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Discussion about Gravers for lathe work


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We used gravers to cut wood and metal in the Needlework Stand and Threadholder classes at Guild School.  I placed an order for Gravers that included 1 Glensteel, 3 C-Max and 2 HSS Gravers mfg by GRS.  They are easily available from GRS, Gusswein & Rio Grande in the US, and I'm sure other jewelry supply houses.  I do not know much about Gravers, so thought that we may want to post a topic to discuss Gravers.


I am in the process of making handles, I've turned 4 handles of the 7, and I was searching for instructions on YouTube for seating the handles.  Mark Nelson's Tips on Successful Graver Installation indicates that he shortens the length of the tang before setting  the HSS graver into the handle.   The handles, at least are going well;  It is probably taking me about 15-20 minutes to turn a basic handle, and I did only a little sanding...


Has anyone set their own gravers in handles?  I was watching other people hold bits and gravers in their hands while cutting on a lathe in different YouTube videos, and although I know it is quite possible, that doesn't seem the safest technique in the world, just holding some sharp piece of steel in my hands while a lathe is turning xx rpm...


My Glensteel and C Max gravers are really small in overall length, they will not require cutting to insert in handles.  I mention this only to increase your awareness and really examine what you are purchasing, hopefully you won't experience my "duh" moment.  I did not print the pages before I ordered, but I did find that when I received the order and printed the page the overall length of the gravers was pretty accurate to what had printed.  I wanted to try at least one of each kind of graver so I'll have a basis of review.


Is there a general rule on the length of a graver?  I was not measuring graver lengths in class.  I did like that Bill had wine corks for the sharp end of the gravers...


Do I start out and just set the graver in the handle and see if I need to adjust the length after I use the tool?  Or do I just make my handle longer?


Rosewood seems pretty popular, but what kind of wood do you like to use that does not split?  I do not have a lot of 1 - 1/2" stock that I want to cut up for handles, so I used a maple that I found in husband's cut off pile...of course can go to the local store and buy stock for turning...


I plan to take a woodburner and mark the end for the shape of the graver or use my dremel marking /engraver tool.


Thanks -



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Tamra, yes I have set my gravers in bought handles, I didn't search for any info on it, so the thought of shortening the tangs never occurred to me. I drilled the holes deeper into the handle and pushed the gravers in resting the sharp point on scrap wood. Last week I helped my friends buy a set and the guy in the shop said he have heard that people heat the tang and then push it into the handle without drilling the hole deeper, frankly that sounds even more dangerous to me, the sharp point and hard wood are already enough to deal with without adding hot metal to the mix.

In the beginning I didn't have handles on mine and did use them like that, it didn't really feel dangerous, I just didn't like the sharp point of the tang in my hand. You do have to hold the graver right close to where you are cutting to have nice control over it. Here is a photo of Bill holding a graver that Josje took last year in Tune, after I came home from my first brass class I kind of forgot how to hold it...too much going on in class.


As too ideal length, not something I have thought about either, mine are all more or less the same I think.

And now I have a question, at a recent antique fair I bought a vintage brass hanging container, I thought it would make nice storage for my gravers and some other tools that I want close to my lathe as surface space is very sparse in my workroom. I put some polystyrene in it to push the tools into...now a friend told me that she did that with her steel knitting needles and they rusted! She lives at the coast though so now I am wondering if it was the salty sea air or possibly acids in the polystyrene that caused the rust, if the last I would want to make another plan...I certainly don't want my gravers to rust.


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Elga thanks for your reply.  I think condensation or water is our enemy for steel beds on lathes, cast iron. I am assuming the gravers can rust too, because they are steel.  When maintaining a steel bed on a lathe, or my preac, I believe I should give it a gentle wiping with machining oil using a lint free rag, when I place it in storage, and then I would wipe it off before using it.  So I would do the same treatment to my cutting tools.  I've read that some people use Johnson's wax on equipment; I do not know if this works or not. but I do not want sticky tools, so I would hesitate on this one.  I prefer to control the environment where the tools reside, so I don't have issues with moisture and condensation.  Here my tools are more likely to rust if left in a garage, or a non heated building, but if I bring them in the house with heat and air conditioning, I wouldn't expect too many issues. 


I'm more inclined to store my gravers hanging in a drilled out hole, but I do like your organizer.


I hope if my inclinations for maintaining this equipment is wrong, that someone on the forum will correct me.


Oh, and a specific kind of machining oil recommendation would be great too... do we like 3-in-1 or liquid wrench?  Or do I go to the Auto Parts store?



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I called GRS and asked about the differences between HSS (High Speed Steel), C-Max and Glensteel.


I think most people are familiar with the properties of sharpening a HSS tool.


GlenSteel is HSS, was designed to not break or chip, but is easier to sharpen then HSS.  GlenSteel is cobalt free.  Wikipedia indicates "Exposure to cobalt dust is most common in the fabrication of Tungsten Carbide."  So we would be exposed when we are sharpening our tools.


C-Max is a tungsten Carbide gravers are formulated to hold their edge for a longer period of time, or to stay sharp longer, but they are harder to sharpen.


The suggested retail price for the gravers were:


$16 - $23 for C Max

$13 - $18 for GlenSteel

$10 for HSS


With some planning of your order, I would guess you will be able to get coupons and email offers from the large supply houses.



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For those of you trying this at home, notice in the picture that where that the graver's point is.  It is upside down from the way you would hold a standard turning tool at a lathe.


I am so glad to have been introduced to gravers. 



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Tamra, I have bought the HSS gravers, as far as I know they are fine for use on brass, you don't need anything stronger, I guess for steel and silver you might need something else.

As to lubricating your tools, I think first it would be a good idea to read the manual and see if they recommend anything specific, I noticed yesterday while paging through the Sherline catalogue that there are certain areas on the mill that you should never lubricate.

For the areas that does need lubricating I use WD-40, a British product, I suppose there must be an American version too. As far as I understand lubricating especially your lead screws on your lathe and mill on a regular basis is important as it also takes up the slack between the parts. I am hoping someone else with more experience will also chip in here, I haven't being doing this long enough to know all about taking care of one's tools and I do wonder sometimes if I am doing all the right stuff or neglecting some important things.

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  • 6 months later...

Camellia oil (formulated for tool protection) has now become a favorite for protecting steel wood working tools. Lots of sources for Camellia oil on the internet. It has been working OK for me on the small tools. It is odorless and stainless and won't effect glue joints. It is pretty easy to keep a small container of it handy for wiping off tools before putting them away.

But I use other products on the large table tops for full size saws, drill press, etc.



I think it is not just the plastic that is the issue but also that some wood has acid in it which if the residue is left on the tools can accelerate rust. So it is a good housekeeping practice to wipe them clean and wipe on a very light coating of oil before putting them away. Then before use wipe hard with a clean rag to remove any oily residue. This is the kind of routine our ancestors did to make make their tools last a lifetime. Every child who was learning the trade got assigned these kinds of tasks but we adults new to it don't have that mentor around to teach us this habit as part of our learning curve. Well except for my mentor mother nature who taught me it is a lot easier to prevent rust than to remove it.


I would not store my tools in that kind of holder. Holders like that are great for use while working with the tools but afterwards put them away into a drawer or tool roll that is fitted to help inhibit rust. Then when you need them bring them out and put them into the easy to access rack.


If moisture in your work space is an ongoing issue then treat the steel, wrap with rust inhibiting cloth or corrosion inhibiting paper or use the rust inhibiting chips of material you can store with the tools. Rubbermaid and other companies are now selling snap together containers that have a soft seal in the lid and are moisture proof. Just be sure what you put in them is clean and dry to start with.


I am in a rainy climate just yards from salt water so I have to do ongoing corrosion prevention treatment on all my steel and iron tools large and small. I have a tote box of supplies set up just for this purpose with all the cleaning and treatment aids I need to both remediate and prevent.


Are the teachers at the guild school teaching about taking care of tools to prevent rust as part of the setup and cleanup that goes with the class? If not then why not?

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... > Are the teachers at GS teaching about taking care of tools to prevent rust?


I know my most recent teacher has expressed that he doesn't buy rusty tools, but I think this particular student is pretty green that the teacher may be  happy to get moi though the class... one particular student managed to turn her first piece off center... a new sub-level of talent???


It is a good lesson, though...and I am happy to be the apprentice's apprentice.


Camilla oil, and a roll for the tools... I had always wondered why cutting tools were in a roll... like they wouldn't cut through cloth if they were sharp?  I think I rolled up my cutting tools, but as DH was removing the large overhead door by my woodlathe late fall - I haven't touched the bench through all of winter, I will have to check... I know I'm going to have to spend sometime sharpening though before I return to turning.  I generally vacuum and clean my area as I am working, as I prefer to return to a neat area.  I will add this to my best practices.


My gravers have been living in an airtight plastic container, so they should be fine...of course I'll be checking everything tomorrow!



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