Laser cutting can be very exciting as we can make our designs become a reality. However, the thing about laser cutting is that you have to determine what type of material you want to use for your design. Wood is one of the most popular laser cutter materials. Having the best wood for laser cutting is one of the most important factors in a laser cutting project.
Best Wood for Laser Cutting
Most laser cutters work best with softer and lighter colored wood. Softer woods can be cut quickly with a low power setting, making them the preferred option. Harder woods such as Oak require more power to be engraved, but the benefit of using harder wood is that they have more contrast than light-colored wood. With that being said, here are some of our favorites:
- White Pine
- Baltic Birch Plywood
Know the Differences in Each Type of Wood
Every wood is different which is why having the best wood for laser cutting is so important. Some are darker, some are lighter, and certain woods can be softer than other kinds. Laser cutting is a very precise process and every little detail has an impact on the result.
If you were to use the same power settings on light-colored wood as you did with dark-colored wood, the result will look much different. The design on the dark-colored wood will look great while the light-colored wood’s design will be very poor and can look stretched out.
The resin content determines how the wood will burn. For example, wood that has a high resin content will have a darker burn and vice versa. If you are using light-colored wood, you don’t want the design to burn lightly as this will make the design more difficult to see.
Woods to Avoid
Now while it was stated earlier that higher resin will make the burn darker, you don’t want the resin content to be too high. More resin increases the chance of the wood catching fire which is obviously dangerous. The same thing can be said about oily woods. High heat and oil can be a recipe for disaster if you are not careful.
Then you have Plywood and Composite wood. What makes these a horrible option is that they both contain glue. Because of this, they may not cut as well compared to solid wood.
Engineered wood shouldn’t necessarily be avoided, however, this isn’t the best kind of wood to use due to the possibility of a higher amount of charring when cut.
Generally, laser cutting is a very safe and fun activity. But like most things in life, being careless can put you and those around you at risk.
Certain plastics and PVC materials produce toxic fumes when cut. A lot of laser cutters have air filters to filter out these toxic fumes, but not all of them do. And even if they do have an air filter installed, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the fumes will be filtered out. Here are some materials you should avoid.
- Dureflex- Produces hydrogen cyanide. It will kill you.
- Coated Carbon Fiber- The coating is what emits fumes. Uncoated Carbon Fiber is fine to use.
- Polyetherimide/EVA foam- These materials emit chlorine gas and toxic gases. These gases can corrode the laser cutter’s interior.
- Polystyrene foam- This is the number one cause of laser fires.
To make it easier to avoid toxic fumes, here’s a list of approved materials.
- Wood- Balsa wood, Basswood, and Untreated Plywood
- Paper and Cardboard
- Fabric- Natural fabrics, Rayon, 100% Natural leather, 95% Natural wool felt
- Plastic- Non-reflective mylar, Acrylic, PETG, PLA (thin)
Keep a Safe Distance While Operating
The laser that is being used can cut materials like stone and wood. If the laser can cut/burn those objects, it can/burn you as well. That’s why it’s important to keep a safe distance while operating the device to ensure your safety.
Luckily, some cutters can let you control the device from a distance by connecting to the Wi-Fi. If your model doesn’t have this there’s no need to worry. Just do your best to maintain a good distance from the machine.
Make sure to have protective eye gear as well. The laser beam can damage the eye and if it’s serious enough, you can go blind.
Open the Windows
Since we already went into a little detail about toxic fumes, there’s no need to talk about it for much longer. But there is one more important thing you should know. Since some laser cutters don’t come with air filters, or they or filter out a portion of the fumes, make sure to open all the windows in the room and to have the laser cutter placed next to a window. This prevents the fumes from getting trapped in the room.
Never Leave the Laser Unattended
This part should be obvious. Never leave the device unattended if it’s still running. This can damage the machine and increases the risk of people getting injured. Always keep one qualified person next to the cutter.
Fire Extinguisher and Exits
Before starting any kind of work, make sure there is a fire extinguisher nearby. In the event of an evacuation, know where all of the exits are at. Don’t rely on one exit as it may be blocked off. With that being said, always look for the closest exit.
Simple Wood Laser Cutting Projects
Now that you know the best wood for laser cutting and some safety precautions, let us look at some simple projects that you can do.
This may seem like a crazy idea but think about it. When you are trying to get a new client, you want to impress them. The first thing they look at is your business card. It’s a small but very important detail. A wooden business card is unheard of. This will easily get someone’s attention. The downside is that this makes it harder to create more business cards. Trust me, the extra effort is worth it.
Probably the easiest project you can do, a bookmark is great for avid readers. Instead of having to fold the corner of the pages to remember where you left off, you can now use a bookmark in order to keep the pages looking good.
You can go with any design. You can put your name, shapes, symbols, or even create a bookmark for each book by putting the title of the book on the bookmark. Any design can work so feel free to use your imagination.
Never put drinks on top of your wooden furniture. This will ruin your furniture. Instead, use a coaster. It can be a plain coaster or you can spice it up by putting your name on it. A lot of people like to put the word coffee on their coasters since that is the most common drink you put on top of coasters. Again, any of these will work.
You know those little signs people like to put on doors in their house? That’s what this means. You can put up a little bathroom sign or label each room in the house. Your guest will appreciate the signs as they will make it much easier for them to navigate throughout your home. For a more subtle approach, put someone’s initials on their bedroom door.
For a third option, you can go with the classic “Welcome” sign that you see on most front doors. This one may be a little harder to do depending on how you want the design to look.
To make it easier to understand this project, imagine a Jack-O’-Lantern. The design of your pumpkin will be the design of the light reflection. If you are in a disco mood, make a circular cover with holes and you got your very own disco ball.
Or just make a box with a smiley face. This design can go great in a child’s bedroom.
One of the most common things you will find in any household is pictures. If you have some cherished memories of yours that you want to hang up, consider making a picture frame. It’s very simple to use and you will get great use out of it. Some picture frames can cost a ridiculous amount of money (sometimes $20!) There’s no point in continuing to waste your money when you can make your own picture frames.
Plates and Cups
Going back to old age, making plates can be a good way to save on some cash. You also get to experience what it was like back in the day when wooden dishes were more common. You may have to sand it down, however. This will make the plates easier to clean.
Same thing for cups. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. As long as you can drink from it, you should be good to go.
There’s many different materials you can cut with a laser cutter, but some of the best are wood. Just remember to be safe and only use approved materials. Follow some of our other guides, tutorials, and product reviews for the best information in the maker space.