Thursday, 27 August 2009

David Bedford hand Engraver

Yesterday was a day of meetings in London, Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust were very supportive of the work we are doing with the Heritage Crafts Association, the advisor on heritage issues at DCMS had some useful leads and the highlight of the day was meeting Mark Jones director of the V&A who as well as being an advocate of modern design is passionate about skills. One thing we discussed was the confusion between innovation and excellence. We have just come through a period where innovation and the incessant quest for the new and novel has been rather popular but perhaps now we are seeing a change and people are becoming less interested in innovation and more interested in excellence.

One man whose work certainly exhibits excellence is a hand engraver who we visited in the morning. Due to my late train it was sadly a short visit but David Bedford's skills were a joy to see.
Hand engraving requires a good eye, steady hand and mastery of technique. The design is laid out and the outline of the letters lightly marked then repeated cuts gradually deepen the letter to finish with a crisp sharp result.

The tools of the trade are very simple, most of the work is done with a simple square sectioned tool sharpened to a triangular point. You can see the colours on the one in the foreground from where David has re tempered it as he was not happy with the way it held it's edge.

I was interested in the way both hands were braced together and the tool pivited around the rigth thumb. I could see how this gave excellent control though I could barely credit the level of control David is capable of. One of his more famous commisions was to engrave the wording inside the wedding rings for the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. This copied their own handwriting and all done inside the width of the narrow ring.

Whilst he is clearly a master of his craft David is very down to earth and enjoys just as much working on run of the mill projects such as engraving initials on silver spoons or names on trophies as the grander projects.

Despite his mastery of his craft David Bedford does not appear on google, he trades as JJ Bergin the company he came into years ago. Most of his work is brought to him by local jewelers or occasionally private commision. One of the nicest thing to hear was that through the Hand Engravers Association he has been passing his skills on to others.


  1. Hi! I just came across this links-page and thought you might like to have a look. I guess you have probably seen most or all of these examples, but maybe not!

  2. Hi Rika,

    Thanks for the link, Karen sent the same link by email, she has a great site there for medieval image resources.

  3. Very interesting, Robin. The tools look exactly like, and probably are, engraver's burins. These things are are also used to make woodcuts. I made a burin out of an old bicycle spoke and used it to make a few woodcuts. Lot of fun, no art yet. "AS steady hand" is an understatement. Amazingly, engraver's burins are still available and at very reasonable prices, USD 8-15 when I last checked. Burins are also used to do the checkering on gunstocks. Freehand. That is why custom gunstocks cost so much.