Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Goehring Breastcollar engraved

 Yesterday I finished engraving the silver for the Goehring breastcollar.  I had no idea it would take so long, or be so hard!   I started making these pieces back in mid-March, but the engraving has taken all of this past week.

 For those of you wondering why I don't do an entire Parade Set in this fashion, this picture will perhaps give you a clue.  Every single one of these little doohickies has had its Thermo-Loc individually softened in the microwave (an art in itself; prying the sticky stuff off a broken saucer takes patience unholy).  And then the silver piece (filed, soldered, shaped) is pressed down in, not too far, not too lightly, and the cube squared so it will fit in the vise.  Then cooled.  Many of them have to be cut, with the XActo, to a more square shape.  And even then the silver doesn't always stay in place.  We had one concho that didn't stick and had to be reset... twice...(it's the bottom-most one.)

Tons of work.

This picture shows, albeit somewhat out of focus, the blade of the engraver I'm using.  Ninety percent of my engraving is done with this one graver, a size 37.  It's a lot like tooling leather, where one beveller does ninety percent of the job.  I still have to strop and polish the end practically non-stop.  Metal dulls an edge so much faster than leather.
We are actually making progress on this beast of a breastcollar!!  I'm sticking the finished conchos onto a fresh piece of tape.
This next picture shows, possibly for the first time, the most important aspect of my tack shop.  It's my tack notebook.  I've kept them since I first started making tack back in 1979.  There are about ten of them by now, all in this small format.  Kept in longhand, they try to document, from my own point of view, HOW I DID IT: what steps were taken with what, how and when.  They are peppered with small drawings, this page unusually so:  I was working out the design for the central plate of the breastcollar.

This is how my engraving starts: with rocker-edging around the border and around the central star.  And then I draw on the surface, with a blunt awl, where I want the lines, or tooling, to be.

 The next step is to gouge the lines, using a triangular graver.  It's analagous to the cutting phase of tooling leather.

 Here we see the next step.  By some standards this is crude, the work of a beginner.  But at this scale, it looks impressive enough.  One is supposed to hold the graver in the right hand and not move that hand, but rotate the vise in the left hand.  But at this scale, I find I move and twist both hands equally, a sort of combo of leather tooling wrist action and engraving proper.  If properly sharpened the graver cuts smoothly and easily.  You can see the bits of cut-off silver lying around.
 The final steps are to enhance and elaborate upon the plain 'bright' engraving.  This is like the decorative cuts phase of leather carving.  Truth be told, I'm still learning and inventing in this phase.  My ability to keep my gravers sharp is lousy... you may have noticed a few lines across things, sign of a slipped blade!  Another reason for elaboration:  it hides the lines. 
 This is the largest piece and thus easiest to see everything that is going on.  The smaller pieces I did first, figuring I was practicing and any mistakes would show much less!  But in fact getting through even 26 conchos was not practice enough.  The whole thing feels much like learning to tool:  it will take years.   Ah but I'm happy here.  The slow steady improvement of the skill and the sheer beauty of the result is enough.

This is a good place to remind everyone I will be traveling for the next 6 weeks.  Email is available but not, I don't think, blogging.  Wish me luck, and hope I get more work done on this set!   See you at NAN...!


  1. Amazing and amazingly beautiful! Thank you so much for showing how this is done; I was tempted to think you had possession of a magic wand but this shows your amazing craftsmanship and know-how :-)

  2. Aw.. Thank you Sian. I really like my engraving vise. It is the smallest one made by the company.

  3. Gawd Those pieces are astonishing!! SOOO Beautiful Sue!!!

  4. Thank you for sharing your process. I don't imagine I'll ever engrave silver myself, but I love seeing all the work and artistry that you put into it.