Introduction: Custom Wood Inlay Sign (Laser Cut at TechShop)
I made this sign for my Harley-riding father-in-law. It was pretty easy and inexpensive to make. The most costly supplies were the wood stain, pretreat, and top coat, but it only takes a few milliliters of each, so if you already own them you can produce one of these signs for just a few dollars each.
I made it at TechShop.
Step 1: Supplies You'll Need
You will need the following supplies to make this sign:
1. A TechShop membership. Ok, not really a supply but most people don't have access to a laser cutter - if you do have a laser cutter you won't actually need a TechShop membership (but you should probably get one regardless).
2. Enough plywood to fit two copies of the sign you are planning to make. I used 1/8" birch plywood that I got at an art supply store. The plywood you get at art supply stores tends to be flatter, blemish-free, and will fit in a laser cutter.
3. Wood staining and finishing supplies. I used:
a. Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner
b. 2 contrasting colors of Minwax Wood Finish (I used Pickled Oak and Ebony)
c. Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane
4. Wood Glue
6. Rags or a paintbrush for applying the conditioner, stain, and topcoat.
Step 2: Designing and Cutting the Sign
In order to cut an image using a laser cutter, you must first create one in a vector drawing program like Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, or the open-source option Inkscape. Because I have a TechShop membership I used Adobe Illustrator because it is available on all the computers at the shop.
The laser cutters at TechShop interpret red lines in vector images as cut lines. Therefore, I had to draw the following image using red outlines and no infill. I just used the text boxes to write "CORNELL'S" and "BIKER BAR." I was also lucky enough to find a vector image of the Harley-Davidson logo that I could simply cut and paste (and adjust so as to have a red outline and no infill). I then surrounded the whole thing with a rounded rectangle and the design was complete. See image #1.
I also need to cut out a back for the sign, to do this I simply needed to remove the text and logo from the previous design, leaving only the rounded rectangle with the same dimensions as the front. See image #2
Next, I cut the sign using the laser cutter. There isn't much to say about this step, you pretty much just load the file and the laser cutter does all the work. It is probably a good idea to sand the front of the sign before laser cutting it (although it is not hard to sand it after you've cut it as long as you assemble the pieces together and are careful while you sand). Image #3 shows the completed cut.
Step 3: Staining, Assembling, Gluing, and Finishing
To get the contrasting effect I was looking for I removed every other layer from the image and, following the directions on the cans, conditioned and stained the wood. I applied two layers of the dark colored stain to get good coverage. It is important to keep the pieces in order during this process because you will be reassembling the sign like a puzzle and it's much easier if you don't mix up the pieces. See image #1.
I also conditioned and stained the rest of the sign using the light colored stain.
After the stain has dried (do not rush through this part, you'll regret it) glue the outside edge of the front piece to the back piece and let it dry. You will use this frame to assemble the rest of the sign. See image #2.
Before assembling the sign you may need to lightly sand the pieces you've just stained as the stain can cause the wood grain to raise up.
Once the glue is dry you can assemble the sign inside the frame. Assemble the pieces from the outside in gluing each one down as you go. Be careful to not use too much glue or it will spill out onto the surface of the sign. Place something flat and heavy on top of the sign (I used dumbbells stacked on textbooks) and wait for the glue to dry.
Finally, all that's left to do is finish the sign with the topcoat. Again, simply follow the directions on the can. Image #3 shows the completed project.