Wood is the most common material that is cut using laser technology. Businesses, crafters, DIY experts, and enthusiasts make a wide range of wooden items through laser cutting. If you are new to laser cutting, it is necessary to understand how it works, the right type of wood for laser cutting, which machine is suitable, best practices, etc.
We are going to explain everything you need to know in this detailed guide on laser cutting wood. After reading this guide, you will be able to pick the right wood laser cutter to get exceptional cut quality and results.
In This Article
- Best CO2 Wood Laser Cutter
- Best Diode Wood Laser Cutter
- How Laser Cutting Wood Works?
- What is the Best Laser for Cutting Wood?
- How to Choose Wood for Laser Cutting?
- What is the Best Wood for Laser Cutting?
- How to Laser Cut Wood?
- Popular Laser Cut Wood Projects
- FAQs of Wood Laser Cutting
Best CO2 Wood Laser Cutter
xTool P2 CO2 Laser Cutter
xTool P2 is a mighty CO2 laser cutter having an optical power of 55W. It can cut 18mm black walnut and 20mm acrylic in only one pass. The cutting speed can reach up to 250mm/sec, which is incredible for a desktop laser machine. It contains a built-in smoke exhaust system that makes the cutting process smoother and ensures clean cutting of materials. It saves you time and cuts thick pieces of wood like butter.
The machine features a passthrough, which can process materials of infinite length. The automatic conveyor feeder is also available to process the large materials automatically for precision and convenience. This allows you to work on bigger projects and enhances your creativity.
There are dual 16MP smart cameras that give you a clear preview of the working area. You can have a close-range view of the object and a panoramic view to position the graphics with accuracy. Due to these cameras, the machine is quite intelligent. It can process multiple objects at the same time and focus the laser automatically.
This is an ideal laser cutting machine for wood, and it can also do phenomenal engraving. It does both with optimal accuracy and perfection. The engraving speed can reach up to 600mm/s, which is much faster than other desktop machines on the market.
The notable feature is the curved surface engraving. The machine can make 3D models of curved objects and adjust the focus of the laser as required. You get phenomenal results on curved objects of any shape.
There are tons of extraordinary features in the machine. You can use RA2 rotary attachment with the machine and work on cylindrical and spherical objects. The safety features in the machine are also up to the mark. There is fire safety, hydraulic support, a warning system, an emergency stop button, an automatic lock, etc.
xTool P2 is a fast, powerful, and intelligent CO2 laser machine for engraving and cutting. It is perfect for small businesses, DIY enthusiasts, and professionals. The features and specifications are incredible. Get this laser machine to take your creativity and wood-cutting capability to the next level.
Best Diode Wood Laser Cutter
xTool D1 Pro Diode Laser Cutter
xTool D1 Pro is an immensely powerful diode laser cutter that cuts materials through its state-of-the-art laser module. For laser cutting wood, it is an excellent option. You can get the mighty world's first 40W diode laser module that is built for cutting materials. It can cut up 20mm pine wood and 0.1mm stainless steel in only one pass.
By attaching the air assist, the object remains clean, and there are no burn marks at the back and edges. Secondly, the air assist helps the laser go deeper and cut faster. Also, with the help of the built-in heat dissipated system, the temperature of the machine can be controlled to maintain the best cutting performance.
The accuracy of the machine is 0.0004 inches, which makes sure there is no flaw in the cutting. Even the repositioning of the laser is accurate up to 0.0007 inches.
The laser module of the machine can be changed, so you can also get 10W and 20W laser modules to nail engraving along with cutting.
The design is sturdy and is built to last for a long time. You can use the machine for DIY, small business, hobby, or any other purpose. It is also equipped with some outstanding features, such as limit switches, fire safety, and tilt safety. You can use it at your home, small shop, or any other suitable space and cut wood and a wide range of materials like a pro.
How Laser Cutting Wood Works?
Cutting wood using a laser cutter is just like a hot knife through butter. It makes wood cutting easier than ever before. Most importantly, the finishing, accuracy, and quality of the cut are exceptional, which is impossible through other wood cutting tools.
A laser cutting machine contains a powerful laser source that emits laser beams. These beams are concentrated at a very small point by using a convex lens. Due to the merger of the laser beams at the point, the beams can produce intense heat energy after contact with any material that can absorb them. The temperature of the material increases quickly and converts the material into vapors. This is called sublimation, a process in which matter changes its state from solid to gas without going through the liquid phase.
In the case of wood, the reaction of the laser is a bit different. When the beams interact with wood, the wood starts to burn due to high temperature, removing the material from the surface, and if the power is high, the laser passes through the piece of wood and cuts it into pieces.
The burning of wood through a laser produces minimal ash, soot, and particles. The waste is much less than cutting the same wood using a saw. You get clean pieces with fine edges.
Wood laser cutting offers incredible speed and optimal accuracy. Depending on the power of a desktop laser cutter, the cutting speed can be 250mm/s or even more. The best part is that you only need to import the design to the laser cutter software, then the machine does everything on its own.
You can cut intricate designs, which is not possible by using a power tool. The accuracy of the laser machines is commendable. The laser spot is minimal and can engrave and cut materials with minimal Kerf width. You can cut identical designs as many times as you like and even have multiple passes on the same pattern without any errors or doubling.
What is the Best Laser for Cutting Wood?
You will find different types of laser technologies on the market, and all of them are designed for different purposes. There are diode lasers, CO2 lasers, fiber lasers, infrared lasers, etc. But you cannot use all of them for wood laser cutting.
Each type of laser machine is compatible with certain materials. It is decided on the wavelength of the laser beams produced by the laser technology. If the material can absorb those laser beams, it is compatible with it. Thus, it is important to understand which type of laser machine is suitable for wood laser cutting. CO2 and Diode lasers are the most preferred and recommended laser cutters for wood. Let's dive into more details.
CO2 Laser Cutting Machines
CO2 lasers are more powerful than diode lasers because their common optical power starts from 30-40W. You can find desktop CO2 lasers in the power range of 30-60W. It is more than enough to cut thick plywood or hardwood up to 20mm even more in only one pass.
In a CO2 laser cutting machine, there is a glass tube filled with a mixture of gasses, including nitrogen and CO2. When the electricity passes through this tube, it produces laser beams. Then, these beams are passed through mirrors and lenses to merge them at a spot. The laser tube has a lifespan of around 1,000 to 10,000 hours. After that, it is replaced by a new one.
A CO2 laser emits laser beams having a wavelength of 10,600nm, which can be easily absorbed by wood and a wide range of non-metals, including acrylic, leather, rubber, paper, cloth, cardboard, etc. It is more versatile than a diode laser. By using a CO2 laser, you can cut and engrave wood at an excellent speed. It does the job with perfection and offers optimal results. Secondly, these machines are equipped with some extraordinary features, such as cameras, auto-focus, batch-processing, etc.
The cost of a desktop CO2 laser ranges from $3,000 to $6,000. The industrial versions cost more. Therefore, it is an expensive laser machine, but it is worth it. The powerful laser can cut wood and other non-metals in no time.
Diode Laser Cutting Machines
Diode lasers, which are also called Blue lasers, can cut wood and various other non-metals, such as acrylic, leather, fabric, and cardboard. These emit visible blue laser beams having a wavelength of 450nm. With this laser, it is possible to cut and engrave wood and plywood with perfection. The machine contains special diodes that emit laser beams. These beams are then reflected and merged together at a spot. The laser module lasts for a very long time, around 25,000 to 50,000 hours.
Diode lasers are the best for beginners because they are quite easy to use as well as affordable. A desktop diode laser cutting machine would cost around $700 to $1,500, depending on the specifications of the laser machine.
These lasers have optical power in the range of 5-20W, but you can also find more powerful desktop laser machines from selective companies, such as xTool. For wood laser cutting, you should go for higher power, such as 20W or above. It will cut wood and other materials in less time. The low optical power is preferred for laser engraving only.
How to Choose Wood for Laser Cutting?
You will find hundreds of names when it comes to natural and engineered wood. There is a massive variety out there, but not all types of wood are suitable for laser cutting. Each wood type differs from the other, which is why it is important to know what you should select. Here are some factors to consider when choosing wood for laser cutting:
Certain types of wood contain resin, which is a viscous liquid. Due to the presence of resin inside the wood, the engraving or the cut marks will be darker. However, this presence of resin makes the wood softer and easy to cut. For some projects, you would like to go with low-resin wood to have lighter marks, but in some cases, you need high resin content.
Each wood type has a different shade. Some are dark, while some are light. If you want to engrave wood along with cutting, it is better to go with wood types that have a lighter shade. It will make the engraving more visible.
You will find streaking in all types of wood, and it is natural. Even if you compare two pieces of the same tree, the streaking will be a bit different. Some wood types have strong and visible streaks, while some have light streaks. You need to choose the right one according to the product or project.
What is the Best Wood for Laser Cutting?
We can divide wood into three main types: Softwood, Hardwood, and Engineered Wood. Let's see them in detail.
Softwood contains more resin than hardwood, but they are easy to laser cut and lightweight. Less laser power is required to cut the softwood; however, the tough grain of the wood can cause hindrances in cutting and engraving. Keep in mind softwoods are good for indoors only, or you need to apply a weather-resistant coating to them if you need to use them outdoors.
Some popular softwoods for laser cutting are,
Hardwoods are dense, heavy, and expensive. Due to the high density, a high-powered laser is required for hassle-free cutting in one pass. These woods are dark and weather resistant. You can use them for certain projects, but keep in mind that these are expensive. Secondly, they produce a lot of smoke during laser cutting. Undoubtedly, these are stronger compared to softwoods, but they are not good for engraving due to dark contrast.
Some popular hardwoods for laser cutting are,
Engineered wood, including MDF and plywood, are man-made wood variants that are made from wood, scrap wood, adhesives, and other items. These are used for a wide range of purposes, including laser cutting. But they may contain some harmful and hazardous materials when laser cut. So, it is necessary to make sure the engineered wood is specifically made for laser cutting.
How to Laser Cut Wood?
The process of laser cutting wood might differ a bit depending on the machine you are using. We are going to share some common steps that are necessary for the process.
Step 1: Turn on the wood laser cutter and get it ready. Connect it to the computer and open the software.
Step 2: You need the laser cut file. You can design it on your own in Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, CorelDRAW, etc. It requires effort but ensures the uniqueness and quality of the design. You can also find free and paid files online. There are tons of websites. Get the laser-cut file and import it to the laser software.
Step 3: Now, you need to adjust the size of the design and its position. You also need to enter the power, speed, and other machine parameters. It is better to do a power-speed test to know the optimal value. After that, you can try the same parameters on the design.
Step 4: Laser cutting machines have a limited working area. So, you might need to cut the wood according to that using a saw. Clean the wood and place it in the working area. You also need to secure the wood in its place using magnets on the honeycomb panel.
Step 5: Adjust the focus of the laser according to the thickness of the material. All laser machines have a specific method for adjusting focus, so you need to follow that. Once the laser is focused, move the laser head to the starting position.
Step 6: Now, you are ready to cut the piece of wood. Complete framing and adjust the position of the design if required. Once everything is ready, click the Start button.
Best Practices of Laser Cutting Wood
Use Air Assist
Air Assist is a must-have when you want to laser cut wood. It provides a powerful blow of air that removes the smoke and particles from the area. It prevents burn marks or color changes in the material. Secondly, it helps in cutting material at an exceptional speed. It also enhances the cutting capability of the machine and cuts thicker materials.
Cut on Honeycomb Panel
Beginners often ignore the Honeycomb panel, but it plays a very important role in preventing burn marks when laser cutting wood.
The honeycomb panel improves the exhaustion of the smoke at the bottom of the object. The smoke is not trapped, which is why you have a clean surface without any burn marks. It should be used for cutting wood or any other material that can undergo discoloration.
Use Masking Tape
There can be some unwanted marks around the edge of the laser cut wood. These are also due to smoke particles. The best hack for this problem is to apply masking tape on the surface of the wood. After cutting, the masking tape can be easily removed, and you have clean edges.
Remember the Kerf Width
When you cut wood using a saw or any other power tool, it is a must to include Kerf width in the measurements. The Kerf width of these tools is usually around 2mm or more. Therefore, professionals pay special attention to that.
The laser spot of the laser cutting machine is small, which is why there is a minimal Kerf width. But still, you need to consider it. Otherwise, there will be slight looseness in the joints and other miscalculations.
Improve Exhaust System and Ventilation
Due to the reaction of wood and laser, smoke is produced. Therefore, it is necessary to expel the smoke and other particles out of the enclosed box. If there is an exhaust system, it is excellent; otherwise, you should install one. It removes the smoke from the working area and prevents burn marks on the object.
If you are using the laser cutting machine indoors, you need to expel the air outside the house or shop. Otherwise, the room will have a smell of wood and particles. It is better to connect an air purifier to the exhaust pipe. It will help in cleaning the exhaust air, and you won't sense any smell or particles even if you use the machine in a closed space without ventilation.
Adjust the Focus
Focus refers to the point where all the laser beams meet. It depends on the distance between the laser and the working area. For quick cutting and exceptional results in only one pass, the focus should be at the center of the object. Make sure to adjust it according to the machine's recommendations. If the laser is not cutting wood, one of the common reasons could be wrong focus adjustment. Secondly, if you forget to adjust the focus, you will end up wasting the material.
Set the Right Power and Speed
The most important variables in laser cutting are power and speed. These should be set to the optimal value according to the material and its thickness. There are no hard and fast values of power and speed settings. You need to test on a spare material to get the perfect combination. Try on random power and speed, or run a complete power-speed test.
Ensure Fire Safety
While laser cutting wood, there is a risk of fire. Due to high temperatures, the wood can start burning. Or in case of any malfunctioning in the laser machine, such as a laser module stuck in one position, the end can be disastrous.
The machine should be equipped with fire detection or an alarm. It quickly turns off the machine in case of any spark or flame. Make sure there is a fire extinguisher to deal with any accident. CO2 fire extinguishers are recommended because they do not harm your laser machine.
The best way is to install a compatible fire safety kit in the machine. It automatically quenches fire and uses a safe extinguisher to prevent any damage to the machine. After all these efforts and security measures, you can't leave the machine unattended. It should be under supervision when it is working.
Popular Laser Cut Wood Projects and Ideas
Laser Cut Wood Earrings
Wooden earrings are trending these days because people love to wear something unique and different. It is a decent idea that catches others' attention. A laser cutting machine can make exceptional wooden earrings. There are tons of laser-cut files and designs available for earrings. You only need to import the design and cut it. After cutting, you only need to attach earring hooks and add colors to enhance the beauty.
Laser Cut Wood Signs
Wooden signs are quite popular, and people like to have them as it also serves as a décor piece. The signs can be made in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. From plaques to office nameplates, anything can be made. Plus, if you have a machine with a passthrough, such as xTool P2, larger signs can be made without any hassle.
Laser Cut Wood Ornaments
Wooden ornaments are hot-selling items on special occasions, such as Christmas, weddings, Halloween, etc. You can make appealing ornaments using a laser cutting machine and even make them personalized for different people. There are hundreds of design ideas for different events and occasions. You can do vector cutting and engraving according to the design and personalization.
Laser Cut Wood Wall Art
Beautiful and mesmerizing wood wall art pieces can be made using a laser cutter. From scenery to Mandala art, almost anything can be made. The laser machines cut intricate designs with perfection. Cut the desired design, and if there are multiple layers, cut each of them separately. Join all pieces and paint them in the end.
Laser Cut Wood Puzzles
It is one of the simplest DIY educational and exciting ideas for kids. You can make almost any type of puzzle with only two layers of thin wood. It can be a cartoon character, solar system, world map, beautiful landscape, celebrity, etc. But keep in mind that it will also require engraving along with cutting. For instance, if you are making a puzzle of different animals, you can cut the outline of the animals, but the body parts, such as eyes, ears, nose, and other things, must be engraved.
Laser Cut Wood Box
By using a laser cutting machine, it is possible to make different types of wooden boxes. You can make jewelry boxes, storage boxes, organizers, envelope boxes, money boxes, etc. The design of these boxes is quite intricate and requires accuracy. Pick a suitable design or make your own. Another important thing is the selection of the wood. The thickness of plywood or wood matters a lot. You have to select it according to the design. It is because the box is made in pieces, which are assembled later. Cut the design on suitable plywood and assemble the pieces. Use glue to stick pieces firmly.
Laser Cut Wood Map
It’s a good idea for the kids’ learning. You can engrave and cut the world map or country map on a piece of plywood. It can also be turned into a puzzle. It can also be a good idea for home decor as you can use it as a wood wall art.
image credit: EnjoyTheWood - Etsy
Laser Cut Wood Frame
For pictures, any type of frame can be made from wood. You can make a wall hanging frame or table frame by cutting a few simple pieces of wood. There are tons of designs available for one or multiple pictures. The laser machine can make beautiful and intricate cuts, which make the frame more appealing. For wall hanging frames, you will need hooks, which are easily available. If you are making a table frame, you can make a frame holder as well.
Laser Cut Wood Jewelry Holder
Wooden jewelry holders are very common in the market because they are eye-catching. They can not only organize your jewelry but also complement the décor of the room. There are hundreds of jewelry holder designs. These can be holders for earrings, necklaces, rings, bangles, etc. People also get these holders for their shops and trade shows. Some jewelry holders also have a storage compartment to store jewelry items, just like a jewelry box. It adds more functionality to the holder.
Laser Cut Wood Wall Clock
When laser cut with a beautiful design, a laser cut wood wall clock makes a practicle and attractive home decor item. There are hundreds of free design files available that you can try. You only need to cut the design on 3-4mm plywood. After cutting the design and cleaning it, you need a clock machine, which is easily available from the markets. You will also get needles along with the machine. Fitting the machine in the laser-cut clock is quite easy. You only need to fix a nut on the screw. Finally, insert the needles, and your clock is ready. You can also make the clock more attractive through beautiful colors.
FAQs of Wood Laser Cutting
Q1: How thick of wood can a laser cut?
The maximum thickness of wood that a laser can cut mainly depends on its optical power. Secondly, a major role is played by the type of wood you are using. A desktop 30-55W CO2 laser cutter can easily cut wood pieces that are 8-20mm thick in only one pass. It means that they can also cut thicker materials, but you need more passes.
Diode lasers having power around 20-40W can cut 8-20mm thick wood pieces in one pass. But if the power is around 5W-10W, they are not suitable for cutting. They can only cut thin pieces of several millimeters in one pass.
Q2: Can plywood be laser cut?
Yes, plywood can be cut using a laser machine, and it is commonly used in a wide range of products. There is special plywood for laser cutting, and they can cut well. However, some have a thick layer of glue or other materials that make cutting a bit difficult.
Q3: Is MDF safe to laser cut?
Yes, MDF is safe for laser cutting. But keep in mind that MDF is engineered wood, and some MDF boards contain metal particles, sand, and various other particles that create hindrances in laser cutting. However, there is special MDF available that is specifically made for laser cutting. While laser cutting MDF, there can be a lot of smoke and smell. It is a must to have a good exhaust system to remove the smoke and particles from the enclosure of the laser machine.
Q4: Why can't fiber lasers cut wood?
A fiber laser is not a recommended option for wood because you won't get good engraving and cutting results. It is because of the wavelength of these laser machines, which can't be absorbed completely by wood. These lasers are specifically made for metal engraving and cutting. Fiber lasers are available in a wide range of wavelength outputs. It is because of the doping that is done inside the fiber optics. So, there can be some fiber laser machines that can offer better results, but they won't be as good as a diode or CO2 laser.
Q5: Is laser-cut wood toxic?
The fumes produced while cutting wood are hazardous. These can lead to various health issues, especially breathing issues. If there are chemicals or other particles in the wood, its cutting can also be toxic. Thus, before cutting wood, make sure there is a proper exhaust system. You can also connect an air purifier to remove smell and particles from the exhaust air. There is no harm in cutting wood using a laser if the exhaust system is good.
Q6: Why is my laser burning wood?
There can be two common reasons for a laser to burn wood. One could be high power, and the other could be low speed. Both of them create excessive heat, which leads to burning. So, you need to select the optimal power and speed values, and they can only be obtained through trials. Once you have the optimal values, you will get incredible results without burning.
Q7: Why does laser-cut wood smell? How do you make laser-cut wood not smell?
The fumes and odor produced by the burning of wood are natural. A laser machine also burns wood, which is why it produces smoke and smell. Different types of wood have a distinct smell; some produce a minimal smell, while some can be unbearable. You cannot prevent or stop this smell. The only thing you can do is improve the exhaust system and expel the smoke and particles from the working area. You can also connect an air purifier to remove the smell and particles.
Q8: What's the difference between laser and CNC cutting wood?
There is a massive difference between laser cutting and CNC cutting for wood. But before discussing that, it is important to know what CNC is. It is the short form of Computerized Numerical Control. If the machine is controlled through computer software or pre-programmed code, it is called a CNC machine. It can be a laser machine, router, drill, or anything else. However, when people say CNC, they usually mean CNC routers.
A CNC router uses a drill bit to remove the material from the object or cut it into pieces. It makes physical contact with the surface and does the job just like any other power tool. It is a computer-controlled chisel. It produces too much dust and particles, and there are chances of harming the object due to physical contact.
On the other hand, a laser machine emits laser beams to cut the material. There is no physical contact, which is why it offers commendable results. It burns wood and removes the material. It is a good option for intricate cutting and phenomenal results.
Q9: Should I stain wood before or after laser cutting?
One of the most common questions that woodworkers and hobbyists have when using laser cutters for wood is whether they should stain the wood before or after laser cutting. The answer is not straightforward, as it depends on several factors, such as the type of wood, the type of stain, the desired effect, and the safety precautions. Here are some pros and cons of staining wood before or after laser cutting:
Staining wood before laser cutting:
- It prevents the stain from bleeding into the engraved area, which can make the engraving look fuzzy or smudged.
- It creates clean and crisp lines for the engraving, as the contrast between the stained surface and the exposed wood is high.
- It can cause burns and smoke marks on the wood if the stain is oil-based or petroleum-based, as these types of stains are flammable and can ignite during laser cutting. You need to use proper ventilation and fire safety measures when working with these stains.
- It needs more power as the stain can act as a barrier for the laser beam and prevent it from penetrating deeply into the wood.
Staining wood after laser cutting:
- It can enhance the depth and quality of the engraving, as the laser beam can cut deeper into the wood.
- It can create a unique effect for the engraving, as the stain can fill in the engraved area and create a different color or shade than the surface.