How Do I Fix Engraving Mistakes?

A recently engraved metal medallion surrounded by chisels, gouges, and a rotary tool.

It can happen so quickly. One or two seconds of distraction is all it takes.

Before you realize what has happened, your engraving tool has veered off course, you’ve misspelled a word, added the wrong date, engraved too deep, or committed another serious blunder. 

The possibilities for engraving errors are nearly endless, and they can happen to the best of us when we least expect it.

How can you fix engraving mistakes? Small engraving mistakes can be engraved over with a slightly larger design, and shallow mistakes can often be sanded or polished out. Other engraving mistakes can be corrected by filling in with wood filler, casting resin, or cement, depending on the material.

Even professional engravers occasionally make mistakes. They, however, know how to cover them up so no one is the wiser, and you can too. 

All you need is a little know-how and before you know it, you’ll be quickly repairing your engraving flaws to make them nearly as good as new.

General Tips for Repairing Engraving Mistakes

Humans make mistakes, and that’s a fact. 

When the mistake happens to be part of a permanent engraving, many of those new to the hobby consider the project ruined and throw in the towel. 

Don’t despair! With experience, you’ll learn that unfortunately, mistakes come with the territory, and in many instances, they can be repaired.

The Easiest Solution

Provided that the accident is relatively small and not a fundamental aspect of your design, the easiest way to repair an engraving mistake is to simply cover it up with a slightly larger design.

While altering one part of your design may force you to change other aspects as well for the sake of balance, cohesion, and symmetry, it’s certainly a better solution than chalking the whole project up as a total loss.

This method will work on nearly any engraved material, as long as your design can tolerate a slight adjustment or two. 

Another Solution

If the engraving mistake is quite shallow, you may be able to simply sand it off.

Before attempting to do so, cover all areas that don’t need repair with masking tape first, leaving only the mistake exposed.

This will protect the rest of your engraving, because the last thing you want is another “oops.”

Once your tape is in place, try a coarse or medium grit wet/dry sandpaper on the offending mark.

Different materials will require different grades of sandpaper, so there might be some trial and error here before you find the proper grit that will remove the engraving without causing further damage. 

Once the mistake has been largely sanded away, switch to a higher grit sandpaper to remove all marks left by the coarser grit.

Finish up your sanding with a 400-grit sandpaper for a smooth finish.

As long as the mistake was not engraved too deeply, this method will leave very little trace of the error if done correctly. 

Just be careful not to sand any more than necessary or you’ll be left with an indentation in the material.

Others may not notice it, but trust me, you’ll see it glaring back at you every time you look at the piece.

What Can’t Be Fixed

Plated Metal

While mistakes on some metal items, particularly softer metals like gold, can be polished out and are definitely worth the effort of fixing, or at least attempting to repair, some are not. 

An engraving mistake on plated metal is usually not worth fixing. 

Any attempts at repair usually result in the plating being removed unintentionally, leaving discolored areas and marring the entire appearance. 

The cost of removing the remaining plating, re-plating the item, and engraving again is usually not worth it.

Leather

Once the surface of leather has been removed by engraving, it’s gone forever. 

You could try soaking the damage in water to swell the fibers in an attempt to fill the groove, but this will leave a watermark, and the groove will likely still be visible.

You could also fill the mistake with an epoxy, but the difference in texture will remain quite noticeable.

Repairing Engraving Mistakes

Not all engraving mistakes can be completely eliminated, but many can be repaired to the point of being practically unnoticeable.

Of course, the remedy will depend on the material being engraved.

Fix Engraving Mistakes on Wood

For engraving mistakes on wood surfaces that can’t be disguised by design adjustments or are too deep to sand out, you’ll want to fill them in with wood putty or wood filler.

  1. First, you’ll need to gently brush away any small particles or dust left behind from the engraving process. 
  2. Clean the entire surface thoroughly with a degreasing cleanser like SuperClean (I use this all the time – it’s awesome), rinse, and allow to dry completely.
  3. Carefully fill the engraving error with wood putty or filler. Use putty in a matching wood tone for tiny mistakes if you do not plan on staining after. Use wood filler for larger mistakes or if you plan on staining the finished project.
  4. Allow the product to dry fully, then sand smooth with a fine-grit sandpaper.
  5. Wipe away all dust and debris, and you’re all set to continue with the engraving.

Fix Engraving Mistakes on Glass or Clear Plastic

Small mistakes are relatively easy to fix on clear items such as glass and uncolored plastic.

  1. First, you’ll need to gently brush away any small particles or dust left behind from the engraving process. 
  2. Clean the entire surface thoroughly with a degreasing cleanser, rinse, and allow to dry completely.
  3. Mix up some clear casting resin according to package directions (usually a 1:1 ratio). I’ve found Alumilite Amazing Clear Cast Resin to be ideal for projects like this. 
  4. Fill in the engraving mistake with your freshly mixed resin, being sure to fill all targeted grooves as much as possible – even slightly higher than the object’s surface if you can. 
  5. Let the resin dry for at least 24 hours or until completely dry.
  6. Once dry, sand the resin with a fine-grit sandpaper until it is smooth and level with the rest of the design. 
  7. Carefully wipe away all sanding dust, and you are ready to resume your engraving.

Note: For colored plastic, you could try using a paintable epoxy putty, like PlasticWeld, and then paint the entire piece once you’ve finished engraving.

Fix Engraving Mistakes on Metal

Admittedly, metal is one of the toughest surfaces to repair once a mistake has been made. As mentioned earlier, plated metal and hard metals are extremely difficult to fix.

However, with soft metals, such as gold, silver, and brass, your chances of removing an engraving mistake are relatively high, as long as the marks are not very deep.

Mistakes on soft metals can often be carefully polished out using either wet/dry sandpaper in progressively increasing grits or with a quality rotary tool with polishing attachments.

I’d recommend the Wen Rotary Tool Kit, as it comes with various polishing wheels, bits, grinders, and sanding discs to tackle any job.

Again, just be sure to polish no more than necessary or you’ll be left with unsightly dips and an uneven surface.

Another option for some metals would be to find a good TIG (tungsten inert gas) welder to fill in any unwanted grooves for you.

Alternatively, you could take the item to a professional, an option I’d recommend for any items with monetary or sentimental value.

Fix Engraving Mistakes on Stone

Yes, believe it or not, engraving stone yourself is possible with the right tools, and repairing engraving errors on stone isn’t as difficult as you might assume.

After you’ve cleaned the item as best you can (an air compressor is great for this) just use a premixed concrete product designed for patching holes. 

I’ve used Red Devil Concrete Patch in the past and found that it did not shrink with time, had a realistic texture, and dried to more or less match the surrounding stone nicely.

If necessary, use either a fine-grit sandpaper or a sandpaper made specifically for concrete, like Z-Lion Diamond Sandpaper, to smooth the repair to match the surrounding stone texture.