How to Engrave Wood for Projects

How to Engrave Wood for Projects

Over the last couple of years, creating stylish and beautiful carvings on wood has become a common DIY pastime for people. One of these popular DIY projects is wood engraving.

Dating back to antiquity, engraving wood has been an important aspect or means of passing information and culture to future generations. It has also become an ideal way to show appreciation and love to those around us.

Although not an easy technique, wood engraving or etching is a versatile medium. Wood, which in itself is a versatile, resilient, and durable material, is a great material to work with for any art project and here we will discuss how to get started!

What is Wood Engraving?

Wood engraving basically refers to a sculpting process where artists or craftsmen, with the help of various engraving tools, make incisions or prints on the surface of wood blocks. Being an illustrative discipline, the art of wood engraving dominated almost every aspect of visual culture before the development of other mediums like painting.

How to Engrave Wood for Projects


The impact wood engraving has had on the promotion of visual cultural values cannot be overemphasized and has been used in numerous modern and ancient societies.

One of the side benefits of wood engraving, aside the very fact that it is an ideal printmaking process, is that it can be done anywhere and without the need for excessive space, materials, or even time.

Another attraction of wood engraving is sustainability. Unlike other printmaking processes like lino-cutting, potato printing, or oil painting, wood engraving has a relatively minimal impact on the environment when the wood is properly sourced.

Items You Will Need for Wood Engraving

If you ever decide to create your own wood engraving, you’d need to get the right items for this task. These items include;

  1. Wood blocks. For a perfect wood engraving job, you would need to get your hands on the best. End-grain wood blocks have been said to be the best wood for all engraving jobs. Although made from Lemonwood, end-grain wood blocks are not wood blocks from a lemon tree as most people would think.
  2. You need to get essential wood engraving tools (see below).
  3. Oil-based relief ink. Contrary to what most people will tell you, do not settle for a water-based relief ink. Why? They are capable of soaking into your wood block, which in turn will find its way into the grain, causing your wood to warp.
  4. You will need to get a solvent. This will help you conveniently remove oil-based ink from wood blocks once your printing task is completed.
  5. A clean and soft washcloth is needed. Also, for print burnishing, you will need a tablespoon.
  6. Either a PVC or lino roller will be needed as well.
  7. Suitable art paper will be required to plan out your designs. Also, you will need additional art papers to print on. These papers shouldn’t be too thin or even too rough to make use of.

Otherwise referred to as “burins,” the wood engraving tools you may need for any engraving job are:

  1. Lozenge-shaped engraver: these engravers are generally fast, making them ideal for all wood engraving jobs. Using this engraver, the width of the line depends primarily on the pressure applied.
  2. Square engraver: these are particularly designed to help wood engravers cut thin lines. These engravers have also been identified to be quite helpful when lightening certain areas or portions of a wood block.
  3. Tint tool: this wood engraving tool has been designed primarily to help cut straight lines that are at a constant width. Most ancient wood engravers tagged parallel lines as “tint” and used it to depict the form and color of lines.
  4. Scorpers: these tools are ideal for drawing or making big lines or dots. Scorpers come in two different types: round or square scorpers. Square scorpers, on one hand, are used to cut lines with a constant width and they have straight-sided shafts accompanied by a flat tip. A round scorper, on the other hand, has a U-shaped tip and is capable of making cut lines as well, but with a curve.
  5. Chip carver: this is a sharp chisel that has two angled lines used to cut or make incisions in the middle of a wood block. This tool gives you absolute control of how deep the letters are. Interestingly, no two designs made with this device are the same.
  6. Lasers: lasers over the years have proven to be one of the very best machines when it comes to engraving wood in a precise and beautiful manner. Lasers can also be used to make plaques as well.
  7. Dremel: this wood engraving tool is capable of making and depicting grooves in almost any type of wood.

In addition to the tools mentioned above, a wood burner may also be an essential tool you need if you’re to efficiently engrave wood.

A wood burner is basically a machine or tool that helps give distinct color and shape to the letters on the wood block. Although making use of this tool is not exactly easy, you simply need to apply pressure (safely) and you’re good to go.

How to Engrave Wood

Assuming you’ve gathered all the essential materials needed to begin and complete this task, it is now time to get started. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to go about it.

How to Engrave Wood for Projects

Step 1: Choose a Wood Type

While you can engrave any wood block type, not all are entirely suitable for the job. As mentioned earlier, end-grain wood has been identified to be one of the very best wood types for an engraving task.

If this is your first time doing this, then it is important that you start out with a simple plaque or wood block. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something huge, a letter or two will be fine for a beginner.

Since there are two main wood types, hardwood and softwood, it is left to you to carefully analyze and pick one for the engraving task.

While softwood types like white pine and fir are less expensive to get at the moment, they do not offer as many choices as you might want. Hardwood, on the other hand, albeit more expensive, offers you the opportunity to choose from a variety of designs.

Some of the easiest hardwood types you can get your hands on are mahogany, cherry, walnut, aider, and basswood.

Now that you’ve chosen a wood type to work with, it is time to prepare for the task ahead. If there are previous inscriptions on the wood block, it is important that you remove them before getting started.

Solvents have proven to be quite helpful when it comes to conveniently removing these older inscriptions. Also, you can decide to use sandpaper to get off old incisions on wood blocks. Sandpaper can also be used to reveal the interior layers of a wood block.

Step 2: Create a Design

Assuming you’ve chosen the wood type to work with, the next step to take is to create a design.

One of the most interesting things about wood engraving is that it affords you the opportunity to create anything you want. To get started, you need to create a design. This can be done either on a sheet of paper or on a computer.

As a beginner, you really do not have to design something complicated to start with. A very simple design that consists of dots or even lines will suffice.

Now that you’ve designed something basic, you will need to transfer it using this method:

  • Using stencils has to be the easiest way of transferring your basic design into the project. You simply need to place the stencil over the wood surface you’re engraving on, with the help of painter’s tape, secure the stencil, then trace your design with a pencil or pen. I’d recommend you use a pencil though.
  • Since graphite papers are ideal for custom designs, use them. To transfer your design from a graphite paper to wood, you need to place the former on the wood block. Like before, use the painter’s tape to secure it, then trace your design. Depending on how complicated your design is, this should not take more than an hour.
  • If your design was printed from a computer, you have to coat the back of the paper with graphite, then follow the step mentioned above to transfer it to the wood. On the other hand, if you’re an experienced artist, you can decide to sketch the design on the wood itself without the help of a graphite paper.

Step 3: Engrave the Wood

Let’s assume you have followed the steps above and your design (be it basic or advanced) has been sketched on the wood block, it is time to start the main task.

To make straight lines on wood blocks, you have to use a chip carver. For curved lines, use a wood gouge. The trick to making a perfect line on a wood block depends mainly on how you hold it.

For example, if you want to make precise straight lines using a chip carver, you need to hold it about 20 to 30 degrees from your pencil. This also applies when using a wood gouge.

With the help of a Dremel, etch the design into the wood block. The trick to using a Dremel is selecting the right tip for the job. Depending on your design, an engraving or sanding tip will work perfectly.

You are to hold the Dremel the same way you hold your pencil. If your design is thick, it is advised that you use a fine tip for small lines before filling the larger ones.

With the help of any of the wood-burning tools available, you have to make darker lines. Most of the wood-burning tools come with chisel-like tips as well as shaped tips. If you opt for a chisel-like tip, it is best you use the thin edges for making thin lines and the wider edge for thicker lines.

Shaped tips, on the other hand, can be used for stamping as well as creating brand designs on wood blocks.

Step 4: Finishing

Using sandpaper, sand the various edges of the lines. This helps to remove splinters from the wood block, making your engraving look clean. If you used a wood-burning tool to make the lines on a wood surface, you do not necessarily have to make use of sandpaper again.

Using a clean and soft washcloth, clean up the various edges of the wood block to prevent dust from getting trapped in the topcoat.

While you can decide to leave the engraved wood as it is, adding a top coat will help complete the finishing process. You are free to choose a topcoat that suits your needs, like the tone of the wood or design. Spray-on topcoat may be the easiest for this kind of job. They are quick to apply and do not get onto portions where you do not want them.

If you’re not satisfied with the first topcoat, you may decide to add another but you need the first one to dry off completely before applying the second topcoat.

Allow the topcoat to dry off completely before using it.

Final Thoughts

Engraving wood is an art that has been in existence for thousands of years. It is a fine way to use wood and create beautiful designs that can be used to decorate your home.

Here, we have shared a step-by-step guide on how you can engrave wood blocks right from the comfort of your home.