The historic record demonstrates that artisan letter-cutters have developed many styles of letter form; each of them adapting to the material, lighting and desired aesthetic finish.
The engraving of materials – whether stone, wood, glass, metal or any of the more modern materials – is the principal activity of the Andrusko Group studio.
The studio utilizes nearly every means & method of engraving available: including sand-blasting, use of manual, pneumatic and electric hand-tools, robotic routing, laser engraving and even a few of the more benign forms of chemical etching; whatever approach is needed to meet the aesthetic finishes and goals of the project designer.
Sandblasting – generally the most economical approach to engraving – is a relatively modern innovation made even more efficient with the recent (certainly, in historical terms) development and proliferation of computers, software and automated plotter-cutting equipment. Sand-blasting letter f0rms allow for a reasonable range of sizes, but begins to fail miserably as one approaches the lower size limits, which is more a function of the masking materials’ failure and alternatively suffers aesthetic quality as one moves into larger sizes as the blasting is essentially a race between eroding enough material to make an impression before the protective masks fail from the violence of the blasting media used to create the erosive effect into the materials. Sandblasting is generally going to produce a flat imprint into the material and will remove the softer portions of a material much faster than the harder portions, leaving a rough cavity. Some materials lend themselves to a more refined process referred to as sand-carving and begin to approximate the aesthetic quality of hand-carving, but there are important differences.
Not unlike similar changes technology produced in Graphic Design and forced upon the world – having sandblasting equipment, design software, mask-cutting technology and ambition doesn’t make the work produced any better: it just makes it faster and allows it to proliferate more. Technology will never be a substitute for nor replace good design.
Letter-cutting, the practice of carving letter forms – often including graphic elements – is quite literally hand-cut incisions directly into the material – often with a hammer and always with some form of tool or chisel – is a true art form, the perfection of which we can see, study and admire from Roman monuments still extant as well as other remnants of the historical & archeological record to include masterful, new works cut by today’s artists.
There are many letter-cutters active today who eschew any form of technology in their process, preferring the purity of their craft to the loss of something essential that comes with the speed, precision and efficiency of modernity. While I can enjoy and appreciate the mental state that comes with rhythmically becoming one with the stone and tools, this is a professional sentiment and philosophical approach to studio work I do not share with my brother and sister letter-cutters. Ironically, I’ve enjoyed enumerable hours discussing the best, and preferred, carbide steel tipped tools and chisel makers with many of them; incidentally, also a modern innovation and one all can agree is usually far superior to the hammered and fire-tempered forge-drawn chisels used in traditional letter-cutting.
By far, the most common type of incision is the v-cut form. However, there are many examples of beautiful derivative forms using different approaches and creative styles.
To the modern carver, there are a number of methods & techniques available for achieving clean, prismatic v-carved forms or any of the other specialized forms of dimensional lettering: traditional hand-carving with a hammer and chisel; the use of pneumatic or electric hammers & chisels; shaped palm-push chisels for carving softer materials by hand; manual, pneumatic or electric rotary tools with steel and/or carbide and/or diamond sintered and/or electroplated tips & automated carving using robotics.
Automated carving using robotics allows for some exceptional detail, performed rapidly and repeatably, with an exceptional range of diversity in form. Many of the traditional letter-cutters I mingle with occasionally find the entire subject of using automation objectionable, but there is no practical way to deny that automation performs the drudgery of roughing out the letterform without fatigue, complaint or pause with a rapidity that takes ones breath away – the machines are able to provide a tangible extension of life to the carver in increased productivity and minimizing the physical wear and tear of eyes, joints & grip; something only those who swing a hammer for a living can fully appreciate.
The laser is another modern tool that changes the fundamental nature of engraving materials. More about that here.
The stunning array of engraving options available should make any design professional seeking the services of an engraver very happy.