This is a little project that I wanted to do to get back into the woodshop and utilize some of the new skills I was learning at TechShop. I will mostly be focusing on the woodshop and laser engraving portions although there are some elements of Adobe Illustrator in here as well.
Wood (your own preference) something with a good grain
Step 1: Cutting to the size you want
I bought a piece of walnut that was 3X3" and 12" long. This allowed for me to cut 8 blocks that were roughly square and 1.5" thick.
As you can see, I cut the piece in half to make sure that I got the grain that would show the best. If I had cut down 8 pieces across the grain in 1.5" segments the end grain would have been on the front side of each piece and would not have been very visually appealing.
When setting up the table-saw, set the blade high enough that the teeth clear the thickness of the wood by a tooth or roughly 1/4 of an inch. I unfortunately did not catch a picture of this step.
As a side note, make sure you double check all settings on your tools before you cut. I had a slight tilt to my table saw blade that I only noticed until after my cut. Not a big problem for this project, but disastrous for a cabinetry project or something you are putting pieces together.
Step 2: Sanding
For any decorative piece of wood, sanding is the key to make something pop. You are trying to get rid of all signs of power tools (mill-marks) and bring the beauty of the grain to the surface.
I used a belt sander for the edges of the blocks of wood first to speed up the process. You can see in the second picture the block on the left has the raw wood exposed. Sanding this down would waste your orbital sanding pads and take a lot of time.
Sand each piece down in progressively finer grades. I started with 80, 120 then finished with 220. Feel your sanding after each pass so you know what it feels like and make sure it is uniform in texture.
Step 3: Sanding Tips
I found that when I was sanding the blocks I was getting some marks from the table. I put the sandpaper I wasn't using down to act as a buffer.
I also decided to soften the edged of the blocks. I took the 220 sandpaper and quickly brushed the edges of the blocks 2-3 times. This is enough to take any nicks off the edges and soften the hard edge.
Step 4: Image editing in Illustrator
I found a good map of Japan to use for my engraving. Since i didn't want to engrave the insides of the map I was looking for something with clean outlines and sufficient detail in the smaller islands.
I'm using CS6 and they have really sophisticated the image trace options. Play around with the number of options they have. I think I went strictly with the "Black and White" option to keep it as simple as possible.
Once you have done the image trace you click on the "Expand" button to get the paths in the outlines. From here you can decide if you want the fill or not, but the only thing you need to make sure of is the paths are set to .001 for width when you set it for laser engraving.
Step 5: Laser cutting
After all the sanding and finishing my design in Adobe Illustrator I booked some time on the laser engraver at TechShop.
I won't outline the details of setting up a laser since you should learn that at TechShop laser SBU class.
The laser I was using was set to 90 watts instead of 60 watts so I had to play with some of the settings.
My first block(left):
Rastor - speed: 50; power: 60 (this was the upper limit dictated by TechShop)
Vector - speed:50 power: 60 Hz:500
On my second block(right):
Rastor - speed:30; power 60
Vector - speed:35 power:50 Hz:500
Comparing the two blocks, I liked the deeper cuts of my second pass even though it caused a little more burning. I asked another TechShop member who was working on the lasers and he recommended a really fine sandpaper (300 grit) and lightly sand over the design by hand. This cleaned it up nicely and prepared it for final stages.
Step 6: Finishing touches
I had some of this dark furniture polish in my house already which works well for the walnut wood I had picked out. I soaked the edges of a ripped up t shirt and rubbed the oil into the wood grain. This really brings out the woodgrain by darkening the pores of the wood. You wipe off the excess with a clean rag (or t-shirt) and let it dry.
I also had some left over polishing wax from another project this summer. It is a natural color usually used on lighter woods but since I used the dark polish the wax is just sealant more than anything. To apply it you use a clean cloth and rub the wax on in circular motions. After letting the wax set for 5 -15 minutes you rub it off with a clean cloth.
Tip: After applying the wax there is some build-up in the engravings. I used a hair drier to melt the build-up and clean up the lines.
Thanks for reading along. I had fun getting back into the workshop and learned a lot by doing the work myself. There is a lot of detail even on a small project like this so pay attention and be safe.
And remember, I made it at TechShop!