A client who has commissioned several engraving jobs from me has had a few minor problems with knives he has had engraved by engravers who do not specialize in fine handmade knives. While the engraving has been fine quality some knives have had some minor damage to the finish or the working mechanism due to the engravers not being familiar with how to set up a knife engraving job to properly protect the knife.
As a public service to both the engravers who do the work and collectors whose knives are being worked on we decided it would be a good idea to post a knife engraving job prep list.
As engravers we need to keep in mind that not all collectors are outgoing brash people who will call you up and tell you that the action of their knife now drags or that there are new stray scratches on the nice stone inlay. But take my word for it, they do notice such things even if they don't speak up and make a major issue out of it.
The following check list should give you a good direction for keeping those $1,000 and up handmade knives safe while being worked on.
(1) Engrave with the blade in the open position ONLY.
(2) Tape the blade up to prevent damage to the blade and the person engraving.
(3) Stuff gently the inside of the knife with soft paper, this will help keep the works cleaner.
(4) Very Important. Tape up, mask the handle material to prevent damage and scratching. This is important and also helps prevent the need to refinish these delicate materials some of which may be beyond the engravers capabilities particularly if the inlays are stone. If attempts are made to touch up or refinish many types of stone the polish will be ruined as it requires special processes to polish rock.
(5) Do not hold the knife in a common engravers vise, there are many better ways to fixture the knife so that there is no stress on pins and working parts. GRS make a neat malleable heat activated material (thermo lock) for this purpose. Hot glue also works. However, I do not recommend fixtures that clamp on the knife like the GRS knife fixture with the bike chain in it. That fixture may be OK for a Spyderco or other factory knife but not for a high dollar hand made knife with very tight tolerances in the working mechanisms. It DOES NOT distribute clamping force enough to keep such a knife safe.
(6) If you are doing gold inlay work it is appropriate to insert wood shims between the handle scales to avoid distorting the metal. The shims should be of a width equal to the space between the handles, i.e. they should fit snugly but not force the handles apart.
(7) Do not attempt to loosen up a knife if it becomes tight after engraving, never drive wedges inside a knife. There are ways to re-adjust the knife and the engraver should contact the maker for advice in this matter.
(8) As a general rule it would be a good idea for the engraver to contact the maker before any work is done, this can be useful to find pin locations or other particulars about the knife such as thin spots where pockets are milled out on the underside for moving parts and clearances.