Each morning I hit the floor way before the chickens.  The new day can always hold great opportunities, unexpected and otherwise.  Usually, I’m quite spontaneous about how I do a lot of things.  I don’t over-think stuff; I listen to my gut and react. And often that gets me into tight places.  

Thursday afternoon a woman called me about doing an event Friday night. Before I answered on this one, I did ask the right questions and got none of the right answers.  

The event would be in a church. I would have to take the fee the church had pre-determined.  There would be two other engravers on site…no description or names of those folks.  It didn’t begin until 8:30 p.m. and it would last only two hours.  

The venue would be a 40 mile round trip and I wouldn’t be back in my bed until, probably, midnight.  Waaay past lights out for me.  The next morning I had an important breakfast meeting at 7:30.  My inclination was to politely tell the woman to take a hike.  At the events I do, I’ve always set the terms and called the shots.  But of course my wine and whisky bottle engraving have never been in a church with 1000 women in attendance.

Inside of 5 minutes I gave her the thumbs up. What the heck?  It’s different.  It’s mysterious.  Could be good.  I’m in!  

I did learn a little more in the conversation.  I had been referred by a young lady I did a small job for a year ago in my Studio.  The event was an inspirational conference with guest speakers in a non-denominational megachurch.  Not a Joel Osteen-size mega, but tons larger than your average Baptist or Catholic edifice.  Each woman would be given a simple necklace at the end of the service.  Two discs on a simple ball chain.  One was a heart and the other a circle.  About the diameter of a quarter.  The church-set fee was a buck a letter.  At first, that sounded too little, but then I realized an Alexandra or Coshondra or De Boniteous would be $9 – $11 in about 40 seconds. The necklace discs and engraving instructions. 

I arrived 30 minutes early to find one engraver already set up. She had a computer and a laser gizmo.  The sample engraving she showed me was gorgeous and intricate.  The other engraver was a husband-wife team from a small jewelry store in the area.  They had a pantograph engraving machine.  Could have been from the 1920s.  Or earlier.   Took two people to lift it.  Takes 1″ square brass letters in a rack that are traced with a big stylus.  About 24″ away there is a corresponding stylus that transfers the tracing of the big brass letters into the item…….oh, you don’t really want to know more.  

At the end of the service, women began clamoring to get into the room with us engravers and about a dozen vendors selling books, jewelry, and other women-related Christian items.  In two hours I walked out with $400.  It was the easiest engraving experience of my life.  At a buck a letter or number, on two sides of the heart and two sides of the circle, the names, messages, and dates added up nicely for some.  The most was 56 characters.  That one took a while.  About 3 minutes.  No guidelines. Just eyeballed each and went for it.  The most difficult and painful part of the night was holding the pieces that heated up handily after about 3 seconds.  When the room cleared in two hours I was told there would be many more the next morning and was asked to come back.  

I rescheduled my breakfast meeting and returned at 9:00 Saturday.  The pantograph couple from the jewelry store had bailed after staying until midnight.  In fact, they left about 20 sets they couldn’t do.  Toooo slow and clunky was their machine for fast production.  The service ended at noon, then the wave of women hit again.  More chains and discs.  At 1:30 it was over.  I probably engraved items for only about 70 women.  The vast majority couldn’t even get into the room.    

The laser-lady’s work was beautiful but I could do 5 to her 1 and the ladies loved the artistic appearance of my hand-engraving.   When we settled up, the church lady handling the money for all the transactions counted the letters I engraved…written on small cards…and it was another almost $750.  

Yes, I had 80 miles of driving but the rest was crazy easy.  Do the math.  I’d do that again any time and the church lady promised there would be many more opportunities with the functions going on there throughout the year.  

Moral of the story:  Take a chance on something that may have an unknown element.  You may learn a good lesson or earn a pocketful.  Or both.  




  1. Tony Rhyne March 11, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    Great story Ken, thanks for taking the time to share it. Lots of folks I engrave for have never seen anyone engrave using the calligraphy style of engraving you teach. They are amazed by the freehand technique and love the results.
    Best Regards,

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