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March 09, 2008

How to Engrave Designs on Glass

P1010679(this is a glass that my friend Sue made using a Dremel for the first time!)

A Blast from the Glass

DIY Engraving

My coordination has been a bit off since, oh, puberty. Even now that I've entered my supposedly mature years I’m still a spiller and a breaker. When I go to friends’ places for dinner, I request plastic drinking vessels. People resisted this at first, thinking I was exaggerating. But they’ve learned. I have UASS. (Upper Adulthood Spiller Syndrome).


My own glassware is a ragged collection of mismatched pieces; the type of assortment one usually reserves for the cottage. Only I don’t have a cottage. (We spillers live the cottage lifestyle with or without beachfront real estate, because we never have full sets of anything.) 

But I’ve discovered a great method of bringing uniformity to my snifters, goblets and highballs: Glass engraving, a totally enjoyable pastime. You don’t need to be particularly artistic, because if you’re not confident with freehand drawing, you can just trace paper patterns, photos, quotations, leaves, flowers, fabric or wallpaper through the glass.

Mag_working_away_2 To speedily engrave entire sets of glassware, you’ll need to buy or borrow a Dremel Multi-Pro Variable Speed unit that includes a Flex-Shaft extension, which allows precise fingertip control. Rationalize this $130 purchase by considering this: Dremels are useful for more than a billion jobs including polishing, sanding, carving, drilling, buffing, grinding, sharpening, stripping, cutting and of course engraving. (If you already own a Dremel, you can buy the Flex-Shaft accessory separately.)

TIP: If you’re on a tight budget you can also engrave on glass using a $30 engraving tool, which has a sharp carbide tip that vibrates rather than rotating. The results won’t be quite as smooth but the engraving tool is great for stippling (making tiny dots for shading or detail).


Collect some glassware at the thrift store, or raid your own cupboard if you’ve got UASS (or if the spilling tendencies of your older offspring suggest that you’re a carrier).

Suspend your Dremel so the motor is raised, allowing the Flex-Shaft to hang freely above your work surface. This way your hand won’t struggle with the weight of the shaft, which can take the fun out of anything.

053_clamped_glass_being_engraved_wi On your work surface, place a piece of non-skid vinyl (the stuff sold for lining drawers or stabilizing slippery carpets). Gently clamp a glass to the edge of the table. Don’t reef on the clamp too hard or you’ll bust your glass like I did. Stuff a dark rag into the glass so you can see your design better when you start to engrave.

When using the Dremel it is essential that you wear a dust mask and eye protection at all times; the glass dust is quite toxic. Use hearing protection too, because the grinding noise is distracting.

ChinaSketch a freehand design onto the glass with a light-colouredmarker or wax crayon. You can also just wing it, engraving right onto the unmarked glass. Try running the Dremel motor at different speeds to see which is most comfortable for you. I like it set at maximum warp.

053_tracing_paper_pattern_through_g I always thought a diamond burr bit ($17) was required for etching designs on glass, but I was happiest with one of the stone grinding bits that came packaged with my Dremel. The diamond burr does produce very smooth lines, but they’re all the same thickness and density. A stone bit gives you more variation, much like a calligraphy brush.

If you prefer to trace a design through the glass you’ll need to douse it with a little spray adhesive so it won’t move around once it’s pressed against the inside of the glass. You can also stuff a rag into the glass behind the paper, fabric, leaf etc., to hold it in position.

The contours of the glass may drag your engraving tip off in unexpected directions as you try to steer it, so be prepared to work unexpected detours into the design. The engraving process will produce fine glass powder that obscures your work. Wipe the glass surface frequently with a rag.

After you’ve engraved service for eight you’re going to be really proficient. Why stop there? Try embellishing mirrors, windows, pet dishes, jam jars and eyeglasses. Summer is going to fly by.


Two Dremels, No Waiting

Dremel recently released two searingly brilliant new cordless rotary tools. They’re both gorgeous and run on the latest lightweight Lithium Ion battery technology. They’re way easier to hold than their corded forerunners. They charge rapidly and hold that charge for up to 2 years. They’re ergonomic, powerful and come with a vast assortment of bits for metal work, cutting, engraving, sanding, polishing and my favourite, etching. No one with even a budding interest in DIY should be without one of these babies.

The hottest of the two new models is the 7.2-volt Stylus ($120). It’s got an innovative handle that distributes the weight across the saddle between your forefinger and thumb. It’s incredibly easy to control and runs from 5,000 to 25,000 rpms (way faster than Down at Lulu’s).

The more powerful 10.8-volt Dremel (also $120) has the traditional rotary tool appearance, but it’s got a new ergonomic grip that enables the user to hold it more like a pen. It runs at up to 35,000 rpms, so if you’re doing heavier-duty projects like cutting copper pipe, you’re cruising.

Dremel_108_volt_2_2 Dremel_72volt_stylus




Very creative and nice idea Mag - thanks for the tip!



The picture with you holding the cup is that the one that you did? if so nice design> How long did it take for you to do that?
take care


Can you use the dremel to engrave words like Happy Birthday too?


Yes, you can engrave words with a little practice and a steady hand!


Sweet thats awesome Mag that you could do that. I wonder if you could get these equpipments here in the US, is that possible Mag?

PS How Long did it take for you to engrave all that glass? You're very very creative, Unlike me.


Nice work
I wanna build a huge square from glass like 6×6×6 and I wanna engrave some huge pictures and words can I do it with a dremel? Meaning to ask is there like a wide blade for huge words so it won't take so long?

L and T Glass

Wow, that is...awesome. I would love to be able to do that! I've fumbled at this sort of thing before, though, so...I don't know.

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