The story of every person who goes into business for themself begins when they become dissatisfied working for someone else. Mark Hoechst, The Hand Engraver of Bismarck, is no exception to this rule.“I started out working as a mechanic at a car dealership,” Mark recounted. “The funny thing is that every car has an army of engineers behind it, but they all break nonetheless. It was my job to be smarter than all of those engineers and fix that car when it came into my stall, which was no small feat.”

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Mark already knew a little bit about jewelry back then, and was attracted to the clean, meticulous, deliberate work it involved. He was especially drawn to hand engraving and began studying the art, pouring over his worn copy of The Art of Engraving and practicing as if it was a second job.

Just like engraving takes thousands of perfectly placed strokes, so too was Mark’s skill not honed overnight. After moving to Bismarck he would spend 22 more years in a manufacturing factory, machining, welding, and still pulling wrenches as a mechanic while engraving on the side. When the factory closed its doors, Mark finally decided to turn his second job into his full-time one.

Picture this: That man from Minot who once toiled in garages would go on to engrave the rifle that Shiloh Sharps presented to Ronald Reagan, complete with a scrolled gold inlay of the Gipper himself on the receiver. Tom Selleck carried a Sharps that Mark engraved in the movie Quigley Down Under.

“I’m still learning every day,” said Mark. “There’s always something new to master — from perfecting scroll designs to working with the harder metals used in firearms today, making repairs to older pieces, and doing the refinishing to complete engraving projects. I use the time honored ‘slow rust blue’ for most of my finishes, and some electroplating as well.”

“I’m not worried about technology replacing hand engraving, though. I went to a show about five years ago where they were displaying fancy Italian shotguns, each beautifully machine engraved. There were two things about them that kept me confident I’ll be needed for quite some time, however. First, even with all that high-tech automated milling, I could see each piece had been touched up by a hand engraver afterward.”

“Second, they were all the same. So long as people want a personalized, one of a kind piece, something that really speaks about who they are, they’ll need a hand engraver to bring it to life for them. It will never be more cost-effective to have a computer designer program a machine to create a unique engraving.”

Mark’s art is a testament to the irreplaceability of the human touch. Rich, fathomlessly complex scrolls, bears, hornets, monsters, ships, cannons, and even presidents of the United States adorn his work, all looking as if they may at once spring to life, but still as permanent as the metal they’ve been engraved into. Mark is available to make any metal item into a work of art including firearms, knives, signs, and more. If you would like a custom piece created, reach out to him at


By David Scheller