A long-in-process project here at home has been laser etching the stairs in my home. I had new bamboo flooring put in, and that included the stairs to the loft. The project took several months because I was commuting back and forth between Maui and So Cal. Last visit I got all the panels etched and painted. Yesterday the installer came out and completed the job. It looks great!
The flooring is actually a composite product called Solid Bamboo Flooring from Wisteria Lane Flooring. The bamboo fibers are woven and sealed with resin and 7 layers of finish. The result is a hard durable floor that resists dings and scratches much better than regular bamboo floors. The snap-together pieces made installing very quick – except for cutting around odd corners, etc.
The turtle is a petroglyph commonly seen here on the island. I imported an image and tweaked it a bit in photoshop/corel paint. Then I used my Epilog Helix 24 40watt laser to burn the image into the panels using 40% speed and 100% power raster settings. I ran the burn twice on each to increase the depth. One thing I learned on this exercise was to be careful to remove all the ‘white’ areas. Early tests had some slightly less white and this caused a light bit of the finish to be etched, giving a hazy or scuffed look. The risers are about 38 inches wide, which made them too big to fit inside the 24″wx18″d workspace of the Helix. The front door of the laser opens and there are two small magnetic safety switches inside. Putting magnets on these defeated the safety overides (with a bit of fiddling). (insert disclaimer – dont do this at home).
After etching, I painted two coats of Minwax Ebony satin finish stain into the etched area to give it much darker look. I put a coat of Minwax polyurethane on top of that to seal it. The excess stain and sealer that got on the non-etched surface simply wiped away when wet. If it dried, a bit of mineral spirits on a cloth wiped it away. There was some bleeding of the ebony stain into the surrounding bamboo by capillary action, but it was minimal.
When I started I thought I’d put the etchings on both sides, but then realized that might look a bit too busy. So we compromised with putting two etchings on the top and bottom risers and alternating left and right for the intermediate steps. I think the effect works quite well. I am glad to have finally completed the job!
Other Laser Tests – Photo Etching
A while back I also tried doing some more tests with photographs. We snapped a quick shot of my step-son and his girlfriend, who were visiting. Some photo manipulation to make it a simple gray scale image and then a light burn into 1/8″ baltic birch plywood. The result was very satisfying! Fine grained wood like baltic birch seems to be best for photos like this. The bamboo was far too large grained, and pine was ver very uneven in density.