David Sheehan’s Mission Canyon engraving studio feels a long way from corporate America. Perched high on a small road of big houses, Sheehan’s upstairs office is where he draws intricate patterns that seem both traditional and freshly minted at the same time. Downstairs in his garage, he turns those drawings into precisely executed motifs, emblems, and flourishes on gold, silver, platinum, and even stainless steel — one of the hardest of metals to hand engrave.
The tools of his trade, a “dying art” as he terms it, are both old and new. Though much engraving today is done with lasers directed by software, Sheehan works deep in the metal with his two hands, and each motif is done separately. Aided by computers and microscopes, Sheehan’s hand engraving is done with a blade that electronically vibrates enough to cut into metal, but the hand has to be true. While watching him cut a piece of fine metal, I marvel that his hand never slips. “It does sometimes, but to tell you the truth, I’m more steady engraving than drawing,” he said.
Not long ago, the busy engraver was commuting to the big grind down south from this same location, a home he shares with his spouse, attorney Melissa Fassett. “Then one day, four years ago, my white-collar job just ended,” he said. “The whole company was closing down. And at that point, I decided I wanted to do something with my hands again.”
He’d been a precision welder when young, but he didn’t want to go that route. “Engraving just sort of caught my eye,” said Sheehan, who, after a lightning-fast apprenticeship, began engraving bowie knives, Snap-on tools, Harley-Davidson parts, and even personalized pocket knives as groomsmen presents.
Today, his clientele includes a world-famous hotelier he can’t name, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Homer Bailey, and others who demand a high level of personalization, though his customers almost always bow to his stylings. “I would say I have 95 percent artistic freedom,” explained Sheehan, who has recently been customizing Rolexes and other models for Bamford Watch Department in London, which hired him for a few jobs after he passed their intense “audition.”
The work pays well, and in just four short years, he’s gone from buttoned-up suit commuter to home artisan. “I just sort of fell into this, but I think it was what I was meant to do,” he said. “I thought I was going to be sort of retired, but now I’m busier than ever. But it’s a good kind of busy. I don’t have to go down to an office in Los Angeles anymore. I’m much happier working at home.”