This is a great technique for making jewelry pieces or anything else out of wood. It’s ideal for super detailed imagery like the victorian influenced selection here. This tutorial includes direction on setting up a file, having it laser engraved/cut, then finishing it for use in jewelry or whatever else you’d like.
If you’ve ever been curious about using laser cutting and engraving this is a great starter project!
Laser Engraving Wood
I’m going to assume you’ve never had anything laser cut before. If this is already in your skill set, skip ahead to the next part below.
The first thing to know is that most lasers love vector graphics. Some can use .jpgs and other formats, but if you’re looking for maximum compatibility vectors are the way to go. Unlike photos, vectors can be scaled from huge to tiny without losing any image quality. Adobe Illustrator is probably the most well known software for the job, but if you don’t have it (or $600 you don’t know what to do with) then Inkscape is a great (free) option.
You will also need to access a laser cutter. There are Fab Labs and Hackerspaces all over the world, many of which have laser cutters available to use after some sort of class or certification. There are also services available where you can simply send them your file and they send you finished pieces. For the sake of simplicity I’m going to assume you’re using Ponoko. They have a huge variety of materials to work with, ship all over the world and have a fairly streamlined file creation process.
Download and install Inkscape (or Illustrator or CorelDraw, whatever your taste.)
Download the appropriate starter kit templates from Ponoko.
Create your design, making sure it fits within the orange box.
Make sure what you want engraved is solid black (Red:0 Green:0 Blue:0). This is the heaviest available engraving level and you want the deepest engraving possible.
Draw an outline where you want the piece cut. Make sure the line is 0.01mm thick and solid blue (Red:0 Green:0 Blue:255)
Any text needs to be converted to paths.
If you’re struggling with any of this there’s a lot of helpful detail on the Ponoko Starter Kit page.
When you have everything the way you want it you need to set up an account with Ponoko, upload your file, set your material and have them make it. Before you know if you’ll have a package of parts in your mailbox!
Finishing Your Parts
– laser engraved wood (if you would like to purchase any of them charms I used, you can get them in the HDYMT Ponoko Showroom)
– sandpaper – 200 and 400 grit
– paint – I used Liquitex Acrylics but most acrylic or oil art paints will work
– clear sealer (optional) – keep your materials consistent – if you’re using acrylic paint use an acrylic sealer
– dust mask – wear it while painting and sanding
– small brushes and/or toothpicks – for spreading paint
If you want perfectly crisp edges on your color you need to apply a thin coat of clear sealer to your pieces before you start. Allow it to dry completely before continuing. Don’t pre-seal if you want the streaky vintage look I chose for these.
Cover your engraved areas with paint. I used a toothpick to spread the paint because I felt like my paint brush was pulling too much paint back out of the grooves. The more paint you can get into the engraved areas the easier it will be to get a pretty finish.
You can carefully apply more than one color to the same piece – let each color dry before adding another.
Once everything is totally dry you can start sanding off the extra paint. Wear a dust mask for this, dust is bad for your lungs. Use the 200 grit paper until most of the paint is off, then use the 400 grit paper to finish sanding off any additional paint residue. Sand gently, it is possible to sand too much off and lose your details.
When your pieces look how you want them to wipe them clean with a paper towel. Sealing them is a good idea to make them more water resistant. Either way try to keep them dry, they are made of wood!
That’s it! Finish them into jewelry, keychains, or whatever else you’d like!