"Embellishment on Metal"

Idaho Firearms Engraving Title


Embellishment by engraving is an art form that has existed since man first learned to refine and work metals. Techniques have evolved and changed through the centuries, but it is still, traditionally, taking one piece of metal, which is harder and sharper than another, and using it by hand to skillfully and artistically remove material from the latter.

The other drop down sections provide information on having an item engraved and the process involved.

FAQs and Information

How do I go about having an item engraved?

This is the general process...

  1. The first step, even before any contact is made, is to have a pretty good idea about what you want to have done, and what your budget is. There are several good references, both books, and online. Look in the "Engraving Reference Materials" drop-down below to see those listed here. It is much easier to discuss and focus when you have examples that you can point to whether it is your own sketches or work you have previously seen. Even if it is only text you want, knowing the verbage, the type of letter style, the approximate size, location, etcetera you desire will move things right along.

    Keep in mind, hand engraving is not a simple, quick turn around process. It is not the same as going down to the local trophy shop and having a plaque engraved for an event with a routing engraver machine. There are also other techniques which achieve "engraved like" effects such as the use of stamping, roll stamping, laser cutting, and rotary grinding. These techniques are commonly used for automated production. None of those processes are used here. Every engraving job done is a one of a kind being designed, drawn, laid down, and executed by hand. With hand engraving you get control and variation in line depth, width, angle, nuance, and character.

  2. The second step is of course to contact an engraver. For myself, you will find contact information under the "Contact" button at the top of the web page. At that time, either by email, phone, skype, or face to face, we can go over the following:
    • The type of item to be engraved.
    • The type of engraving you would like as well as the style.
    • Any text
    • The amount of coverage and location on the item.
    • Any special requirements.
    • Any time requirements.
    • Budget.

    Any pictures, images, sketches, images, or references you have that will help illustrate what you are thinking about can also be transmitted electronically in order to facilitate the conversation. At the end of this initial discussion I can probably give rough estimate on what the cost may be, what is doable within the budget, and what time frame may be possible. After this initial discussion we determine whether or not to move on to the next phase.

  3. This phase consists of working up the details of the design, design options, time frames, and quoted costs based on the initial discussion. Based upon the complexity of the work, this phase may require a deposit. Access to the item to be engraved may be necessary in order to create dimensional drawings upon which the design art is created. Generally if the project is relatively straight forward and simple, then this portion may be gratis as little effort may be expended with the initial artwork. Examples of this would be a text only type of project where it is just a matter of deciding on the text size, type, location, etcetera. Another example would be a simple single small scroll or boarder based on existing artwork and does not require change for a particular object.

    Once the artwork is created, based on the understanding and interpretation from the initial contact, a followup contact will be made. This is to present you, the client, the options considered, and the specifics related to each in terms of the time frames and costs involved.

  4. This is the acceptance phase where a particular option, costs and time frames are agreed to. At this point a deposit may be required, and received for the engraving. If the item is not a firearm then any number of options are available for sending or dropping of the item to be engraved. Use the "Contact" information to make the arrangements. For firearms it is a bit more complicated. See the section marked "Shipping a Firearm".
  5. Once the item is received, the actual engraving work is performed. For a more detailed description of the steps that take place see the section "The Engraving Process".
  6. Once the engraving is complete, you will be notified. After payment is receive the engraved item can be picked up or shipped back to you. Again, if it is a firearm, special restrictions apply. See the section "Shipping a Firearm" .

The Engraving Process

1.  Initial contact. The client often already has an idea for the type of engraving desired.

2.  Before any engraving is done, the artwork is created. In this case the artwork is based on they type of factory engraving found on early colt lightning rifles, both large and small frame.

Classic Colt Squirrel with Grape Leaf

One or more options may be generated, based on the client's desires, the shape of the item, the type of metal, the amount of coverage, etcetera.

3.  After the final artwork is selected and the scope of the project has been defined, the actual work on the piece begins. If necessary, the piece is disassembled down to the constituent parts that will be engraved.

4.  If necessary, the surfaces of the pieces are polished or refined to their 'final surface' finish.

Polished Lightning Frame

For firearms this typically means removing the existing bluing, unless of course it is stainless, and bringing the surface finish to the desired level of polish as well as removing, or where possible minimizing surface blemishes such as pits or scratches which are typical of older pieces. The piece need not have a perfect finish. The following three images are examples where the initial piece was pretty rough to begin with, but the bore was good and with judicious surface work, typically by hand, the surface can be resurrected, and after engraving all traces of the initial pitting are gone.

Ruger MKI Before

Before (sn obfuscated)

Ruger MKI After


Ruger MKI Engraved


Sometimes a ding or scratch can be worked into a design so that it effectively disappears. Surface prep is done at this point because after an engraving is done, anything other than a very light finish polish will remove material and potentially details in the engraving! There are exceptions when the client does not wish for the 'character' of the piece to change, in which case the engraving can be cut through the existing bluing or surface finish. This leaves the engraving cuts in the "white" meaning the raw metal.

5.  Once the surfaces of the pieces are prepared to the level required for their final finish, the surfaces must be further prepared to receive the artwork that was previously rendered on paper.

Lightning Frame with Layout

There are a number of approaches, but typically is means covering the surface with a flat white finish. Either what is know as "china white" or a flat white enamel paint. This surface provides a contrasting background upon which the artwork can be transfered either directly by redrawing it with pencil or a number of other techniques using tracing or contact transfer. The image transfered onto the piece is used as the guide while actually cutting the metal.

6.  With the artwork transfered to the piece, the piece is then placed into an engraving block or other fixture to hold it while the engraving takes place.

Lightning Frame in Engraving Vise

The process uses very sharp 'gravers' with varying geometries to cut the metal away from the piece, much like carving a piece of wood; just a tad bit more arduous and unforgiving.

7.  Once the piece, or pieces have been engraved, the next step is refinishing and reassembly. If it was a simple engraving with no further surface finishing or reassembly needed, then the job is essentially done.

Lightning Frame with Engraving Complete

Typically for firearms the finished engraved items must be re-blued, unless the piece is a stainless steel. After it is refinished, it must be reassembled and function checked

8.  At this point the piece is ready for delivery back to the client.

How Much Does it Cost?

The one question everyone has is "How much will it cost?"

The answer of course is "It depends..." - Pricing is basically on a per/job basis. If you have read the section on the engraving process, then you are familiar with the steps of the process.

I have to take into consideration the size, shape, hardness, etc., of the item being engraved. Each of these impact how the item will have to be held to be engraved and whether or not I will have to make special fixtures to hold the item. The hardness and shape will impact how I will have to shape the graver and the cutting geometry of the tip.

I also have to consider whether or not the piece will have to be disassembled, polished, and mechanically reworked before the engraving begins. In the end, will it have to be refinished or reblued, and reassembled.

Then there is the design being engraved. What is the scroll style desired? Are there images, deep engraving, and inlays or precious metal work to consider?

After all that, I come up with a quote for the work, spelling out the scope of the work and the proposed artwork with enough detail that there is a common expectation for the amount quoted. If necessary, various options are quoted. Once accepted, I generally try to stay within the quote, however Add-ons or changes to the project scope can be made before the work starts, but corresponding costs will apply. After the work has started changes can be made only if it does not effect the work already done. Usually at least a 50% deposit is required on the start of the project, with balance due upon notice of completion.

Putting together a quote takes time; particularly if is there is art work to create. All serious requests are responded to but it may take time and lots of questions. If it is simple, and similar to examples you see on the web site, I may be able to come up with a quote verbally. But if it is something unique it may take a while. If you have questions just call.

Shipping a Firearm

FIRST OFF - UNDERSTAND THAT THE FOLLOWING IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE! You are responsible for understanding and following the laws, restrictions and regulations that apply to your local! Contact your attorney or local ATF offices for legal advice.

Also check out the ATF web site (FAQ) for their current interpretation of the U.S code that involves firearms.

Understand what ATF terms as licensed persons versus unlicensed persons. A licensed person is one that holds a current Federal Firearms License (FFL) issued by the ATF. These licensed persons are also generally referred to in various documents as licensees, license holders, dealers, and licensed dealers.

Idaho Firearms Engraving, holds a current FFL, and can be verified at the ATF site Listing of FFLs. We do not sell firearms nor keep any stock. It is just engraving and any gunsmithing that goes along with it.

Firearms can generally be shipped by anyone over 21 in the U.S.A. to a Federally Licensed Firearms dealer by common carrier; however, ONLY Dealers can ship modern pistols by the U.S. post office to another dealer. The "firearm" is technically the part that has the firearm serial number. The part with the serial number is the "firearm" and must be treated as such even if it is disassembled. Each carrier has their own restrictions or policies, and can be found on their corresponding web sites. I will summarize them below, but be aware, they can change at any time, so go directly to the source to find the most current interpretation.

UPS web site on shipping firearms.

FedEx web site on shipping firearms.

USPS web site on Firearm Mailability.

If the part you are having engraved is not the part with the serial number then it can be shipped by any of the carriers without special consideration as a firearm. All of the rest of the parts without the serial number are just parts. Often times if it is just the slide, or the barrel or grip you are having engraved, then this is the way to go. But again you must check with the carrier and their policies. They can change at anytime.

  • Drop offs
  • If you are local and a resident of Idaho then of course the easiest thing to do is to drop the item off. No shipping involved. Technically if a firearm is dropped off, and picked up the same day, by the same person then it is not required to be logged in. For engraving however, that is virtually never the case. If a firearm is held overnight then it must be logged into the firearms registry. When it is picked up it must be picked up by the same person and it is logged out. If a different person picks it up, then they will have to fill out a form 4473, with the requisite background check, just as if they were buying a firearm before it can be released and logged out. This applies to both long guns and pistols.

  • Shipping
  • You do not have to have a license to ship firearms, but the person or business to whom you are shipping the firearm must have an FFL license (Federal Firearms License). There are however restrictions or policies based on the carrier used and type of firearm being shipped.

    • UPS - You can ship firearms (long guns or pistols); however their policy for handguns is that they must be shipped overnight priority. In all cases, Direct or Adult signature delivery is required and you must notify them that a firearm is enclosed. Shipments must be made through a UPS Customer Center, or Scheduled Pickup Account, not through a UPS Store, Drop Box or on call pickup.
    • FedEx - Their policy is that all firearms must be shipped overnight priority. Direct or Adult signature delivery is required. The shipments cannot be placed in a FedEx Express Drop Box, they must be tendered in person.
    • USPS - You can only ship long guns via the postal service. Only licensed dealers can ship pistols to other licensed dealers via the the postal service.
  • Packaging
  • In all cases, the labeling and outer box markings on all firearms shipments should not identify the contents as containing a firearm or be identifiable as containing a firearm. Labeling, including the shipper's and consignee's names on the shipping labels, should be be non-descriptive for the same reasons. If it is disassembled, and the "firearm" components is not included then it can be shipped as parts. Make sure there is no ammunition included. Package your firearm with adequate padding so there is no movement, and there is plenty of padding between the item and the walls of the container. Shipping in a hard plastic gun case is good, however that should be placed within cardboard box for shipping.

  • Insurance
  • Make sure you record any serial numbers and insure the items for their full amount.

Once completed, return shipping fees, including insurance, will be determined and quoted for you, based on the carrier and shipping you desire. This will then be included in the final billing. The firearm is returned directly to you as firearms shipped to FFLs for repair or any other lawful purpose may be returned to the person from whom received without transferring the firearm through an FFL in the recipient's State of residence (18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(2)(A)). It will also be sent requiring a direct signature.



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  • Lightning Small Frame

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    Single Action Army

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    1911 Series 80

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Standard Arms

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  • Remington 1875

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    Winchester 1866

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      Xtreme Bull riding 2019

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      Xtreme Bull riding 2021

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  • Rheinland

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    • Executive model

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      Nobleman model

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  • MK I (Standard Model)

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    MK II

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    MK III

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    Super Blackhawk

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    • Early Flattop

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  • Model 1903

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    Model 21

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    New Model 1866

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    New Model 1873

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Engraving Reference Materials

If you are not sure of the type or style of engraving you would like or are just curious, the following references are to online resources, and references to several books that been published over the years with illustrations of engraved arms over the last few centuries. Some styles of engraving are quite simple, while others are elaborate and quite detailed. Some styles reflect a certain time period such as the late American 1800’s while others reflect a region such as the German oak leaf style. Some styles are unique to individuals.


The Firearmes Engravers Guild of America

The Engraver's Cafe

Engraving Forum.com

GRS Tools (Engraving Tools, Techniques, and Training)


Adler, D. (2009) Guns of the American West New York, NY: Chartwell Books.

Dougan, J.C. (1991) Compliments of Col. Ruger; A Study of Factory Engraved Single Action Revolvers El Paso, TX: Taylor Publishing.

Meek, J.B.(1973) The Art of Engraving: A Book of Instruction Montezuma, IA: F. Brownell & Son, Publishers.

Smith, R. (2005) Advanced Drawing of Scrolls Ft. Worth, TX: Glendo Corp.

Sundseth, D (2007) GIANFRANCO PEDERSOLI: Master Engraver Minneapolis, MN: Blue Book Publications.

Tate, D. (2000) BRITISH GUN ENGRAVING Long Beach, CA: Safari Press.

Turpin, T. (1997) Modern Custom Guns: Walnut, Steel, and Uncommon Artistry Iola, WI: Krause Publications.

Turpin, T. (1999) Custom Firearms Engraving Iola, WI: Krause Publications.

Wilson, R.L. (1975) WINCHESTER Engraving Palm Springs, CA: Beinfeld Publishing.

Wilson, R.L. (1985) COLT: An American Legend New York, NY: Artabras.

Wilson, R.L. (1991) WINCHESTER: An American Legend New York, NY: Random House.

Wilson, R.L. (1992) THE PEACEMAKERS: Arms and Adventure in the American West Edison, NJ: Chartwell Books.

Wilson, R.L. (1995) STEEL CANVAS: The Art of American Arms New York, NY: Random House.

Wilson, R.L. (2000) THE WORLD OF BERETTA: An International Legend New York, NY: Random House.

Wilson, R.L. (2001) The Colt Engraving Book: Volume 1 New York, NY: Bannerman’s.

Wilson, R.L. (2001) The Colt Engraving Book: Volume 2 New York, NY: Bannerman’s.

Wilson, R.L. (2001) L. D. NIMSCHKE: Firearms Engraver Livonia, NY: R&R Books.