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How to Become a Headstone Engraver
If you walk through a cemetery, you’ll likely notice how much the field of headstone engraving has evolved over the years. At one time, headstones were designed by stoneworkers who chiseled the letters with tools and equipment. To become a headstone engraver, you can obtain engraving or monument sandblasting training, but in the coming years, you’ll find that design work using computer-aided design or Photoshop will be more beneficial.
About Tombstone Engraving Careers
Today’s tombstone engravers use sandblasting to carve letters and images on the surface of the headstones. There are still some engraving companies that use tools like chisels to do the carving, but sandblasting is more popular. Even sandblasting is being replaced, though, by equipment that can cut into the stone at the click of a mouse.
Instead of going through monument sandblasting training, you may find yourself needing experience with software like CAD and Photoshop to get a job as a headstone engraver. This gives trained graphic designers more of an edge over the competition, as much of the work will go into creating the design that goes on the headstone rather than the actual chiseling or carving.
Education Requirements for Headstone Engravers
The good news is that headstone engravers don’t need a four-year degree to get into the business. You may benefit from attending a trade school, though, particularly if you can find one that will give you experience in chiseling or sandblasting. You can also search for monument sandblasting training, which may be offered through monument design companies.
Instead of taking headstone engraving courses, though, your time will be better spent learning CAD software and Photoshop and practicing your headstone designs. If you can create some mockups and put them in a portfolio, you may be able to impress some employers more than demonstrating that you can operate a tool they’re no longer using.
Salaries for Etchers and Engravers
Headstone engravers can fall under the general category of etchers and engravers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics gives an overall average salary of $33,860 a year for this occupation, with an average hourly wage of $14.85. Pay is highest in Maryland, Washington and Virginia, with Maryland engravers averaging more than $61,000 a year.
The graphic designers creating the template that headstone engravers use are much higher paid. Across all media, graphic designers make an average of $50,000, although most graphic designers work in fields like publishing, advertising and public relations. The job outlook for graphic designers isn’t bright, though, with expected growth of 4 percent through 2026, a rate that is slower than average.
Challenges of the Job
Before you tackle headstone engraving courses or learn monument design, you should also be aware that the job comes with a few challenges. One of the biggest will be the fact that you’re dealing with expensive slabs of granite, so mistakes can be very costly. Newer methods make the process less risky, as designers can get everything set up on the computer and double check it before the first cuts are made.
Tombstone engraving also means working with very heavy pieces of granite, which you may occasionally have to move around. There’s also the dark nature of the work you’re doing, although many tombstone designers have found a way to look at the work as memorializing someone and celebrating that person’s life, turning it into a positive.
Other Types of Work
Those who take headstone engraving courses and learn the trade often find that their work extends beyond cemeteries. If you’ve ever visited a landmark on vacation, you’ve probably seen a monument or two. Since headstone engravers do both headstones and monuments to memorialize humans in the cemetery, they’re ideal for monuments at parks and historical sites.
In addition to tombstone engraving, engravers can also apply their trade to industries like fine art and jewelry. Engravers also work on products like luggage and glassware. If you choose one of these other areas, you’ll need to learn how to apply the work experience you gain in engraving granite to other types of materials.
Stephanie Faris is a novelist and business writer whose work has appeared on numerous small business blogs, including Zappos, GoDaddy, 99Designs, and the Intuit Small Business Blog. She worked for the State of Tennessee for 19 years, the latter six of which were spent as a supervisor. She has written about business for entrepreneurs and marketing firms since 2011.