Traditional woodworking used sheer manual muscle power. But modern woodworking has come a long way. These days there are a variety of electric tools that make the craft of cutting wood easy. Woodworkers now cut wood in ways that were not possible with traditional instruments.
Laser cutting is a popular way of cutting material. If you have advanced woodworking skills, the chances that you already use or want to use a laser to cut wood is high. We have lined up information that you may find useful as you explore the world of lasers.
What is laser cutting?
Laser cutting is a popular fabrication method used by woodworkers. In this technique, narrow lasers focus on a flat surface to cut materials like wood. This process cuts the material into custom forms and designs. Laser cutting is a non-contact process used for various materials like wood, metal, gems, glass, etc.
This technique works for industrial use as well as for creative, artistic expression. Its precision, used in jewelry design and for doing intricate work on glass and wood. Electronics and semiconductors industries use laser cutting technology. These days, laser cutting plays a role even in the field of medicine. This technology is now being used in surgeries and replacing surgeons.
Laser cutting engraves fine details like filigree work with precision. Yet, it does not leave any waste as it vaporizes wood that it cuts, reducing the cleaning effort. Since a laser beam cuts the material, the tool has no wear and tear. As a result, the output is always high-quality.
Best wood for laser cutting
You can use many types of wood for laser cutting, depending on the kind of work you plan to do. Different types of wood have different reactions to lasers, and the output can vary too. Below are six types of wood that are popular for laser cutting:
Alder is our first choice of wood for laser cutting. It has a lighter shade that makes contrasts stand out. The natural grain pattern in the alder wood is lighter in color than other types of wood. This property makes it a perfect choice for engraving projects.
The soft composition of the wood allows for easy laser work. The only drawback alder has, is the possibility of the presence of knots. Alder has high resin content resulting in a darker burn. This contrast gives the woodworker higher creative liberty. Moreover, it gets darker as you apply the finish. This dark shade makes the engraved designs appear sharp. Alder is available as sheets that are 4” to 8” in width.
If you are a scaled model enthusiast, you may have worked on balsa models. Balsa is a lightweight softwood that is a popular choice for making model aircraft. It can be die-cut manually. Yet, laser cutting makes the model accurate and have tighter tolerance.
Though the wood is light in weight, it has decent mechanical strength. The very low density of this wood allows for intricate laser cuts. The laser strength needed can also be as low as 30 watts, and the laser can operate at higher speeds. Balsa is ideal for laser cutting due to its lightweight, strength, and flexibility.
Cherry wood is a popular choice for furniture making, especially for making cabinets. The wood of the cherry tree is considered a hardwood. It has decent durability, moderate strength, and takes screws and nails well. Cherry is a flexible wood and is easy to cut and carve. These properties make it an ideal choice for laser cutting.
Laser engraving is easy and stands out on cherry wood. Its straight grain ranges from a darker brown color to lighter blonde color. It has a smooth and shiny texture making it ideal for making furniture. Cherry sees limited harvesting when compared to other popular woods. But it is cheaper than similar woods like walnut.
Hard maple has a higher density than cherry wood needing higher powered lasers. But it still makes an excellent choice for laser cutting. It is ideal for engraving photos. It has high resin content resulting in dark burns. The wood itself is light in color bringing out a high contrast in engravings. The grain pattern and streaking are light in color and make it an ideal candidate for intricate work. The light grain pattern does not distract from the design and makes it easy for engraving.
Like particleboard, plywood is a type of engineered wood. It has an odd number of layers glued together. The adjacent layers of plywood have the grain of the wood perpendicular to each other. This arrangement makes plywood strong, water-resistant, flexible, and light.
Plywood makes an ideal choice for furniture and structural components of buildings because of their properties. Plywood is one of the best woods for laser cutting, especially for fine filigree work. It allows the laser to make fine accurate lines making engraving easy.
Birch laser plywood is best-suited for laser cutting work and is a popular choice with hobbyists. If you want to be adventurous, choose bamboo laser plywood.
Some Tips When Choosing the Right Wood
When choosing wood for laser cutting, there are a few things you need to know. Lightwoods need low-power lasers, and dense woods need high-power lasers. The resin content in the wood determines the color of the burn. High resin content results in a dark burn, and low resin content results in a light burn.
The grain pattern in wood is aesthetic. But, if you want to engrave a design using lasers, consider avoiding dark grain patterns. Dark patterns distract from the engraving, especially when the engraving design is intricate.
Laser cutting is one of the safest ways of cutting wood. Most of these machines come with computer-controlled programming making them precise and accurate.
Laser cutting makes intricate engraving easy. Most of the designs that laser can cut would be impossible without it. Because of this, a laser cutter is a good investment for a woodworker. It expands the scope of work the professional or the hobbyist can undertake.
Laser cutters are available in many price points, and the size of the tool and functionality changes depending on use. Choose the one that fits your needs and happy woodworking!