Introduction: Laser Engraved Wedding Gift

Disclaimer: This Instructable makes use of a professional laser engraver and a full-size CNC router. If you do not have access to these machines, some parts of this Instructable will not be easy to follow or complete. If you do have access to these machines, I will assume that you know how to use them, or have access to a trained professional who can provide direction. I will provide instructions that should guide you, but they are not technically in-depth.


This project will take approximately two weeks from start to finish. The majority of this time is devoted to prep work (sanding, staining) and finishing. This is NOT a project that can be done in an afternoon!

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What will you learn today?

This Instructable will walk you through the processes involved in creating a laser engraved wooden heart. There are several steps specific to creating a wooden heart, however, basic concepts from this Instructable can be applied to similar projects. Six basic steps outline the process for obtaining the finished product. Each step contains several tasks that serve to better explain and achieve the intended purpose of each step.

Why did I make this project?

This project was made as a wedding gift for my brother and his wife.

Step 1: Project Introduction & Materials

Before you get started, it's time to make a trip to the store and pickup supplies! Most of these supplies can be purchased at your local hardware or home improvement store. Some items can even be found at Walmart or Target.

Safety Note: Purchase the exact wood stain that I linked to below. We will be shooting a laser at the stained surface of the wood, which can release harmful chemicals. This stain DOES NOT release harmful chemicals during this process. If you use a different stain, you MUST read the MSDS for that stain to ensure that it is safe to use.

Safety Equipment

  • Safety Glasses
  • Ear Protection
  • Work Gloves
  • Dust Mask
  • First Aid Kit

Required Materials

  • Wood
  • Wood Stain
  • Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner
  • Sandpaper (120, 400, 800, and 1200 grit)
  • Masking Tape
  • Pen or Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Cotton Cloths
  • Clear Coat Aerosol Spray

Optional Supplies

  • Picture Hanging Kit
  • Rubber Feet

Step 2: Preparation: Create a Design

Preparation Step 1: Design

The first step is to design our project! The first picture above may look a lot like the finished project, but it's actually just a computer image that I made using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. It is a mock-up of what I wanted the finished product to look like. The image just below that is the template I used for engraving.

You can engrave any design you want! For this project, my brother Brian was getting married to his fiancée, Katie, so I chose to create a custom design with cool typography for the letters B and K, along with the date.

I created my design using the Adobe software suite, but you can use any graphics software you want, or pull an image from online (as long as you have permission to use it). There are two key parts to the files I created. I used the heart outline to tell the CNC router what shape to cut, and the black and white logo is for the engraving.

Here is a great tutorial for getting started with Adobe Illustrator: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkuqVDdCklo

Note: When you load the image into the engraving software, the laser will engrave the areas in black.

Step 3: Preparation: Sanding

Preparation Step 2: Sanding

Required Materials:

  • Sandpaper (120, 400, 800 and 1200 grit)
  • Cotton Cloth
  • Safety Glasses
  • Dust Mask
  • Work Gloves

Sanding the wood will give us a nice, smooth surface to work with. It takes time, but will make the end product look so much better! Sanding is super easy to do.

How to sand the wood:

  • Put on safety glasses, dust mask, and work gloves for protection
  • Identify the grain of the wood (see picture above)
  • Select sandpaper (start with the 120 grit sandpaper)
  • Apply light pressure to the back of the sandpaper and rub it along the wood in the direction of the grain
  • Every once in a while, carefully wipe off the sawdust with a rag
  • Continue sanding until surface of wood is smooth to the touch

Repeat the sanding process with 400, 800 and 1200-grit sandpaper.

Step 4: Preparation: Staining

Preparation Step 2: Staining

Required Materials:

  • Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner
  • Wood Stain
  • Foam Brush
  • Cotton Cloth
  • Safety Glasses
  • Dust Mask
  • Work Gloves

Now that you have sanded the wood and left a nice, smooth surface, it is time to stain the wood. Wood stain is similar to paint, but rather than leaving a layer of color on top of the wood, stain soaks into the wood and leaves the grain exposed. This allows us to darken the color of the wood, and still have a nice "wood" look.

For my project, I wanted a dark background with a light contrast for the engraved image. I chose to use a dark walnut stain to achieve this goal. When we engrave the wood, the light mahogany will show through.

The first thing we want to do is apply pre-stain wood conditioner. This will put a thin, invisible coating on the wood and ensure that our stain will soak in evenly. (This step is not essential, but will make our product look better).

Part 1: Apply Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner:

  • Put on safety glasses, dust mask, and work gloves for protection
  • Wipe off wood with a damp cloth to get rid of any sawdust
  • Open the pre-stain wood condition with a flat head screwdriver
  • Use a 1-inch foam brush to apply the conditioner to the wood
    • Cover all areas with a thin coat

NOTE: Allow the wood to dry for at least 24 hours before applying stain

Part 2: Apply Gel Stain:

  • Put on safety glasses, dust mask, and work gloves for protection
  • Open the can of stain with a flat head screwdriver
  • Use a clean 1-inch foam brush to apply stain to wood (cover all areas)
  • Allow stain to soak into wood for 5-10 minutes
  • Take a cloth and wipe off excess stain*

*Unlike paint, we don't want stain to sit on the surface of the wood. It is supposed to soak into the wood.

Adding more coats of stain:

You will likely want to add 2-3 coats of stain to achieve a nice, rich color as seen in my project. Adding another coat of stain, is just as easy as doing the first. The only thing you need to do is hurry up and wait! This part of the project will likely make you impatient, but you should wait at least 24 hours before applying another coat of stain. Once 24 hours is up and the stain is dry to the touch, repeat the steps in part 2 to apply another coat of stain.

Protecting the prepared wood:

Now that the wood is prepped, we want to protect it so the surface doesn't get scratched. I would suggest placing the wood in a cardboard box with foam or cloth to protect the surface. In my case, I did the prep work at home and had to transport the materials to a fabrication lab where I had access to a laser engraver and CNC router.

Step 5: Building: Cut Out Hearts

This is the part of the project where you get to use some fun equipment!

At this point, you have a nice piece of stained wood, but you want a heart shape. Sure, you could cut out the heart using a jigsaw or a handsaw even, but you can save a lot of time and effort by using a CNC router. This is a robotic machine that can cut out almost any shape perfectly. You don't need to worry about making mistakes!

CNC routers are very complex and quite expensive. I used to work in a K-12 school district when I made this project, so I had access to our fabrication lab. If you don't have access to a CNC router, you could always cut out the heart shape by hand and then sand down the edges. Using the CNC router just saves us a ton of time.


Disclaimer: These steps give a very high-level overview of the process and are not intended as complete instructions. CNC routers are quite complex, and the operation can vary greatly depending on the manufacturer of the machine or the software. If you complete this project using a CNC router, I will make the assumption that you have proper experience, or have access to a trained professional who can help you use it safely.


How to Use CNC Router:

  • Place wood on work surface parallel to the edge of the CNC router
  • Place some set screws in each corner of the wood to keep it from moving
    • Use a level as you tighten the screws to make sure the wood is flat
  • Load image into CNC software and use the outline of the shape for cutting
    • Software will automatically fit max number of shapes on given material
  • Move CNC router head to the corner of the board using the X & Y controls in the software
  • Put on safety glasses, dust mask, and ear protection
  • Turn on dust collection system before starting router
  • Click start on the router and watch the magic happen!

*Wait until all of the shapes are cut out before removing them from the router table

Step 6: Building: Engrave Hearts

In my opinion, this is the most fun part of the entire project! We are ready to engrave our design into the heart.

Required Materials:

  • Wooden Heart
  • Masking Tape
  • Pen
  • Ruler
  • Laser Engraver

Disclaimer: These steps give a very high-level overview of the process and are not intended as complete instructions. Laser engravers are quite complex, and the operation can vary greatly depending on the manufacturer of the machine or the software. If you complete this project using a laser engraver, I will make the assumption that you have proper experience, or you have access to a trained professional who can help you.


How to engrave the heart:

  • *Place masking tape on surface of heart (See Note)
  • Use ruler to find and mark center of heart
  • Place heart in top left corner of engraver (square up with corner of surface)
  • Use focus tool to set the proper height for the laser
  • Using software, load design from flash drive
  • Use software controls to move guide laser to center point you marked earlier
  • *Set your desired power, PPI and speed for the laser (See Note)
  • Turn on your dust collection system and start the engraving process
  • The design I used took around 15-20 minutes to finish engraving

NOTE: The speed, power, and PPI all affect the depth and color of your engraving. I used masking tape so I wouldn't get smoke stains on the wood. If you look at the first picture above, you can see the difference between using masking tape and not. As the dust is sucked up by a vacuum at the back of the engraver, it leaves dark smoke stains on the wood. This can be a cool effect, but it is not ideal for this project.

Once the engraver has finished and the laser has returned to it's home position, it is safe to remove the heart. Carefully peel away the masking tape and you'll be left with a really cool design! You may be tempted to call it a day, but we still have some finishing touches to do. First of all, the edges of the heart are rough from the CNC router, and they are also not stained yet. Secondly, we want to protect the finish so it doesn't get scratched.

Step 7: Finishing: Sanding & Staining

Congratulations! You are almost done with this awesome project!

If you have made it this far in the project, you are already an expert on sanding! You are going to use that same process again to make the edges nice and smooth. The edges may take a bit longer since they are porous, but you can still get a smooth finish. Be careful not to chip or crack the finished surface of the wood.

Once you have sanded down the edges, you are ready to stain them. Remember the staining process? We're going to use it again. First, put down a coat of pre-stain wood conditioner to prep the wood for stain. You are probably really anxious to get this project done now, but wait a full 24 hours before applying the stain. The staining process is the exact same as before. Apply a coat, wait 5-10 minutes, and wipe off the excess. Repeat this process until you are left with a color that matches the finished surface where your design is engraved.

Step 8: Finishing: Clear Coat

The heart is done now, right? Wrong.

Ok, so the heart is technically finished, and looks awesome, but we want to keep it that way! That's why we are going to apply several coats of enamel to protect the surface of the wood. This will prevent scratches in the wood and keep our project looking nice for years to come. I chose to use a spray enamel so that I would get a nice, even coat. I am using matte enamel, because I do not want to make the surface of the wood look super shiny.

Required Materials:

  • Wooden Heart
  • Clear Coat Enamel
  • Safety Glasses
  • Dust Mask
  • Work Gloves

Clear Coat Your Project:

  • Put on safety glasses, dust mask, and work gloves for protection
  • Shake can of spray enamel vigorously for 1-2 minutes
  • Remove lid from spray enamel and break off any safety mechanism
  • Before you spray it on the wood, test it on a scrap piece of material
  • Place heart on newspaper in a well-ventilated area that is dust free
  • Hold the can about 12 inches away from the wood, and use quick, smooth strokes
  • Be very careful that the enamel doesn't pool in any area. Less is more in this case.
  • Allow the enamel to dry for 20-30 minutes before you apply another coat
  • You will want to apply at least 5 coats of enamel to thoroughly protect the wood.

Guess what? That's it! You're all done! If you made this project, or something similar using these instructions, I would love to see it! Drop a message and a picture in the comments! Happy woodworking! :)

Comments

author
Swansong made it!(author)2017-03-06

That's an awesome present!

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