How To Engrave Small Letters In Wood

Engraving small letters into wood has become a popular hobby once again, especially for those looking to create homemade gifts. There are a variety of tools and methods available to get the rustic look that wood engravings provide. The smaller the letters are to be engraved, the more time it takes to engrave them, so some of these methods will require more time than others. 

When learning how to engrave small letters in wood, you must choose between a few different options: 

  • Chip carving is done with a chisel and results in sharp letters. 
  • Dremels are quick and but have a chance to burn the wood. 
  • Woodburning tools can create extremely accurate letters and result in a distinct look.

To help make the decision on which method is best for a specific circumstance, more details about the process and results are necessary.

How To Prepare To Engrave Small Letters

Whichever method is chosen, preparation work is an absolute necessity. Preparation work will help ensure that the design will look good on wood, that the right tools for the job are at hand, and that the work is protected in the long run.

Here is a short checklist of activities to do while preparing for wood engraving work:

  • Choose a design
  • Choose a wood type
  • Gather tools
  • Transfer the design to the wood
  • Prepare a workspace

Many of these steps are easy and do not require a lot of initial time, but forgetting one can cause many hiccups later down the line. Always make sure that you have chosen the best wood type for engraving otherwise this can affect your end result.

Choosing A Design

Choosing a design and style often takes the longest amount of time. While many people choose to sketch their own designs and letters, remember that many designs and examples are available online. Even if you are set on creating your own design, other people’s work can be a great source of inspiration.

While choosing a design, consider the use for the letter engraving. If it is for a child, choose something bubbly and fun. If it is a wedding gift, scrawling text or serif fonts may be more acceptable.

Choosing A Wood Type

Once a design is chosen, finding a wood type is important. There are thousands of different woods available, but they fall into one of two categories; softwood and hardwood. Softwood is cheaper and easier to work with but often looks generic, as there are fewer options. Hardwood can become extremely expensive and can burn from certain tools if not careful, but often results in great looks. 

As a beginner, it is often a good idea to practice on scrap wood of different types to get an idea of what working with it feels like. Many softwoods feel very similar to work with, but hardwoods can often have a distinct grain. 

Common softwoods include pine and fir. Thankfully, these are easy to find and make great wood to begin on. Hardwoods have a huge variety in look and price, but some of the best to start on include oak, cherry, and walnut. 

Gathering Tools

Many of the tools you will need depend on what method you choose for engraving the small letters. Whatever the case may be, be sure to gather them up before working. This will smooth out the whole process while ensuring that no runs out to the store will be required in the middle of the engraving.

If you are working with any chisels or knives to engrave the wood, be sure to sharpen them before starting. Likewise, any dremels should be charged or plugged in and their bits in good condition. Woodburning kits should be cleaned and working properly before starting on the main project.

Transferring The Design To The Wood

Transferring your chosen design to the wood is a vital step for getting great engraving. While it is possible to freehand the design onto wood while carving, this often results in a sloppy finish that is missing key details. 

Use graphite paper to transfer any designs or special fonts to the wood. Graphite paper is easy to use. Simply place the paper on the wood, then draw the design on it. As the pencil pushes down the graphite paper, it transfers to the wood and leaves a mark. 

If you are transferring a design from the computer to the wood, graphite paper can still be used. Attach the graphite paper to the back of a printout and follow the same steps. 

Having a light pencil outline as graphite paper provides will help keep your tools on track and make the whole process significantly easier. 

Preparing A Workspace

Finally, prepare a workspace for the engraving. The workspace can be any table or surface large enough to fit all the necessary tools and the wood being engraved. Many people move around the wood while engraving letters into it so they can get a better angle for certain letters. Make sure that the wood has enough space to spin in all directions on the surface. 

It can be extremely beneficial to get a clamp or other method to stop the wood from moving or slipping out from the tools. This will allow you to be more confident while engraving, help prevent injuries, and could help prevent mistakes. 

The Different Methods To Engrave Small Letters

Each method used to engrave small letters into wood has its own pros and cons. While all of them can likely create the final effect you are looking for and all produce great looking work, taking the time to consider what tools are available and your level of expertise will help you make the best decision.

While engraving small letters, it is important to remember that this is detail work. Regardless of what method is chosen, it will take time and effort to achieve a great look.

Chip Carving

Chip carving is often the first thing people think of when engraving small letters. Chip carving is done with a sharp chisel and occasionally a mallet. Other tools like gouges can help create rounded letters.

To chip carve, a V-shaped cut must be made into the wood. Take a small chisel and shimmy it into the wood to start. Then, once a deep enough slice is in the wood, do it again on the other side to produce a V shape. Brush away the wood that comes out from the pressure and repeat the process along the whole letter or all edges. 

It is important to insert the chisel at an angle of around 30 degrees. If you go straight down with the cut, the “chip” that is being carved out of the wood will never come out. Similarly, if the angle is too deep, it will scrape and cut out too much, ruining the lettering. 

Chip carving takes a significant amount of time and effort, although it produces truly unique results and, as it is mastered, can provide the most control of any method. 


Dremels are great for engraving small letters into wood efficiently. Essentially, a Dremel takes a cutting bit and rotates it extremely quick to cut into the wood – imaging an electric drill vs. a hand drill. 

Though this is often extremely efficient, it can be easy to go overboard with the power and accidentally cut too much wood out. In addition, certain woods can be burnt by the Dremel’s spinning. Take it slow while using a Dremel, especially as you get used to the power. 

Despite all the power, dremels are still wonderful tools for engraving small letters. To engrave, all you need is the Dremel and a sufficiently small bit. Be sure that the bit is made for carving wood. 

Take the Dremel while it is already spinning and touch it to the wood. It will immediately start carving in a sort of circle shape. Once you are happy with the depth, move the Dremel along the letter and try to even out the letter and get a smooth finish.

If you notice the wood begins to get burr marks, take the Dremel away for a short while and let it cool down. 

Woodburning Tools

Finally, woodburning is a great way to get shallow, dark engravings in wood. These tools are perfect for achieving a truly rustic look that can also create a large variety of designs.

Many woodburning tools and kits come in the shape of a pen, allowing users to simply drag the woodburning tool along the wood and burn the letters into the surface. This is extremely intuitive and great for intricate designs or scrawling text. 

As you become more advanced in woodburning, it is even possible to introduce shading and various levels of burning to letters and designs to create intricate work.

One thing to note when woodburning small letters is that the engraving will never be very deep. While woodburning does naturally take away the wood where the letters are, dremels and chip carving are best for projects that require deep letters.

To woodburn letters, start with a fine tip on the pen. Be sure to let the woodburning kit heat up fully before starting to get consistent depth and coverage from the burn. Then, trace the letters slowly and carefully. Do not let the woodburning pen sit in place for long. This can create a blob of burnt wood in that spot and ruin the look. 

As you are moving the woodburning pen along the surface, note the direction of the grain. It is easiest to move with or across the grain, not against it. 

Creating Beautiful Wood Letterings

Now you’re all set to start engraving small letters into wood. Each way may have a few different pros and cons, but you’ll be able to mix and match them to create just the design you’re hoping for. 

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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