The world’s smallest engraving by human hand has been completed on the edge of a razor blade. Graham Short etched the motto “Nothing is impossible” which measures just a tenth of a millimetre. The letters are invisible to the naked eye, and can only be read with a medical microscope at 400 times magnification. Engraving at such a level requires almost superhuman effort and dedication to remain completely still.
It took Mr. Short, 64, around 150 attempts before he was able to complete it. He was only able to work at night, when traffic vibrations are at a minimum, with his right arm bound to the arm of his chair with a luggage strap to minimise unwanted movement. He uses a stethoscope to monitor his heart, attempting a stroke of the letter only between beats, when his body is perfectly still. He swims 10,000 metres a day and can slow his heart rate to 30 beats a minute. He worked from midnight to 5:30 am most nights of the week, for seven months on his razor blade. The Wilkinson’s Sword blade is now available to buy, with a ￡47,500 price tag.
Mr. Short, a copper and steel engraver by profession. He is, by his own admission, obsessed with miniature engravings. He has perfected a technique of etching letters onto microscopic surfaces—including the tip of a screw, the head of a pin and the pointed end of a paperclip. Now he believes he can go no smaller.
“I honestly think this is as small as it’s possible to with the human hand,” said Mr. Short. “Since I started engraving in the early 1960s, I’ve always wanted to engrave smaller than anyone else in the world. And now I think I’ve done it. It’s a matter of minute amounts of pressure. I admit I’ve become a bit obsessed by it, but I just can’t resist the idea of going smaller and smaller. When I finished the razor blade I was absolutely thrilled. I had been almost there so many times and then ruined it with one slip . This was probably the 150th blade, but I must admit I lost count.”
Mr. Short, from Birmingham, says that many years of swimming have boosted his fitness levels and mean his heart rate is just 30 at rest. He sits still for 90 minutes, breathing slowly before each microscopic engraving session to fully calm his body. He works with a magnifying glass and says the relentless strain on his eyes is beginning to take its toll.
His first major microscopic achievement was engraving The Lord’s Prayer, all 278 letters and of it, on the head of a gold pin. He says there are 1,841 separate engraved strokes, each of which must be perfect. He put the 35-word 2nd Amendment of the American Bill of Rights onto the firing pin indentation of a silver bullet.
He inscribed “Birmingham city of a thousand trades” on the tip of a brass screw. And onto the pointed end of a standard paperclip he managed to fit Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage: And all the men and women merely players,” from As You Like It. And for the World Cup he’s catalogued on a single football stud all the England goal scorers from Wilf Mannion in 1950 to Steven Gerrard. “Compared to a razor blade that was easy, but there were still 36 names to fit in,” said Mr. Short.
Engraving takes up many of his hours, but he says his second wife Luba is right behind him. “Nobody else is mad enough to do it, but she positively encourages me.”