The Art of Engraving

Longthorne shotgun

Beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder and this, of course, applies to the intricate engraving designs found on shotguns. Engraving is a very subjective issue and at Longthorne we try to have a selection in our standard guns to suit everyone’s taste, from the heavily engraved Nouveau and Celtic models to the more subtle Rose & Scroll and Hesketh designs, but some clients want a little bit more to make their guns that little bit more special.

If you are going to have your gun customised, no matter where, it is always worth thinking carefully about the design because it can affect the re-sale value in the future if you or a family member may want to sell it.  That said, we are quite often asked to personalise guns for clients for all sorts of reasons, and with very personal aspects, we try to be as subtle and/or classical as possible.  Although, we concede that this concept did not apply to a certain coal miner from Wales with a Purdey gun embellished with the portrait of Margaret Thatcher, so there are exceptions!

Longthorne Engraving

It is worth thinking about where on the gun you would like personalisation, for example on one occasion we inserted a message on the inside of the lock plate of the gun so that the owner knew it was there but it remained subtle.  Under the top lever is also a good place and on a trigger guard, which could be exchanged for a replacement if required. We receive some interesting enquiries. We once had  an enquiry from a gentleman farmer about having his cows put on one of our guns.  Currently residing in the Antipodes, we have an engraving of a crocodile with a duck in its mouth, an interesting commission for our artist.  Family crests can look very pleasing and quite regal.

Irrespective of how the engraving is going to be applied to your gun, it must first be designed.  We are very lucky to be able to utilise the talents of our resident artist , and family member, Chloe Stewart, who is able to work with clients if they have something specific in mind.

Longthorne Shotguns Craftsmanship

One of our most challenging commissions was to engrave the portrait of one of our Client’s wives on the underside of his pair of guns

There are other considerations though, For example, although it is possible to create a drawing from a photograph, the final interpretation will never be identical to the photograph because for the best result the finished engraving has to consist of vectors (lines) and pixels(dots)  whether done by hand or mechanical means.  It is possible  to scan a photograph into a machine and reproduce this, however it can result in something which looks like a photocopy, lacking detail and looking ‘flat’. Some manufacturers do use this method as it cuts corners; it takes a great deal of time to recreate a photograph by drawing it however the end result is much better.

Gun manufacturers use many methods, or indeed combinations of methods, to apply engraving.  These include:

Rolling, pressing and stamping

A quick and easy way of achieving a repeated design, but doesn’t  always maintain detail or consistencey as the rollers eventually wear and have to be replaced or recut.  This method is an older method and tends to be used on less expensive guns.

Acid etching

This involves marking out the patterne which you do not want to remove and the applying – sometimes by spraying or agitating in an acid solution. It is good for cutting deep reliefs prior to final engraving.

Photo etching

This is similar to chemical etching and can achieve a high level of accuracy and has few ‘burrs’.  It can look a bit ‘flat’, but can work well when used in conjunction with other methods.


This method has become more popular in recent years due to the advent of high speed, highly accurate machines and micro cutters which can maintain excellent detail.  The drawback is the time it takes to generate the initial program: this can often take longer than hand engraving so not such a cost effective method for small batches.


Advances in this technology over recent years has led to some outstanding and very detailed results dependent on the type of laser used, some are better than others.


Hand engravers also sometimes use mechanical means to assist them including acid/phot etching for some applications, although  of course a high percentage is done by hand using either an electronic graver or a manual implement.  Manufacturers also sometimes us a laser to lay out the design initially onto the metal, which the engraver can then follow by hand,  Hand engraving takes great skill and artistic interpretation to achieve the best results.

At Longthorne we  start with a drawing and then use a number of different mechanical methods, depending on the design in question, and finally hand finish to ensure the final finish has a high level of detail, bearing in mind that the material we use for our guns is extremely hard in its raw state and would be very arduous, but not impossible, to manipulate completely by hand.  We also do all our gold inlaying by hand,  and occasionally engage the services of a hand engraver.

The human race have been engraving in one form or another since occupying the earth and have always used the tools available to them.  As gun manufacturers we make no apologies for the technology we use, it is technically advance, produces excellent results and take great artistic flare and skill to utilise its potential and achieve the best results.