Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Engraving Process

We recently had the pleasure of meeting with Weiling Zhou, our engraver and one of our flute finishers.  After seeing so many examples of his engraving work, we were curious to know more about the process…

Weiling engraved his very first flute with a small screwdriver!  As he became more interested in the engraving , he went straight to the library for extensive  research.   Powell’s VP of Production, Rob Viola, asked Weiling to engrave for the company and then provided Weiling with tools and engraving bowl base.  Weiling now has about 50 different engraving tools.

He also has a book of his own engraving patterns, although he makes many custom designs for people.  Custom patterns can be especially difficult on lip plates due to their complex shape.  One of the most popular engraving requests he receives is for bird patterns.  Weiling has several books with photos of birds that he uses to guide his engraving.  When it comes to birds, Weiling tells us that engraving images of them from the side is easier, and some birds (like the eagle) are very distinctive.  Because engravings do not have color, it may be difficult to tell the difference between a blue jay or cardinal -- so it's best to stick with something simple that looks good in black and white.  Initials are another popular engraving request, which Weiling tells us takes about 10 minutes.  Engraving a key cup takes roughly 40 minutes.

So, how exactly does the process work?  Weiling showed us with the example of a key cup.  He marks lines within the cup to help as guides and then sketches in the shapes or patterns to see, roughly, how they will fit and work best.  The engraving bowl vase can be adjusted to hold headjoints, barrels, and anything he is engraving.  When it comes to a smaller part like a key, the key is first "stuck" to an adapter with a waxy substance known as “pitch”  He then takes the appropriate tool for the cut he is going to make and begins.  Because the bowl rotates, it makes it much easier to engrave something round like a key.  Each line is cut with a single stroke, and these lines are engraved in a series to make the pattern.  To engrave texture, he uses more pointed tools and lightly taps them into the metal with a small mallet.

We were quite mesmerized watching Weiling create these patterns and textures all completely by hand.  He did mention that it is best to engrave solid metals because engraving through plating causes rust.  So, if you've wondered whether hand engraving is really done by hand, well, we can see that it is!  If your flute is not plated and you are interested in having engraving done, make sure to contact our Director of Quality and Service, Rebecca Eckles, and she would be happy to help.  She can be reached at or by calling (978) 344-5160.

Engraving bowl and tools. 
Heating "pitch" to hold keycup.
Initial sketches on keycup.
Different tool used to make texture.
A few sections of the pattern.

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