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Best Wood for Laser Cutting and Engraving

by Winnie Li Posted on October 07, 2023

Wood is nature’s marvel, robust, durable, and sustainable. Its ease of use and low carbon footprint have made it a favorite for various applications, from building structures to crafting toys.

The age-old practice of wood cutting has transformed with the advent of laser cutters. But can lasers handle every wood type as easily as mechanical tools? The answer is nuanced. Each wood type has different characteristics and behaves differently when it interacts with a laser.

This article aims to introduce you to the best wood for laser cutting and engraving. We’ll share factors you need to look into before choosing a wood. Then, we have great preparation tips for laser cutting and engraving wood.

In This Article

  • Factors to Consider When Choosing Wood for Laser Cutting
  • Best Wood for Laser Cutting
  • Woods to Avoid or Use with Caution for Laser Cutting
  • How to Prepare Wood for Laser Cutting?
  • Tips to Prevent Burnt Marks When Laser Cutting Wood

Factors to Consider When Choosing Wood for Laser Cutting

As mentioned, the types of wood differ based on their color, texture, and certain characteristics. Before we on to those types, you need to be aware of the things that may affect the laser friendliness of the wood.

Resin: All wood types inherently have resinous fiber, which prevents their biodegradation. This resin dictates how the final cutting and engraving results would look.

Woods with a low resin content will produce lighter, crisper engravings. Whereas woods with a high resin content will result in darker cuts. Choose wisely based on the results you need.

Wood Grain: The grain is one of wood’s most defining characteristics. The grain pattern can be beautiful and is often the reason we’re drawn to certain wood types, albeit it can also interfere with the clarity of laser engravings.

When the grain pattern is too pronounced, it can overshadow the engraving, making it less readable. So, for laser engraving projects, select wood with a consistent grain pattern.

Shade/Tone: Wood is available in different shades. Interestingly, this tone has a role in engraving results. We recommend you choose lighter hues as they offer better contrast after laser engraving. While darker tones, which are visually appealing, can be used for crafting items where simple cutting is needed and wood itself is prominent.

Moisture: Laser precisely burns the wood, which can leave burnt marks after the cutting/engraving operation. These burnt designs can detract from the overall appearance. To mitigate this, one effective method is to make the wood weet before cutting. The moisture cools the wood during laser operation and cutting gets better.

Knots: Knots and growth rings are natural features of wood, which are a result of its growth patterns over the years. They do look good, however, they may affect the engraving results. However, if your project desires a more natural feel, then you don’t have to worry about this aspect.

 With mechanical tools, you may cut a several-inch thick wood, but with a laser cutter, especially the common desktop laser cutters, that limit is restrained to a few millimeters, ideally < 20 mm (3/4 inches).

Best Wood for Laser Cutting

Wood is diverse, and while many types are laser-compatible, not all yield optimal results. Here, we’ve categorized the best woods for laser cutting into three distinct classes: hardwood, softwood, and engineered wood.

Here’s a generalized overview of the best wood that are compatible with laser:

best wood for laser cutting

Best Softwood for Laser Cutting and Engraving

Softwood is among the simplest woods to handle. It has a light shade, is more affordable, and weighs less compared to others. Yet, its mix of soft and tough grain can pose cutting challenges. Resin and knots add to these issues. Also, softwoods aren’t weather-resistant, so will need coatings.


alder engraved skull

Alder Engraved Skull ©OnlineLaserCutting

Alder is known for its light brown tan which changes to a darker reddish-brown when exposed to air. Its grain is straight and even. It is moderately dense with a grain density of around 26 – 42lb/ft3.

A 35W laser cutter with its full power can cut it at a speed of 64 mm/s. When engraved, it offers a contrasting shade. Its smooth texture makes it ideal for detailed work.


laser engraved basswood father's day card

Laser-engraved basswood Father’s Day Card ©xTool Projects

Basswood has a relatively lower grain density, 20 – 37lb/ft3, which makes it soft and easy to work with. Originally it comes in light brown or pale white shade. When engraved, the shade darkens and the engravings get more prominent and visually appealing.

A 20W diode laser, xTool D1 Pro can slice its 10mm thick sheet in a single pass. Whereas, you may cut through a 15mm sheet with a 40W diode module.


laser engraved cedar sign

Laser-engraved cedar sign ©xTool Projects

Cedar is recognized for its reddish hue. It has a straight grain pattern with some irregular knots. It’s less dense than the above two woods, having a grain density of just 23lb/ft3.

Engraving on Cedar gives a deep, dark shade. Its aromatic scent and natural resistance to decay make it an ideal option for an artisan’s favorite material for crafting. Speaking of power, a 30W laser can easily cut its 10mm thick ply in a single pass.


laser cut balsa aircraft

Laser-cut balsa aircraft ©MrBeamLasers

Balsa is the lightest of all, with a density of just between 7 – 9lb/ft3. This makes it ideal for applications where lightweight material is crucial, such as model building. It is also used in insulation, floats, and other applications where light but relatively strong wood is required.

It’s also inexpensive, soft, and bears a reddish-brown hue with straight grains and a fine, even texture. So, it produces great engraving results; a 20 to 30W laser module is sufficient for cutting it.


laser engraved pinewood rubber stamp

Laser-engraved pinewood rubber stamp ©xTool Projects

Pine has a prominent grain which may be wavy or straight, with a medium to coarse texture. Since it has different kinds i.e. limber pine, red pine, spruce, etc. Its grain density varies greatly; it can be from 28 to 42lb/ft3.

Pine naturally has a pale yellow or white color. It is quite hard despite being categorized as a softwood. Being durable, it is a popular choice for flooring, paneling, and joinery.

When cut with a laser, you get a black border while engravings are dark brown. A 40W diode laser, xTool D1 Pro can easily cut a 20mm thick pinewood ply in a single pass.


laser cut poplar jigsaw puzzle

Poplar laser-cut jigsaw puzzle ©xTool Projects

Poplar comes in different hues, from creamy yellow to blackish brown. Another lightweight wood, with 22 to 31lb/ft3. The wood is straight-grained and has a uniform texture. Its engraving results are similar to pine; you get a black to dark brown tone.

As per technical definition of hardwoods (an angiosperm tree), poplar falls under the hardwood category. However, its hardness is much less than the hardwoods but is comparable to those softwoods, so we’ve placed it in this category.

Poplar is commonly used for crafting furniture, toys, and personalized items. It does produce noticeable smoke when cut with a laser so you need to have an exhaust system in place.

Best Hardwood for Laser Cutting and Engraving

Hardwoods usually are dark in color and dense. They need more laser power, but the engravings are sharp. They cost more, but their weather resistance ensures longevity, making them a worthy investment. Laser work with hardwoods can produce fumes, so good ventilation is required.


laser engraved birch chopping board

Laser-engraved birch chopping board ©xTool Projects

Birch has a fine and even grain which is ideal for laser engraving. You may identify it from its pale yellow to white color, often with a reddish tint.

A 40W laser at its full power can approximately slice its 6mm sheet. Further thickness may cause burning of the wood. The engraved results are also pretty much clear with dark brown shades.

Birch is popular in the wood-turning industry for making toys, dowels, and broom handles. However, it degrades easily and thus requires a coating.


laser engraved cherrywood keepsake box

Cherry laser-engraved keepsake box ©StrumHollowMusic

Cherry has a rich reddish-brown color which darkens over time. The grain is fine and frequently wavy which can give a unique finish when engraved. This makes it a great choice for furniture.

It has a high grain density, approximately 43 lb/ft3. A 40W laser can cut through 18mm cherry ply in a single pass.


laser engraved maple playing cards

Maple Laser-engraved playing cards ©xTool Projects

Maple is light brownish with shades of gold. It features a wavy grain evenly distributed with a grain density in the range of 39 to 47 lb/ft3. It is strong with a smooth surface finish. This makes it a popular choice for kitchen utensils.

A 70W laser would be sufficient to cut its 6mm sheet at half power. While its engraving may be done at 40W. The results are exceptional as you would get golden engravings.


laser engraved mahogany

Laser-engraved Mahogany ©SketchLaserCutting

Mahogany, reddish brown in color, has irregular patterns; you may find it straight, wavy, or interlocked. Its grain density varies from 21 to 53 lb/ft3 based on what version you are using. African mahogany has the least while Spanish one has the highest.

The engravings are more dark and prominent and you will get black lines in irregular-grained sections. For 3mm thick mahogany ply, our 20W D1 Pro would be sufficient for engraving and cutting.

The wood also doesn’t give off a scent so it can be used for kitchen and dining projects. However, it’s a luxurious wood and a bit pricy.


laser cut oak coasters

Oak Halloween Coasters ©xTool Projects

Oak is visually appealing wood due to its tightly packed ring patterns. Naturally, it comes in a light to reddish brown color. However, you can easily stain with any shade you like.

It is one of the woods that has a fragrance people love. Its laser engravings are dark brown to black, making clear and distinct designs.

Oak is a high-density wood and thus requires more power. You may need an 80 to 100W laser to cut its 6mm thick sheet.


laser cut walnut cat's bowl tower

Laser-Cut Walnut Cat’s Bowl Tower ©xToolProjects

A Walnut is a chocolate brown wood with straight but irregular grains. It is moderately dense with grain density reaching 43 lb/ft3.

Since it is itself dark, engraving won’t be prominent until you engrave a little deeper. A 50W laser is enough for cutting it. You can engrave it fully even with a 20W laser.

Walnut is an exotic and luxurious wood used for making furniture and musical instruments. It’s highly priced and scarcely available.

Best Engineered Wood for Laser Cutting and Engraving

Engineered woods are artificially made by gluing wood slices. From engineered woods available in the market, only choose the one that has a laser compatibility tag.

Laser Plywood

laser cut plywood coaster

Laser Plywood Coaster ©xTool Projects

Laser plywood are specially designed layered wood for laser cutting. They have wood veneers with evenly distributed grain for great laser compatibility.

The appearance varies on the wood sheet. The common plywoods for laser cutting are birch, hoop, bamboo, and beech. The cutting and engraving results are quite neat on plywood.

A 20 to 40W laser cutter would be enough for cutting up 10mm plywood. However, plywood contains chemicals that will cause fumes when burnt. Set up an exhaust system before using them.

Laser MDF

laser engraved mdf storybook

MDF Storybook Laser-engraved ©xTool Projects

MDF doesn’t have a directional grain found in natural wood. However, you may paint or stain after or before engravings.

MDF engravings are brown and very prominent. However, since they’re glued, MDF will emit non-toxic fumes. You need to have a ventilation and exhaust system in place when laser cutting/engraving them.

Woods to Avoid or Use with Caution for Laser Cutting

Some types of wood are either not suitable for laser cutting or produce fumes that can be dangerous. So, you need to be cautious when dealing with such materials. Some examples are

Plywood with Formaldehyde Glue: Plywood is often bonded with glues that can release toxic fumes when cut. Specifically, formaldehyde-based glues can be hazardous when laser cut.

Treated Lumber: Woods that have been treated with chemicals or preservatives can release toxic fumes when cut with a laser.

MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) with Formaldehyde Glue: MDF often contains formaldehyde, which can release toxic gases when laser cut.

Coniferous Woods (Larch and Fir): These woods, like many coniferous varieties, have uneven grain structures. There’s an irregular pattern of hard and soft grains, which makes it difficult to set laser parameters and engrave them properly.

How to Prepare Wood for Laser Cutting?

You have got the right wood! Now, before cutting or engraving, you need to prepare it for laser operation. Follow these preparation steps to achieve the desired results:

1. Sanding: Begin with coarse-grit sandpaper to remove any rough spots or imperfections on the wood surface. Sand in the direction of the wood grain to prevent scratches and maintain the wood’s natural appearance.

2. Cleaning: After sanding, dust and debris will be present on the wood surface. Use a soft cloth to wipe away this residue. Make sure it’s free from any particles.

3. Masking: Apply a low-tack masking tape over the entire surface of the wood. The tape would first get hit by the laser and reduce the burning marks during the laser cutting process. You won’t have to clean them post-processing.

4. Wetting (Optional): For woods with a high resin content or those prone to burning, lightly dampen the surface using a cloth. This can help reduce the risk of charring during the laser-cutting process.

5. Test & Settings: Before starting the main project, conduct a test cut on a scrap piece of the same wood type. This helps determine the optimal settings for the laser cutter.Adjust the laser cutter’s settings based on the wood type. Consider factors like speed, power, and the number of passes. For precise settings, refer to charts or guidelines provided by the laser cutter manufacturer. For instance, we have curated an xTool material settings chart, which offers detailed settings for various wood types.

6. Positioning: Ensure the wood is flat and securely positioned on the laser cutter bed. Uneven positioning can lead to inconsistent cuts.

Tips to Prevent Burnt Marks When Laser Cutting Wood

Getting burning marks when laser cutting wood is a common sight. However, a few simple tips could help get rid of those marks:

Use Air Assist: Most laser cutters come with an air assist feature, which blows a stream of air at the cutting site. This helps keep the cutting area cool, reducing the risk of burns, and blowing away any combustible residues.

Invest in a Proper Exhaust System: A good exhaust system will help remove smoke and debris from the cutting area. This reduces the chances of residue settling on the wood and causing burn marks.

Keep a Fire Extinguisher Handy: While this is more of a safety tip, having a fire extinguisher nearby is crucial. In the rare event that a fire does start, you'll be prepared to handle it. Luckily, we do offer one of its one-of-a-kind fire safey kit that puts off fire instantly with CO2.

Use a Honeycomb Bed: Some laser cutters offer a honeycomb bed as an add-on, which reduces the contact area between the wood and the machine. This can help in reducing flashback burns from reflections. Try the xTool Honey Comb panel, and you’ll notice a drastic change in your results.


We have covered the best woods for laser engraving and cutting. Among them, basswood, balsa, pine, and alder are the best choices for beginners. Their light hues not only enhance the engraving visibility but also yield impeccable cutting results, especially when paired with the guidelines and techniques we have highlighted.

For enthusiasts looking to source top-quality materials, the xTools store has a collection of premium plywood tailored for laser cutting. So, why wait? Explore these wood sheets, and elevate your wooden crafting journey to unparalleled heights.

For more questions. Please join our Facebook group to get inspired!

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