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How to Engrave Tombstones

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Knowing how to engrave tombstones by hand is almost a lost art. These days, the majority of tombstones are engraved by a machine. Whether you are seeking to craft a headstone for your family plot, or to restore the worn away engravings on a tombstone that is centuries old, this article can help you get started.

Select the type of stone you will be engraving. Popular choices include marble, granite, and sandstone, or slate. Granite is a great stone to use for a tombstone, as it is very durable. Most tombstones today are made from granite. However, it is very difficult to carve by hand. You may need advanced power tools such as a computer-controlled sandblaster. Marble and limestone are beautiful choices for headstones, but unfortunately, over the centuries, they can be destroyed by acid rain. Marble can be quite expensive. Sandstone was very popular in America for use as a headstone. However, it too can deteriorate over time in colder climates. It is a very durable stone, but it is also fairly easy to carve by hand. Slate is another popular choice, but it can also deteriorate due to environmental conditions. You can buy raw materials from a quarry to form your own headstone, or you can buy a blank headstone.

Gather your tools. You will need awls, mallets, and chisels. You can find these at hardware stores, but you may wish to seek out tools specifically designed with stone carving in mind. Try high-end art supply shops, or retailers that cater to stonemasons and sculptors. The Internet is a great resource for finding great tools at low prices. You should have a variety of differently sized chisels at your disposal so that you can create a variety of engravings. You may also want to consider purchasing pneumatic (air-powered) tools, which will reduce the amount of time and effort it will take you to engrave a tombstone.

To start, place the chisel tip against the stone. Tap the chisel lightly with your mallet. Working slowly, you will begin to create a divot in the stone. By changing your angle as you work, you can create straight lines for lettering, or curled lines to use as decorative elements. Always tap lightly, or you will risk losing a chunk of your engraving, or even creating a large crack in your stone. Experiment with different chisels and mallets to find what works best for your given project.

You may find that as you begin to chisel into your rock, there is a great deal of vibration. To dampen these vibrations, surround your headstone with canvas sandbags to absorb the impact. Absorbing the vibrations will help you create cleaner lines, and will also help to keep cracks from forming.


You may wish to wear protective gear such as goggles and dust masks to ensure your safety.

  • You may wish to wear protective gear such as goggles and dust masks to ensure your safety.

Tucker Cummings is a freelance writer based in New England. She holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of New Hampshire and is a member of the Association of Professional Business Writers. Cummings is also a food writer and curates the blog, Brave New Breakfast.

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