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First time poster so forgive me if my question is worded poorly.

I have a wood art piece that I'm coming close to finishing. I plan on routing out the back of the piece to lay in some LED lights to reflect off the wall it will hang against.

My question is, should I route out the back before applying the stain and finish so that the groove left by the router is also finished, or would it be okay to rout it out after stain and finish?

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    I've never routed against a finish, so I will offer my common sense as a comment rather than an answer... Securing a piece of wood so that a plunge groove can be safely routed into it is a challenge even when you are not trying to protect the results of your sanding and finishing. Powertool vibration against the wood can turn a simple grain of sand into a finish destroying abrasive if it somehow gets between your work bench and your "finished" product. IMHO, you are far better off shaping your wood completely before sanding and finishing begins. – Henry Taylor Aug 15 at 21:52
  • @HenryTaylor's comment is on track, the only thing that I'd add is that a minor amount of damage on a finished surface can be cleaned up with the next coat of finish. In fact, it's pretty typical to lightly sand between coats. – SaSSafraS1232 Aug 15 at 22:11
  • Finishing is the last step, that is why it is called finishing. If you have the option to do all of the word working before your apply finish ( new project ) then that is the proper way to do it. – Alaska Man Aug 16 at 1:01
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    @AlaskaMan, but prefinishing is also a thing. – Graphus Aug 16 at 6:39
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My question is, should I route out the back before applying the stain and finish so that the groove left by the router is also finished

Just on a technical front this groove being finished imparts no advantage to the piece. Non-view surfaces on wooden items are very often left bare and this isn't just small areas or interiors, the complete undersides of tabletops were historically and still are frequently left unfinished.

or would it be okay to rout it out after stain and finish?

I don't think you'd want to. Some prefinishing can be advantageous in certain situations (e.g. for what will become hard-to-reach areas after assembly, inside corners, to help seal a surface against glue squeeze-out) but here I can't visualise any gain by doing so.

And potentially you risk damaging the finish on the front when securing the piece for safe routing. There is probably a greater risk to the finish on the back as mentioned in one of the Comments, but that doesn't really matter since nobody will be looking at the back.

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