Prepare Wood For Laser Cutting – Everything You Need To Know

Cutting and engraving wood can be a great way to bring your vision for your projects to life. However, cutting wood by hand can be difficult and time-consuming. Laser-cutting wood solves this problem by providing an effortless way to get precise cuts every time but you need to prepare wood for laser cutting.

The following factors need to be considered when preparing wood for laser cutting:

  • The Type Of Wood – Low-Density Wood is the best option for laser cutting
  • Creating You Design – Create your design in your preferred CAD Software
  • Use Transfer Tape – To Prevent burn marks on your wood
  • Preparing Your Laser Cutter – Correct Settings for the specific type of wood

That said, it’s essential to understand the basics before attempting to laser cut your wood, including determining the best wood for laser cutting and the best way to prepare it. If you need some tips for wood laser cutting, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to learn the best practices for handling wood for laser cutting.

Prepare Wood For Laser Cutting

What Is Laser Cutting?

Laser cutting is a method of making precise cuts on flat materials, including wood. Laser cutting can also work for materials such as acrylic and leather. These precise cuts are achieved by using a laser-cutting machine.

A wood laser cutter is used to cut, mark, and engrave your chosen material. Laser cutters emit a concentrated beam of light through the laser cutter’s head onto the material.

Most 100 Watt CO2 laser cutters can cut wood between 0.5 – 15 mm thick. Anything thicker will require multiple passes and won’t result in the clean cut you seek. For detailed information you can also read the article I wrote on what can a 100W laser cut.

While there are several types of laser machine cutters, the most common ones used by enthusiasts are CO2 lasers and Diode lasers. CO2 lasers are particularly popular, especially for cutting wood.

Prepare Wood For Laser Cutting Step 1: Choose The Best Type of Wood For Laser Cutting

Best Types of Wood For Laser Cutting

Since wood is a natural material, you have to consider the characteristics of the type of wood that you’re using before preparing it for laser cutting. Some natural wood will deliver better results for your needs than others, and some woods you shouldn’t use at all.

Consider the following types of popular wood for laser cutting:

  • Soft wood: Can be cut at a quicker speed, and if engraving then this will result in a lighter engraving
  • Hard wood: Needs to be cut with a higher laser power than soft wood
  • Plywood: Made from at least three layers of wood glued together. The type of glue determines how you would prep this wood material.

Choosing a thinner, low-density wood for laser cutting is best. As mentioned, anything too thick may not result in a precise cut.

The most popular woods for laser cutting include balsa, basswood, poplar, alder, cedar, oak, walnut, mahogany, cherry, maple, birch, pine, cork, MDF and plywood.

For Detailed Information On How To Choose The Best Wood For Laser Cutting then have a look at this article I wrote here. More information on the wood we use for our laser cutting projects can be found here.

Now, let’s talk about the nest step which is creating your design for laser cutting.

Prepare Wood For Laser Cutting Step 2: Create Your Design

Create your design for laser cutting
Creating A Laser Cutting Design in CorelDraw

The second step is to design the object you want to cut using your preferred CAD software. Some of the most popular software used for laser cutting include the following:

Make sure to use multiple levels of cut lines when designing. This will make it easier to arrange the layers later when you transfer the design into CAM software. There are various free and paid laser engraving and cutting software options available for CAD, CAM, and control operations.

Prepare Wood for Laser Cutting Step 3: Wood Size and Transfer Tape Application

When preparing your wood for laser cutting, the first thing you want to check is whether the wood fits into the work area of the laser cutter. If not, you must cut it down to the necessary size and sand it to remove any sharp edges.

Additionally, the wood needs to be free of knots and any other flaws that can lead to uneven cutting. Before beginning to cut, the wood’s surface should be well cleaned and dry because oil or dirt will obstruct the cutting process.

Next, you want to ensure you have all the relevant tools available. Depending on the type of project you’re undertaking, you may not need any additional tools. That said, you may want to consider having the following handy:

  • Measuring tape for accuracy, quality assurance, and any last-minute measurements
  • Transfer tape to prevent burns and stains on the wood
  • Utility knife to cut material all the way through that the laser cutter may have missed

Use Transfer Tape

To prevent burn marks use transfer tape which is available in a ready-made wide roll and works wonderfully with a laser cutter, the tape can be tacked to the wood’s surface. For a flawless finish, you can use the tape on both sides of your wood. The tape should be firmly pressed down with the help of a small plastic squeegee to remove any air bubbles that could interfere with the cutting operation. More information on the transfer tape we use can be found here.

Other than the above steps, preparing wood for laser cutting shouldn’t take too much effort as long as your measurements are where you want them to be.

Once your wood is ready, you must verify that your laser cut is set.

Prepare Wood For Laser Cutting Step 4: Preparing Your Laser Cutter

The most important settings for you to know on your laser cutter are speed, power, frequency, and focus. As you can guess, the speed determines how fast the laser can cut. The thinner the wood, the higher the speed should be set.

Running Test Cuts

It is preferable to test how a laser cutter cuts the wood you intend to use. To determine the best parameters for your test run, use the below laser cutting thickness and speed chart as a reference. In general, start with the lowest recommended setting and gradually work your way up until you achieve the best results. You can avoid wasting material by using the correct laser settings.

CO2 Laser Thickness & Speed Chart For Wood

For your reference a 5.5W Diode Laser can cut 0.062″/ 1.57mm Plywood in one pass with a speed of 0.20″ per second or 5.08mm per second and a 10W can cut 0.11″/ 2.79mm Plywood in one pass with a speed of 0.26″ per second or 6.60mm second. You can do multiple passes for thicker wood.

Finally, if the results of your laser cutting tests do not match your expectations, take the time to change the speed and power settings and retest. Check the edges of your cuts. If there are no rough or jagged edges, your settings are correct, and if there are, you need to either increase power or decrease speed.

Set The Laser Frequency

In contrast, the frequency – measured in Hz – determines the number of laser pulses per second. Wood typically cuts best on a CO2 Laser with a lower frequency of 1000 Hz.

Set The Focus

Finally, the focusing lens in the laser head is used for precision. The focus point should be set on the material surface. Smooth cuts on wood can be achieved with a lens of 2″ focal length and a small laser spot size of 0.001″. The depth of focus of a lens with a long focal length is greater than that of a lens with a shorter focal length, a lens with a long focal length is the best choice for cutting thicker pieces of wood.

Use an Exhaust System & Air Assist

Using a laser to cut wood produces a lot of smoke and fumes which will obstruct the laser’s path, lower its intensity, and result in uneven cutting. As a result, it’s important to use an exhaust system, fume extractor or laser enclosure along with high-pressure air assist to remove the smoke from the work area.

The air assist with a high-pressure air compressor and the exhaust system will lessen the impact of charring. A honeycomb table can also be used to lessen charring.

Detailed Information can be found in our buying guides:

Top 5 Laser Exhaust Fan Options

Top 5 Best Fume Extractors for Laser

Laser Engraver Enclosure Options

Best Honeycomb Laser Bed

Once you have this setup, it’s finally time to cut!

Prepare Wood for Laser Cutting: FAQ’S

Can any type of wood be used for laser cutting?

While many types of wood can be used for laser cutting, some wood types perform better than others, depending on your project. As a rule of thumb, the drier and less resin the wood contains, the lighter the cutting edge.

However, some natural wood or wood material is unsuitable for laser cutting. For example, coniferous woods, such as fir, are not usually suitable for laser cutting.

What is the best file format for laser cutting wood?

The most popular type of file for laser cutting is a vector file. The best part about vector files is that they can be scaled to any size without losing quality.

Consequently, raster files are also popular because they can be easily converted into vector files. 

What safety precautions should be taken when laser cutting wood?

In general, laser cutting wood is not a very hazardous activity when performed right. However, staying safe and knowing all potential dangers is essential before you begin.

There are still some precautions that you must take before beginning your project, including:

  • Keep your work area clutter-free.
  • Always ensure a fire extinguisher is within reach, as some materials can catch fire.
  • Ensure your exhaust fan, fume extractor and air assist is turned on.
  • Make sure that your laser cutter is always clean.
Caution: Wood is 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.

The Takeaway: Use Wood for Laser Cutting Your Next Project

To recap, wood is an excellent material for laser cutting, but it’s essential to use the right kind of wood and prepare your wood and laser cutter for precise and accurate cuts.

Hopefully, this article has given you all the information you need to know about preparing laser-cut wood and more to ensure your next project is executed smoothly.