Wood Laser Cutting And Engraving: The Definitive Guide

Wood laser cutting & engraving guide

Want to know more about wood laser cutting and engraving?  I will explain the basic things you need to know about laser cutting woods and how to implement your ideas. You’ll also learn alternative machines you can use if you can’t afford a laser cutter.   

Table Of Contents

So, What is a Laser cutter? 

A laser cutter is a computer-controlled machine that uses laser beams to cut or engrave materials. It creates patterns and designs on material from preprocessed designs. The materials melt, burn, or vaporize by a powerful laser beam.


Types Of Laser Cutter/Engraver -Which One Is Best For Woods Laser Cutting & Engraving?  

types of laser cutter & which one to pick

There is a wide range of lasers that cuts wood from different manufacturers. Many in the market have different features, power rating, different material applications, functions. It can be hard to know where to start; I’ve been in your shoes before. For laser cutting and engraving woods the most important factor to consider is the power of the laser beam. 

For me, I'll go for the Ten High 40W CO2 Laser Cutter for wood engraving. It's one of the perfect machines if you need to cut up to 3mm of wood. and other materials such as leather, plastic, cloth, board, resin, paper, density board.  Its downside is that it doesn't cut through metals. If you're looking to get the best bang for your buck Orion’s 40W CO2 laser cutter is the best option you have.

Basic Features Of Ten High Laser Cutter


Cutting speed

 0-30mm/s

Engraving Speed

0-500mm/

Cutting thickness

0-4mm (Acrylic), 0-2mm (hardwood such as Oak, mahogany), 0-3mm (cork such as plywood, plywood, composite board) (Depend on the material);

Power

40 W

Cooling tube

One 40W water cooling laser tube

Weight

60.5 pounds  

I’ll divide our best picks into different categories, which are: 

Desktop Laser Cutters, Industrial Laser Cutters, Combination of Laser cutters and 3D printers.


Best Desktop Laser Cutters


1. Dremel DigiLab LC40

Dremel is an easy to use laser cutting machine. Its power rating makes it possible to cut through wood and materials of up to 7mm.

2. Glowforge Plus 

This machine stores 3D files and data on a cloud. It is easy to handle and use because of its UI (User Interface) feature.  Glowforge can cut and engrave a wide range of materials. Such as fabric, wood, leather, etc. In addition to that, you can check some of their project galleries for more.

Read More: Glowforge VS Dremel Which Laser Cutter To Buy?

3. Mr. Beam Laser Cutter

I'm listing this machine here because you don't need the expertise to operate. It's easy to move from one place to the other and designs created using Illustrator, Corel, Inkscape, and other 3D modeling software.

4. FABOOL Laser Mini 

This laser cutter can process a wide range of materials such as wood, leather, plastic, and even food.  Its all-in-one software feature makes it versatile, user-friendly, and used by many users. It is one of the best options for hobbyists and designers with educational projects to do at home.


Best For Industrial Laser Cutting


1. Epilog Laser Zing 16: 

Its 30 and 40-watt laser make it cut a wide range of materials. And you know what? You can attach an air compressor to this machine to remove heat and combustible gases.


2. Mophorn 100W Laser Machine

This is a machine that can cut materials with its 100-watt laser head.  Some of the features include but not exempted from a 900 x 600 mm working area, and a precision micro-stepping motor.


3. Full-spectrum Laser PS20 

One of my favorite machines for industrial purposes.  It includes  the following features:

  • Air compressor

  • Radiation cooler and an exhaust fan for cooling

  • 45-watt laser head for cutting.


Best Combination of Laser Cutters and 3D Printers

Faktotum: 

This is a multipurpose laser printer with many functions. It’s a 3D printer that has a laser head. Faktotum can cut metals and wood.


4 Important Things To Know Before Starting Laser Cutting or Engraving Wood  

important things for wood laser cutting

1. Do I Really Need To Buy A Laser Cutter?

Yes, of course, you need to have a laser cutter to get started, but there are other options to get access to laser cutters if you are not financially buoyant. I started by looking for marketspaces​​​ nearby. You can also get access to a laser cutter in schools and laser cutting services. Listed below are some of the online laser cutting services that will be helpful for you.

Sculpteo

Ponoko

Formulor

Cut Laser Cut


2. How To Use A Laser Cutter?  

Generally, before using any type of machine, you need to know the mode of operation of such a machine. You need to know the precautions and safety measures. Laser cutters are machines that can give you a great piece of design, but they are also dangerous when mishandled.


3. How To Create A Design For Laser Cutting And Engraving? 

Before laser cutting or engraving, ensure you know how to create a design. Any laser cutter you buy comes with specific drivers. They help in converting images from the computer to a format readable for the laser cutter. You must have an understanding of vector and raster images and their differences.

Vector Images

Raster Images

Used for cutting and engraving

 Used only for engraving

Can be scaled up without any loss in quality

It will pixelated when scaled up

Types are SVG, EPS, PDF, DXF, DWG, CDR, Adobe Illustrator

Types are JPG, PNG, GIF

Stores all the lines and colors as mathematical formulas

Are pixel-based

Tips on creating files for laser cutting

  • You need a vector path as the input file to know the exact point of the cut. Consider that unconnected middle parts will fall out when you want to cut text. Ensure you avoid this.


4. What Materials Can I Cut Or Engrave With A Laser Cutter? 

You need to know what types of materials can be cut and cannot be cut with a laser. CO2 laser machines can cut and engrave a range of materials. Let's not forget that the materials your laser will cut depends on its thickness, machine power, and specifications.


The Optimal Laser Cutter Settings For Cutting Or Engraving Wood  

optimal laser cutter setting for wood

You can achieve optimal laser cutter settings with the following parameters:

  • Power
  • Speed
  • Passes
  • Air Assist
  • Z-offset(controlled defocussing)
  • Resolution PPI/ Frequency Hz

For Hardwood

 

Vector cut speed

15mm/s

Power

40W

Passes

5-10

For Softwood (Single Pass) 

 

​Vector cut speed

10mm/s

Power

10mw

Passes

Single pass


The Ultimate Chart: What Laser Cutter Power Can Cut  Which Materials

Power

Material And Thickness It Cuts

1W

≤2.5mm wood with multiple passes

5W

Can cut materials that are 4mm thick 

40W

1/8”(3-4mm)

50/60W

1/4"(5-6mm) thick materials 

75/120W

Non-metal materials of 3/8” (10mm )thick

*These values are not constant and they can vary significantly due to different types of materials, different focal lenses, alignment of optics, and other factors.


How Much Does A Wood Laser Cutter Cost? 

The price of a laser cutter depends on its accessories, functions, power, format, set, and services.

Laser cutters are categorized in two ways: YAG laser cutter and CO2 laser cutter.  Their prices are different, despite performing the same function. I’ll walk you through the whole process. 

Below are six factors that affect the cost of a laser cutting machine.

  • Functions of Laser Cutting Machine

  • Mechanical Assembly Quality 

  • After-sales Service

  • Different Models

  • Equipment Differences

  • Laser cutting machine accessories: Motor, Laser lens, Laser Tube

Laser cutting machine

Price

Metal

$2500-$300000

Non-metal

$2200-$9900

Mixed

$4000-16000


The Inexpensive Alternative To Laser Cutting Wood 


1. Jigsaw

jigsaw inexpensive laser cutter alternative

An alternative for laser cutting wood. It is used for cutting shapes in a wide range of materials. 


2. Using A Scroll Saw

It is often used to cut intricate curves and dovetail joints on thin sheets of wood. Scroll saws are a manual alternative for laser cutting for those that don't like the burned edges the laser leaves on the finished project. 


3. Using a Wood Router

alternative to laser cutter

This is a tool that routs (hollows out) an area in a wide range of hard materials. If you want to cut wood thicker than 20mm, it’s best to use a wood router.

Read More: 7 Of The Best Machines To Cut Wood Letters


The Best Laser Cutter Software 

We’ve researched the best available software for laser cutting. Here they are -

  • Adobe Illustrator: This is a versatile tool that allows you to work with vector graphics. SVG files can be created with this. 
  • Inkscape: Similar to Adobe Illustrator. It can be used to create a design from scratch or improve on the existing one.
  • SketchUp:  A novice can easily learn this software. It can be used when you have a precise idea to implement.

Laser Cutter Safety Guides 

safety precautions laser cutting wood at home


1. Hazards and Precautions: Laser Light

The invisible powerful laser beam that the laser emits can cause severe damage to the eyes.  Improper use of the controls may cause blindness and skin burns.

  • Ensure you don’t disable any safety feature of the laser.

  • Make sure all covers and interlocks are in place and working properly respectively.

  • Do not look directly into the laser beam with your naked eyes.

  • Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); Safety glasses to protect the eyes and skin protection to reduce burns.


2. Hazards and Precautions: Fire

The laser beam can produce extremely high temperatures during operation. Some materials can ignite fire during the operation, which in turn creates fumes and smoke in the laser cutter.

  • Remove dirt and debris which may cause a fire outbreak.

  • Ensure the cut is of high quality and the mechanical components are functioning properly.

  • Monitor the laser during operation to ensure that any spark, flame, or flare-ups are extinguished and well managed.

  • Read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for each material before cutting.

  • Always position a fire extinguisher in an easily reachable place.

  • Do not use materials that are highly flammable or explosive.


3. Hazards and Precautions: Air Contaminants

Laser cutters can generate toxic fumes, vapors, and particulate from the substrate of combustible and highly toxic materials. These fumes are toxic and they can damage your machine and your health.

  • Equip your laser cutter systems with a fume exhaust system. 

  • Change filters regularly as instructed by the manufacturers.

  • Do not cut materials that are not approved by the manufacturers.


The Basic Steps Of Using A laser To Cut Wood 


1. Get your machine

You can either buy or rent a laser cutter. If you want to buy a new laser, go for a used model because of the reduction in cost.


2. Hardware: Decide what materials you want to cut or engrave

Now that you have access to a laser cutter, choose the material you want to cut. A laser can cut a wide range of material except for materials that contain chlorine due to their toxicity.

Glass: Cannot be cut, but can be engraved.

Cast Acrylic: Can be etched and cut

ABS, Polycarbonate, and other lasers safe plastic can be cut and etched.


3. The software

Choose an image to cut on your chosen materials and upload them into software that is compatible with your laser machine. You can use Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, and others


4. Power and Speed Settings

You can decide what power and speed can go into your laser while printing. The higher the power- the higher the chances of a fire outbreak. The speed will determine how fast the laser will travel during operation.


5. Set the Frequency

After the power and speed setting, you need to set the frequency which controls how many laser pulses are applied to the material you are cutting or engraving.


6. Place your materials

Place the materials in the center of the laser cutting mat, you will achieve a quality result with this


7. Focus the laser cutter

After placing your chosen material, do a test run.  Click the Auto Focus button in the print reference, this will ensure the laser is properly distanced from what you are cutting.


8. Select the materials and type of cuts 

Choose your cutting method on the print menu. You can choose between raster and vector. Vector print for cutting, while raster print is for engraving. Select this in the material setting.


9. Printing

When you’re all ready to cut.  Press print and watch your image come to life. Ensure you don’t move your chosen material while this is going on.


10. Cleaning

After all, has been said and done, ensure you have proper cleaning materials. Examples are Liquid lens cleaner, cotton swab, lens cleaning paper.


Wood Laser Cutter VS CNC Machines 

Comparison

Laser cutter

CNC

Accuracy

Offers more accuracy

Accurate

Finish

Offers a better finish to materials due to its use of heat rather than friction.

It doesn’t offer a better finish

Labor

Less

More


Wood Laser Cutter VS Scroll Saw 

Comparison

Laser cutter

Scroll Saw

Fast

Yes

No

Convenient

Yes

No

Cost

Expensive

Less expensive

Expertise required

High

Low

Safety

Low

High


What Wood Is Best For Laser Cutting?

best wood for laser engraving
  • Basswood
  • White Pine
  • Balsa
  • Cork
  •  Oak
  • Alder
  • Cherry
  • Baltic Birch Plywood

Difference Between Laser Cutting And Engraving

Laser cutting is the practice of using a powerful laser to cut items from materials, while laser engraving is the process of using lasers to engrave objects.



Frequently Asked Question -


1. Are Chinese Laser Cutters any good?

Just as the name implies, these are lasers made by Chinese companies and shipped across the world. They are good lasers but everyone has their personal preference. 


2. Can a Laser cut a human?

This depends on the power rating of the laser. For instance, a 4kW laser might not cut a human into half but can cause great damage to the skin and bone.


3. Do laser cutters emit radiation?

Yes, Laser cutters emit invisible radiation at a wavelength of 10600 nm in the infrared spectrum. Laser cutters pose a low risk as regards radiation because they are fully enclosed and interlocked.


Conclusion

Finally, you should be more than ready to make your first cuts. It can take a few tries to get the optimal settings for your chosen material. Ensure you follow all necessary steps and precautions to yield a good result. I can’t wait to see you implement your first project.