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What Are the Best Tips for Engraving Stainless Steel?

Patrick Lynch
Patrick Lynch

Most stainless steel engraving is done professionally with laser-guided machines, but the process can be done at home; some patience and preparation is involved, though. People looking to make their own engravings typically start by finding an engraving tool. A sharp nail is a common choice, as are small knives and other pointed metal objects. The goal is usually to find something that’s hard and very sharp. One of the most common techniques requires engravers to protect the metal with a layer of thick wax, which the engraving pen or other tool is pushed through. Using stencils or pre-drawn design sheets can help artists get their moves right, since in most cases engraving marks can’t be undone. An acid wash sets the design and makes it more noticeable. People doing this at home usually need to be very careful about their safety. Experts usually recommend the use of safety goggles as well as protective gloves; wearing a smock or apron might also be a good idea. Allowing enough time for the finished product to dry and set is the final step.

Basics of Steel Engraving


Generally speaking, engraving is an art form through which patterns or designs are pressed or “carved” into metal. Many different metals can be engraved, and stainless steel is just one option. It’s a popular one, though; stainless steel is usually relatively inexpensive, and is a common choice for things like plaques and awards trophies. Engraving these sorts of items can make them more meaningful and memorable, and the technique is frequently also used for gifts.

Professional engravers typically use expensive equipment to write names and dates and fix patterns on stainless steel and other metal items, but it is possible to get similar results at home. Before beginning the engraving process, the best tip every person should follow is to make sure that he or she has all of the proper tools and safety equipment. In addition to goggles and gloves, all that is required is usually wax, a sharp nail, acid etching ink, a sheet pan, and the metal to be treated. Being prepared before the process starts is the best way to help things go smoothly and safely.

Importance of Protecting the Metal

Engraving stainless steel can be an abrasive process, and protecting the metal is really important. Most people use wax; special engraver’s wax is available in many specialty shops, but any thick beeswax will work in most cases. Melting it evenly is one of the most important tips. This can be done on a stovetop or a microwave, and should be stirred regularly to ensure consistency.

Once it’s melted it should be smoothed over the exposed part of the piece to be engraved. In general, only the area where the engraving will take place needs to have the wax applied. The point of the wax is to ensure that the steel is not damaged by the acid, which will be used later.

Common Engraving Tools

Once the wax has cooled, engravers are ready to begin marking the metal. The object to be engraved is usually placed in a sheet pan, which will protect the work surface and will catch any drippings or shavings. Special engraver’s pens are some of the most common tools when it comes to actually pressing the design into the surface; these are usually metal themselves and may have an interchangeable tip providing various sizes and widths. A sharp nail or small knife will also work. The most important thing is usually that the artist is using something that is both sharp enough to indent the surface and precise enough to keep to an intricate design.

In general, the nail should dig into the wax until the tip just strikes the metal. If a template or stencil is to be used, it should be set on top of the wax to serve as a guide. Engravers should push down with an even pressure to ensure that the result is consistent.

Acid Exposure

It is very important that safety goggles and gloves be worn for the next step. Special engraver’s acid should be poured slowly over the area of the steel that has been engraved. The steel should still be in the pan in order to stop the acid from pouring out and damaging whatever surface it touches. A cloth or thick tissue paper should be placed around the edges of the steel, and the piece of metal should then be left to settle for a few minutes. The acid helps “set” the indentations and makes them more pronounced and finished.

Finishing Touches

The wax can then be scraped off with a stick and the tissue paper or cloth removed. After engraving stainless steel with acid, the metal should be washed thoroughly with water. If necessary, a scrubbing brush can be used to remove any remaining traces of metal and acid, although this cleaning should be done gently as to not damage the steel.

Discussion Comments


I have a friend who makes stainless steel jewelry, and she often engraves bracelets, pendants, and rings. She uses a basic, electric operated engraver which works perfectly for small objects. It has interchangeable tips so she is able to do a variety of engraving jobs on pieces of different sizes.


You don't always need to use wax or acid when engraving stainless steel. If the item you are engraving isn't too small or delicate, you can do the job and skip these two materials.

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