We Built a Laser Engraved Phone Case from Scratch (Tree of Life)
We Built a Laser Engraved Phone Case from Scratch
It’s almost as easy as it looks.
Wanted to give everyone a quick view into life in the woodshop by outlining our build of a new wooden phone case; the “Tree of Life” Inlay for our example. Take a look and let us know what you think in the comments.
As is customary, the final product first. Tree of Life wooden phone case for iPhone 7/8 and iPhone 7/8 Plus.
Step One – Select a Design
Lots of beautiful tree options to choose from. Of course we’re looking for an image that can be used royalty free. Happy to give credit or pay for designs when necessary. This image had a really great symmetry side to side, and top to bottom with the branches and roots. And the circular outline would make it work well for an inlay case with two different wood styles.
Why the "Tree of Life" Image?
I spent a few days in the Olympic National Forest on the Washington Coast with my wife and daughters. Quite accidentally we stumbled upon the most beautiful piece of natural art I have ever seen. We were quickly informed by the locals of the right name: the Kalaloch Tree or Tree Root Cave. Maybe erosion is destructive, but it this case the results are astounding. Right on the beach with a cool breeze at my back, I could sit here all day. Here is a gorgeous picture.
Tree Root Cave or Kalaloch Tree in the Olympic National Forest. The inspiration for our "Tree of Life" wooden phone case.
Step Two – Select a Beautiful Wood Veneer
Because our design calls for an “Inlay”, one wood cut and laid inside the other, we will need to choose two species of wood.
We have a few choices here: Mahogany, Black Walnut, Carmalized Bamboo & Aromatic Cedar. Shown above is Bamboo and Black Walnut. For the Tree of Life case we chose Bamboo and Mahogany.
Each differ in thickness, hardness and color. Even within one species, each sheet is different based on the source and the grain of the wood. Even with a relatively consistent species like Mahogany, each and every case will be unique.
Then, before any cutting or engraving, we treat it with conditioner and a layer of polyurethane.
The wood conditioner goes on before the poly. Helps the veneer lay flat and smooth. Because there is only about a ¼ of an inch between the laser head and the surface of the veneer, bumps and warped veneer make laser engraving very difficult.
Step Three – Prepare the Project and Lay Everything Out
Quick and dirty project planner with project details, phone models and a rough timeline.
Step Four – Vectorize the Artwork
Inkspace is the tool of choice for this step. Obviously we have a thing for trees; is that weird?
Black and white images work best, but we have experimented with greyscales and even photos. It’s possible to layer multiple engraving passes over each other but it doesn’t always come out clean.
Step Five – Load the Laser Engraving Machine Software
Image prepped and loaded into the laser engraving software for an iPhone 7/8 slim case. The red lines cut, and the black lines engrave the veneer. We use LaserCut 5.3. A bit dated but it gets the job done.
Print Preview in the laser software. Full red sections showing where the laser will engrave into the wood veneer.
This design needed cut lines around the open space below the branches – a little manual work was required.
Step Six – Cut a Few Samples in Different Wood Veneer Species
Here’s “Laser A” (we call her “The Beast”) or more technically “Sealed 10.6um CO2 glass laser w/ water-cooling”. You can get one of these bad boys from Rabbit Laser. Tell Ray I said Hi.
Here’s the beginning of the engraving process
And here’s the end of the process cutting the tree insert and case outline.
Step Seven – Ready to Assemble
We cut one full tree from bamboo and a full tree from mahogany then swap the middle portions for two complete cases. Easy right?
The adhesive on the veneer is super strong and sets up in about a second. Assembling these multi-part inlay cases means getting it right the first time.
Step Eight – Clean and Assemble a Final Sample
Bamboo outline applied to the slim case.
The laser is pretty precise. The cutouts fit well in the slim case blanks. The WUDN logo, near Tyson’s thumb, is subtle. We would love some brand awareness of course, but mostly we want you to love the beautiful wood case. (IMHO, a perfect blend of new technology and old-school style).
And mahogany inlay goes in. Notice the dust and smoke debris on the engraved portion.
Some rubbing alcohol cleans it up beautifully. This version fits an iPhone 7 or 8.
Step Nine – Layout a Full Sheet for Production
In this case, a sheet is 16” x 24” – big enough to cut 10 different phone models. We will take a couple of days to build samples for each of our best-selling phones:
- iPhone 6 / 6s
- iPhone 6 / 6s Plus
- iPhone 7 / 8
- iPhone 7 / 8 Plus
- iPhone X, 10
- iPhone Xs, Xr, Xs Max
- Samsung Galaxy S7
- Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
- Samsung Galaxy S8
- Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus
- Samsung Galaxy Note 8
- Samsung Galaxy S9
- Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
That’s it. We load it up on the website and figure out how to get some customers. Here’s a link to the final product. Slim Wooden Phone Case | Tree of Life
Blue helped by keeping the floor clean after lunch.
That's it. Thanks for taking a look. Thoughts or questions? Shoot us a comment below.
Customer Questions and Answers
Is the phone case covered in real wood?
Yes, every case is covered in real wood, hand selected by our team for beauty and uniqueness. Wood options for most all of our cases include Mahogany, Black Walnut, Carmalized Bamboo or Aromatic Cedar.
How well will this case fit my phone?
The slim-case fits your phone perfectly. No blockage of the camera port. Sure grip textured sides to enhance your grip and easy access to all ports and buttons.
Does the phone case protect my screen?
Yes, our slim-cases have a slightly raised lip around the front edge to prevent your phone screen from touching surfaces when placed facedown. Of course, you should always add a glass screen protector.
Can I still use Qi wireless charging with this phone case?
Yes, WUDN slim cases do not interfere with Qi wireless charging for iPhone 8 and X models or for Samsung Galaxy phones. Just be sure to center the Qi receiver in the middle of your charging pad.
Does the phone case protect my camera?
Yes, the phone camera is recessed behind the camera cutout. Although the camera is not covered, because that would result in potato quality photos, the camera should be safe from typical drops.
Will a case protect the resale value of my phone?
Yes, keeping your phone in excellent condition goes a long way towards maintaining high resale and trade-in value. You should keep your phone in a case at all times - and always add a real glass (not plastic screen protector). As iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones get more expensive, the resale and trade-in value has been going up as well. For $25 now, you could add several hundred dollars to the value of your phone when it's time to upgrade. Read: 6 Ways to Boost the Resale Value of Your Phone
Will I need a dongle for my headphones?
No, the WUDN slim cases come with a properly sized cutout for the headphone port (on iPhone 6 models) and lightning port. You will NOT need a dongle for your headphones. Having said that, how about a matching set of Walnut Bluetooth Earbuds.
Can the WUDN case be used with magnetic car and wall mounts?
WUDN cases do not come with a steel plate built in. We are looking to add that feature in the future. In the meantime, we know of many customers that have added a steel plate inside their WUDN case with great results. Here is a 4-pack of metal plates designed exactly for this purpose.
How do you make a wooden cell phone case?
We did a long form blog post about that complete with pictures and videos. Take a look: We Built a Laser Engraved Phone Case from Scratch
Should I buy more than one WUDN phone case?
Of course. We have a number of designs from cool artistic skulls to the "Sawtooth Mountains Traveler", and most of our cases are available in different wood types and species. You should have a couple of cases, at least, to change your style to match the moment. Monday through Friday in the office call for a simple, conservative case, and Fridays in the club call for something with a bit more style.
Will the wood get stained and ugly?
It could, but unlike plastic and other synthetic materials, our wood cases actually get better looking over time. We ship our cases with only one light layer of polyurethane. This means the case will age and the more you use it, the more the wood will look authentic and vintage. Some artisans actually use coffee to stain wood in beautiful mocha hues. (make sure your phone is out of the case when you decide to drop it in your coffee).
Can I customize or personalize my phone case?
Of course, we offer a full custom shop here. The process is simple: find your image or logo (in black and white - jpg format) and send it to us. Pretty straightforward. We will get to work on design and production right away. You can also customize or personalize a matching journal/planner, mousepad or flask. How cool to have a personalized wooden phone case and a set of matching wood accessories.
What is TPU and why do I care?
Thermoplastic Urethane - A hybrid material, TPU is a mixture between hard plastic and soft silicone. A very dense and smooth rubber, TPU cases are made to slide in and out of the pocket easily, without attracting lint. TPU cases are more durable, slightly elastic and much stronger than silicone. WUDN uses TPU case templates which are then covered by real wood.
Should I get matching sunglasses made of wood?
Duh. How cool are you on Saturday afternoon with a Bamboo world-map phone case and matching Bamboo Frame Sunglasses. Seriously.
HEY THERE!, I am Cameron Christian, the owner of WUDN (pronounced “wooden” if you didn’t figure it out already). After 25 Years in the corporate world, I am creating my own destiny. I bought this business, to continue delighting our customers with real wood products that are beautiful and functional. Follow us on Instagram or email me at Cameron.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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