When you want to make intricate designs on wood, nothing does it better than a laser cutter. From every-day items like coasters and clocks to art pieces and decor items, cutting wood with a laser cutter will result in jaw-dropping designs. But there’s a caveat – a laser engraver is limited to the depth it can cut in wood. So you have to choose the right wood thickness as well as the right laser cutter before you get started on your project.
How thick of wood can a laser cutter cut?
Laser cutters can cut wood with a thickness of up to 30 mm. However, most laser cutters are more effective when the material thickness ranges from 0.5 mm to 12 mm. Additionally, the thickness of wood that can be cut with a laser cutter largely depends on the wattage of the laser machine. A higher wattage machine can cut through thicker wood faster than a lower wattage one. For best results, go for laser cutters with a wattage of 60-100.
What are the common types of laser cutters for wood?
In addition to wood thickness, you must also select the right laser cutter for your project because laser cutting machines are not equal. Different laser machines are designed for different materials and some are better suited for engraving as opposed to cutting. The following are the two broad categories of laser machines that are best suited for wood cutting projects.
Semiconductor Diode Lasers
These machines are generally small and are therefore meant for smaller laser cutting projects. While they are often used for cutting cardboard and paper, they may also come in handy for creating images on some wood materials as well.
However, for this to work, you will need a couple of passes and the wood needs to be soft too. Semiconductor diode lasers pack a wattage ranging from 1 W – 10 W.
If you intend cutting wood with a diode laser then I would recommend a top of the range diode laser like the Makeblock xTool D1 or the Atomstack S10 Pro. I will link to the best 10W diode lasers here.
|Wattage||Wood thickness to cut|
|1 W||Under 2.5 mm with multiple passes|
|6 W||With a one-pass cut 2 to 3 mm or multiple passes for 4 to 5 mm|
|8 W||With a single pass cut through 4 to 5 mm of wood|
|10 W||With the xTool 10 mm in a single pass while up to 15 mm in several passes|
In the below YouTube Tutorial you will see the 10W Xtool D1 in action cutting and engraving some wood signs and Christmas decorations:
CO2 Laser Cutters
Co2 laser cutters are the most ideal for wood cutting and engraving projects. If you are looking to cut a couple of designs for the sheer fun of it, then then a semiconductor diode laser could suffice but if you are looking to set up a serious laser cutting/engraving business, then you want to go with a CO2 laser cutter.
Co2 laser cutters have a wattage of between 30 watts all the way to 300 watts which makes them perfect for most wood cutting projects.
|Wattage||Wood thickness to cut|
|40 watts||¼ inch thick wood|
|45 watts||¼ inch thick wood|
|60 watts||¼ – ½ inch thick wood|
|90 watts||½ inch thick wood|
|100 watts||½ inch thick wood|
|120 watts||½ thick wood|
Which wood should not be laser cut?
Not every wood you come across is ideal for your laser cutting project. The following are some types of woods that you shouldn’t use.
- Plywood: plywood has glue, which when in rich quantity tends to inhibit laser cutting resulting in uneven cuts/engraving.
- Exotic Hardwoods: Since this wood type is tremendously compact, the process of engraving is extremely difficult.
- Oleander: This wood will release toxic fumes when laser cut or laser engraved.
- Fiberboard: The wood fibers have glue which constrains the cutting and produces deadly fumes and poor outcomes.
- Bamboo and Oak: These woods are richly fibrous, which yields uneven depth.
Also Read: Are Laser Engraving Fumes Toxic?
Which is the best wood for laser cutting?
Most laser cutters work great with softwoods that have no grain patterns. For that reason, some of the best wood types for laser cutting include white pine, oak, cedar, balsa and basswood.
PRO TIP: When working with softwoods (Redwood, Cedar, etc.), the laser power required is less while for hardwoods (Cherry, Oak, Mahogany, etc.) more laser power is required.
Should you need any help in choosing the best wood for your laser cutting and engraving projects then check out this post: Best Materials for Laser Engraving
Is MDF Safe to Laser Cut?
MDF (medium-density fiberboard) is made of wood wastage fibers that are compressed and bonded using glue and resin. So in the strict sense of the word, medium-density fiberboard is not really a type of wood.
Even though it is possible to laser cut MDF, it comes with some risk. For starters, laser cutting MDF releases excessive dust particles and that can result in health issues. MDF could also release volatile organic compounds which can be a health hazard. You should therefore only laser cut MDF in a well-ventilated room. You may also want to use a fume extractor in addition to other protective gear.
To improve the ventilation in your workspace it would be advisable to install a suitable exhaust fan. On the below link you will find more information on the top 5 laser engraver exhaust fan options.
Is Laser Cutting Wood Dangerous?
Laser cutting wood may pose health and safety risks, especially when done on an industrial scale or setting. When a laser is cutting wood, there is the production of and exposure to particulate matter, chemicals, and gases. The particulate matter produced can cause irritation of the nose, eyes, skin, and respiratory tract. Also, lasers can blind or burn you, and hence using personal protective equipment is a necessity.
Caution: Wood materials are highly flammable. You should, therefore, keep a close eye during the cutting process to avoid accidents. Always a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher handy for any sudden flare ups. We use the First Alert Professional Fire Extinguisher in our workshop. More information can be found here.
Follow the link below to read more on some important safety precautions that will keep you safe when using a laser cutter. Must know safety precautions when using a laser engraver
It is a good idea to test out some waste wood and keep fine-tuning the settings on the laser cutter until you have the perfect setup. You can then move to the real material after you are sure of the results. In addition to testing, get the right laser cutter and the appropriate wood, and your project will be a success.
Here is a buying guide that will help you get the best laser engraver for your wood-cutting projects.