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The art of engraving knives


Engraving is the art of cutting decorative patterns or designs into a hard surface with a sharp pointed tool – a graver or a burin. The decorative carving of various household articles dates back as far as the Stone Age. Historically, engraving was a popular form of art involving the use of simple tools – such as hammers and chisels – to scratch ornaments and designs with various sized cuts and grooves. Metal engraving originated in southern Germany and northern Italy about the middle of the 15th century, probably out of goldsmith’s art and niello work. From the fifteenth century to the present day, metal engraving has been widely spread as a favored method of decorating various weapons. Gradually, engraving developed into many subtypes and techniques, such as Bulino, etching and laser engraving.

Nowadays, advanced industrial techniques such as photoengraving and laser engraving are frequently encountered. Hand engraving is rare and mostly used by seasoned masters devoted to crafting custom handicrafts. Machine engraving is widely applied today for mass-produced items.


Long ago, people started decorating wooden, metal and bone parts of weapons, such as dagger and sword hilts, with natty engravings. The dainty artwork indicated the devotion or the high status of owners of such weapons. For sure, a beautifully engraved knife is way showier and more exquisite than an ordinary mass-produced one. An engraved knife handle even feels good in your palm – the carvings and grooves in the wood or bone material create additional adhesion making it easier and safer to hold the knife.

You can engrave your knife’s handle or blade (or both). Engraving can be performed on many materials: from wood and ivory to metals and gems. When the technique is applied to metal, it is known as “cut steel” or “chiseled steel”. A variety of metals and alloys are suitable for engraving: steel, aluminum, titanium, gold and other non-ferrous or precious metals. Carbon steel and stainless steel can be engraved – however, proper techniques must be used to protect blade’s rust resistance.

Engraving serves many purposes: a knife is identified or branded when a manufacturer’s emblem or bladesmith’s name is marked on it; a knife can be personalized by carving/etching owner’s name, a military emblem, a lettering, a logo, or another symbol referring to owner. Adornment is another (perhaps, most prevalent) purpose of engraving – because surfaces embellished with those minute scrolls, leaves and ornaments just look so ornate.

Engraving comes in so many varieties: there are literally hundreds of types of cuts one can achieve, and the designs are limitless. Therefore, a good engraver will normally take full responsibility for an engraving project as the sole artist. Commissioning various segments of a knife to different artists for different parts of artwork may create a “busy” overall appearance but might look overwhelming if not inconsistent. One artist coming with a singular engraving concept is what is usually sought after by owners of high-end custom knives.


Engraving is one of the biggest value additions to a quality knife. Fine weaponry has been engraved for centuries. Those antique hunting knives are often embellished with an engraved floral ornament which usually carries a symbolic meaning.

Knife engraving is a standalone art form that requires a lot of skill from the craftsman and gives each article a genuinely artistic and unique look. Knife engraving comes in the following main types:

  1. Hand engraving technique: where a graver is operated manually.
  2. Chasing: where the surface is being depressed with hammering, without removing any material. 
  3. Bulino technique: a method of creating hundreds of small dots or lines in the metal for emphatic light and dark contrasts.
  4. Etching: where an etch agent (acid or mordant) is used to cut into a metal surface.
  5. Mechanical engraving: a technique where a milling cutter moves over the surface, with cutter’s rotary motion removing the surface of the material.
  6. Laser engraving: where a design is carved by laser beam.

Various styles that can be applied in an engraving include:

  • ornament designs (leaf-like, scroll-like, and more)
  • monogram
  • lettering
  • full-blown images

The highest standard of the engraving art is maintained in custom engraved knives. For example, high-end engraved knives offered by the Noblie feature hunt-themed designs depicting wild animals. The engraved knife “Savannah Elephants” depicts wildlife elephants carved in minute detail in steel, while the knife “Rhinos” features an amazing openwork with finely carved rhinoceroses.

Engraving can be made on various parts of a knife – blade, bolster or handle – and on various materials. Engraving is not just for metal. Professionals also engrave and hand carve gemstone, scrimshaw ivory, tusk or bone, carve the fittings and pins of a knife. Engraving can be applied to sheaths, scabbards, storage cases and knife stands.

Throughout the centuries and until today, engraving has been used to personalize a cutting tool that is especially dear and relished. Either crafted by hand or using a machine, an engraving on a knife can turn it into a very personal companion that will be valued for years and decades.

This article was published as part of a cooperation with Noblie, a world-renowned company creating exclusive collectibles. You can find my contact information in their Knife Guide.