The Art of Glass Engraving

By Lauren Vork

Various forms of glass engraving, including etching and frosting, are used to give glassware a semi-opaque finish, or to decorate glass with images or words. As a home craft, you can use glass etching tools and techniques for projects ranging from beverage glasses to decorations to jewelry designs. Personalize and beautify any piece of glass from the comfort of your own home or workshop.


Glass, though brittle and easily breakable, is actually a hard material. It requires strong tools and force to mark, etch and engrave. When glass is blown or poured into a finished shape, it's transparent and has a shiny texture, but whenever it's scratched, the scratched area has an opaque, frosty texture. This allows an artist to create visible designs of text or images in the surface of any piece of glass.


Glass dust is hazardous if inhaled. Though fine, the particles are abrasive and can damage your lungs. If using power tools to etch large pieces of glass, take the precaution of working with a blasting cabinet, respirator or both. For small etching projects, use a dust mask and keep track of where the dust is going; there's not much, but you still want to avoid breathing it.


Handheld engraving power tools are strong enough to engrave and etch glass, though you'll need a strong bit. If using a rotary power tool, use a hard engraving or detail grinding bit, such as a diamond bur bit. You may also want to use a flexible shaft attachment to make the tool's tip easier to control. For more advanced engraving, get a dedicated engraving tool; these work on the same principle as rotary tools, but are more maneuverable and come with bits more specially designed for engraving.


Simple engraving projects for beginners are as easy as using a handheld tool to scratch lines into the surface of the glass. If you're doing it for the first time, practice on some recyclables to get used to the feel of the tool tip, as well as mastering control. If you don't have much luck etching and engraving freehand, use a flexible stencil and some painter's tape, or draw the design on with a permanent marker. When finished, wipe away remaining ink with nail polish remover.


Once you become more experienced with the process of glass etching, learn to create more complex designs by applying pencil drawing skills. Since there's a lot of variety in the depth and thickness of the etched lines you can make, creating complex, even photo-realistic etched designs is much like drawing. All you need is lots of practice, though you can also "cheat" a little if you trace an existing drawn image by taping it to the reverse side of a piece of glass.

© Demand Media 2011