Laser engraving and laser cutting wood

Tips and tricks for laser processing wood

Want to improve your wood processing results? Looking to increase efficiency? Here are some tips.


wood types laser engraving

Which types of wood can be laser processed?

Authentic wood is a natural material that is ideal for use with a laser machine, and laser users need to evaluate the materials various characteristics such resin content and density during processing.

Rule of thumb: Wood that offers consistent coloration and uniform grain patterns will often be easier to use, as well as allow for more even engraving.

Overview of suitable wood types

Soft woods These types of wood, such as balsa wood or poplar, require a lower laser power level and can be engraved and cut faster. Engraving produces less contrast (it is lighter).
Hard woods These types of wood, such as oak or cherry, are examples of dense woods, which require a higher laser power level for cutting and engraving. The engraving itself becomes more contrasting than on soft wood.
Coniferous woods These types of wood, such as larch or fir, are not suitable for laser engraving. They usually have a large number of uneven grains, which are usually very hard. On the other hand, the surrounding wood ("non-graining") is rather soft, which makes it difficult to find the right parameters.
Veneers These are made of real wood and therefore show the same engraving properties as solid wood panels.
Plywood This consists of at least three layers of wood whose grain is glued and pressed at an angle of 90°. Plywood is available in various types of wood and is offered in different thicknesses. The type of glue is important for laser processing, especially during cutting. Choose white-glued plywood panels or plywood panels made specifically for laser processing.
MDF (Medium density fiberboard) MDF is a homogeneous wood-based material made of finely defibrated, mainly bark-free, softwood, which is gently pressed in the longitudinal and transverse directions. The surface and edges are smooth and firm. So MDF can be easily engraved and cut. However, it should be noted that the cutting edges become very dark during laser processing.
Soft woods These types of wood, such as balsa wood or poplar, require a lower laser power level and can be engraved and cut faster. Engraving produces less contrast (it is lighter).
Hard woods These types of wood, such as oak or cherry, are examples of dense woods, which require a higher laser power level for cutting and engraving. The engraving itself becomes more contrasting than on soft wood.
Coniferous woods These types of wood, such as larch or fir, are not suitable for laser engraving. They usually have a large number of uneven grains, which are usually very hard. On the other hand, the surrounding wood ("non-graining") is rather soft, which makes it difficult to find the right parameters.
Veneers These are made of real wood and therefore show the same engraving properties as solid wood panels.
Plywood This consists of at least three layers of wood whose grain is glued and pressed at an angle of 90°. Plywood is available in various types of wood and is offered in different thicknesses. The type of glue is important for laser processing, especially during cutting. Choose white-glued plywood panels or plywood panels made specifically for laser processing.
MDF (Medium density fiberboard) MDF is a homogeneous wood-based material made of finely defibrated, mainly bark-free, softwood, which is gently pressed in the longitudinal and transverse directions. The surface and edges are smooth and firm. So MDF can be easily engraved and cut. However, it should be noted that the cutting edges become very dark during laser processing.

A rule of thumb for laser engraving:

Hard woods result in dark, soft woods in lighter, engravings.

A rule of thumb for laser cutting:

The drier and more resin-free the wood, the brighter the cutting edge.


Determining the proper cutting and engraving parameters

Woods are natural materials that will react differently depending on the type being processed.

grayscale matrix wood

Determining the engraving parameters

Using the grayscale matrix will allow you to efficiently determine the correct engraving parameters for individual application.

Tip: The more you defocus (z-offet: approx. 0.5 - 2 mm), the darker the engraving of the wood will be. Defocusing the laser beam will increase the spot size of the laser as well as decrease the performance density, resulting in more burning instead of letting it pass directly into the gaseous form. Detail can be lost from using this technique.

Determining the cutting parameters

Laser cutting parameters can be tested by drawing a rectangle with two differently rounded corners, and then sending the graphic to the laser machine. Depending on the wood being processed, you can achieve your desired cutting quality by reducing the speed gradually. For example, using 3mm thick wood should start with a cutting speed of 2-5% as well as high performance.

Laser parameters for download

software-ruby-blue.svg
Ruby®

The parameters are available in the materials list of Ruby®. Missing parameters can easily be imported from the cloud.

laser-software-jobcontrol_blue.svg
JobControl®

You can find them in the JobControl® material database or download them here.

software-ruby-blue.svg
Ruby®

The parameters are available in the materials list of Ruby®. Missing parameters can easily be imported from the cloud.

laser-software-jobcontrol_blue.svg
JobControl®

You can find them in the JobControl® material database or download them here.

Things to consider when laser cutting and laser engraving wood

relief laser engraving wood

Preparation of materials

Laser processing wood will result in some dust or debris being generated, which can get stuck in all of the intricate grooves and engravings that you have created. To reduce excess post-processing cleanup, we recommend gluing an application tape onto the working surface of the material, which will serve as a protective barrier that can be easily engraved along with it. Application tape is the perfect solution when cutting or engraving larger areas, and it can be easily removed after laser processing. However, we do not recommend using application tape for very fine engravings or for photo-engraving, since the tape will be cut into many small sections which will be harder to remove. When purchasing application tape, make sure to validate that the tape does not contain PVC and that it is removable.

Choosing the right optics

Laser cutting wood is a sublimation process that will require the use of proper optics and precise focusing, as well as a distinction must be drawn between engraving and/or cutting. When laser engraving wood, as the level of detail that a graphic offers goes up, the shorter the focal length of the lens should be. As a rule of thumb, 1.5" or 2.0" lenses are suitable for almost any laser engraving on wood. When laser cutting wood, you will need to increase lens focal length as material thickness increases. For example, we recommend using a 2” lens for 1/8” wood, and a 2.5” lens for 1/4" wood.

Further details of the right choice of lens

Compressed air

Using compressed air especially when cutting wood is highly recommended, and a small-diameter nozzle should be used to protect the lens. Additionally, the small nozzle diameter directs the compressed air straight into the cutting gap, resulting in any dust or gas produced being extracted more efficiently so that cutting quality is significantly improved.

Further details of Air assist

cleaning the work space

Cleaning

Cleaning the hardware and optics of your laser system is an important step in woodworking. Wood resin and oils are extremely sticky, and any dust produced from laser processing will often settle in the machine. So it is very important to clean your machine on a regular basis.

Further details of laser cleaning

Suitable exhaust system

Laser cutting and engraving wood produces lots of excess gas and dust, which will need to be properly extracted with the use of a suitable exhaust system.

Further details of exhaust systems


Special applications: Inlays and relief engraving

solid wood maple trotec consumbles

Relief engraving on wood

Wood is an ideal material for relief engraving. When processing a relief engraving, the grayscales adapt to different laser power levels resulting in three-dimensional engravings. Several passes can be processed with relatively high-performance, and then only one or two passes cleaning are required to remove any smoke residue produced.

Further tips on relief engraving

inlays laser engraving wood

Inlays in wood

Wood inlays such as intarsia are extremely popular with woodworking, and typically various woods are laid flat so that s smooth surface with variations of color and structure are created. Commonly, the base material is engraved first followed by the material to be laid (usually veneer), which is then cut and inserted. When laser processing the veneer, ensure that the laser beam width (cutting gap) is properly adjusted so that the carrier is slightly larger.


Material testing on Trotec laser machines

Do you need additional assistance with finding the optimum laser settings for your specific application? If so, simply send us your materials for a free testing!

Request a free material test

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