Preparing Wood for Laser Engraving: Should You Stain Wood Before or After Laser Engraving?

Thorough preparations will ensure that your wood engraving is of the highest quality. Consider the type of wood, laser engraver, and stain you are using. Staining your wood before you start the engraving process has many advantages. At OMTech Laser, we can help you prepare your wood for laser engraving. Whether you are a professional engraver or just fulfilling your desire to create beautiful wood engravings, our machines are for you. 

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Should You Stain Wood Before or After Laser Engraving? 

Wood is a great material to laser engrave because of its natural beauty and versatility. There is much to think about before jumping in, especially if you are new to the laser engraving scene. When working with wood, should you stain before or after laser engraving? It is better to stain your wood before laser engraving, but only if done correctly. 

If your stain is oil-based or petroleum-based, allow enough time for the wood to dry. If it doesn’t dry properly, you will have flammable pigment that can cause burns and smoke marks on your wood. However, a water-based stain will not leave burn marks or smoke marks on your workpiece. 

After you have engraved your wood, you can seal it with a clear coat or lacquer. This will give the engraving a finished look. 

Wood Laser Engraving in a Nutshell 

Combining a good quality wood laser engraver and general knowledge of wood engraving is important when engraving wood. A few steps must be taken to ensure your wood engraving project is superb. 

Step 1: Preparing the Design 

Laser engravers work with a digital file. The digital file of a design can be one of two file types: a raster file or a vector file. A raster file design is a bitmap image made of millions of pixels. Vector files consist of mathematical equations that make up geometric patterns. Laser engraving files should be in vector format.

Step 2: Performing a Test Run 

Test runs will help you find the optimal settings for your project. A square matrix is a great way to test different outputs and machine settings. 

Step 3: Choosing The Right Piece of Wood 

Plywood and natural wood are both suitable materials for laser engraving. Engraving Ash and European Beech will give you clean edges and minimal edge burns. Because they are bi-colored, the engraved design may have a non-uniformed contrast. Hardwoods, such as Mahogany and Cherry, may produce better results. 

Step 4: Engraving Your Wood 

Your wood is now ready to be engraved. Make sure to follow the instructions on your laser engraver. 

Step 5: Finishing the Workpiece 

You can use soapy water and a cloth to clean burn marks off the wood. If you want to enhance the contrast of the engraved wood, you can stain it again. 

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How To Properly Stain Wood 

For effective results, you must choose the right stain for the wood. 

  • Water-based stains are great if you are using softwood, such as pine, and you don’t need to see the wood fibers. Water-based stains are easy to clean, don’t have an odor, and dry quickly. 
  • Oil-based stains are great for hardwood, such as oak, because they bring attention to the detail of the grain. They can take longer to dry and have an odor, but they offers beautiful results. 

To stain your wood: 

  • Before staining your wood, sand it in the direction of the grain until it is smooth. 
  • Make sure your stain is thoroughly mixed. 
  • Apply your stain with a paintbrush or cloth, moving with the direction of the wood grain. 
  • Let your water-based stain dry for 2 to 3 hours and your oil-based stain dry for 4 to 6 hours. This will prevent the burning of wood while engraving. 

The Best Type of Lasers for Wood Engraving Projects 

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When you decide to buy a wood engraving machine, you must consider the following to ensure you get a machine suitable to your needs: 

  • Buying the most expensive machine may not be the best option for you. You can look at features, such as laser power, engraving area, and type of laser to suit your budget. 
  • The type of material you want to use will determine the type of laser engraving machine you purchase. Most laser engravers can be used on most types of wood, but it is always good to check before buying. 
  • A laser engraver that has a lead screw drive, good spindle power, and is assembled by a proficient technician will produce better results. 
  • If you prefer to maintain your machine yourself, shop for a laser machine that is easy to upkeep. 
  • Make sure you purchase a machine you can find parts for easily and install without needing a qualified technician. 

The Most Suitable Types of Wood to Laser Engrave 

The type of wood that you use for wood engraving will affect your final product. Lighter wood will always produce high-quality engraving. Alder, Cherry, Redwood, Pine, Cedar, medium-density fibreboard (MDF), and plywood are always good options. Always try wood engraving on a spare piece of wood to make sure your settings work before trying it on your project wood. It will take a bit more time initially, but it will save you material and time in the long run. 

Safety Precautions When Laser Engraving Wood 

Safety should be your top priority in the workspace. Here are a few precautions to note when wood laser engraving. 

  • Wear protective eyewear and clothing. 
  • Maintain proper ventilation. You should have an exhaust system installed to move harmful fumes out of your workspace. 
  • Keep a damp cloth, a spray bottle filled with water, and a fire extinguisher nearby. 
  • Follow the safety instructions on your laser engraving machine. 

Tips for Preventing Burn Marks in the Wood 

Because wood is flammable, you can easily make burn marks on your piece of wood while engraving. Here are a few ways to reduce burning

  • Correctly adjust the focal distance of your laser. 
  • Apply compressed air to the engraving spot. 
  • Try different types of wood at different laser speeds. 
  • Dampen your wood before laser engraving.

If you still get burn marks on your wood, here are a few ways of removing them: 

  • Lightly sand the surface of the wood to remove the marks.
  • Lightly scrub the burn marks with a soft brush and soapy water.

Get Ahold of the Best Laser Engraving Machines on the Market 

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Whatever your needs are, a good-quality laser engraver will ensure that your projects look great. Laser engraving on wood can take your woodwork to the next level. OMTech Laser has a wide variety of engravers to suit your needs. We offer comprehensive customer support with a 2-year machine warranty as you begin and grow in your journey of laser engraving.