When firearm engraving started exactly is muddy, but art and firearms seem to have always had a connection. It wasn’t until the second half of the 19th century, just before the onset of the American Civil War, that modern pistol engraving as we know it took hold in the States.
Louis D. Nimschke and Gustav Young were two masters of the era; with Young working in-house at Smith & Wesson as an engraver for more than 20 years. The styles of Nimschke and Young are often characterized as the “American” style of engraving which is still in practice today.
The late 19th century is commonly referred to as the “Golden Age” of firearms engraving. It was customary to give presentation arms to military leaders, business associates, or family members. Additionally, firearms manufacturers of the time would hold fairs where they would present their best work which included eye-catching engraved guns.
The art of engraving saw a decline during the 20th century but was kept alive by Rudolf Kornbrath, an independent artist from Hartford, CT. He created exceptional works for Smith & Wesson as well as other manufacturers. The 1970’s saw a new increase in the demand for “mass produced” engraved firearms. Using the design of an engraver, machine engraving took the spotlight and allowed for the mass production. But even today, our factory engraver, Dave Misiaszek still prefers his hammer and chisel.
Dave Misiaszek started at Smith & Wesson in 1975 at 19 years old. Shortly after high school, he stared his career at the company was as a tumbling room operator. Throughout Dave’s tenure at Smith & Wesson he has worked in various positions, from assembling long guns to lathe operator. It wasn’t until 1998 that Dave finally landed his role as the Smith & Wesson factory engraver after completing an apprenticeship. He has been the engraver ever since.
It was during that apprenticeship that Dave had his first hands-on engraving experiences. He practiced incessantly on scrap metal, knives, and anything he could find to master his craft before he even touched a firearm. He later took classes at GRS Training Center in Kansas. “I enjoy making my own designs and have a lot of pride in what I do. It makes me happy when a customer likes what I do-it’s gratifying.
”Dave uses the traditional methods of hammer & chisel and hand-push for most of his work. He prefers to use a pneumatic system only for stippling background work, otherwise he opts for the hammer & chisel for everything else. Before the chisel hits metal on any project, though, he will plan and draw his pattern onto the firearm before getting started. “Basically,” Dave says, “I love drawing… my wife gets mad at me. Before she gets a chance to read the newspaper, it’s all drawn up with faces and designs.
”Smith & Wesson offers a variety of engraving services with everything from the most minimal artistic touches to incredible intricate Bulino detail.
Bulino engraving is the hyper-realistic engraving of traditional or fantasy art, portraits or scenes, and seals or insignias with the option to inlay different precious metals. Bulino engraving uses different shading & background techniques to fit your desired look.
Scrollwork, the most popular type of engraving, is classified into four different classes. A “Master Class” gun is one with 100% ornamental coverage. A “Class A” gun is one where every part is covered in 75% scrollwork, a “Class B” is 50% of each part, and a “Class C” is 25%. Smith & Wesson also offers custom lettering, polishing, plating, and finishing.
So, you might be wondering how many guns Dave has engraved? In his 23 years of engraving, he has completed close to 500 Class guns and has easily worked on thousands of others. It can take him anywhere from two hours to two months to complete one gun depending on how large or intricate the project is. This Model 41, shown below, Dave considers to be the best engravings of his career, complete with gold inlay.
“No matter what you do,” Dave says, “do the best you can and always strive harder. Never be satisfied with how something came out-always try to make it better.
”For more details about custom engraving your Smith & Wesson handgun, to request an engraving catalog, or to place an order call 1-800-331-0852 ext. 4045.