How To Laser Cut Wood

The laser cutter is a powerful tool, used to both cut and engrave a variety of materials. There is no limit to what it can do, but it is important to know how to use it properly as well as knowing its demands. Can you laser cut wood? 

How To Laser Cut Wood

The answer to that question is yes, for there is little the laser cutter can’t cut. But how do we laser cut wood? And how is the right way to do it? We will be going further into depth on the ways to laser cut wood as well as learning more about laser cutting in general.

What Is A Laser Cutter?

It is first important to establish what a laser cutter is in depth before using one. This is important because the health and safety of the user has to be taken into consideration. The worst thing that can happen is to use the cutter incorrectly and cause harm to yourself.

By definition, a laser cutter is a computer controlled machine that uses a laser beam to cut and engrave any given material. This material can include wood, plastics, and paper.

However, it is important to note that what a laser cutter can cut is all dependent on the power of the machine and the strength of the beam. 

If you are deciding to cut a strong object such as wood, it is recommended to research ideal laser cutters. You don’t want to be put in a situation where you are prepared to cut but the end result is not well done.

Is There Anything A Laser Cutter Can’t Cut?

Just like most things, tools have their limits. Although the laser cutter is a strong and powerful tool, there are some things that a laser cutter cannot cut. 

The reason for this is because of the material’s chemical makeup – that, when cut, has a high risk of producing dangerous dust or gasses.

Below are some examples of materials which have been deemed unsafe to cut:

  • PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) – this is a dangerous material to cut as it is known to emit pure chlorine when it has been cut. This will in turn cause the metal of the machine to corrode and ruin the motion control system.
  • ABS – this is another dangerous material to laser cut. It emits cyanide gas and is known to melt instead of vaporizing. This is risky as that allows a higher chance of it setting on fire which is a major breach of health and safety protocol.
  • Fiberglass – fiberglass is a mix of two materials (glass and epoxy resin) and because of this cutting fiberglass can emit dangerous fumes.

There are many other materials which cannot be cut such as artificial leather, PVB (Polyvinyl Butyral), and carbon fibers, however wood is a material which is known for its ability to be cut. 

Although this is the case, you should know that there are different types of wood. It is suggested that when laser cutting to avoid cutting oily and resinous woods. This is because there are chances of it setting on fire.

How To Use A Laser Cutter To Cut Wood

How To Use A Laser Cutter To Cut Wood

The first cause of action is to find a laser cutter, however it should be known that laser cutters can be expensive costing thousands of dollars so it is wise to look for one after much research has been done.

There are two options to pick from when cutting wood – CO2 and diode lasers.

Diode lasers are typically weaker than CO2 lasers and are available in a multiple of colors including blue, green and red. For wood, this laser cutter machine is best used for etching and marking. However, that is not to say the diode laser cannot cut wood. It is capable but is only limited to soft and thin woods.

CO2 laser cutters are the stronger of the two, coming in a variety of sizes and power. These machines can do what a diode laser does and more. It can cut, engrave and mark wood of all sizes, displaying no limitations.

The process of using the laser cutter is fairly simple to follow and only takes a few steps.

  • After finding the laser cutter and the material you wish to use, choose an image you wish to cut and upload this image into software compatible with your laser cutter.
  • The next step is to set the dimensions of the image to correspond with the size of the material – this is so that the image fits accordingly.
  • Place the material in the center of the laser cutting mat.
  • Adjust the height of the lens on the machine to focus the laser, press print and watch the laser work its magic.

Health And Safety

Despite the fun that comes with using a laser cutter, it can also be very dangerous. It is important to know how to use a laser cutter in the safest way possible.

  • Do not leave the laser cutter unattended whilst it is operating.
  • Never remove the material from the cutting station until it has cooled.
  • Clean away any materials in the cutter that are flammable after every use (dirt and debris can be a hazard also).
  • Keep a working fire extinguisher nearby (it is very possible for laser cut projects to set alight).

Final Thoughts

This article has spoken about what a laser cutter is, specifically in terms of wood. It is important to know what you can and what you cannot cut and this is all for your safety. Laser cutting is a fascinating thing however it takes a knowledgeable person to take on the challenge. 

But if you are someone wanting to laser cut wood, remember to stay away from oily and resinous woods, know how powerful your laser cutter is (not all cutters are powerful enough to cut through wood) and most importantly, stay safe.

Follow the health and safety measures put in place and watch as your image comes to life.

Mark Andrews
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