Gun Engraving, The Art and Craftsmanship of gold inlays.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Inlays can be of several different metals. They can be gold, silver,copper, platinum, iron or a combination. Gold is probably the most commonly used. Gold in its purest form (24k) is the easiest to work with. It is not the most durable. Most modern firearms that are engraved with inlays are not heavily used nor abused. As a general rule 18k is the lowest karate gold to inlay because of the difficulty in setting the inlay.

Inlays used on guns are of two types, flush or raised. They both require a cavity and are held in place mechanically. There are also overlays, damascene and plating. Plating is a in a different category. Overlays and damascene are similar in that they are held onto the gun mechanically but do not require a cavity cut into the gun.

The methods used by each engraver can vary somewhat but they all end up with the same results. Engravers will use different gravers to get the same results. It is a matter of personal choice and how the engraver has learned their trade.

To do a simple line inlay, first the channel is engraved to the width that the line inlay is to be. This engraved line can be cut with a square , a flat, an onglette, or a scorper. This engraved line needs to be undercut, similar to what we think of as a dovetail. This dovetail can be done several ways . Two ways to cut the undercut are with a knife graver or a chisel. A corresponding width and length of wire is then driven into the channel using a punch and hammer. If it is to be a flush inlay it is then shaved with a flat grave to remove the excess. Then the inlay is polished flush with fine stones or fine sand papers. The hard part is keeping straight lines straight and a very even width in the channel. This is accomplished with years of doing inlays.

When inlaying a larger inlay such as a bird. The bird is drawn out either on the gun or on paper then reduced and transferred to the gun. The out line is cut into the metal. An ink pull is done for future reference to refer back to for locating the edges of the cavity or for details on the inlay. The metal of the gun is then removed within the cut outline of the bird. The depth of the inlay is determined by being flush or raised. The under cut is done around the edges. Then a series of burrs are raised using a chisel. These burrs should be raised in at least three directions. The burrs should not be raised so high that they would come up through the inlay.

The inlay can either be wire or sheet. The thickness of the inlay material depends upon the depth of the cavity and if the inlay is to be flush or raised. Using wire, the wire is started on the outside edges set with a punch and hammer. This continues around filling the cavity until it is all set in. The inlay is then set in place with firmer hits from the punch and hammer. Now the inlay is either polished down flush or left raised and sculptured. If it is to be sculptured it is best to sand down just to the point of being smooth and level across the top, being careful not to take off more than necessary. Then the carving and sculpturing takes place.

To use sheet for the inlay, the outline of the cavity of the bird will be transferred to the sheet material.  A jeweler's saw is used to cut out the inlay. The cut out inlay needs to be able to drop into the cavity without any gaps or overlaps. Again the edges of the cavity need to be undercut and with the burrs raised inside the cavity. The inlay is then set into the cavity using a punch and hammer. The inlay is then ready for finish whether flush or raised. The sheet inlay is then finished the same as the wire inlay would be done.

Sometimes there is an advantage to using either wire or sheet for the inlay. Mostly it is the engravers preference that they use one over the other. I use both methods. It is usually a call I make just before doing the inlay. Sometimes I have found that it works to use both sheet and wire in the same inlay. One thing to remember is that if you are doing an inlay that uses different colors of gold or different metals in the inlay start with hardest metal. Inlay the hardest material first. Say you had silver and 24k gold to inlay in the same inlay. Inlay the silver first then do the gold.

This is just a very general overview on inlays done on firearms. If anyone has questions or would like to discuss this topic or any other gun engraving topic feel free to contact me.

Raised gold eagle and rabbit, flush inlaid border on a Sharps

Flush gold inlaid eagle and borders on the barrel of a Sharps

Floor plate of a Winchester model 70, raised and sculptured Thompson Gazelle with flush arabesque leaves and stems.

Same floor plate as above but blued and selectively French grey.

Knife made by T.A. Overeynder, Flush inlaid gold arabesque scroll with shadows and shading to make it stand out on the stainless steel bolsters.

Colt Single Action Army with raised and flush inlays of gold, silver and iron.

Nose cap of a Winchester Model 63. Inlays are flush, raised and sculptured. They are inlaid with 18k and 24k golds, green gold and platinum.

Flush gold inlays with the hammer, trigger and magazine release gold plated.

The same Winchester nose cap before it is blued.

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Sep 9, 2016
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Butch Proell said:
Beautiful work.
I'm only about 18 months into engraving and have done a
few shotguns and sold them on GB and not very well I
might add. I use most all Lindsay tools and just dabbling
in gold inlays. can soft brass wire be used for practice?
Just getting my graver points shaped an sharp,to try some
practice plates. Butch
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