on.
Stop and talk to the people, take the work out of the vise and pass it around.
Also pass the gold or silver inlay wire around.
Then proceed to inlay some wire into the borders and stone or sand it down.
Pass the work piece and the wire around again.
The person that hangs around is your potential customer.
Be sure to talk to them, give them a business card and answer their questions.
You should have some finished steel belt buckles with inlaid borders on display and ready for sale.
This system will work well if you want to get into gun and/or knife engraving.
A variation of it will work at a jewelry/music show using silver buckles or instrument parts if you want to get into jewelry or musical instrument engraving.
I strongly advise against doing quick engraving jobs at the shows.
The quality and pay is poor and it lowers the value of your skill to the level of "while you wait Mall engraving."
Sorry for the long spiel. But best of luck for a successful future.
 
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Jonathan.Silas

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John

Thank you for the feed back, I actually have an classic airgraver rather than hammer and chisel but I can see where the same concept might work if I could get a spot with power and a silent compressor. I'm also fortunate to live only about 45 minutes away from Louisville where a large national gunshow put on in the fall and spring so I'll have to see what requirements they have for a booth. I totally agree about the quicky engraving, ide far rather do fewer better quality, better paying pieces, rather than just knock out one hack job after another.
 

Big-Un

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My start many years ago was cutting polished sidecutters on the construction site, the folks started bringing me their Buck 110's or similar Gerber folding hunters where I engraved the bolsters. I admit it was very crude in the early days, but they did actually pay for them. I never did anything for "consignment," if you know what I mean. If you want free advice from family, you'll get all the positive remarks you can handle from them, and "free" is relative, as their admiration is because they expect a "free" knife or whatever from you.

If you can afford to, get a small space at a local gun show and tap away, as Mr John mentioned, and just talk to people. I did that in my early years also and made the mistake of cutting initials and names on guns at the show, something you could do without much interference from the Feds in the late '70's. It wasn't worth the effort as it left people with the impression of being a "mall" type business even before there was such. Present yourself as a true professional and you will be viewed as one. Remember, people don't know you as well as you know yourself, so be bold but not brash and be THE PROFESSIONAL ENGRAVER they want to meet.

Good luck on your new found (although unexpected) venture into a new life.

Bill
 

papart1

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WOW..........NICE STUFF HERE, everyone has past along personal experiences that benefit alot of starters here on the forum, me included, thanks gents. paps
 

Tim Wells

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I'd say, don't let your current situation and need for an income boost fool you into seeking work too early. I've seen (we all have) folks who commit to engraving a firearm and absolutely ruining it because they have not studied enough, practiced enough to know what they don't know. It will dawn on them when they look at that piece a year later shaking their head. I did.

Let your situation give you the hunger to knuckle down and draw, draw, draw, and then study and critique your own designs until you work out all the common newbie mistakes. Then, cut some practice pieces.

If they look good both in design and execution, then make some sample pieces to show clients. Hanging your shingle out too soon before you're ready can undermine a reputation you are just beginning to build. Once known, it is hard to shake and takes years to change minds. Be careful and good luck.
 

allan621

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There is a lot of great advice here. Tim is right, don't rush into putting out work until it is ready. But there is another bit of advice I have to give. It comes from the first master engraver who agreed to teach me. He told me that the moment you have decided to one day make money from engraving, you are in business. You employ yourself. You have to work harder for yourself than you do for somebody else.

Set yourself a firm schedule for drawing, so many hours a day, 6 days a week. Set a firm schedule for cutting metal, so many hours a day, six days a week. If one day you will get to it, then just do this for enjoyment not money.

I am beginning to retire from jewelry engraving and getting into scrollwork engraving. But old habits die hard. I draw three hours a day and cut metal 2 hours a day along with my regular work. Its work. But enjoyable work. Hang in there.

Allan
 

monk

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dave london said it right. the meeks book got me started doing 2x3" practice plates. when my skill improved, i decided to make the 2x3 idea to do belt buckles. they were easy to sell. the buckles got me enough cash to begin buying toys. the first was a gravermeister. from there, i gradually improved as did the cash.
 

Jonathan.Silas

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dave london said it right. the meeks book got me started doing 2x3" practice plates. when my skill improved, i decided to make the 2x3 idea to do belt buckles. they were easy to sell. the buckles got me enough cash to begin buying toys. the first was a gravermeister. from there, i gradually improved as did the cash.


Several of you have recommended belt buckles, do you all have an example of what you mean? Are we talking about the large flashy rodeo buckles? Or just regular fittings on standard belts? Do you have a source for blanks, or is this something that I'm going to need to learn how to fabricate myself? I really appreciate all the feedback.
 

JJ Roberts

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When I got the book Art of Engraving by James Meek in 1973 I got some tools and practiced for two years on just practice plates,then the gun shows looking for gun parts to engraving.My engraving started to look fair not great and I started to do gun shows and got small work floor plates,trigger guards my first client gave me a Colt SAA and a 94 Winchester.Back then there was no one to go to for advice you were on your own there were no power hones you had to sharpen your graver by hand and all the engraving was with hammer, chisel and hand push gravers.For me it's been a wonderful experience I got to meet and make many friends.James Meek is my hero he got engraving a jump start here in the U.S. J.J.
 
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Grayson

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Military style belt buckles on EBay, ID tags on McMaster Carr, any brass fitting (I do Al tube caps and bottoms for fly rod tubes) such as percussion cappers for muzzle loaders ... Rant mode on: I was paralyzed for years by, "When I apprenticed in Antwerp, I had to draw for 18 years before they let me touch a graver ..." John Schippers book liberated me. He told his readers to take his designs and copy them. Get off the practice plates and onto little stuff for sale and gifts as soon as you are able, he wrote. Meanwhile, there was a great exercise where he had me trace a design 50X, copy from sight 50X and draw de novo 50X. That helped! Schippers' book is pricey, even if you aren't on a tight budget, but interlibrary loan is free. I'm still winding up to do my first gun, but meanwhile, engraving is boosting my rod sales and bringing me some tube caps from grateful customers.

Ray Cover told me I should draw a mayfly adult, but I was paralyzed. JJ Roberts taught me that even I could draw if I gave myself a chance. He said if you can just draw one good one, it will get better every time you cut it. Now I have a mayfly adult, a nymph, a dry fly, wet fly, several bluegills, and a channel cat. They can all go on a tube cap or belt buckle.

Thanks, Ray! Thanks JJ!
 

Grayson

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When I got the book Art of Engraving by James Meek in 1973 I got some tools and practiced for two years on just practice plates,then the gun show looking for gun parts to engraving.My engraving started to look fair not great and I started to do gun shows and got small work floor plates,triggers my real clint gave me a Colt SAA and a 94 Winchester.Back then there was no one to go to for advice you were on your own there were no power hones you had to sharpen your graver by hand and all the engraving was with hammer & chisel.For me it's been wonderful experience got to meet and make many friends.James Meek is my hero he got engraving a jump start here in the U.S. J.J.
JJ, you're great!
 

JJ Roberts

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Grayson,Thanks glad to see everything is going well for you I now have my own face book site check it out, J.J.Roberts School of Artistic Engraving.
 

tdelewis

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Just a thought, I never put a name on a gun and advise people against it. Why, because you never know what will happen to the gun after you are gone. It may actually devalue the gun unless it is a very famous person who is asking you to do it. Putting names on other items such as fobs and doing inscriptions will be your best bet. Even the more seasoned engravers will tell you that doing inscriptions will bring in more money in the beginning than anything else.
 

gcleaker

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Holy cow volumes of incredible advice so far. The best knifes that I have found to engrave are Case, Buck, and American made Kershaw leeks. Why Case? Because they simply sell, as do the others that I have pointed out. Set up at gun and knife shows, but don’t sell your work until the end of the show or mark it sold and ship it to the buyer or have them pick it up at the end of the show, that way you have some of your work to show off. Presenting yourself as a professional, business cards, by appointments only and pressing the flesh are the best tools for sales, having someone refer you is king. Sending a thankyou note to the person that referred you lets them know that you value them. My first resale gun was a Ruger LCP it didn’t cost much but I more than doubled the cost when I sold it and have not looked back, working my way up the latter in the gun value that I buy and sell. I will add more to the cost if I inlay gold or silver. I took a lot of time to find a dealer / collector and he now buys everything that I bring to him. However, I am always looking for other buyers as not to put all my eggs in one basket. I prefer to buy what I want to engrave, and then engrave it the way I want to. This helps me to avoid the presser of deadlines as I must work a fulltime job for bills and healthcare Ins. and just life problems in general. Engraving is my retirement plan and that is still 3 to 6 years away. Making your name is often as important as what you are doing.
 

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