Carve it on a Rock: Engraving Materials for Your Next Art Project

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Engraving has been around for centuries, literally. Humans have used hammers, chisels, and various tools to carve by hand elaborate designs on wood, marble, metal, and other materials for ceremonial and decorative purposes. Nowadays, jewelers can use a C02 laser cutter or electric engraving pen to create intricate designs that would have taken weeks with a chisen and mallet.

There are different methods and tools you can use to engrave. When you’ve found the right method and tool, it’s time to find the material you need for your next project.


Brass is a classic material for metalwork. An alloy of copper and zinc, this lustrous material is corrosive-resistant and would not turn green like copper when exposed to too much oxygen. Resilient yet easy to cut, it’s a material that’s recommended for beginner engravers.


Greenish tinge from oxygen exposure aside, copper has been around as a crafting material for centuries. A hardy metal, you can engrave on it and use it for embossing and flat stamping thanks to its excellent heat retention. Keep in mind that it typically takes longer to work on a copper sheet than magnesium units but is less expensive than brass.


Leather is favored for its suppleness and its organic qualities. Laser engraving tools can be used to create elaborate designs on leather skins like no other tool can. Almost every type and grain of leather can be used for engraving.


Wood is sturdy and, with the right application of oils and lacquer, can last a lifetime. It also makes for a great engraving material.

There are several factors to consider when picking what kind of wood to work with. High resin wood, such as cherry and alder will have a darker burn than trees with high sap content, such as oak, maple, fir and elm. Engraving on wood with light colors—beech, ash, and pine, among others—becomes much more visible than on dark wood.

Beginner engravers may want easier wood to work on, such as alder, cherry, and maple. All three wood species are light in color and balance out their negatives with positive qualities.


Handheld engraving tool on glass

Pin vices, rotary burrs, and lasers can turn the most delicate glass into expensive-looking pieces of art. Thicker cast glasses may withstand the stress of engraving better than hand-blown or crystal glasses. If you’re feeling fancy, gold and silver fillings can be poured in engravings to gild them.

When you engrave, remember to use gloves and goggles to avoid any untoward incidents. Even the most veteran engravers still adhere to safety precautions to prevent the slightest chance of an accident, so beginners are enjoined to do the same.

Unless you’re great at free-hand engraving, prepare a pattern to work into your material. Having a design to work off of saves time and money. Starting off on the flatter parts of your material will help the transition to odd angles or curves on the surface you’re engraving.

Whatever you choose to work on, just remember why you’ve started engraving on it—for fun, profit, or practice—and make the most out of it.

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