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Besides being an easy-to-work material, wood also has great aesthetic appeal. Different kinds of wood look different and have properties that make them suitable for a variety of applications.
Many different types of wood can be cut or engraved with a laser cutter. Some are easy to use, while others require a powerful laser to cut.
In this article, I'll detail some of the best woods you can use to laser cut and engrave to create beautiful projects.
I also touched on factors to consider when using lasers to cut or engrave wood.
Factors to Consider When Cutting or Engraving Wood on a Laser.
It doesn't matter whether the wood you're cutting is hardwood or softwood, the thickness of the wood is the biggest difference between laser cutting or engraving.
The resin or sap content in the wood is the main parameter to study in laser cutting. Wood with higher resin content cuts darker and vice versa.
You need to use the short throw G2 lens to cut wood as it provides a smaller laser spot, closer to 0.1mm - 0.15mm. It helps concentrate all the energy of the laser in a tiny spot for efficient cutting.
Most engineered woods out there are glued together to achieve a layered structure. When cutting with a laser cutter, glue can melt, burn, and can cause various problems.
Additionally, engineered wood like MDF can contain sand and metal particles, which can cause problems when cutting with a laser.
When working with engineered wood, try wood made for laser engravers and cutters. You must also understand laser safety risks, hazards and controls when using lasers to cut wood.
Connecting an air assist to the laser is beneficial when vector cutting because it is important to keep the fumes away from the laser beam, and more so for visible laser cutters.
Using air assist can also put out any fires that arise while working with wood. I recommend having a fire extinguisher nearby as it will be a great help in the event of a fire.
A continuous blast of air onto the work surface will remove ash trapped deep within the cutting pocket, thereby removing charred areas of the wood.
Ash is a good insulator, so the more burning ashes you take out of your cutout pocket, the more drop cuts you get.
There are several wood laser engravers and laser cutters that offer good performance when dealing with wooden workpieces.
Low particle density wood is easy to work with. As you read the rest of this article, you will discover which wood is right for your application.
Best Wood for Beginners Laser Cutting or Engraving
Some of the best woods for beginners to laser cut are Alder, Balsa and Birch laser plywood. They are fairly light in color and can be used easily.
The grains of these woods are less dense and loose grained to help you cut these woods in one go.
I recommend Birch laser plywood as they are made specifically for laser cutting and engraving, they are thin, have low glue content, cut burns evenly and are one of the most affordable woods on the market.
With a 150W laser, you can cut 1/4" thick birch laser plywood at about 24 ipm with 70% laser power.
Alder, Balsa and Birch laser plywood will produce a modest but visible smoke when laser cut or engraved. You can use air assist and exhaust systems to effectively remove the resulting fumes.
I'll tell you more about these woods individually in the next sections of this article.
Cork is light in color, low in price and light in weight. They are also widely available and easy to use.
They are generally not weather resistant, but can be coated to maximize their lifespan.
The grain density of balsa wood is about 9lbs/ft3, the grains are arranged in a straight line, and the texture is rough.
It is white-brown to reddish-brown. They provide good sound/vibration isolation and are buoyant.
Balsa wood is relatively inexpensive and, due to its low grain density, can be easily cut or engraved with a laser power of 30 - 100 W.
1/8" thick balsa wood can be cut at about 72 ipm on a 100W CO2 laser cutter at 70% power utilization.
You can engrave 1/8" thick balsa wood using the same laser at about 948 ipm at 5% power.
They are lightweight and relatively strong, making them perfect for making surfboards, soundproofing, thermal insulation, architectural models, musical instruments and aviation models.
When used with a laser cutter, you will engrave and cut with high precision in balsa wood for many different applications.