How To Finish Laser Engraved Wood | A DIY Guide

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staining laser engraved wood

Laser technicians put a lot of hard work and skill into creating laser-cut wood projects. In addition to picking and preparing the wood, you should add a finish to keep your piece looking beautiful for years. That’s why we’ve provided this guide on how to finish laser-engraved wood.  

The Importance of Finishing for Laser Engraved Projects 

The biggest reason to apply a finish to your wood projects is to prevent environmental damage, such as moisture, sunlight, and humidity. Without the added protection, a piece of lighter wood could start warping, cracking, or becoming discolored over time. Adding a protective barrier also prevents the wood from scratching, getting stained, or incurring other physical damage.  

Adding a finish brings out the natural beauty of your wood choice. You’ll notice that it deepens the color and highlights the beautiful grain patterns. They also add different sheens, including glossy, matte, or satin.  

Dusting your piece becomes a lot easier with a finish. You can quickly wipe off any dust or dirt, which can be harder to do with unfinished wood pieces. If you’re selling your products, buyers may find finished wood-etched engravings more appealing.  

Overview of Finishing Techniques 

Now that we understand why you might want to finish your wood projects, let’s look at some different finishing techniques you can employ.  

Stain 

A stain finish is a pigmented solution added to wood. It alters the color while allowing the wood’s natural grain and texture to show. Stain penetrates the wood fibers, helping enhance its natural beauty and adding additional protection.  

Clear Coat 

A clear coat finish is a transparent material applied to some types of wood engravings to protect against sunlight, scratches, and other environmental factors. This type of finish makes it easier to clean a wood engraving while enhancing its durability. Examples of clear coats include:  

  • Polyurethane: Good for use on heavily used wood items  
  • Lacquer: Provides wood with a hard, smooth finish and is often used on decorative items 
  • Varnish: Protects wood against UV rays and moisture 
  • Shellac: Gives wood a glossy finish and is typically used on decorative wood pieces 

Oil Finish 

Like staining, oil finishes penetrate the wood and enhance the look and depth of its natural grain. Oil finishes also protect wood projects against moisture and offer protection against minor wear and tear. Examples of oil finishes include: 

  • Tung oil: Makes wood water-resistant 
  • Linseed oil: Easy to apply and adds a warm finish 
  • Danish oil: Combines oil and varnish to add protection and give wood a natural look 
  • Mineral oil: Food-safe and non-toxic, making it perfect for utensils and cutting boards 

Wax Finish 

Wax finishes are popular because they leave wood with a natural look that enhances its natural beauty. It gives the wood a soft sheen finish without altering its color. Examples of wax finishes include: 

  • Paste wax: Gives wood a durable finish 
  • Liquid wax: Applied in liquid form and may require more frequent reapplications 
  • Beeswax: Natural wax that provides a warm finish 

Shellac 

Shellac is a natural resin-based material that gives wood a high-gloss finish. It comes from the secretions of lac bugs. Shellac dries quickly and is flexible enough to use as a sealer, primer, or final finish. You can find shellac in colors such as blonde and amber. 

How To Prepare Your Engraved Wood for Finishing 

laser cutting wood

While you may be proud of your work with your laser engraving machine, you can’t immediately start applying your finish. First, make sure there are no visible flaws, such as scratches, dents, or places requiring an additional laser engraving process.  

Next, clean the wood surface with a soft brush or compressed air to remove any residue from using a wood engraver. Then, use medium-grit sandpaper to smooth out the surface. Use smaller pieces of sandpaper when working on more intricately cut designs.  

Remove any wood scrap pieces or sanding dust, then use wood filler with a putty knife as necessary to fill in imperfections. Use sandpaper again to make everything smooth and level, then clean your wood with a tack cloth.  

How To Choose the Right Finish for Your Project 

When choosing a finish, consider where you’ll keep the wood. If it’s going to be used with food, use something food-safe, such as mineral oil or beeswax. Polyurethane is a good choice for signs hung outdoors. You should also consider the finish you want to achieve. Shellac is good for glossy designs, while stains help wood grain stand out.  

How To Apply the Finish 

After preparing your wood, you can start applying the finish. Below is an overview of the tools and application process for each finish. 

  • Oils: Apply them using a dry cloth or brush. Make sure you cover everything, including your engravings. Let the oil penetrate the wood for 15-30 minutes, then use a clean cloth to remove any excess. Let the wood dry for 24-48 hours (about two days). Add additional coats as needed. 
  • Stains: Use a brush or soft cloth to apply an even coat, following the wood grain. Make sure the stain penetrates everything. Let the stain sit for a few minutes before removing any excess with a cloth. Stain typically dries anywhere from a few hours to overnight. 
  • Clear coat: Apply a clear coat from a spray can or by using a brush or cloth. Apply it in thin, even coats to avoid runs and drips. After each coat dries, use 320-grit sandpaper or fine steel wood to smooth out the surface.  
  • Wax: Work the wax into the wood using circular motions, then let it sit for a few minutes. Buff the surface using a clean cloth to remove any extra wax and make your piece shine. 
  • Shellac: You apply shellac finishes similarly to a clear coat with a brush or cloth in thin layers. Let each coat sit for up to an hour, then smooth out the wood with sandpaper or fine steel wool.  

Drying and Curing Times 

Drying and curing times vary depending on the type of finish used. Oils take the longest to dry, while shellac and clear coats dry in the shortest time.  

Stay Creative With OMTech Laser  

Buying a laser doesn't have to be a costly process. OMTech has options for anyone looking for a laser that cuts wood and lets you explore different laser engraving ideas. If you want to expand beyond wood for laser cutting, our CO2 laser cutters also work on acrylic, leather, and other materials. We also offer desktop laser engravers for wood if you’re short on space. Check out our inventory of wood laser-cutting tools.