When To Stain Wood for Laser Engraving? Complete Guide!

Laser engraving on wood offers a unique way to personalize and enhance the beauty of wooden surfaces. While the process itself involves burning the wood to create intricate designs, staining the wood beforehand can add depth and contrast to the final engraving. However, knowing when to stain wood for laser engraving is crucial to achieving the best results.

When it comes to laser engraving on wood, the sequence of staining before engraving or vice versa is a matter of debate among craftsmen and artisans. However, there are several compelling reasons why staining before engraving is often recommended for achieving optimal results.

In this article, we’ll delve into the best wood for staining, the steps to stain wood for laser engraving, and the advantages of staining wood prior to laser engraving.

Here’s everything you need to know about when to stain wood for laser engraving.

Choose The Best Wood For Staining

Laser engraving on wood is a captivating art form that blends technology with craftsmanship, allowing for intricate designs and personalized creations. When it comes to staining wood for laser engraving, selecting the right type of wood is paramount to achieving the desired results. Here’s our guide to help you choose the best wood for staining when laser engraving:

Hardwood vs. Softwood:

Hardwoods, such as maple, cherry, walnut, and oak, are generally preferred for laser engraving and staining due to their dense and even grain structure. These woods offer excellent engraving clarity and hold stains well, resulting in vibrant and defined designs. Softwoods, like pine or cedar, tend to have more pronounced grain patterns and may yield less consistent engraving results.


Maple is a popular choice for laser engraving and staining due to its smooth texture and light color. It engraves cleanly and evenly, allowing for crisp and detailed designs. Maple readily accepts a variety of stains, from light tones to darker shades, providing versatility in design options.


Cherry wood boasts a rich reddish-brown hue that deepens over time, making it a sought-after choice for laser engraving projects. Its fine grain and smooth surface lend themselves well to intricate engraving details, while the natural color variation adds character to the finished piece. Cherry wood stains beautifully, enhancing its warm tones and highlighting the engraved design.


Walnut is prized for its dark chocolate-brown color and distinctive grain patterns, making it an excellent choice for laser engraving and staining. The deep coloration of walnut provides a striking contrast with light-colored stains, creating visually stunning results. Its moderate hardness allows for precise engraving without sacrificing durability.


Oak is revered for its durability and pronounced grain texture, making it a classic choice for laser engraving and staining. While its open pores can present challenges for fine engraving details, oak’s natural beauty shines through when stained, with the grain patterns adding depth and character to the finished piece.


Birch wood offers a pale, uniform color and a fine, even grain structure, making it an ideal canvas for laser engraving and staining. Its smooth surface engraves crisply, allowing for intricate designs, while the light coloration provides a neutral backdrop for various stain hues.

Find The Best Wood For Laser Engraving Here: The best materials for laser engraving: Complete Guide

How to Stain Wood For Laser Engraving: Step By Step Guide

Step 1: Select the Right Stain

Selecting the right stain is crucial when preparing wood for laser engraving. The perfect stain not only enhances the beauty of the wood but also ensures optimal engraving results. We will explore the factors to consider when choosing the best stain for laser engraving and highlight some top options. Not all stains are suitable for laser engraving.

Choose a stain that is specifically formulated for use with laser-engraved wood to ensure compatibility and minimize any potential adverse effects on the engraving process. Consider the level of translucency or opacity of the stain, as this will impact the visibility of the engraved design. Transparent or semi-transparent stains allow the wood grain to show through, while opaque stains provide more uniform color coverage.

Pro Tip: If you’re using oil-based or petroleum-based stain, make sure to give the wood plenty of time to dry. If it doesn’t dry well, the stain can become flammable, which might cause burns and leave smoky marks on your wood. On the other hand, if you use a water-based stain, it won’t leave any burn or smoke marks on your workpiece.

The color of the stain will significantly influence the appearance of the engraved wood. Choose a stain color that complements the wood species and aligns with your desired aesthetic. Popular options include natural wood tones, rich earthy hues, and vibrant accent colors.

Both water-based and oil-based stains are commonly used for laser engraving on wood. Water-based stains dry faster, emit fewer fumes, and are easier to clean up, making them a popular choice for indoor use. Oil-based stains typically provide deeper color penetration and longer-lasting results but may require more drying time and ventilation.

Opt for a stain with a fast drying time to minimize waiting between staining and engraving. Look for stains that dry within a few hours, allowing you to proceed with the engraving process promptly without compromising the quality of the finish.

Choose a stain with low odor and volatile organic compound (VOC) content to ensure a safe and comfortable working environment, particularly if you’re working indoors or in a confined space. Low-VOC stains are eco-friendly and contribute to better air quality.

Consider the type of wood you’ll be engraving when selecting a stain. Some stains may perform better on certain wood species due to variations in grain density, porosity, and natural coloration. Test the stain on a small, inconspicuous area of the wood to ensure compatibility and desired results.

Look for stains that are easy to apply and provide consistent coverage with minimal effort. Stains that penetrate the wood evenly and smoothly without streaking or blotching are ideal for achieving professional-looking results.

Recommended Product (Paid Link): Varathane 381118 Water Based Wood Stain On Amazon

Step 2: Preparing The Wood Surface:

Inspect the wood surface for any imperfections, such as knots, rough patches, or blemishes. Use sandpaper of progressively finer grits to smooth out the surface and remove any flaws. Start with coarse-grit sandpaper (around 80-100 grit) and gradually work your way up to finer grits (200-400 grit) for a smooth finish.

Once the surface is smooth, thoroughly clean the wood to remove any dust, dirt, or debris. Use a tack cloth or a damp microfiber cloth to wipe down the entire surface, ensuring it is free from any particles that could interfere with the engraving or staining process.

Step 3: Testing The Stain:

Before applying the stain to your project piece, conduct a test on a scrap piece of the same wood to ensure you achieve the desired color and effect. Adjust the application method or number of coats as needed.

Step 4: Applying the Stain:

Applying The Wood Stain for Laser Engraving

Using a brush, cloth, or sponge applicator, apply the stain evenly to the wood surface, following the grain. Work in small sections and wipe off any excess stain with a clean cloth to prevent streaking or blotching.

Step 5: Allowing The Stain To Dry:

Let the stain dry completely according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Ensure the wood is thoroughly dry before proceeding to the laser engraving step.

  • Oil-based stains typically require 24 to 48 hours to fully dry and cure before laser engraving.
  • Water-based stains tend to dry faster, usually within 2 to 4 hours, but may still benefit from additional curing time.

It’s essential to allow the stain to fully dry and cure to prevent any interference with the laser engraving process and ensure optimal results.

Step 6: Preparing For Laser Engraving:

Once the stain has dried, ensure the wood surface is clean and free from any residue. If necessary, lightly sand the surface to remove any raised grain or rough spots that may affect the engraving quality.

Step 7: Laser Engraving the Stained Wood:

Set up your laser engraving machine according to the specifications of your design. Carefully position the stained wood piece on the engraving bed and adjust the laser settings for depth and clarity.

Before engraving on stained wood, it’s advisable to perform a test engraving on a small, inconspicuous area to assess the compatibility of the stain with the laser settings. Adjust the laser power and speed as needed to achieve the desired engraving depth and clarity.

Step 8: Post-Engraving Finishing

After completing the engraving process, inspect the wood surface for any residual debris. Clean the surface gently with a soft brush or cloth to remove any remaining particles.

To protect the engraved design and enhance its longevity, consider applying a clear sealant or finish to the stained wood surface. Choose a finish that is compatible with both the stain and the engraving, such as a polyurethane varnish or lacquer. Apply the finish evenly using a brush, foam applicator, or spray gun, following the manufacturer’s instructions for application and drying times.

Recommended Product (Paid Link): Minwax 63333 Clear Polycrylic Water-Based Protective Finish Satin On Amazon
  • Multiple Coats for Durability: For optimal protection and durability, apply multiple coats of sealant or finish to the engraved wood surface. Allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next coat, and lightly sand between coats to achieve a smooth and uniform finish. Adding multiple coats helps build up a protective barrier against moisture, UV rays, and everyday wear and tear.
  • Final Inspection and Touch-Ups: Once the finishing coats have dried, inspect the engraved wood surface for any unevenness, drips, or imperfections in the finish. Sand any rough spots or drips lightly with fine-grit sandpaper and wipe away any dust with a clean cloth. Take this opportunity to ensure that the engraved design is beautifully showcased and protected by the finish.
  • Cure and Enjoy: Allow the final coat of finish to cure fully according to the manufacturer’s instructions before handling or displaying the finished piece. Once cured, your laser engraved wood creation is ready to be showcased and enjoyed for years to come, with its beauty preserved and protected by the post-engraving finishing.

Advantages of Staining Wood For Laser Engraving

The advantages of staining wood before laser engraving and why it’s a preferred method for many.

  • Enhanced Contrast and Visibility: Staining the wood before engraving allows the engraved design to stand out more prominently against the stained background. The contrast between the engraved and non-engraved areas is often more pronounced, resulting in a visually striking finished product. This enhanced visibility can make intricate designs and fine details more apparent, especially when using darker stains on lighter wood or vice versa.
  • Uniform Coloration and Coverage: Staining before engraving ensures uniform coloration and coverage across the entire wood surface, including areas that may be difficult to reach or engrave later. This helps create a consistent base color for the engraving, eliminating any inconsistencies or blotchiness that may occur if the stain is applied after engraving.
  • Ease of Application and Control: Applying stain to a flat, unengraved wood surface is generally easier and allows for better control over the staining process. Craftsmen can adjust the intensity and coverage of the stain to achieve the desired color and tone, ensuring that the wood’s natural beauty is enhanced without compromising the engraving quality. Additionally, staining before engraving minimizes the risk of inadvertently staining the engraved areas during the staining process.
  • Preservation of Engraving Details: Staining before engraving helps protect the engraved areas from potential damage or discoloration during the staining process. By applying the stain to the unengraved surface first, craftsmen can avoid exposing the delicate engraved details to harsh chemicals or abrasive staining techniques, preserving the clarity and integrity of the engraving.
  • Efficiency and Time Savings: Staining before engraving can streamline the production process and save time, as craftsmen can complete both the staining and engraving steps in one seamless workflow. This approach eliminates the need to mask off or protect the engraved areas during the staining process, reducing the risk of errors and simplifying post-processing tasks.
  • Versatility and Design Flexibility: Staining before engraving offers greater flexibility in design choices and allows for more creative experimentation with different stain colors, techniques, and effects. Craftsmen can explore various staining options to achieve unique looks and tailor the finished product to suit individual preferences and project requirements.


Staining wood before laser engraving offers numerous benefits, including enhanced aesthetics and contrast. By timing the staining process correctly and following proper preparation and finishing techniques, you can achieve stunning results that showcase the beauty of both the wood and the engraved design.

By following these step-by-step instructions for staining wood before laser engraving, you can create stunning and personalized wood projects that showcase your creativity and attention to detail. Experiment with different stain colors and techniques to achieve unique effects and make your creations truly one-of-a-kind.