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Custom Engraving - Getting Started

Ever since I started my serious flute training in college, I felt like my flute was fighting me because my lip plate was always moving around on my chin. A friend suggested I put a postage stamp on my lip plate to keep it from moving around and it worked great for a while. Until it didn’t. One day halfway through a performance I could feel the postage stamp shifting and moving closer to the embouchure hole until it eventually slid over it. I was able to quickly shift it back into place during a rest and salvage the performance (I don’t think anyone even noticed I was having a problem) but I was paranoid it would happen again.

I started researching a more permanent solution to my problem and was intrigued by the idea of having my lip plate engraved to give it a bit more traction on my chin. Contrary to what I had thought, engraving the lip plate has no impact on how the headjoint plays and it can be a wonderful way to personalize your headjoint. Unfortunately in my searching I found that many of the engraving options offered by the major flute manufacturers were simple designs cut by a machine and the choices were few. I didn’t like the idea of having the same engraving on my lip plate as hundreds of other players out there so I felt like I needed something custom. Thankfully I had a great friend, Weiling Zhao, who offered to engrave my lip plate free of charge while he practiced his engraving skills. We talked about what I wanted, designed a pattern together and he engraved my lip plate beautifully. It was stunning, and perfectly executed; I was fascinated by the process and the magic of it all.

This experience of designing a pattern, finally seeing it engraved on my lip plate and knowing I would never have to deal with another sliding postage stamp again was exhilarating. Having always enjoyed making things with my hands, I wanted to learn how to engrave as well as Weiling was engraving, not to compete with him, but to be able to offer others that same special feeling I have whenever I get my flute out to play it and see that wonderful, custom engraving on it. I wanted to make custom jewelry for my friends and family (something I have been doing for many years) but this time with hand engraved custom messages, symbols and patterns. Weiling was kind enough to share some of his wisdom with me - which tools he used and advice on getting started and I soon was able to begin my engraving journey. Trying my hand at it, one of the first pieces I made was an engraved pendant for my best friend (who had just had a baby) with a mother and child on it. She loved it, but I knew I needed to hone my skills if I was going to make things that looked as polished and professional as I was envisioning.

Always the perfectionist, I felt I needed to really master this skill. I began training with Brian Powley, one of the finest flute engravers in the industry. He taught me the fundamentals, basic tooling and general advice on getting started. Practice was key, more important than having the latest expensive tools and gadgets, and he was always quick to remind me of that. I took my time with it, working on it daily and always trying to improve my skills by studying the work of the master engravers. I practiced lettering, scrolls, and basic shapes. Once I felt proficient in one technique I moved on to the next, repeating it until I felt confident with it.

Engraving was quickly becoming one of my primary hobbies; by that point I owned and had nearly memorized all of the engraving texts I could put my hands on, so I decided it was time to contact Sam Alfano, the best of the best. Sam agreed to make time in his schedule to train me as a private student, an honor only afforded to a handful of people a year. I packed my bags and traveled out to Louisiana to study with him as soon as he had space in his schedule. Sam and I worked together for many hours, passing practice pieces back and forth, he was always quick to offer advice, corrections and more often than not he would demonstrate cuts for me, which was always amazing to watch. He is a master engraver, a gifted teacher and an enthusiastic mentor; always happy to offer advice and guidance. My time working with him was life changing.

Over time I built up my skills under the careful supervision of my engraving mentors, ultimately turning a fun hobby into a professional skill. While my early days of engraving being just a hobby are behind me now, I continue to study and practice as I always have, striving to engrave better with each piece I complete. Today it is one of my favorite things to do, and I love it when I finish up a commission and get to admire it in its final form. My primary focus is flute engraving; focusing on lip plates, flute keys and flute rings, but I’m also engraving my handmade jewelry these days as well.

With every customer my first question is always the same (and their answer is always unique) - what do you want your engraving to be?


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