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Graver.  A cutting or shaving tool used by an engraver to handcut metal, as a die or flat engraving. (Also a graver is the person who engraves by hand, but such a person is more apt to be called an engraver). The graver tool is held in one hand and each stroke is necessary for one bite at a time (the metal removed is called dead metal). Gravers remove metal to form the relief design or lettering and engravers can cut an image in either positive or negative. Gravers were used by the first coin engravers (600 bc) and still in use today, making them the oldest continuously used coin making tool in existence.

Gravers are made in a multitude of cutting faces and sizes, each engraving tool serving a different cutting function. These include:

Typical                  Sizes

Name                             Function             Available

Bevel Edge. . . . .        Shallow furrow                       3

Chisel. . . . . . .             Removing dead metal             3

Flat. . . . . . . .               Square off serifs                    14

Half Point. . . . .          Sharpen detail    (1 each)        2

Lozenge or Burin. .     V-Shaped furrows                   6

Onglette or Point .      Block letters                            8

Oval. . . . . . . .             Shallow furrows                     6

Round . . . . . . .           Narrow channels                   14

Square. . . . . . .            Script letters                          13

Taper Lozenge . . .      Deep cuts                                3

Taper Square. . . .        Deep cuts                                3


The lozenge or burin is the most employed graver. It is also called a diamond point graver. Not only can it be used for very fine work, for detailing relief in diework, but also for lines in flat engraving. Its wedge-shaped cutting point is ideal since every stroke of this graver leaves a wedge- shaped trough that has beveled sides (necessary for dies to strike and withdraw, see bevel). The other gravers are used for specific functions as indicated.

An oldtime engraver may have dozens or hundreds of gravers, of varying ages, on hand – many duplicating each other – but will have a few favorites he uses moreso than others. In practice he will have laid out on his bench and use the one he just sharpened, or the handiest, or the one with the most comfortable handle.

Gravers are made of tool steel (in Switzerland, Germany and America); obviously the steel must be of greater hardness than the metal being engraved (see engraving). The basic tool is called a graver blank before the cutting end is shaped and before it is sharpened. The opposite end is called the tang, the tang fits into the handle. New steel gravers are sold without handles. Thus the engraver can choose a size and shape handle he prefers, or make his own. Remember, a craftsman is only as good as his tools, so an experienced engraver will devote a lot of attention to the important qualities of his tools.

Modern gravers are made of harder material, in carbide or cobalt steel. While they have less opportunity to chip, they require special attention in sharpening (as with a diamond wheel). Also some gravers have been attached to a flexible shaft and a small compressor that will pulsate or impact from 80 to 1200 times per minute, making these power gravers ideal for deep cutting and for removal of a gross amount of metal.

Sharpening engraving tools.  Gravers must be maintained with a sharp cutting point, a fine abrasive oilstone was most used for sharpening (Arkansas oilstone among the best). These require a light coating of oil to lubricate the stone. With extensive sharpening, however, oilstones develop tracks and groves. Most modern engravers have chosen, instead, to use a ceramic stone for sharpening since it is permanent, does not require a lubricant and does not develop groves. It remains flat forever.

Mechanical sharpeners are available that hold the graver, handle and all, in perfect fixed position during sharpening. Power hones offer a rotating grinding wheel, while the graver is held in a similar fixed position. If a burr forms on the end of a graver – from any kind of sharpening – it is removed by simply jabbing it into a block of wood.

To test the sharpness of his graver, an engraver will make a tiny cut on one of his fingernails. Professional engravers can be identified by the great number of such small cuts on a thumbnail – opposite the hand from the one which he normally holds a graver. (Thus a right handed engraver will test the thumbnail on his left hand!)

Parts of the graver.  The drawings identify the parts of a typical graver – face, heel, shank or tang, and handle – also how the graver is held, and the angle at which it should be used is illustrated. Handles come in different shapes, lengths and with optional flat sides. Flat-sided handles are necessary to allow room for the fingers when cutting shallow furrows (and to keep gravers from rolling off the workbench.)

In the past most engravers made their own gravers as well as other tools, or obtained these from the estates of engravers who died. Constant sharpening shortens their length, but they never wear out. Broken or chipped gravers are simply ground smooth and sharpened again.  See engraving.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


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