Cafe Interview with Ray Cover
He's certainly no stranger to engraving forums, or to customers who seek fine work. I first met Ray at a knife show years ago when knifemaker Joe Kious asked me if I knew him. I said no, and Joe said "Well, he's here and you should go meet him...he does outstanding work." I did meet him and was not disappointed in what I saw. It was obvious to me that here was an engraver that was as skilled with a pencil as he was with his tools. Design-wise, Ray thinks outside the box, and every job is stunning and beautifully executed. He's doing his part in raising the world benchmark in hand engraving.
Ray's always been willing to offer advice and help others along their way (he's also a teacher), and we're fortunate to have him sharing his talent and experience in the Cafe.
Ladies and gentlem, Mr. Ray Cover.
::: Engraving :::
Q. What's your name?
A. Ray Cover
Q. Where are you from?
A. Festus, Mo
Q. How long have you been engraving?
A. About 18 yrs or so
Q. What made you want to become an engraver?
A. I have always had a love for art and I have always liked
metalworking. Engraving seemed like the perfect combination of the
Q. Are you a hobbyist or professional engraver?
A. I make my living as a full time independent engraver
Q. How did you learn engraving?
A. The hard way. Mostly trial and error. I did at one point
stumble across McKenzie's videos which helped a lot. I had a copy
of Meek's book but I had a hard time understanding it until I had
already figured a lot of stuff out on my own. I remember meeting
Jim Blair at a show early on and he was kind enough to let a young
kid pick his brain a bit. I had occasional run ins with other
engravers who gave up tidbits too. All this helped, but mostly it
was looking at other people's work anmd backward engineering how it
must have been done. Then going to the bench to see if I was right.
Q. What was your biggest obstacle when you first started?
A. Lack of information
Q. Are you a hammer & chisel and/or push engraver, or do you use
tools, or a combination of hand and power?
A. I use a combination of hand and power. I used a Lindsay Palm
Control as my main tool. I still do a lot of my bulino work with
push gravers (especially the cut dot work).
Q. What are your favorite books pertaining to engraving?
A. I really like the Marco Nobili books. I also think Ron Smith's
scroll design books are a very valuable help to the hand engraving
Q. Of the old engraving masters, who's work is among your favorite?
A. Honestly, I am not really turned on by any of the old master
engravers. The artist who have influenced my work who I would
consider "Old Masters" are probably neoclassical and renaissance
masters like Michealangelo, David, Correggio, etc. I would
probably also have to include MC Escher in that mix eventhough he
is much more modern. The engravers who influenced my work are
still alive. As a young man I admired the work of Steve Lindsay,
Ron Smith, and Sam Alfano. Studying these men's work had a great
influence on my scroll style and the standard of quality I set for
Q. What's the worst engraving mistake you ever made, and how did
you fix it?
A. I mispelled a guy's name on a knife. I inlayed the banner and
re-cut the name.
Q. What are the majority of your engraving jobs (guns, jewelry, etc)?
A. Most of my engraving work right now is on hand made knives and
hand made fountain pens.
Q. What type of magnification do you use (microscope, Optivisor, etc)?
Q. What part of engraving do you find the most challenging or
A. The business end. without a doubt the business end.
Q. What part of an engraving job do you dislike the most, and why?
A. I don't know if there is a part of the job that I do not like.
However, there are occasional jobs I run into which I do not like.
Q. What's your favorite part of an engraving job, and why?
A.The detail and shading work
Q. Do you like or dislike lettering, and why?
A.I used to hate lettering. But lately I have been improving my
lettering and now I don't really mind doing it.
Q. What kinds of engraving do you refuse to do?
A. When the customer wants something I know is a mistake I turn
down the job. Be it a process that will destroy/damage the article
being engraved or some ugly uncouth design concept I will walk away.
Q. How do you rate the quality of engraving done today as opposed
to 50 or 100 years ago?
A. I fully believe that engraving is in its golden age right now
and is still blossoming. The readily available information and
access that engravers have to each others work has developed a
level of quality that has not been seen since the days of Durer and
Q. Do you perceive any part of hand engraving as a dying art?
A. Not from what I can see. I would say it is picking up speed not
Q. What country or countries impress you with their highly skilled
A. I think this is a mute question at this point in history. There
is extremely high quality work coming from all over the world now
days. That being said I do believe that there is a higher
concentration of competent arms engravers in the US.
Q. What affect has the internet had on your hand engraving?
A. Seeing you guy's work online keeps me on my toes and inspired to
keep raising the bar on the quality of my work.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn engraving?
A. Take a class. Life is way to short to spend it frittering away
months trying to figure out something that someone can show you how
to do in hours.
::: Personal :::
Q. How many children do you have?
Q. What's the occupation of your wife/husband?
A. French Teacher
Q. Besides engraving, what are your hobbies and interests?
A. Flyfishing, sailing, woodworking, building and rebuilding sailboats
Q. Where is your favorite place to be?
A. at my bench
Q. What’s one thing of which you are most proud?
A. My family
Q. When you were a child, who was your hero?
A. My dad. I don't even have to think about that one.
Q. Where were you on September 11, 2001?
A. At my bench
Q. Do you have any pet peeves?
A. Disrespectful and vulgar people, disobedient kids, drivers with cell phones
Q. What one person was most influential in your life?
A. My dad
Q. Who (living or deceased) would you most liked to have met?
A. Jesus Christ
But most of all beautiful work. The gold or metal you use for inlay must be phenominily thin, since most
of the inlay your doing is on such delicate items. Do you ever measure the thickness or is it an eyeball it thing now.
Very nice interview. Your work is great. I wish my artistic talents were as good as yours. Maybe in the next life!
I do both. Sometimes I measure and sometimes its is just an eyeball thing.
On most knives now days I just eyeball it. Generally the gold i am inlaying is about .011" which I think is 30 guage if I remember correctly.
THe pens sometimes are a tricky ordeal. One of the reasons I only work on hand made pens, especially David Broadwells pens, is because David and I have worked together so well for so long that he understands what I need to work with.
If I tell him I need at least .020" wall thickness on a pen barrel or cap to successfully inlay into it then I get at least .020" wall thickness. If I need more for a particular job to work, he engineers it to give me more. In some metals like CP titanium and stainless I can get inlay into a pen barrel or sleeve that has as little as .015" wall thickness with the inlay going about .006 - .007 into the surface.... that is als long as the inlay area is not too large or the radius of the curve around the barrel too tight. In softer metals like sterling I have successfully done inlay on stcok as thin as .025" but I prefer the softer metals to be thicker so they do not stretch.
The past couple years I have been buying my gold in coin of ingot form adn rolling it out myself int o sheet and wire. Mostly because of the variety of sizes I tend to need requires me to have a mill anyway. I figure if I have the mill I might as well not pay processing fees to have someone else roll out the gold for me.
Sam I remember that show.
If I am not mistaken that was the first of the two years the Knifemaker's Guild Show was in New Orleans.
Yes, I believe it was in New Orleans. You coming down for mardi gras?
I'm afraid that would be a little more than this hillbilly could take in.
It's a nice interview, I like the answer of the last question.
Ray, +++God Bless you and your family+++
Beautiful work Ray. The use of inlay is beyond me. Am I permitted to ask what the orange on the coy is? I have admired the design for a while and wish I had the skill to do that. The skill of the knife and gun engravers on this site astounds me. I have shown the knife photo to a friend that has a coy pond, and he could not get over how real the engaving looks. When I start thinking about trying to learn what Ray or Sam can do, I realize it would take the rest of my life. Guess I'd better stick with what I know.
I feel the same way about your coins.
When I made the Kio knife I had a concept that I was experimenting with. The idea was to create an engraving design that existed on two different planes of existance. One plane under the water surface and one plane above the water surface.
Everything that exist above the water surface is sculpted on the knife handle. The lilli pads are scuplted 14K green gold raised inlays. The part of the log that sticks up out of the water is sculpted copper raised inlay.
Likewise, everything that exist below the water surface is stoned down flush with the surface and bulino engraved. Since the water surface acts as a barrier to prevent an onlooker form directly experiencing that 3d space, the space was engraved as it would be seen (a 2d image seen through the water surface).
The red color on the kio is copper inaly. I also platinum inlaid the wihites of the fish to make the fish body brighter than the gray titanium base.
I'd better learn the right spelling before emailing next time, whoops! Thanks for the explanation. Steve