I recently proposed to my long time girlfriend and I wanted to make it extra special by building a keepsake to remember the moment. I did this in secret, although I did tell her I was working on a gift for her so she wouldn't get too suspicious.
I picked up a plain pine box at the local dollar store and with some stain and a laser CNC transformed it into something beautiful.
Here is a very useful video on wood staining.
Here's what you'll need:
Access to a laser CNC - such as at a local Makerspace
Sand paper 120,150, 220, 400 grit
A quality paint brush
Several Lint-free rags
Varsol (a.k.a paint thinner for cleaning the brushes)
A suitably large wood box
Purple felt from a craft store (mine had an adhesive backing)
Minwax pre-stain wood conditioner
Minwax stain (oil based) (colour of your choice, I used Sedona Red #222)
Minwax Polyurethane (oil based)
Adequate ventilation or an appropriately rated respirator
Step 1: Wood Preparation
Since this was a dollar store pine box the wood was quite coarse. Start by sanding with 120 grit sand paper and finish with a light sand of 220. It's easy to get carried away, don't, You just want to smooth the wood so that there are no rough barbs or splinters on the wood. 220 is overkill, but this is a keepsake, so I went over the top.
If your screws aren't stripped and broken, remove the hinges and front clasp to make your life easier.
Use a little bit of water on a lint free cloth or a sponge and wipe the sawdust off of the surfaces of the box. Using anything else won't get into the grain and might leave lint fibres embedded in the wood surface.
Give it 5-10 minutes to dry then use either a brush or lint free cloth to generously apply the Minwax pre-stain wood conditioner. This prevents the stain from becoming blotchy and is an absolute necessity for a quality result. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Wait 15-20 minutes for the wood conditioner to soak in, then use a fresh lint free cloth to remove the excess wood conditioner.
Step 2: Apply the Stain
Wear gloves and a respirator! Or do this where you have ample ventilation. Oil based stain is water proof and better quality, but it produces more fumes and takes longer to cure. Choose wisely.
Since you need to let this cure for a day or more, you might want to not do the bottom of the box at this time since you need a surface for the box to rest on.
Since we've used wood conditioner, we don't have to worry much about blotching.
Using yet another lint free cloth or a brush apply the stain in even coats. Try to coat each side completely and stay consistent on how long you allow the stain to soak into the wood. The longer it soaks, the darker the resulting finish. Keep in mind that the application of polyurethane in the last step will bring out the colour and make the stain appear darker.
In my case I only waited a few minutes before wiping the excess stain off with yet another lint free cloth. Since I was working on a fairly small box, I started cutting my lint free cloths into quarter pieces, but this made some lint! So be careful to remove the lint before using them.
Use a lint free cloth to detail the hinges and clasp, removing all traces of stain. (Unless you already removed them).
Once you finish this step, leave the project for 8 to 24 hours to cure. 48 hours even. After that, if you want it darker you have the option of applying a second coat of stain after a very, very, very light sand and wipe with a wet cloth. You'll need to let that cure as well.
Step 3: Laser Engraving the Message
Once the stain has cured you are ready to engrave the message!
This is where I enlisted the help of the local Makerspace to use the laser CNC machine to engrave the message in the top of the box.
You'll need a black and white bitmap or PNG file like I have included. We used an 80W CO2 laser at 30% power. Test your settings on some scrap wood first.
The other two images are of the box during the engraving and after the engraving.
Be very careful to centre the box under the area where the laser will cut the pattern. It might be a good idea to do a test run at 0% power, or cover the box with a thin piece of scrap wood to get an idea of where the pattern is going.
The inside of the lid was a bit more difficult. The box I purchased had an incredibly thin top, so I had to precision cut a piece of wood to the dimensions of the inside of the lid and then laser etch it separately and then use wood glue seal it in place.
After laser engraving, there will be a light smoke residue on the wood, the etched pattern is also very fragile. Using a damp sponge, lightly wipe away the smoke residue and leave it to dry.
Step 4: Apply Polyurethane
DO NOT SHAKE THE POLYURETHANE.
Bubbles are your enemy. I saw some tips online where they recommended mixing a small amount of Varsol with the polyurethane to reduce the viscosity so that the bubbles are more likely to break.
If you used oil based stain then you must use oil based polyurethane and vice versa. This is the stinkiest of the steps, you need time, patience and lots of ventilation in a low dust environment.
Stir in a gentle figure 8 motion.
Soak your brush in the polyurethane for several minutes don't bend the bristles or you will create air bubbles, let the process go at its own speed.
Gently stroke the polyurethane on applying an even coat. If some bubbles do show up, don't panic, many of them will pop on their own.
This will be the first of 2 or 3 coats, as the polyurethane fills the pores in the wood some bubbles will appear and hopefully pop.
Allow 24-48 hours for the polyurethane to cure.
Lightly sand with 150, 220, or 400 grit sand paper, if you over do it, you will remove the stain, be careful.
Wipe the dust off with a damp lint free cloth and allow it to drive.
Repeat the Polyurethane application process.
Keep going until you are satisfied with the finish.
Step 5: Finishing Touches
Measure out and cut the felt pieces for the inside of the box. Stick them on. I used a bit of super glue around the top edges to keep it from peeling and a flat head screwdriver to square out the corners.