Sam Alfano is a gifted gun, knife and fine jewelry engraver. He’s also an inspired teacher and a savvy businessman. On top of all that, he produces a series of instructional videos, hosts the engraving forum EngraversCafe.com, which has over 10,000 members worldwide, and runs a tutorial website, iGraver.com. And that’s just the beginning.
Sam started out as many do in the engraving industry, by experimenting with different materials, techniques and mediums. His specific interest in engraving on handguns and knives was largely due to the fact that his father was a gun enthusiast when he was growing up. When he started engraving, firearms seemed like a natural place to start. Although Sam also experimented with leather and other materials, he found himself drawn to working on very hard surfaces.
He was a self-taught engraver until he discovered the book The Art of Engraving by James B. Meek, which changed the way he approached the craft. Until that point he had literally just “scratched the surface” of the art and the metal. In 1982, he hit what he terms “the engraving lotto” when he landed a job with the New Orleans Arms Company, where he worked for seven years. The job gave him the chance to learn the finer points of the craft from renowned engraver Lynton McKenzie.
Sam now travels the world sharing his expertise and knowledge of the art form. He represents the company GRS, which manufactures engraving tools. Students from all corners of the globe take classes with him at GRS, where he has been an instructor for 17 years, and he also offers private lessons at his home studio just outside of New Orleans.
When asked who his engraving hero is, Sam doesn’t hesitate to name Vermont-native Winston Churchill. “Winston Churchill is the greatest engraver America has ever known,” he says. And he points out that historical figure Paul Revere was a talented engraver as well as being a gifted silversmith
Sam no longer just “scratches the surface” of the object. Each of his pieces is one-of-a-kind and incredibly detailed.
When I ask him about doing one-of-a-kind pieces, he responds with an interesting anecdote, one that led him to yet another professional pathway. In 2007, he discovered that someone was pirating his classic scrollwork designs and selling them online via iStock, a company that licenses digital stock photos and illustrations.
He contacted the company, and they pulled down the piece. Ever since Sam has been supplying iStock with illustrations of his scrollwork and other designs in return for a royalty check. He says he’d like to find the person who pirated his work—not to sue or get into a dispute but to thank him for opening up what was to become a lucrative income source.
Sam isn’t told who licenses his scroll designs, but he often sees them on various products and advertisements, from books to Crown Royal whiskey bottles to Dove chocolates to Dollar General tissue boxes to numerous wine companies. He even discovered that the BBC used one of his illustrations for William and Kate’s royal wedding DVD. He has over 1,800 illustrations in his portfolio, which he has licensed over 100,000 times, and he owns the copyright to each and every one.
Not only is Sam Alfano a gifted engraver, instructor, social media enthusiast, successful entrepreneur and prolific illustrator, but he is also a well-known and highly respected influencer to many individuals in all aspects of the engraving and graphic community.