Staining and varnishing wood before cutting?

Hello, I’ve recently received my Glowforge and am trying to learn everything I can!
I’m in love with the finish of the proofgrade wood but it’s too expensive to get in the uk. I want to be able to get that sort of finish on wood/plywood I buy, but would ideally like to, as with PG, add the finish before I cut it.
Are there any varnishes or stains or finishes that you recommend for treating wood pre-cutting? I’m an illustrator and metal worker by trade and so wood is an entirely alien world to me and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by the huge variety of finished and varnishes to choose from!

Any advice you can give would be immensely appreciated :blush:


Hey glad you’re loving your machine. You’re not the first to ask this, there are lots of threads on the topic. Try searching for “proofgrade finish” and you’ll see a bunch.

This one in particular stood out:

I’d read through a few, different people have tried other methods.


I use Shellac per recommendations found here.

An option to consider, you might find a local cabinet maker or similar that can provide pre-finished materials for you.

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I like to use oil base finishes, like Danish Oil; however, these are difficult to use before cutting since they take a long time to cure to the point where the masking paper will adhere. You probably would want to spray on the finish so that the film is not so thick that any affects from the the laser cutting through is not noticeable,

I am in the process of testing some stains for applying before cutting, as it is too difficult to apply the stain evenly after cutting. In this application an oil base finish will be applied after cutting and assembling.


You can use spray lacquer and let it dry a day or two before you use it . I have worked in a cabinet shop all wood was unfinished stained to order then sprayed with at least 3 coats of lacquer sanded after 1 and 2 coats.

Looking forward to the report on your research. Thanks for taking the time.

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Welcome to the forum :wave:t2:. This is a good question, as some of my future woodwork will have to use non-PG material. What sort of things do/will you make?

I don’t have the patience for that. I usually use a modified shellac finish. First few coats are 25% shellac/75% alcohol (IPA - 91%). Dries in less than 10 minutes. Then as many coats of 50/50 as I care to spend time on. The alcohol makes it dry so fast I can often do finish coats non-stop on groups of things where by the time I’ve done the last one the first one I did is dry and ready for another coat.


Do you make these solutions up yourself? What are you using as a shellac source? And is it 99+% ipa?

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Yes. I make up 2 squeeze bottles (like ketchup or mustard or bbq sauce ones that cost about a buck at Walmart or Dollar Store or places like that - translucent so I know how much is left). Makes it easy to squirt it out on the piece of wood and then brush it on (cheap foam brushes). Or squirt it onto the foam brush and then apply to the wood if you’re doing it on assembled things.

One bottle is 75/25 and one is 50/50. I use shellac from the big box in 1 qt cans. I don’t get bigger cans because shellac actually has a shelf life and it’s easy to have too much on hand to use before it goes bad.

For the IPA I use either 91 or 99 depending what is available. I haven’t seen any difference in the performance of either. I’d stay away from the 70% ones though - that’s an awful lot of water content.

You can also make your own shellac from the flakes. You can get that at woodworking stores or off the Internet. I don’t bother with that though - easy enough to use Zinser or whoever the store carries.


That is really helpful—thanks!