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Hand Engraving Glossary - by Roger Bleile -  Sponsored by Steve Lindsay  -  Leave Feedback

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American Engravers
The 21st Century

C. Roger Bleile

ACANTHUS – A decorative leaf design used in a variety of ways by arms and bank note engravers as well as wood carvers. The acanthus plant is common to the Mediterranean region. German engravers refer to acanthus decoration as "Arkantuslaub" and in French, "feuilles d'acanthe."

At left is pictured a simple acanthus drawing. At middle are the beautifully sculpted acanthus leaf fences of a Belgian August Francotte shotgun, right is a line cut acanthus leaf engraved on a pocket watch case. 

Working from a spring-pulse design by Frank Lindsay (father of Steve Lindsay) in 1979, an improved self oscillation piston principle was patented in 2000 by Steve Lindsay.  The Air Chasing Graver later evolved into the Classic AirGraver made by
Steve Lindsay Engraving & Tools of Kearney, Nebraska.  The patented device can operate with very little air pressure or air volume. In fact, by simply blowing in it or attaching it to a toy balloon, the tool will idle. Instead of a spring for the return or impact stroke, the device uses air pressure for both directions. As a result, the piston always stays balanced and low or high air pressures can be used without one side overpowering the other causing the piston to float, which can occur with the spring-pulse design.

AIRGRAVER™ – AirGraver™ is a trade name for pneumatic powered, freehand engraving tools designed and manufactured by Steve Lindsay Engraving & Tools of Kearney, Nebraska. The tool runs from direct steady air flow and can be setup to operate from palm push pressure of a users hand (PalmControl™) or by a foot pedal and utilizes either an air compressor or CO2 cartridges for portability.

AIRTACT™ – An add on control system which works in conjunction with a GraverMach™, GraverMax SC™, GraverMax™, or GraverMate™ air impact, freehand engraving system. The Airtact™ is designed to allow operation of an air assisted graver by hand or finger pressure without the necessity of a foot pedal. There are five components to an engraving system using Airtact™: Airtact control box, air pulse control box, hand piece, a graver, and air compressor. Designed and manufactured by GRS Tools of Emporia, Kansas.

ALTDEUTSCHER LAUBGRAVUR – German term meaning old German leaf engraving. Austrian engravers use this term to describe what American engravers call German floral or "Black Leaf" engraving.

Pictured at left is a small segment from a rifle barrel engraved in Black Leaf by Winston G. Churchill as pictured in "American Engravers." Center and center right are pictured sculpted relief Altdeutscher Laubgravur chiseled into a shotgun by H. A. Lindner of Germany. At far right is the receiver of a German target rifle line engraved with Altdeutscher Laubgravur.

ALTENGLISCHE ARABESKEN – German term meaning old English scroll work. Austrian engravers use this term to describe what American engravers call English scroll. In the UK this style is known as small English scroll or fine scroll. Italian engravers call this style Inglesina and in French it is known as Anglaise.

Pictured is the engraved frame of a shotgun made by Stiegele in Germany and engraved in the style of Altenglische Arabesken.

ALTO-RELIEVO – Italian: High relief.

ANGLAISE A BOUQUET – French for the English speaking engraver’s term “rose and scroll.” This style of arms decoration consists of a combination of small English scroll and clusters of flowers (usually roses). German: Rosenbukett mit altenglischen Arabesken, Italian: Inglesina e bouquet di fiori.

Pictured is an example of rose & scroll on a Purdy shotgun.

ANNEALING - In metallurgy and materials science, annealing is a heat treatment wherein a material is altered, causing changes in its properties such as strength and hardness. It is a process that produces conditions by heating to above the re-crystallization temperature and maintaining a suitable temperature, and then cooling. Annealing is used to induce ductility, soften material, relieve internal stresses, refine the structure by making it homogeneous, and improve cold working properties.
In the cases of copper, gold, iron, silver, and steel, this process is performed by substantially heating the material (generally until glowing) for a while and allowing it to cool slowly. In this fashion the metal is softened and prepared for further work such as forming, inlaying, overlaying, or shaping. It also presents no problem with decarburization. Hand engravers commonly anneal precious metal wire as well as certain gun parts that are too hard to engrave. However certain gun parts, such as barrels and cylinders, which are subject to high pressures during firing, are never annealed for safety reasons. Such parts must be engraved as is or left unengraved.

ARABESQUE – An elaborative application of repeating geometric forms that often echo the forms of plants and animals. Arabesques are an element of Islamic art usually found decorating the walls of mosques. As applied to engraving, the term arabesque is often misused by writers, who have a limited knowledge of engraving, to describe various forms of scrollwork. English speaking engravers rarely ever use the term arabesque when describing scrollwork decoration. In German however, the term Arabesken is often used in conjunction with a particular scrollwork design such as “Altenglische Arabesken.”

Pictured are a variety of Arabesque designs.

ARCADED FENCES – The breech balls of a side by side shotgun or rifle that have been engraved or sculpted with pointed arches or arcades.

Pictured is the breech of a shotgun with arcaded fences and decorated with fine English scroll.

ARKANTUSLAUB – German term used by engravers to describe acanthus leaf decoration.

ARTISAN – One who produces something in limited quantities often using traditional methods.

ARTISAN AIRGRAVER™ – An air impact system for freehand engraving invented and manufactured by Steve Lindsay Engraving & Tools. The Artisan AirGraver works in conjunction with compressed air either from a compressor or bottled CO2 and is controlled by a foot pedal or a PalmControl. 

Foot Control Artisan - Four components are required to engrave with a foot control Artisan AirGraver, the Artisan hand piece, a graver, foot pedal, and compressed air or CO2 source for portability. 

PalmControl  Artisan - Three components are required to engrave with a PalmControl Artisan AirGraver, the Artisan hand piece, a graver, and compressed air or CO2 source for portability.

The Artisan AirGraver is not an “engraving machine” in the sense that it is completely controlled free hand by the engraver. Its main advantage over hammer & chisel is that the piston within the hand piece takes the place of a chasing hammer thus freeing one of the engraver’s hands to turn the engraving block as well as greater control of the graver than can be supplied by manual power alone.


ART DECO - Art Deco was a popular international art design movement from 1925 until 1939, affecting the decorative arts. Art Deco is widely used in many areas as a decoration style, such as architecture, interiors, furnishing, fine arts, handmade crafts, posters, and industrial design. As hand engraved decoration, Art Deco is rarely found on firearms or custom made knives and is somewhat more popular among jewelry engravers.

Left is pictured the receiver of a Browning shotgun engraved in the Art Deco style by the late Felix Funken of Liege, Belgium. At right is a pocket watch enameled and engraved in the Art Deco style.

ART NOUVEAU - Art Nouveau is an elegant decorative art style characterized by intricate patterns of curving lines. Its origins somewhat rooted in the British Arts and Crafts Movement of William Morris, Art Nouveau was popular across Europe and in the United States as well. An excellent, though rarely seen, style for engraved guns and knives. Art Nouveau design is more popular with jewelry engravers


Pictured left is a brooch in the Art Nouveau style by jewelry designer Winifred Green. At right is a decorative motif in the Art Nouveau style.

ASIAN METHOD - A technique of engraving with hammer and chisel. Most H&C engravers in Europe and the USA use the European or “side hand” technique. In the Asian way of engraving, the engraver holds the chisel in his weak hand, palm up, with the chisel held between the thumb and forefinger. The cutting tip is oriented toward the engraver’s body. The hammer is held in the strong hand and is used to tap the butt of the chisel while cutting. Chisels used in the Asian method are usually shorter (3.5 to 5 inches) than the “long chisel” used in the European method.

Pictured is the late Neil Hartleip of Fairmont, Minnesota. Hartleip, who was a self-taught engraver, engraved in the Asian method using a foot turned vise also known as a "potter's wheel" vise.

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