View Full Version : Making my own spiral stair treads. Adding grandkids hand prints

Roger Feeley
03-22-2019, 2:41 PM
I'm making some stair treads for my spiral staircase from oak. You know when you do concrete projects and you let the kids add handprints? I wonder if I could do this with a laser engraver.

Here's what I'm thinking:
1. Have the kids use black finger paint and make nice bold hand prints.
2. scan to JPG at a high contrast. I'm not looking for gray scale.
3. Using a 100W engraver in scan mode. Engrave into the oak really deep. Say, 1/8".
4. Fill with black dyed epoxy and sand smooth.

Suggestions? This should work, right?

I have access to two 100W laser engravers at NoVa Labs.

I thought about doing some sort of inlay but I'm thinking that this would be way easier. I have gobs of oak for experimentation.

Kev Williams
03-22-2019, 3:41 PM
First of all- really deep is really not necessary if you're going to paint and sand smooth afterwards. 1/32" deep is OODLES enough to hold paint or epoxy.

Secondly, you'll find out quick enough that laser engraving oak actually sucks, and the deeper, the suckier ;) -- the grain structure of oak is the problem, one half of the grain engraves away like gangbusters, the other half thinks it's metal- for surface engraving the color variation is horrible, and when deep engraving you end up very pronounced mountains and valleys...

Here is identical laser engravings I did, one in oak, one in stainless, you be the judge...

your handprints WILL look good painted to be sure, but you only need deep enough to cover the mountain tops :)

Roger Feeley
03-22-2019, 4:39 PM
Thanks, I won’t be painting the treads. They will be varnished. The grain sounds like the way oak sand blasts. We used to make a positive from ash, sandblast it lightly and then make a silicone mold. The ‘sucky’ behavior worked to our advantage. It gave the parts pulled from the mold a pleasing grain pattern.

my concern about not going deep is that I might sand through before varnishing. Since I’m only doing this for myself and only once, I can probably route or chisel out the high bits.

Glen Monaghan
03-22-2019, 5:37 PM
I have a repeat customer who wants oak engraved. I think it looks horrible but he loves it. It's like Kev said, when you try to deep engrave you will get significant highs and lows from the alternating growth rings. And for stair treads, I'd think you wouldn't want 1/8th inch depth difference to step on. I'd suggest applying a finish to the wood, engraving through the finish and no more than maybe a 1/16th or less, shoot a light clear coat into the engraved areas to close the pores, apply a suitable "stain", and then cover all with your finish coat(s).

Or just save yourself the lasering and cut the hand prints into stencils, apply them directly to the finish-ready wood, shoot or sponge on a stain through the stencil, remove the stencil, and finish the treads.

Or cut out the "middle man" entirely and just let the kids put their handprints directly onto the treads before applying the finish. ;^)

Mike Null
03-22-2019, 6:34 PM
I'd be inclined to do an inlay. They take a little time but will look better and last very well.

Roger Feeley
03-22-2019, 8:37 PM
i plan to engrave the oak as deeply as I can. I will then fill the engraved area with dyed epoxy. Then I will use a wide drum sander to bring the epoxy exactly level with the surface of the wood. The result will be a very smooth surface.

Glen Monaghan
03-23-2019, 5:24 PM
That will certainly work and should be very durable.