How do you clean laser engraved wood? Complete Guide

Wood is a great material for your laser engraving projects. But one huge demerit with wood is the residue that the engraving machine leaves behind. In some cases, you might even have to deal with some burn marks on your material.

So, how do you clean laser engraved wood? There are three main methods of cleaning laser engraved wood:

  1. using hand soap
  2. light sanding
  3. using white vinegar

I will explain each of these methods in greater detail below so keep reading.  

Method 1: Using hand cleaner

Using hand cleaner to clean laser engraving on wood
Using Fast Orange Hand Cleaner To Clean Laser Engraved Wood
  1. You will need an orange hand cleaner that is waterless and has no toxic chemicals or ammonia. A soft brush and paper towels will also come in handy.
  2. Place some of the hand clean on a soft brush and then use it to gently clean the surface.
  3. Check to ensure the wood is residue-free and then use a paper towel to give it one last polish with a little dab of the orange cleaner.

Method 2: Using light sanding

Use light sanding to clean laser engraved wood
Light Sanding To Clean Laser Engraved Wood

For this method, you will need smooth sandpaper to gently sand the engraved wood. Inspect the engraved area and use your discretion to sand off unwanted marks and burns but remember to be gentle to avoid ruining the intricate laser-engraved patterns.

Method 3: Using white vinegar

Using white vinegar to clean laser engraved wood
Using White Vinegar To Clean Laser Engraved Wood

For this method, you will need a paper towel and white vinegar. To clean your laser-engraved wood, dab your paper towel in vinegar (you can also use a soft piece of cloth) and then use it to wipe off the residue on your wood. Repeat the process until you are satisfied with the result.

Top Tips on how to clean laser engraved wood

  • Avoid using any corrosive agents or coarse cleaning products as they could easily ruin your wood.
  • Test a small piece of wood first before you clean your engraved material. This will help you judge whether or not the cleaning supplies will actually work without leaving behind a mess.
  • Remember to clean your laser machine as well. Over time, the laser engraver will get lots of dust which combine with the resins to form a sticky mess that can cause your machine to malfunction.

How to reduce cleaning of laser engraved wood?

In general, cleaning time can be shortened in half by reducing the amount of smoke and residue produced during the engraving or cutting process.

The type of wood you use, as well as the thickness of the particular piece, can have a big impact on the final result. Speed, power, wattage, and your surroundings are all important considerations. As a result, we recommend conducting a materials test on an off-cut before you begin.

To improve the engraving outcome and reduce the cleaning work, consider the following points.

1. Don’t Engrave Too Deep

Only engrave as deep as is required for the desired outcome. This results in a brighter, more detailed engraving image as well as a significant reduction in smoke residue.

2. Correct Power & Speed Settings

When laser engraving wood, the first thing you can do is adjust the power and speed settings on the laser engraving machine. If the laser emits too much power, it will undoubtedly leave burn marks. High power begins to burn the wood and particles at the edge of the engraving. As a result, you must reduce the power as much as possible.

Speed is also vital in avoiding burn marks. When the speed is too slow, the laser beam spends a long time on the area, leaving burn marks as a result. The speed should be high enough to minimize burn marks.

Reduce the laser power and/or increase the laser speed settings as needed to get the best results. You can experiment with different settings to avoid scorching. Once you’ve found the setting that works best for each type of wood, make a note of it to speed up the procedure in the future.

3. Engrave from the bottom up

Engrave from the bottom up so the smoke is drawn away from rather than over the etched region. The amount of residue that can settle on the (hot) engraved area is reduced as a result.

4. Use a Honeycomb Table

Laser Cutting Wood On A Honeycomb Table
Laser Engraver Honeycomb Table

Excessive heat is produced when a laser beam hits your material. It is critical to evacuate the heat otherwise, the temperature of the wood will rise. This will undoubtedly result in burn marks if the heat dissipation is inadequate. For engraving, a honeycomb table is always recommended. It not only protects the table area beneath it, but it also prevents burn marks due to its excellent heat dissipation.

For detailed information on the honeycomb tables we recommend for laser engravers, it would be helpful to read the article I wrote here.

5. Use Laser Engraving Transfer Tape

Use Laser Engraving Transfer Tape when engraving wood
Use Paper Transfer Tape To Prevent Burn Marks When Engraving Wood

Laser engraving transfer tape is a great way to avoid burns when engraving on wood. When you apply the tape, it is the first thing that comes into contact with the laser beam. It prevents burn marks by reducing the smoke and fumes produced during the engraving process. The tape can be pulled off the surface after laser engraving, you will have a clean edge but it is time-consuming to apply and remove the tape.

We don’t like to use masking tape as it is not adhesive enough. We use paper transfer tape, but not vinyl or plastic transfer tape. Do not use a laser to engrave or cut vinyl since it emits harmful chlorine into the air. This type of paper transfer tape is commonly used by Cricut users for vinyl signs, shirts, stickers, and other projects, and it comes in a variety of roll widths to suit your needs.

How To Apply Transfer Tape To Wood for Laser Engraving

how to apply transfer tape to wood for laser engraving
Applying Paper Transfer Tape To Wood For Laser Engraving
  • Apply the transfer tape smoothing out any bubbles or creases with a Squeegee as you go.
  • Then, set the laser engraver’s power and speed and engrave the wood as desired.
  • Remove the tape when the engraving is finished.

While transfer tape can help prevent burn lines when laser engraving wood, it is not always required. By carefully adjusting the laser engraver settings and utilizing a lower-power setting, it may be able to produce good results without requiring transfer tape.

For more information on the laser engraving transfer tape we use for our wood engraving projects then read this article I wrote here.

6. Use Air Assist with your Laser

Installing Air Assist on our xTool 10W D1 Laser Engraver
Installing Air Assist on our xTool 10W D1 Laser Engraver

Smoke is created from the surface of the wood as a result of the engraving. This smoke collects around the material causing a temperature rise. Burn marks are a result of this high temperature. The smoke can be blown away with the use of an air assist. An air assist is a vital component of a laser engraver. It delivers a consistent and high-pressure airflow to blow away the hot smoke which results in reduced burn marks.

7. Smoke & Fume Extraction

First and foremost, laser engraving should always be performed in a well-ventilated area. It aids in the removal of smoke and fumes produced during the engraving and cutting process. An exhaust fan, fume extractor or laser engraver enclosure will help reduce smoke and fumes from the engraving area, allowing you to operate in a safer atmosphere.

Apart from reducing burn marks on your engraving, it will also help your laser engraver last longer by keeping smoke and residue from accumulating on the mirrors and lenses. If you want to improve your safety and extend the lifespan of your laser engraving equipment, an exhaust fan or fume extractor is a must. It will not only safeguard your health, but it will also help to maintain your equipment.

Have a look at our buying guides here:

Top 5 Laser Engraver Exhaust Fan Options 

Top 5 Best Fume Extractors for Laser Engravers 

Laser Engraver Enclosure Options: You Need The Best Quality

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQ’S

Why is wood sticky after Laser Engraving?

The process of engraving wood with a laser engraver may leave residue on the surface. This residue, which is often sticky and shiny, is caused by the sugars found in wood. Engraving the wood causes the sugars to caramelize on the surface, making it tough to remove once it has cooled.

How do you protect laser engraved wood?

You can use lacquer aerosol spray to spray the wood. This is one way of protecting the wood from aging and remaining as beautiful as it can for long. You can spray it immediately after you have finished engraving and cleaning the wood but it might be a good idea to use the spray annually to make it pop.

How do you seal wood after engraving?

Seal the wood using the varnish of your choice and give it time to dry. Sealing helps protect the quality and value of the laser-engraved wood. You can use wood polish to seal the wood properly and keep it away from any damage. If left unsealed, the engraved wood will easily get dirty and the engravings will be more prone to damage.

Should you stain the wood before or after engraving?

When it comes to staining the wood, it depends on what you are looking for. If you want the markings you are making to look lighter, you should stain the wood before engraving.

If you need a darker and bolder look, then stain the wood after engraving it. A hybrid of both is another way to go. You can partially stain the wood before engraving it and then do another staining once you are done engraving. There is really no right or wrong way – so just test the three options and see which one you fancy most.

Final thoughts

So, in a nutshell, remember to clean your laser engraver as well as your engraved material. Cleaning the engraver makes it durable and safer while cleaning the engraved object improves its quality and aesthetic appeal. But as we have pointed out, you should take extra caution while cleaning the wood so as not to damage it. Just follow the steps shared above and you will be fine.