Power Engraving Tools Compared

Q: I’m looking at getting a power engraving tool, mostly for bright-cutting and raising beads, but I’m torn between the GRS System 3, Gravermax, and Lindsey setups. I’ll only be using it every once in a while, so a lower price is attractive.

A: If you have only an occasional need for this, I’d guess the System 3 would serve your needs as well as the considerably more versatile Gravermax. The differences are in to what degree the tool can be adjusted for more or less power, stroke length, speed, that sort of thing. In both cases, the work is still being done by the tool delivering impacts to the graver, and the graver is still doing the cutting. Raising beads isn’t as critical in these regards as some more specialized or delicate engraving, so I’d guess the 3 would do it for you.

However, please understand that the big difference all these tools make is that with a hand pushed graver, you have a greater tendency to slip and cut too far, and that with extended use, you get tired. The powered tools give you more precise start/stop control over a cut, and take out much of the fatigue. However, they do not, themselves, know how to raise beads or bright-cut. You still need to know what to do with the graver. The power tool gives you a well—controlled push to do the work, but it doesn’t control the direction, shape, depth or other aspects of the cut. If your problem is just that you don’t do enough bead setting to have the muscle control, or you get tired pushing a graver though tough metal, or the like, or you just have a problem tending to slip and cut too far or the like, then these tools will help.

If you don’t know, at least in theory, how to do good setting with a hand tool, or if you don’t still know how to properly sharpen and prepare the gravers for the type of work you’re doing, then you’ll be disappointed. You still need to know this stuff. The power tools cannot give you good work with an improperly sharpened graver or if you don’t know where to start cutting a bead or how to finish it, or how to bright-cut it later. I happen to love my power graver for setting, but for me, it’s an issue of muscle control and fatigue, in part due to diabetic nerve damage. I used to be pretty good at setting with manual tools, and can still do it when I need to. But the power graver lets me do it easier, faster, and for a longer span of time.

By the way, I don’t use the GRS tool, though I’ve got one here somewhere. I like Steve Lindsey’s AirGraver. Admittedly a bit of a luxury, his tools are beautifully hand-built. I think they feel more like a traditional graver, certainly are sized more like one, and I find them somewhat easier to use too, though to a degree changing from one tool to another is somewhat easier with the GRS quick change system. Still, the Lindsey AirGraver is a beautiful tool, and it’s well worth a look at the web site. Don’t drool too much on your keyboard.

by Peter W. Rowe M.F.A., G.G.