Introduction: Laser-etched Wooden Servers Plates(?)

This is my first instructable - so any feedback and tips to make future instructables better would be very appreciated!

This is also my first project at the TechShop.  I had limited time to spend their prior to the holidays, but wanted to make something, however small just to get started.

Here's the genesis of the project: we decided to make christmas gifts for our parents rather than buy them something this year and since i had just taken the class on laser cutting and etching at the TechShop i was eager to put that to use to make something.  At the same time i randomly came across these little wooden plates at Daiso for $1.50 each and figured that i could etch something meaningful on them to create a custom gift. 

The first task was to find something meaningful to etch.  After trolling the web for ideas and inspiration and anchored on having a quote and image on each plate. I happened to have a book with a compilation of quotes from my in-laws, so picking some quotes from that was easy and meaningful.  I also know that they low plants, and started searching for images of plants/trees and came across these incredible fractal tree illustrations on These were free to use for non-commercial use and detailed fractal nature of the illustration is excellent to demonstrate the preciseness of laser-etching!

Step 1: Testing the Laser Cutter

Now to actually test the etching!

First i had to compose the unique images + quote combination for each plate.  I did this is Adobe Illustrator and created three layers (tip from of the more seasoned users at the TechShop):
Layer 1: Outline Box - just a box to the exact measurement of the plate
Layer 2: Image - select tree image
Layer 3: Text - selected text

TIP: Create your illustrations in layers where possible. allows you to burn over sections as needed.

Some reasons why this was useful:
- having the box outline helped with the test prints to see if the laser cutter was misaligned (happens often)
- the out outline also helped visually see exactly where to place the image and quote, rather than a larger page
- it turned out that i burned the images once, but the text twice, so the layering made that dead simple

Next was to play with the settings for the Laser Cutter.

I found a piece of plywood from the scrap bin (excellent source of material) and got to work. I tested for a couple of things:
- alignment/placement of plate/illustration
- power and speed for etching for both the image and the text
- font types

After a first pass at Speed/Power at 60/60, i thought i wanted to etch a little deeper and bumped it up to 60/65.

Once satisfied with both the text and image, i tested on one of the plate (I bought an extra one for testing). 

First learning: the type of wood you use REALLY MATTERS!  what came out with beautiful detail on the scrap plywood came out less detailed on the plate.  Also the text was too light to be seen. 

Tried a few things with the text. I tried  a few different fonts (and good feedback from anyone in the shop that day) and also (per a tip) burnt the text twice.   After some testing i decided to stay with the original font choice and burn the text twice.

TIP: when selecting wood, go for the finest/smoothest grain.

Step 2: Etching the Plates

After the testing, it's pretty fast and easy.

Calibrate the machine and print specs, open each file and print!  In this case. burnt the image once and text twice.

Step 3: Final Finishing Touches

Once all the plates i did some final touching up:
- washed wiped the plates to get any dust off
- varnished it twice over, just because i happened to have some leftover Polyacrylic sitting around

And here are the final products!

- Use better wood. Using the Daiso plates while convenient, did not get the best result.
- Test and experiment more. Time was an issue this time around, but with more time, maybe test varnishing before - maybe that would lead to a better burn.  Or painting and burning through to the wood.

But overall, very satisfied with the project and hope the in-law's will like the gift!

Do send me any tips and feedback to create better instructables in the future or just send me a comment if you enjoyed reading this!

Inspired, designed and made at TechShop (  Love this place - many more projects to come!

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