Do You Need to Seal a Laser Engraving?

Engraving wood can sometimes be a challenge when trying to attain a nice clean look. There are a few different schools of thought on how best to seal both the wood and the engraving to achieve the best results. Though the process may be different depending on your specific scenario, my experience has taught me the following.

Sealing an engraving on wood isn’t always necessary but is a good idea. Ideally, you would stain and seal your wood before engraving. After engraving, a wiping and light sanding will remove any residual soot left on the wood. A final coat can then be applied to the wood and engraving.

Sealing an engraving on finished wood

If you don’t want to sand lightly after engraving, the soot will be easier to wipe off sealed wood than bare wood.

When you engrave wood with a laser engraver, you are burning into the wood. The result will leave you with bare, darkened wood within the engraved areas. It’s a good idea to add at least some kind of protection so dust, dirt, and other debris don’t penetrate the bare wood pores.

Unfinished engravings may soak up dirt and grime over time and then it will be impossible to get out. This may cause darkened areas and a less desirable look over the long term. I have found that adding a small amount of sealant will help to avoid this altogether. Beyond that, adding a natural oil to an engraving will help to darken it and make it stand out better.

What to Use to Seal Engravings on Wood

There are a variety of products that can be used to seal an engraving. I have tried a bunch of different methods but have settled on three that I typically use. Each project is different and may require a different way of doing things depending on the type of finish you are going with.

The following are the three ways that I ensure that my engravings are sealed so that they are protected and pop better.

Natural Oils

My preferred choice for finishing wood engravings is using a natural oil. This could be tung oil, linseed oil, walnut oil, shellac, or another type. It could also be a product that is built around a combination of natural oils like Odie’s Oil, which is what I generally prefer.

Odie’s Oil is super easy to work with and provides a durable finish. At first glance, these natural oils may seem to be expensive. However, a small bottle goes a long way so it ends up being very affordable in the end. Considering the ease of use and the benefit of being less toxic, it’s worth the price.

Engraving finished with natural oils only
Wood and engraving finished with a natural oil product.

The image above shows the result of my process when using only Odie’s Oil. I used their universal finish product (along with their walnut color pigment) for the staining and wood finishing and the Super Duper Oil for the engraving. After completion, the wood and the engraving have a protective finish and the engraving stands out better than it would otherwise.

Here is my process when using natural oils.

  1. Build my project and sand smooth, typically to 320-grit.
  2. Apply a stain if necessary.
  3. Once the stain is dry, finish the project with Odie’s Oil. Apply the product per instructions and wipe clean.
  4. Once dry, engrave the project as needed.
  5. After engraving, remove any soot or residue left over from the engraving. It is easy to wipe off at this point. It can also be lightly sanded around the engraving with 320-grit sandpaper.
  6. Once clean, apply a small amount of oil inside the engraved areas with a small brush.
  7. Use a dry absorbent brush to wipe the engraved areas clean and then wipe any other oil off that has been left around the engravings.

With this process, you’ll end up with a clean engraved project that is protected.

Note: If using natural oils, you may need to thin them a bit or purchase a thinner version. I prefer Odie’s Super Duper Oil for the work of filling in engraved areas.

Polyurethane or Lacquer

Much like using the natural oils above, the process is to stain, sand, finish, and engrave your wood. If multiple coats are to be used, I typically apply two or three coats of finish before engraving. Once engraved, I can lightly sand it so that any soot residue is removed and the finish is ready for a final coat.

Once sanded, another coat or two is added for final finishing. I also coat the engraving with a small amount of finish during these final coats, making sure to avoid pooling of it in any one area. This works well to seal the engraving and ensure you have a nice-looking, durable finish all around.

Seal laser engraving with polyurethane
Wood and engraving finished with a wipe-on polyurethane product.

The image above shows the result of this exact process. Be careful not to allow too much polyurethane to penetrate the engraved areas.

You will notice in the image of my test that the engraving has a gloss to it. I used gloss so that it would be more visible in the engraving for this test.

If you are using a glossy finish, this technique may not work well for you. You may end up with an engraving that has a glossy finish inside the engraved areas if too many coats are used. This isn’t ideal and doesn’t make the engraving stand out as well as it could. I have found this method works best when aiming for a matte or satin finish.

Combination of Natural Oils and Polyurethane or Lacquer

The last technique of sealing an engraving that I’ll discuss is using a combination of polyurethane or lacquer and natural oils. This is what I prefer most of the time because you get the best of both worlds. Unlike the unwanted problem of a glossy engraving, you will end up with an engraving that is protected but doesn’t have a visible finish.

Engraving with combination of polyurethane and natural oil
Wood finished with wipe-on polyurethane, engraving finished with a natural oil product.

For this technique, the first step is to finish your project completely including stain, and all layers of polyurethane or other finish. After all finish has been applied and dried, you can then engrave. Once complete, wipe all residue off and then use a natural oil and a small brush to finish the engraved areas.

You can easily brush it in and then use a small dry brush to remove the excess. The leftover oil residue can easily be wiped off of the finished wood once you are done. Now you have wood that is protected with a durable finish and an engraving that is protected but doesn’t stand out with too much of a sheen.

Bottom Line

In most cases, wood engravings won’t need to be sealed if kept indoors. It’s a waste of time on many small items like Christmas ornaments or other decorative items that aren’t seen very often. However, if you have an engraving on something that is on your mantle and you want it to look great for years to come, it’s definitely worth the time.

Hopefully, the ideas I have shared in this article will help you apply a better protective finish to your engravings. An engraving that is sealed will be better protected, darker and more pleasing to the eye, and will allow you to fully enjoy your workpiece for many years to come.