Is a Rotary Engraver Good for a Beginner?

Woman using a rotary engraver on a round piece of wood held in a red vise.

The most difficult part of taking up a new hobby, like engraving, is always figuring out what you need to get started. Then, the fun can begin as you learn and become more adept at the craft.

One of the many great aspects of engraving is that you really don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment to start engraving items right away. 

Is a rotary engraver good for a beginner? A rotary engraver is ideal and highly recommended for those new to engraving. Rotary engravers are easy to operate, produce professional results, are inexpensive, and can engrave on a variety of surfaces, such as wood, plastic, glass, leather, and metal.

Although there are several engraving methods, beginners can easily become discouraged and disillusioned if they attempt a more difficult technique, such as using chisels and gouges to hand engrave.

Unfortunately, beginner engravers who don’t start out with positive experiences in their engraving venture usually wind up dropping the hobby entirely.

It’s a shame because using the right tool from the beginning would have made a world of difference. 

What Can a Rotary Engraver Do?

At first glance, rotary engravers may not appear to be particularly impressive, but once you see what they’re capable of, you’ll without doubt be impressed. 

Rotary engravers are powerful hand-held tools that look very much like a regular rotary tool, but are designed specifically for engraving.

They typically come with either tungsten carbide bits or diamond tip bits, though some models will include both. 

Most models come with one or several stencils for design purposes, a tool for changing bits, and an adjustable speed/depth control knob. 

Some will feature a variety of bit/burr sizes; others won’t, but what they all have in common is the ability to carve out designs in diverse materials ranging from leather to metal.

Several models can even power through incredibly hard objects like stone. 

Ready to be impressed? Depending on the make and model of course, most rotary engravers will have no trouble engraving:

  • Plastic.
  • Wood.
  • Glass.
  • Metal.
  • Leather.
  • Ceramics.
  • Stone.
  • Jewelry.

What Can I Engrave With a Rotary Engraver?

Rotary engravers are ideal for adding personal messages, names, or dates on gifts; marking personal belongings for identification; and creating custom designs or patterns on practically any item. 

Many people like to mark their tools, phone cases, laptops, etc. with their name or initials so there is never any doubt about who owns the item. 

Other people like to personalize either handmade or store-bought gifts with a heartfelt message, special date, or meaningful artwork.

The possibilities of using a rotary engraver don’t stop there though.

Once you see for yourself how easy it is to use this handy tool, you’ll probably find yourself decorating everything in sight.

The blades and handles on your kitchen knives? Sure, why not?

That plain, boring-looking picture frame? Definitely.

How about that leather wallet you picked out for your spouse’s birthday? Absolutely.

You get the idea. You’ll see possibilities everywhere you look. With a bit of practice, you’ll be engraving like a pro on anything that will hold still long enough.

Why a Rotary Engraver is Recommended for Beginners

A rotary engraver is certainly not the only way to engrave, but it is considered to be the easiest method of producing quality engravings of varying depths that will stand the test of time. 

You could find a master engraver who uses only hand tools to teach you how to engrave the old-school way, but truly mastering that technique can literally take years.

You could invest in a tabletop laser engraving machine, like the Twotrees DIY Engraver Kit, but the hardest materials that they can handle are wood and plastic, and the engravings produced are quite shallow.

You could use a pyrography pen, like the Walnut Hollow Wood Burning Tool, but it, of course, is designed only for use on wood, and technically, it really doesn’t engrave; it just burns a design into the wood’s surface.

A rotary engraver, on the other hand, actually engraves, and it does so with very little effort on your part. 

All you need to do is to guide the tool with a steady hand over the words or design you’ve chosen and applied to the material’s surface. 

Not sure how? Well, if you’re a natural artist, you can simply lightly draw your design freehand style directly on the material with a pencil.

If that seems too intimidating, you can use transfer paper or carbon paper to perfect your design before transferring it to your item.

Alternatively, you can use any stencil you like to create accurate renderings of patterns and shapes.

Once your design is ready, simply trace over the outline with your rotary engraver and watch your engraving come to life. It really is that easy!

Another Option

Many people don’t realize that an ordinary rotary tool typically used for sanding, polishing, and grinding, can also be used as an engraver.

As long as you have the correct bits/burrs for the rotary tool, you can use it just as you would if using a rotary engraver.

Advantages of Rotary Engravers

For beginner engravers, a rotary engraver will be the easiest way to dive into the hobby, gain skills and experience, and boost confidence. 

Of course, a slight learning curve is to be expected, but it won’t take years to become proficient as it might with hand engraving, and there is no complicated setup and big equipment like with large laser engravers.

All you need is one, uncomplicated, hand-held tool. Advantages of using a rotary engraver include:

  • Easy to operate.
  • Capable of producing precise details.
  • Can engrave a wide variety of materials.
  • Very affordable to purchase.
  • Includes everything you need.
  • Professional results.

What to Look for in a Rotary Engraver

As with any purchase, you can generally expect to get what you pay for in a rotary engraver or a rotary tool. 

However, any model will likely be sufficient for beginners to use.

Just be aware that cheaper versions from no-name companies will probably not last as long as models from well-established companies that have been around awhile.

Speed/Depth Adjustment

When shopping, pay attention to whether or not the model features a speed and/or depth adjustment. 

This is important as you’ll want to use a slower speed when just starting out, when carving only shallow grooves, and when working on designs that call for precision. 

The faster speeds will help you power through tougher materials, achieve deeper grooves quickly, and get jobs done faster once you’ve gained some experience and confidence. 

Bits and/or Burrs

If you plan on engraving mostly soft materials, such as plastic, leather, or wood, you should be just fine with a rotary engraver that only comes with tungsten carbide bits. 

However, if you suspect that one day you might want to engrave stone objects or plan on doing frequent engravings on hard metals, look for an engraver that includes diamond tip burrs – they can handle the harder surfaces easily.

Recommended Rotary Engravers for Beginners

I have personally seen both of the following rotary engravers in action and was duly impressed. Whichever option you choose, you will not be disappointed.

Uolor Rotary Engraving Kit

Uolor 108 Pcs Engraving Tool Kit, Multi-Functional...

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This affordably priced engraving kit provides you with an assortment of diamond burr bits, which means you’ll be all set to engrave on nearly any surface, including stone. 

What’s unique about this engraver is the fact that in addition to the assorted bits, you’ll also receive a bonus tungsten carbide scriber, 24 stencils, and a variety of other bits, blades, and sanding discs. 

This is one engraver that can perform double duty as a regular rotary tool in addition to being able to produce professional-looking engravings.

Utool Rotary Engraver

Utool Engraver, 24W Etching Tool with Soft Rubber...

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This Utool Engraver is another quality, economically priced tool perfect for engraving a wide range of material. 

Although it only comes with tungsten carbide bits, many users have found that it is nonetheless powerful enough to cut light engravings on stone and hard metals.

Favorite features include a five-position speed/depth adjustment knob, soft rubber grip for comfort, and maximum speed of up to 7,200 strokes per minute.

Last update on 2021-10-22 at 19:09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API