As the saying goes, to one who has a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you have engraving tools, however, you may be in need of finding some things that look like they need engraving. Engraving and etching arts are commonly used on a wide variety of materials for reasons that can be both decorative and useful. Choose based on your engraving needs and the strength of the tools you own.
Engravings on wood look great with both finished and unfinished wood. With finished and stained wood, the carving can stand out in paler relief, while both stained and unstained wood look great with carvings filled with dye to make them stand out in dark relief.
Use engraving to enhance objects like wooden handles, picture frames, box lids and cabinets, or create works of art like engraved wall-hangings or small jewellery items. One advantage of engraving wood is that it can be done using hand tools (like chisels) rather than power engraving tools.
Stone engraving requires more heavy-duty tools than other materials (unless you're engraving a very soft stone, like soapstone). Engraving stone requires a power engraving tool or rotary cutter fitted with steel bits coated in industrial diamonds.
Stone engraving projects can range in size, but because stone takes longer than other materials to cut, stone engraving is most popular with projects like jewellery, message stones (small polished stones with words engraved on them) or other similar keepsakes. Generally, stone engravings need a good application of epoxy or enamel paint inside their grooves to make the markings visible.
Most metal engraving projects involve shallow etching rather than deep grooves, especially since many metal products aren't made from metal in thick layers. Metal engraving tends to have a light, frosted appearance to it and is thus good for more complex, artistic designs, though you can also etch simple things like letters or basic symbols into metal items like dishes, utensils, knife blades or decorations.
Bone, Ivory and Shell
Natural animal materials like shell, bone, ivory or even teeth make for some stunning engraving fodder due to the ease of carving them and how well they take shape according to the movements of your tool. Bone is a good "beginner" engraving material, while advanced engravers can do amazing things with this material. Things like shells, ivory and teeth are similar to bone, though they have different degrees of hardness and brittleness.
While engraving plastic is less common than engraving other materials (due to the ease of casting plastic in desired shapes to begin with), engraving hard plastic is often a useful thing to do for purposes like labelling. In the case of harder acrylics or resin, you might also engrave or etch for artistic reasons and get results similar to those on etched glass or stone.