How to Choose the Best Wood for Laser Engraving

wood for laser engraving

Wood is one of the popular materials for vast laser engraving projects. It exudes a natural feel that fits perfectly with timeless uses and applications. However, the type of wood you use has a huge impact on the outcome of your project. Here’s a guide to help you pick out only the best wood for your laser projects.

Which is the best wood for laser engraving? Any wood that is lightweight and has minimal streaking will produce high quality and attractive engravings. Some of the best woods for laser engraving include Plywood, Alder, Douglas, Balsa, Fir, and Cork. The wood’s resin content determines whether your engraving will become light or dark.

Factors to consider when choosing the best wood for laser engraving?

Wood is revered for being natural and authentic. Whether it is used in furniture, a painting, or a key holder, it carries a feeling of originality. Unfortunately, as a natural material, wood has a ton of inconsistencies that can easily throw your laser projects off. It will take time to master the craft of working with wood but if you stick with it, you will soon get the hang of things. To choose the best wood for laser engraving, here are two important factors to put into consideration.

a) Resin content

Resin is a highly viscous or solid substance that trees give off as a way of protecting themselves from disease and bugs. Resinous wood types typically produce more resin than non-resinous trees. These are primarily softwood species including pine, cedar, and fir. Non-resinous trees are associated with hardwoods such as apple, alder, aspen, ash, elm, birch, madrone, walnut, oak, and locust.

The resin content is important in laser engraving because wood burns light or dark depending on the amount of resin contained in it. When you use wood with high resin content, expect a dark burn. This is because the laser beam will first burn the resin and in turn drive this into the wood. In the case of low resin content, the laser will vaporize the material causing a minimal burn. If you are looking for a darker burn, choose wood high in resin content. The most common ones include Cherry and Alder. Else, if you desire lighter engravings, go for wood with low resin content.

How do you know if your wood has high or low resin content?

The easiest and most practical way to know the resin content is to do a quick burn test on your wood plaque. Simply engrave the logo of your brand at the back of your material (or anywhere that won’t affect the customization of the wood). In doing so, you can tell first-hand if the engraving will be dark or light. This process will also help you push your brand further. Talk about killing two birds with one stone!  

Another trick to know if the wood plaque has high or low resin content is to eyeball it and compare it with the actual color of the wood species. If it is lighter, it shows the wood has low resin content. If it is darker, it indicated high resin content. This technique can only be accurate if you’ve been in the industry for quite some time. If you are a beginner, stick to option 1.

Lighter wood creates better contrast

To be honest, lighter wood guarantees clearer and appealing engravings. With wood, the base of the laser engraved product doesn’t change as is the case with other materials like paper. This means you cannot really manipulate it to suit your needs. The base color of the engraved product will have the same color as the original color of the wood.

With this in mind, darker wood obscures your laser marks making it hard to read the text or designs of the product. Lighter wood, on the other hand, produces a deep dark burn that contrasts perfectly with the surrounding material. But eventually, your preferences and needs will determine the choice of wood to use.

Note: sometimes you may end up with varied engravings despite using the same wood and laser engraving settings. This could mean that the tree was harvested during fall or winter. Biologically, trees drop their resins towards the bottom of their trunks in preparation for cold weather ahead. Once the cold is passed, the resin goes back up.

b) Streaking

Wood has natural lines that refer to the way the wood-cell fibers are oriented. These can be straight, interlocked, diagonal, irregular, wavy, or twisted. Regardless of the shape of the lines, go for wood that has some form of consistency. This masks the streaks to a greater extent. Streaks are a no-no when it comes to laser engraving. This is because of the simple reason that they steal the attention of the engraving. When you look at engraved wood, your eyes will be drawn to the streaks rather than the actual engraving. Apart from the resin content, you want to use wood that has minimal streaking and a smooth consistent grain.

What are the best wood types for laser engraving

There are a number of wood types that tick all the boxes when it comes to laser engraving. However, if you are starting out, we suggest using any of the wood from this list:

  • Alder

As a softwood, alder has a supple texture and minimal streaking. It also features a nice light color that produces a pleasant dark burn. It has a few knots but these won’t affect the clarity of your engravings one bit.

  • Cherry

Cherry is popular for making cabinets and furniture across the planet. It also works well for laser engraving as it has low resin content. It has a light color and creates breathtaking engravings despite having high levels of streaking.

  • Maple

like cherry and alder, maple features a light color and burns dark for the most part. It has light streaking that makes it an excellent material for photo laser engraving.

Engineered woods for laser engraving

While natural wood is great for laser engraving, you can also utilize engineered wood for gorgeous outcomes. Here’s a list of wood types to watch out for.

  • Basswood

Basswood is great for both laser engraving and cutting because it cuts well and is easy to work with. It can be easily stained, painted, and finished.

  • Balsa

The Midwest’s Balsa is grown in South American rain-forests, harvested, and dried on a kiln to make lightweight wood. It is easy to cut, paint, and stain.

  • Veneers

veneer refers to thin wooden slices that sometimes include the bark. They are often glued on core panels such as doors, tops, cabinets, and other furniture parts.

  • Plywood

As the name suggests, this wood is made from plies. These are thin veneers joined together with adjacent layers. Plywood’s wood grains are rotated perpendicular to each other.

  • Medium-Density-Fiberboard (MDF)

Medium-density fiberboard is a wood product engineered by slicing hardwood or softwood into fibers. These are then combined with wax and resin binder and formed into panels through the application of high temperature and pressure. MDF is denser than plywood.

  • High-Density Fiberboard (HDF)

Commonly-known as Hardboard, HDF is a special type of fiberboard that looks like MDF but is denser, stronger, and harder. This is because it is technically made from compressed wood fibers that have exploded.

  • Cork

This is an elastic, buoyant, impermeable, and fire-retardant wood material. The most common use of cork is wine stoppers. Cork occurs naturally in the deep layers of a tree’s bark.

  • Chipboard

Chipboard is made from wood pulp, shavings, wood chips, and sawdust. It is basically a synthetic resin that has been pressed and extruded. 

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