Laser Etching a Wooden Cutting Board Posted on 16 May 12:58

I'm often asked what's involved in the process of laser etching a wooden cutting board, below is a quick walkthrough of a typical logo etching process.

Laser cut logo from poplar ply

Today we'll be etching on the Cheese Paddle No.1 today. The client has requested their logo be applied at approximately 70mm wide on the bottom centre of the board. Below is an image of the blank paddle board no.1 in white oak.

Cheese Paddle No.1

We start by loading a vector drawing of the board we'll be etching on and the clients logo. A vector file is important for accurate laser etching. Vector files are made up of mathematically generated curves, as opposed to the individual pixels stored in a bitmap image such as photos generated by a digital camera. The laser machine will accurately follow the vector curves, perfectly replicating the drawing. Typical vector formats are SVG, EPS, PDF, AI & DXF.

The clients logo is placed on the drawing at the requested size and position. This is a perfect representations of what the laser machine will reproduce.

Cheese Paddle No.1 drawing

Once the drawing is done we need to set up the laser cutter. The most important part of setting up the machine is to find a reliable origin point. The origin point is where the laser head (marked #4 on the image below) will start and finish each process. I've overlaid the possible origin points as red dots on the image below. For rectangular products I typically choose the bottom left as the origin (marked #2 in image below). The origin point will depend on the shape of the product, round or irregular shapes may require different treatment.

Cheese Paddle No.1 in laser machine

In the above image I've also marked a couple of other points. #1 is pointing to the spacers I use to offset the product from the edges of the machine. These allow me to cut all the way to the edge of the product and provide a perfectly square edge. #3 is pointing to the honeycomb laser bed, this provides maximum ventilation with minimum surface area exposed to the laser beam. A solid surface would end up heating up too much and reflect the heat back onto the wooden product.

Laser machine focus

The next step is to focus the laser beam, the laser beam forms an hourglass shape after passing through a lens in the laser head. The finest etching detail and the most power are achieved when the material surface is positioned at the thinnest part of the hourglass shape as shown in the drawing below (not to scale). Focussing can be done automatically however I find manual adjustment to be more reliable. I use a 6mm acrylic block to distance the laser head exactly 6mm from the material surface.

Laser machine focus DRAWING

Now everything is set up, we need to choose how the laser will etch the logo. The two most common ways are an outline or a fill. An outline looks great for simple line art logos like in video below.

Laser etching platters for @saluministi , best porchetta in town.

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For the logo we're working on in our example we'll do a combination of line and fill to get the sharpest result. The below video shows the outline being etched on our cheese board.

Next we'll etch out the fill, this takes much longer than the outline process as it requires the laser head to pass over the entire artwork in very small increments, similar to a inkjet printer. Our chosen increment for this job is 0.06mm, our artwork is 43mm high, so the head will need to pass over the board 716 times to etch the fill completely. This process is shown in the (rather uneventful) video below.

The result of the two laser processes can be seen below. The logo has been cut correctly but the surface is now covered in soot & oil residue from the vaporised material.

Laser etching result

It's possible to cover the etching area with tape to avoid this, however I find the finished product is much neater if the surface is cleaned with isopropyl alchohol after etching. I spray the alcohol onto the surface...

Laser etching result alcohol

Then buff and re-oil the board

Laser etching result alcohol buff

The final result is sharp and represents the logo well. We can alter almost any parameter to achieve different results on almost any of our products. Feel free to drop us a line if you'd like to chat about product customisation.

Laser etching final result

Caring for your Magnetic Knife Rack Posted on 07 Dec 10:55

So you're the proud owner of one of our shiny Magnetic Knife Racks, you've mounted it on the wall and used it for a few weeks, only to discover the surface is changing with use! Fear not, this is the desired behaviour of the knife racks. With some basic care, the surface can be rejuvenated and slowly develop its own character over time. "Why should I care for my knife rack"? I hear you ask. well the good news is you don't have to, however it will look better if you do.

Magnetic Knife Rack in Black Walnut

When developing a wooden product we use one of two options for surface treatment:

  1. Seal with a lacquer
  2. Oil Finish

A lacquer coating typically creates a hard protective shell around the timber, this can look fantastic and protects the timber from exposure to liquid and stains. We use this treatment on servingware products such as our plates and bowls and any delicate items which could be damaged by water. Unfortunately, lacquer is difficult to apply and maintain and cannot withstand heavy cutting or bumps.

Oil treatment protects the timber but also allows it to breath which assists with the timbers anti-bacterial properties. All our cutting boards and paddles are oil treated so the surface can be cut into and treated roughly. An oil treatment requires basic upkeep in order to look good and protect the product.

When developing our Magnetic Knife Racks we found that over time the surface would be treated like a chopping board with stray knife edges cutting into the surface. While a lacquer finish would look good for a while, we wanted the knife rack to look great for years. I also wanted the knife rack to be used to drip dry washed knives, a porous surface provided by an oiled timber will wick away moisture from the knife, something not possible with a sealed lacquer surface.

Below is an image of my Magnetic Knife Rack 550 in Beech from home. It's now about 6 months old and hasn't had any surface care or maintenance.

Magnetic Knife Rack 550 in Beech with surface marks

If you look closely you can see light rough patches along the surface, roughly in the shape of the knives which have been left to dry on the surface. These patches are marked with a blue #2 in the image below. If you're interested as to why the surface is roughening I recommend reading this post on oiling wooden surfaces.

Magnetic Knife Rack 550 in Beech explaining surface marks

You can also see several dark marks along the surface, highlighted in the above image as a red #1. These are marks left on the timber from knives over time. To fix these marks we'll need to wash the knife rack then re-oil it.

The first step is to remove any knives or utensils from the rack and scrub the rack with a gentle detergent. This can be done on the wall or you can remove the rack as I've done below. A word of caution regarding the surface cleaning, please don't be tempted to sand back the face of the knife rack, the rare earth magnets sit very close to the surface and can be exposed easily if the surface is sanded.

Scrubbing Knife Rack

Wet the knife rack thoroughly and scrub along the whole length, focusing on any dark marks or blemishes. It's normal for small flakes of timber to scrub off with the first wash. Rinse the knife rack, towel dry, then air dry thoroughly before proceeding to the next step.

Once the rack is dry the surface should've lightened considerably due to the lack of surface oils. Let's apply some oil and replenish the surface. When oiling the knife rack it's important to choose a food safe oil, please check with the supplier if you're not sure. If you don't mind a slight yellowing effect I recommend raw linseed oil, it has a very long lifespan and is very durable once dry. Otherwise, if you'd like to keep the natural wood colour I'd recommend using coconut oil or mineral oil. These are non-drying oils so will need more regular application but are colour neutral.

Oiling Knife Rack

I've recently been using a product called Kunos Countertop Oil by a German company called Livos. It's a mix of linseed oil, natural resin esters and a few other bit and pieces. I've found the finished surface is very durable with minimal colour tint. Apply the oil generously along the entire knife rack (back and front). Allow to sit for 20 minutes then buff off the excess oil. Reattach the rack to your wall and you're done. feel free to wipe down the knife rack anytime it looks dirty and re-oil whenever the surface has lightened or looks dry.

Finished Knife Rack

The finished knife rack is pictured above, overall a very nice finish, in my opinion better than new. Some very minor blemishes remain, these will build up over time and will add to the character of the rack. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.

Rough Timber Boards & How to Fix Them Posted on 26 Oct 13:50

One of the most common questions we're asked by new cutting board & cheese paddle owners is: "Why has my new timber cutting board roughened after its first wash"? Surface roughening of a new timber board is completely normal and thankfully, restoring the original smooth surface is a simple process requiring no special materials or tools.

So what's causing the roughness? The final production step before we oil a wooden cheese paddle or timber cutting board is to sand the surface with a very fine grade sandpaper. When sanding, small flakes of sanded timber are rolled into the open pores of the timber, this is especially pronounced when finishing a very porous timber such as white oak and even more pronounced with the lighter sapwood parts of the tree.

This new board has a completely smooth new surface, note the dark colour of the timber indicating it's been well oiled.

When a new board is first washed the water expands and swells the small rolled up flakes of timber, lifting them out of the pores and causing the initial roughness. These detached timber flakes will typically wash off the board with the first couple of washes, leaving the pores of the board mostly bare. The open pores of the timber are the cause of any residual roughness.

This newly washed board shows lighter areas which need oiling and timber flakes lifting from the surface, typical of a new board.

So how do we fix it? A new board should be washed with warm to hot water and a kitchen scourer, salt can also be added to help with the scrubbing. Scrub in the direction of the grain until the surface starts to roughen. Any loose flakes of timber can be rinsed off then rub dry and allow the board to air.

All naturally finished timber boards will require oiling to maintain a healthy surface. Dry, un-oiled timber is more susceptible to damage and is not as attractive (think driftwood at the beach, or an old weatherboard house). We recommend one of the following oils to treat your board:

Damaged timber often appears lighter toned and is prone to splintering or cracking.

Read more on our care page for more information about oil choice. Apply the oil liberally to all sides of the board and rub in with a cloth. Allow the oil to soak in for 10-20 minutes then wipe clean. Some oils such as tung oil and linseed oil will require a curing time of 12-24 hours.

We give all our cutting boards and cheese paddles a healthy soak in oil before they leave out workshop, however it takes a few months to build up a good base of oil in a cutting board. Our general rule of thumb for board oiling frequency is:

1 - 2 Months old Oil every second week
2 - 6 Months old Oil every month
6 - 24 Months old Oil every 3 months
24 Months onwards Oil every 4-6 months

With proper care and regular oiling, your new cutting board should smooth out over the first 3-6 months and eventually exceed the smoothness of its original new state. Please get in touch if you have any questions.

Over time your board will build up a base of oil and eventually smooth and require less oil such as this endgrain board.

The Best Way to Clean a Wooden Cutting Board Posted on 14 May 14:57

The most common question we're asked by our customers is how to clean their wooden cutting board or serving platter properly, there's some basic information on our care page but we thought a few photos of the process would help everyone, so without further ado...

cutting board being cleaned and oiled

Step 1: Pick your board. We picked out the most used, loved but least cared for board in the workshop kitchen, one of our (sadly) discontinued Asterisk Boards. It's about 6 years old and is showing its age in the form of deep discoloured cut marks, food stains, a few burns and some dry spots (lighter areas). We're going to improve all these problems with three simple ingredients: salt, citrus and oil.

cutting board being cleaned and oiled

Step 2: Squeeze some citrus fruit directly onto the board, We've used a couple of cumquats but lemon will work just as well. The citrus works as a gentle bleach on stains and deodorises the board. Citrus also helps carry our next ingredient deep into the board.

cutting board being cleaned and oiled

Step 3: Take a small amount of salt and drop it into your pool of citrus. We've used rock salt but any flake or rough salt will do. The salt will be working as a natural abrasive and sanitiser.

cutting board being cleaned and oiled

Step 4: Scrub the chopping board thoroughly using a clean dishcloth or scourer. Make sure to focus on scrubbing the deep cut marks with a circular motion. The scrubbing will help to remove any cut and burn marks and give the board a deep clean.

cutting board being cleaned and oiled

Step 5: Leave the citrus and salt to sit for about 10 minutes while the citrus clears up stains and the salt soaks into the chopping board.

cutting board being cleaned and oiled

Step 6: Scrape off the remaining salt and citrus with a kitchen scraper or any hard flat bottomed tool, we used one of our Stix for Cooks. Depending on how old and clean your board is, your scrapings should be slightly discoloured.

cutting board being cleaned and oiled

Step 7: Wipe the cutting board dry then apply oil. As mentioned on our care page, we use coconut oil but there are many good alternatives such as walnut oil, orange oil or linseed oil.

cutting board being cleaned and oiled

Step 8: Rub the oil in with a dry cloth.

cutting board being cleaned and oiled

Finished! The surface of this board had greatly improved after its spa treatment, however some cut marks are still visible. With regular care using the steps above, most of these marks can be removed from the board over time. This "spa" process will improve the condition of any wooden chopping board, cheese paddle or serving platter.

Upgraded Website Posted on 12 Feb 14:14

If you're reading this then "hoorah for technology", you're using the new Sands Made website. Among many changes is an increased amount of product information, better organisation, and new and improved checkout system which accepts credit cards! Expect to see more updates on what we're working on via this updates page, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

Another great new feature is the addition of a reviews section for each product. Many customers send me feedback on their new purchases, I'd like everyone to be able to hear about their experiences.

Forwards into 2015 Posted on 16 Jan 14:02

Last Year was an exciting year at Sands Made, we expanded our product range substantially, locked down deals with new timber suppliers, and started working with some new materials. The Cheese Paddle range has gone through several structural improvements and now come gift boxed in recycled cardboard. The Space Plate range turned out wonderfully and is now available in a number of stores Australia-wide including the National Museum of Australia.
2015 promises to be another busy year with the focus being on expanding the range into new materials such as porcelain and stainless steel, finalising our overseas distribution plans, and of course expanding the product range further.

Our first event of the year will be at Life inStyle in Sydney in February where we'll be releasing several new products including a pepper grinder range we're quite proud of. Look out for updates around the end of Feb.