Introduction: Laser Wooden Inlay Coasters

About: Computer Science, Technology & Engineering, and Mathematics High School Teacher

Each year I design and craft Holiday gifts for family members. This is the way I created laser cut wooden inlay coasters using scrap wood laying around the shop. I have spoken.


1/8" thick sheets of wood of your choice

4" by 4" Self-adhesive cork backers


Painters Tape

Wood Glue

Minwax Polycrylic Clear Gloss Finish

Wood Stain

Laser Cutter

Photo Editing software

Step 1: Wood Preparation

In this project I used scrap pieces of wood from former projects laying around the shop. I planed the wood down to 1/8" thickness and then sanded the boards with the help of juliebeth42. The important part is that each board is long enough and wide enough to accommodate an end dimension of a 4 inch by 4 inch coaster that is 1/8 inch thick.

Of course you could skip all of these steps and just buy the boards or use plywood ..... but what fun would that be. Plus then you still have all that scrap wood laying around and you know you really want to use up that scrap.

We then stained a fourth sheets with an ebony stain to give the coasters a large contrast in the color. The remaining three-fourths we left alone. Half of the boards will just be 4 inch by 4 inch backers for the coasters that the inlays can rest on. The remaining fourth of the boards will be the negative of the stained boards.

Step 2: Design

I used Adobe Illustrator to create all of my files. I had never used this software and I had a little bit of a learning curve. After watching some YouTube videos online and talking with some of my coworkers I figured out as much as I needed to for this project to work. The laser cutter I used in this project is a Dremel LC40. I have used other laser cutters in the past and this one is very user friendly. The Dremel accepts PDF files for cutting. You can use the steps below as an aid along with the images or you can just use the files I have created.

  1. Create a new custom size file.
  2. Make the file 4" by 4" and select "Create"
  3. Next under "File" choose "Place" and select your image that you want to make a coaster of. If you do not have an image, you can do a Google search and find one. the best images I was able to obtain is when I used the word "silhouette" or "outline" in the image search.
  4. Choose "Image Trace"
  5. In Image Trace choose the preset that gives you the best image quality. In my example I choose "Black and White Logo." Right below Preset is "view." Set the view to outline. This is the path the laser will cut.
  6. So it may look like you are good to go now, but you would just have a blank page at this point. You need to add some line thickness and remove the interior black color. Click "Expand."
  7. Next click on "Stroke" and choose black. Also set the stroke thickness to the box on the right to "0.001"
  8. Next change the "Fill" box to none.
  9. At this point you could be done and just skip down to step ##, but I have a border around my box that I want to get rid of. Under "Quick Actions" I am going to "Ungroup" the image.
  10. Then "Release the image. Finally that box can be deleted.
  11. Getting rid of the box created more problems....Now the entire picture has been traced twice. This will cause the laser to cut twice and we do not want that. So delete the extra trace by just clicking on the image and selecting delete.
  12. Next draw a 4 inch by 4 inch rectangle around your graphic.
  13. Using the "Save As" option under the "file" tab you can save your graphic as a PDF for the laser cutter.

Step 3: Files and Laser Cutting

All I have to do is upload a pdf of my file into the Dremel online software and I can choose to place the graphic anywhere I want on the wood. This came in particularly handy when some of scrap wood pieces had holes or cracks in the boards.

Cut the graphic you created or used from below twice. Once on the stained wood and once on the unstained wood. This way you can swap the pieces in the next step. Before lifting the coaster, which is now a bunch of small pieces, I would suggest placing a piece of painters tape over the laser cut board. this way you do not lose any pieces.

Also cut a blank 4 inch by 4 inch square as well for the backs of the coasters. This way you will have a backing for the pieces to rest on and glue to.

Step 4: Puzzles

  1. Hope you like puzzles!!!! Next swap the stained and unstained laser cut pieces to make two coasters that are the negative of one another. By peeling off the painters tape you have all of your pieces and in the correct position. Bee careful if some of your wood pieces are thin. It will be easy to break off those pieces.
  2. Place a 4 inch by 4 inch blank for the pieces to rest on.
  3. Place a new piece of painters tape to hold the pieces together. Because the next step is gluing.

Step 5: Gluing

  1. Carefully flip the coaster over so that the tape side is face down. Unless you really want to do some more puzzles again.
  2. Add glue to the blank back and place the back on top of the cut out coaster top.
  3. Clamp and let the coasters sit for a couple days.

Step 6: Remove Painters Tape

This step I released the clamps and removed the painters tape to see how well the coasters glued together. For the most case the glue worked great. A couple of small pieces fell out and I had to put more glue on the pieces and place them back into their homes.

Step 7: Sanding

Next I clamped and sanded the four sides of the coaster together. This way if I did not perfectly line up the back blank of the coaster to the puzzle piece coaster I could sand away that imperfection.

Step 8: Seal

I used three layers of Minwax water based Polycrylic Clear Gloss to seal the coasters. What sold me on this finish is the fact that it is suppose to protect from you know....sold.

I just cut up a t-shirt and wore gloves to apply this sealant.

Step 9: Cork Backing

The last step was to peel and stick the cork backing.

Step 10: Finished Photos and Takeaways

If I do this again I will plane all the wood at once. A couple of the coasters were not completely level after swapping the pieces. I was happy with the result.

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