Beginner's Guide to Glass Engraving

By Paul Miceli

Glass engraving is the practice of etching pictures and letters onto glass objects, and can become the foundation of an incredibly satisfying hobby or small craft business. The earliest forms of glass engraving date back to the days of the Egyptian dynasties, and classic examples are displayed at many museums. Even the complete beginner, with the right tools and just a small amount of practice, can turn out great pieces of work.


Always work in a well-lit area on a solid table with all of the correct tools and materials within easy reach. It helps to use a comfortable chair that supports your back, because the engraving process is often lengthy. Always wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from small shards of flying glass and gloves to preserve your hands if the glass object breaks. Establish a feel for the different engraving tools available. Small diamond or tungsten carbide bits fitted to a rotating tool are ideal for delicate work, while a dental drill or a drill bit fitted to a rotating tool is preferable for bolder engraving. Purchase a an engraver that can perform both functions if you are really serious about glass engraving.


To save time and money in the early stages, spend some time practicing engraving techniques on old pieces of glass. Washed jelly jars make an ideal practice material, and these are easily acquired from household waste or by asking friends to save them for you. Place dark cloth on your working surface to improve visibility as you engrave, and try to create different designs and pictures freehand while you familiarize yourself with the tools. Remember to apply water to the surface of the glass at regular intervals to keep the medium cool and to reduce the quantity of flying shards of glass.

Your First Project

Choose an attractive piece of glass and create a stencil by drawing your design on a piece of solid card stock and cutting out the shapes carefully with a sharp utility knife. Tape the stencil to the glass, making sure the edges are firmly set against the surface. Smear a thin layer of waxed carbon across the exposed part of the stencil to create the outlines of your design before removing the piece of card stock. Your glass is ready to be engraved.


Concentrate on the bold areas of the design first, and work from the middle of these sections toward the outside edge. By starting in the center, any small slips you make as the drill hits the glass surface can be swallowed up as engraving continues. Take particular care not to engrave past definite edges, and remember to water down the glass regularly to keep it cool. Finish engraving your first piece of glass by focusing on the finer details, and don’t be too worried if your first design isn’t perfect. Your skills will improve as you complete more projects.

© Demand Media 2011