We wanted to make a personalized gift as housewarming present for our newly married friends who just purchased a house. The goal was to make something which reminded them of northern Canada, and their first home, while still being something that could move with them in the future. We settled on a personalized cutting board.
- Bamboo (or wood) cutting board
- Access to a laser cutter
- Sand paper
- Wire brush (optional)
- Mineral oil & cloth (optional)
Step 1: Design Plan
A number of ideas were drawn out in order to figure out which would be the best design. A paper folded into four pieces served as a scaled down shape of the rectangular cutting board. After a bit of doodling a tree, an axe, an outline of the Yukon, and a canoe were some of the early sketches.
Step 2: Digitizing, Testing & Finalizing the Design
Next, our favourite design (the shape of the Yukon territory with a heart in the location of our city, and the text "...always home") was chosen and we began putting it into a digital file.
The files to compose the design were all obtained from Wikipedia:
The outline of the Yukon: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yukon_outl...
The heart shape: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Love_Heart...
Using SVG files made it simple to work with the shapes (fill in or change thickness of the stroke of the heart) using your favorite vector software. In our case we used Corel Draw 7.
Knowing that Bamboo didn't burn the same darkness as our birch wood tester, we tried to figure out what is the best settings to get the darkest etching without going too deep. (Since it was a cutting board we didn't want to make deep grooves which would trap bacteria)
The settings we settled on were 1200 DPI, 80% speed, 100% power, etching style set to Floyd Steinberg. I learned 1200 DPI produced darker results than etching 600 DPI twice. Also surprisingly was the etching style. Usually we use Stucki because it produces the best quality, however Floyd Steinberg produced the darkest burn.
To get the best results we tested many different things, DPI settings, multiple passes, different focal lengths, different speed/power settings and different etching styles. In the end, those are the settings that seemed to produce the darkest burn.
Before committing to a final design, a few test runs were made to allow decisions on the best placement of the text and image. Also, it helped to confirm whether or not to keep the shape filled in, or if an outline would work better instead. The filled in shape turned out better than expected and so that was the final decision.
Step 3: Preparing the Surface
Opting for an inexpensive cutting board, the next step was to sand the cutting board surface and prepare it for laser etching.
Previous experience with laser etching bamboo found that when the sanding step was skipped the etching resulted in a white residue which impacted the clarity of the design. This may be caused by glue between the compressed layers of bamboo, or perhaps a special coating. Sanding allows for a clean and nice surface which accepts etching well. It should also be said that after sanding, do NOT wet the board. Etch it and apply food grade mineral oil before it ever sees water, otherwise you'll have to re-sand the board.
Wire brush is optional but you should know that when sanding bamboo, it clumps on the sand paper and make it harder to use. Wire brush allows you to clean that off and keep using the paper for longer.
It should be noted however, that bamboo does not etch as darkly as if you were to use different wood options.
Step 4: Laser Etch
Next was to commit to letting the laser loose on the real piece!
In addition to putting the main Yukon image and "...always home" text, we also etched the date on the back for them to always remember when they got the keys to their new house.
In the end the etching came out really nicely!
However, if for some reason there was a mistake and it needed to be done again, the board could easily be sanded back down to start over.
Step 5: Apply Mineral Oil and Enjoy!
The application of oil is optional but highly recommended. Since the top coating was sanded off, a few coats of food safe butcher block (mineral oil) were applied to give the board a nice finished look.
As mentioned earlier, putting water on the board when not oiled caused it to absorb water and result in wood slivers forming. The correction was to re-sand and seal with oil.
All in all, our friends loved it!