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Our business is an outdoor children's nursery and we thought it'd be nice to make a sign with our logo on a large tree round rather than printed on plastic, since it better reflects the outdoor/natural ethos.

We have some trees that have been felled and another which is due - beech and sycamore - about 2 feet in diameter, and could get a round maybe 1-2" thick.

This is our logo (sorry only version I have to hand is small):

enter image description here

The thinking is this (maybe simplified) would be somehow 'etched' into the wood maybe 1/4" deep and 1/2" wide or so, then probably those lines would be painted so we get a colored line-art on wooden backdrop. Burning could be another option but I think we would still like the lines 'etched'

So the questions I have are:

  1. how should wood be prepared in terms of drying and maybe treating?
  2. How would the 'etching' be done? Is this a job for a router or something else?
  3. Does this type of craft have a specific name I can read more about?
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    Hello Mr.Boy and welcome to A&C! I agree, that maybe doing a burn stamp of the image onto wood would be an effective way of getting an overall natural wood effect. and keeping it related to your company. – Lyssagal Sep 15 at 15:38
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    if you're burning the logo on, "pyrography" is the name for drawing by burning. – Graham Sep 16 at 13:04
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Preparation

As the wood dries, it shrinks. You'll likely get big splits and cracks. The rule of thumb for a board (vs. a round) is a year of drying per inch of thickness. Wood dries faster through the end grain but also tends to develop splits and cracks as a result because of the uneven shrinkage (but has less tendency to warp in that orientation).

You can slow drying by sealing the end grain, but on a round, that leaves a lot of wood for water to migrate through, so drying could take years. A round two feet in diameter is pretty big and limits some of the tricks that can be used to speed up drying.

To do this in a "reasonable" timeframe, my inclination would be to not seal the end grain. Cut a bunch of rounds and let them dry for about a year until they stop losing weight. Assume you will get cracks and splits and just deal with that. Pick the best one to work with.

Cracks and splits aren't necessarily cause for rejection. A common way to deal with them is to fill the gaps with resin. Colored resin can turn it into a piece of art. Note, though, that the resin will limit the tools you can use for the engraving, at least on the resin portion.

Carving the logo

If you have access to a CNC shop, you can give them the round and a computer file of the logo (they will typically be able to create the computer file if all you have is artwork or a bit map image). They will be able to produce a perfect engraving, with very smooth and precise lines.

You can do this by hand; it will just require some time and being careful. A router could be used, at least for the larger lines, but it will be hard to see what you're doing for the small details. A rotary tool, like a Dremel, would make it easier to see what you're doing.

You could even use carving knives and gouges and do it the old-fashioned way. Unless you are an experienced carver, those tools are likely to give the result more of a handmade appearance, which might even be better for the look it sounds like you want to achieve. Knives and gouges won't be practical on resin, though, so if you have resin fill where you need to engrave, you could use a rotary tool in those spots.

Terminology

There are a number of related terms you could investigate. Wood "engraving" is often reserved for fine, shallow cutting used to reproduce detailed pictures. The lines are cut into the wood (a "negative" image). "Woodcut" refers to a process where the background is cut away leaving the lines; it typically produces a cruder image. Patterns of thick, deep lines are usually referred to as just "carving".

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Cut into rounds that big it will crack. You either need to embrace the cracking or dry even more slowly in a much thicker piece, only cutting later. This is a long term project.

Endgrain should be sealed during the seasoning process. This has been covered in some depth at woodworking.se, which helped me on a much smaller project.

The logo of course would work well on a round, but a plank could be split and dried sooner. Even if you accept cracking, the wood still needs to be dried well for finishing with paint, varnish, or resin.

Another option for getting the logo on there would be laser marking. This works well on wood, and there are quite a lot of companies that offer it. The effect is darkening of the wood, possibly with some depth. This, like computer-controlled routing, needs a vector graphics file.

If it's going outside, the whole surface should be finished - I'd use a clear coat over everything, whether the design is painted, carved, or burnt.

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  • I'm curious about sealing the grain during seasoning, won't that impede the water leaving the wood? – Mr. Boy Sep 16 at 8:38
  • Regarding a plank, could this simply be cut as a slice from the same wood rather than a round... ask the arborist to produce a few when he fells a tree? What's the advantage of a plank over a round? – Mr. Boy Sep 16 at 8:39
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    @Mr.Boy yes, it would. The point is that fast drying causes more cracking, especially when it's uneven as it would be at the ends. My self-answer at woodworking provides a crude experiment, though I force-dried the piece with the ends sealed. – Chris H Sep 16 at 8:40
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    Cutting a slice (or a few) in the opposite direction when felling is possible. They are likely to bend in drying rather than crack badly, and a bend can be planed or even sawn out (if you need to). This, combined with wanting to dry through the sides at not the end-grain to avoid cracking, means a plank can be dried faster. – Chris H Sep 16 at 8:43
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As an possibly less expensive solution sandblasting the logo into the wood could work as well.

A resist stencil from your logo would be made to mask out the raised areas, like the type and fawn drawing, then the background would be sandblasted out. It would be easy to then (spray) paint the whole sign the background color, and then with a roller or some other method, paint the raised areas in a contrasting color.

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It sounds like the hard part of this process will be translating the logo onto the tree trunk / log.

Drying

As many have said, this is largely a process of patience. If your aesthetics can stomach it, you can affix a metal strap around the top and bottom of the section of the tree trunk, in order to minimize splitting. This is akin to how a barrel has metal bands.

Image Transfer

The easiest way to accomplish this is to

  1. print the logo on paper, at the exact size you wish it to be on the tree trunk
  2. then place and wrap it where the logo should be, and
  3. tape the corners to the tree trunk
  4. take your tool (chisel, wood-dremel, etc) and carve through the paper into the tree trunk

This is really all there is to it, but there are a few techniques that can make it easier

  • you can place pins through the paper, into the trunk, near to the pieces that you'll carve away. This will also allow for the stencil of the paper to remain in place while parts of it are removed in the cutting.
  • or, you can use a small bit Elmer's glue to affix all of the paper to the trunk. Then after the cutting is done, sand off the paper with a fine grain sandpaper.

By using pins, you can retain the natural surface of the wood. This is preferable e.g. if you want to maintain the bark (it'll probably rot off over the years, though, unless you lacquer it heavily).

By sanding the glue+paper off, you force yourself to sand all of the tree trunk, or be content with the aesthetics of a sanded area around the logo. You can make the sanding an artful process, too, though.

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