Best Wood For Engraving (Top Picks for Dremel & Laser)


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Engraving is where we cut design on a flat surface to create a three-dimensional effect. We can use a Dremel to perform engraving tasks. The name “Dremel” denotes the company that first produced high-speed engraving tools.

A Dremel is often used in combination with a “burin”. We may also use a suitable router. Different types of burins perform various wood engraving tasks, like creating cavities, lines, and dots. Today many engraving tasks are taken care of by computer numeric control (CNC) machines.

While the original form of this art was to engrave by hand, today, we get a variety of laser engraving machines. The advantages of these machines are that they not only create designs of astonishing intricacy, but the work gets done several times faster than with hand engraving.

Engraved wood
Engraved wood (Image: PhilGONDAS)

Laser engraving is also often erroneously referred to as etching. However, there is a distinct difference between engraving and etching, so in this post, we will refer only to the process that we call laser engraving.

The purpose of wood engraving is to create a three-dimensional design that can be transferred onto a cloth, wood, or some other surface. Although this form of printing is typically black and white, some engravers use colors as well.

Best Types Of Wood For Engraving

Your choice would depend a lot on the type of engraving you intend to do. Some woods are suitable for hand engraving, whereas other woods are good for laser engraving:

Woods For Hand Engraving

Alder

Alder wood
Alder wood (Image: Liga Eglite)

Alder is a supple wood that is not prone to streaking. The wood tends to develop knots, so you need to take care of those sections while selecting a piece for engraving.

Cherry Wood

Cherry wood with binary computer engraving
Cherry wood with binary computer engraving (Image: Jared Tarbell)

Cherry wood, which enjoys wide popularity for building furniture and cabinets, is also suitable for engraving. The light brown color, which darkens as it ages, creates a pleasantly burnished look if engraved. The grain of cherry wood is consistent, so you don’t need to be concerned about the wood cracking.

Maple

Maple Wood
Maple Wood (Image: HRYMX)

Like cherry and alder, maple too has a smooth, tight grain and is hard enough to serve as good engraving wood. It is a very strong wood and stains quite well. Hence, it is suitable for artistic engraving.

Pinewood

Pinewood
Pinewood (Image: decar66)

Pinewood serves as an easy wood for engraving because it is so soft. But you need to watch out for two things with pine. Firstly, pine tends to be a rather knotty wood, and the knots can hamper the quality of your engravings. Also, pine is a resinous wood, so you would have to ensure that too much resin doesn’t accumulate.

Walnut

Sivrihisar Grand Mosque Minber walnut wood engraving
Sivrihisar Grand Mosque Minber walnut wood engraving (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Walnut wood is a favorite for all types of woodworking projects. Being so hard and having such a deep, rich chocolate-brown color gives you satisfying results for engraving.

Woods For Laser Engraving

Basswood

 Lithophane carving in basswood
Lithophane carving in basswood (Image: Udo Schmidt)

Basswood serves well for laser engraving. It is one of the softest hardwoods that you can find. Also, it cuts well, and you can easily stain and finish it. Being a light wood, it takes the laser cuts quite well.

Balsa

Balsa wood engraved
Balsa wood-engraved (Image: FabLab Den Haag)

Balsa is also a good choice for laser engraving. It cuts well, and you will not find it challenging to work with. This wood takes a stain, paint and other finishes quite well. However, due to its extreme softness, you need to take care while handling balsa to prevent it from getting nicked and dented.

Veneer

Wood Veneer
Wood Veneer (Image: Jeff Keyzer)

It is possible to make some intricate patterns on wood veneer due to the fine cuts of laser engraving. As veneer comes from a variety of different woods, there are numerous possibilities for performing laser engraving on this material.

Plywood

Plywood Substrate
Plywood (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

You may face some difficulty hand engraving plywood. However, when it comes to laser engraving, plywood responds very well. Birch plywood is the preferred choice for laser engraving.

Engineered Wood

MDF
MDF (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Engineered wood does not have a grain. Hence particleboard and medium-density fiberboard (MDF) are suitable materials for laser engraving. MDF is even denser than plywood, and you can get some satisfactory results by doing laser engraving on MDF.

Cork

Cork wood engraving
Corkwood engraving (Image: Mel)

We usually do not consider cork as a type of wood. However, it is derived from the core of a tree trunk. Cork produces such satisfactory results that a particular grade of cork is manufactured called “laser cork.” We can make laser-engraved items like coasters, wall decorations, and pinboards from this material.

Factors To Consider When Choosing Wood For Laser Engraving

Laser-engraved Calgary map
Laser-engraved Calgary map (Image: Solarbotics)

It is essential to know the different types of wood that are suitable for laser engraving. But it is equally important to consider a few other things as well. Here are some factors that you need to consider for wood engraving:

Resin content

Resin comes from the sap of trees and serves as a deterrent for disease and insects. It is crucial to consider the amount of resin in the wood. A higher resin content will result in a darker burn if you choose high-resin wood. Low-resin wood includes apple, ash, walnut, Black locust, and oak. If you need a darker burn, you could go in for wood with a higher resin content like cherry and alder.

Checking The Resin Content

The simplest method for checking the resin content of wood is to give it a quick burn on the back of the workpiece. You could even put your logo there, which can promote your brand. The darker your burn is, the higher the resin content of the wood. Once you are a more experienced engraver, you can make out resin content by merely looking at a piece of wood.

Shade Of Wood

Once you have selected your wood, there is not much you can do about its color. Hence, you need to choose the color carefully from the beginning. The general rule of thumb is that lighter wood makes for better engraving. Darker wood tends to camouflage the laser marks. However, ultimately, you have to decide which shades are the most suitable for your purposes. Color can vary widely of even within the same wood species.

Streaking

Before we close, we would like to discuss streaking. The fibers of wood that form what we call the grain may be straight, irregular, wavy, or twisted. Always go for straight-grained wood, which avoids what is called “streaking.” Streaking occurs when the fibers burn to form additional lines or streaks. It reduces the attractiveness of the engraving. Hence, when you select wood for laser engraving, you should procure wood with a closed and straight grain.

Conclusion

Now you should have a better idea about the best wood for engraving that you can get. We also discussed the various considerations that you need to make while selecting wood for engraving. With all this information, we are sure that you should be able to do well in any wood engraving project whether you are an amateur or a professional.

 

Featured Image by Kaarina Dillabough

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