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Preparing drawings to laser cut wood veneer for marquetry inlays requires more consideration than a standard laser job. You need to pay a little more attention to your dimensioning in particular the kerf made by the laser when cutting, (more on this later.)

One of our recent clients Richard Whitehead came to us with a project that demonstrates the technique perfectly and he was kind enough to share this guide which documents the process involved. See how the design unfolded from a hand drawing to a beautiful marquetry plaque.

“The first job was to scan the design and draw over it in a CAD package; I used TurboCAD for this step. I had to reinterpret the design in places to make it feasible to be made in wood.”

“I had to think about the “kerf” of the laser. Just like a saw blade, the laser wastes some material as it cuts, and if I didn’t allow for it there would be a gap between the pieces of wood.

Also, it’s not possible to make a perfectly sharp concave point in the edge of some wood, there needs to be a certain radius to allow for the width of the laser. On the other hand it’s important not to round off corners where multiple pieces meet otherwise there would be a gap.

So there was some work in rounding off sharp points where necessary. Then I transferred the design to AutoCAD and used it to trace the polygons, which I then grew by a small amount to allow for the laser kerf – you can see the light and dark polygons in yellow and red overlapping slightly:"

“Some of the rectangles of the same colour now overlap, so I spaced them apart vertically (along the grain of the wood) – I made the gap 5 mm so that the cut sheet of veneer would have some strength, being a sheet with holes in it, rather than being cut to ribbons…”

“I sent my files to Cut Laser Cut to be laser cut. The veneer comes out looking quite burnt on the rear side, but beautifully clean on the front (especially as the protected it with some tape before they cut it):”

“For the plaque I cut a piece of 19 mm plywood and glued the veneer edges on, before trimming them off with a router. I also recessed a “keyhole” hanger into the back of the wood. There were lots of fiddly bits of wood to piece together; I used masking tape to hold it all together and then glued the veneer to the front of the plywood using hot-melt glue sheet heated with a domestic iron.
The final stage was to spray wih 4 coats of acrylic laquer.

I’m really pleased with the result."

For more info on laser cutting wood or on your own marquetry project, do get in touch!