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How to Choose the Best Wood for Laser Cutting and Engraving Projects

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Wood is a popular and common laser material choice for laser cutting and engraving projects. Many laser machine designs are implemented on wood. No matter what types of laser cutters you are using, diode laser engravers like xTool, atomstack, sculpfun, or CO2 laser engravers such as thunder laser, omtech, wood remains essential as a laser cutting and engraving material because of its natural beauty, versatility, and ease of working with. However, different types of wood behave differently under the laser, which directly impacts the quality of your cuts and engravings. With so many options available, it can be overwhelming to determine which wood will give you the best results.

In this article, we'll introduce common types of wood used for laser engraving, as well as explore the factors that affect how wood behaves during laser engraving and cutting. This will help us make better choices based on specific project needs.


Common Types of Wood for Laser Engraving and Cutting

When discussing wood materials for laser engraving and cutting, we often hear terms like hardwood, softwood, plywood, and Medium-Density Fiberboard (MDF). So, before diving into the best woods for your laser engraving and cutting projects, let's first understand their meanings and differences.


Hardwoods come from deciduous trees that typically have broad leaves and produce nuts or fruits. Examples include Birch, Cherry, Maple, Walnut, Oak, Mahogany, and Rosewood. Hardwoods are known for their density and durability, making them suitable for intricate laser engraving. They can withstand high temperatures and retain fine details well.


Softwoods are derived from evergreen trees that have needles and cones, such as Pine and Basswood. They are generally lighter and less dense than hardwoods. Softwoods are easier to cut and engrave due to their softer nature, but they may require more attention to prevent burning or charring during laser processing.


Plywood is made from thin layers of wood veneer that are glued and pressed together. It's engineered with cross-layering techniques to reduce swelling and splitting, making it a stable wood product. Plywood features a uniform distribution of wood grain and has a surface veneer layer, making it ideal for laser cutting. However, not all plywood is the same when it comes to laser cutting. High-quality plywood rotates the wood grain every 45 degrees to enhance strength along the grain, whereas lower-quality plywood may have grains arranged at right angles only. The appearance of laser-cut plywood varies depending on the wood used. Good-quality plywood is easy to work with and reliable, making it suitable for beginners.

Medium-density fiberboard (MDF):

Fiberboard is made from wood fibers produced in pulp mills, covered with wood veneer and glued together. It comes in low, medium, and high densities. Although not made of wood, medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is a composite material composed of wood fibers and resin. MDF is affordable, but during laser cutting, the laser can easily burn the surface, causing deep scorch marks and generating a lot of smoke and residue.


Now that we have learned about the differences, it will guide us in choosing different types of wood for our various laser engraving and cutting projects. There is a wide variety of woods available, which can make choosing one for a laser project seem like a daunting task. However, some popular choices can serve as a good starting point.

Birch Plywood: Birch is a versatile hardwood known for its pale color and fine grain. It cuts cleanly and evenly, making it ideal for detailed laser engraving projects. Birch plywood, with its uniform composition, is a popular choice among laser cutting enthusiasts.

Cherry Plywood: Cherry wood has a rich reddish-brown hue that darkens with age and exposure to light. It engraves beautifully, revealing a smooth, polished surface. Cherry is valued for its elegance and is often used in decorative laser engraving applications.

Maple Plywood: Maple is a dense and durable hardwood known for its light color and subtle grain pattern. It laser cuts with precision and clarity, offering a crisp contrast when engraved. It’s a popular choice for both functional and decorative laser projects.

Walnut Plywood: Walnut is prized for its deep, dark brown color and swirling grain patterns. It engraves with a rich contrast and smooth finish, making it suitable for artistic and high-end applications. Walnut’s hardness allows for intricate detailing.

Oak Plywood: Oak is a strong and durable hardwood with prominent grain patterns. It engraves well, showcasing its natural texture and depth. Oak’s robustness makes it suitable for items requiring structural integrity, such as furniture and signage.

Mahogany Plywood: Mahogany, a hardwood known for its reddish-brown color and straight, fine grain, laser engraves smoothly to achieve a deep coloration. This makes it highly favored for crafting premium laser-cut products and decorative items.

Rosewood Plywood: Rosewood encompasses several richly hued hardwoods known for their distinctive colors and textures. It engraves beautifully, revealing intricate details and deep, vibrant colors. Rosewood is often used for luxury items and musical instruments.

Basswood Plywood: Basswood is a softwood with a fine, even texture and pale color. It cuts easily and is suitable for detailed engraving, though it may require more delicate handling to avoid overburning due to its softer nature.

Cedar Plywood: Known for its natural fragrance and even grain, cedar is a lightweight softwood suitable for various decorative engraving and cutting projects, especially those where preserving the wood's natural scent is important.

Poplar Plywood: Poplar, a lightweight hardwood with a uniform texture and colors from light yellow to pale green, is ideal for detailed carving and cutting projects. Similar to pine, it requires cautious handling to prevent burning. Poplar is often chosen for decorative projects and applications requiring a smooth surface.

Pine Plywood: Pine has a distinct grain with colors ranging from light yellow to light brown. It's a softwood that's easy to cut and carve. However, due to its softness, it requires careful handling to prevent burning. Pine is commonly used for projects that need frequent replacement or are budget-friendly.

Alder Plywood: Alder ranges in color from light pink to light brown. It's a hardwood that cuts cleanly and is well-suited for decorative carving and cutting projects. Alder is favored for making furniture and decorative items because of its appealing texture and appearance.


Key Factors to Consider and How They Impact the Outcome

Wood, as a natural material, possesses many unique properties. This variability is a crucial factor influencing different outcomes in laser engraving and cutting. Therefore, when considering the best wood for your laser engraving and cutting projects, these influencing factors should not be overlooked.

Resin content

Resin content refers to the density of sap in wood. A laser beam can burn resin, creating dark marks. Woods with higher resin content burn darker, producing high contrast for striking images. In contrast, woods with lower resin content burn lighter, resulting in less obvious cuts suitable for subtle designs. It's important to note that sap distribution within trees varies by season, impacting cutting outcomes even within the same wood type. Therefore, testing wood before starting laser projects with high detail requirements is recommended to ensure desired cutting effects.


Moisture plays a critical role in laser engraving and cutting wood. Dry wood is prone to undesirable burning and charring, resulting in unprofessional-looking designs. To prevent these issues, soaking the wood in water before engraving is highly effective. This added moisture helps keep the wood cool during laser operations, minimizing the risk of burning and enhancing the quality of cuts and engravings.


When laser engraving wood, the clarity of the engraving can be impacted by the natural features like grain patterns and mineral streaks. A strong grain pattern might overshadow the engraving, making it less clear. Hence, it's recommended to use wood with a uniform grain pattern for laser engraving projects. Additionally, you can also enhance the character of the wood by utilizing its grain patterns.

Knots and Rings

Knots and growth rings are natural features of wood that significantly influence the aesthetic of any wood engraving project. Whether these features enhance the project's appeal depends entirely on its specific requirements. However, because knots and rings alter the wood's texture, they can complicate the engraving process slightly. Unless your design intentionally incorporates these elements, opting for wood without knots and rings is generally the preferred choice for achieving smoother engraving results.


Wood comes in various colors, and surprisingly, these shades affect how laser engraving turns out. Lighter shades generally create more distinct contrast after engraving, making them ideal for designs that emphasize clear details. On the other hand, darker tones, though visually attractive, may yield less pronounced images, which can be advantageous for projects prioritizing the natural prominence of wood rather than intricate engraving details.


How to Choose the Best Wood for Laser Engraving and Cutting Your Projects

Before choosing the type of wood, make sure your project requirements are very clear and specific. The best wood should based on your specific project needs. Different types of wood have varying densities, textures, and colors, which can affect the effectiveness of laser engraving and cutting.

Engraving Detail:

For intricate designs or delicate patterns, choose wood with tight, uniform grain. This allows for precise engraving, minimizing the risk of cracking or inconsistencies.

Cutting Precision:

If your project involves cutting shapes or complex patterns, opt for wood that cuts cleanly and minimizes charring, such as maple or birch hardwoods.

Color Contrast:

Lighter woods like birch or maple often produce more pronounced contrast after engraving, making them ideal for intricate designs. Darker woods can also be engraved but may exhibit lower contrast in the design.

Material Thickness:

The thickness of the wood directly impacts your engraving machine settings. Avoid multiple passes on thicker wood to maintain clarity and prevent messy cuts. Thinner materials are more fragile and may burn if mishandled, ideally ranging from 3-6 millimeters thick for precise etching.

Budget and Availability:

Lastly, consider the budget and availability of wood. Some types of wood may be more expensive or harder to obtain, so selecting wood that meets both project requirements and budget constraints is crucial.


Here's a tip to improve your efficiency: you can utilize LightBurn to save your optimal settings. LightBurn's material library offers a way to store, arrange, and apply preset cutting configurations for various tasks and materials. Simply document the material type, thickness, and a brief description, and add these presets to your library for convenient management as required. Additionally, you can find some pre-installed parameter tables in the LightBurn material library download.


Final Words

We sincerely hope this article helps you choose the best wood for your laser engraving or cutting projects, and we look forward to seeing your creative works. Additionally, if you're seeking high-quality plywood that offers excellent value for money, we recommend visiting the Creatorally store. We offer a variety of premium plywood specifically designed for laser engraving and cutting projects. Whether you're a hobbyist or a professional craftsman, you'll find materials that meet your needs. Moreover, regardless of which Creatorally laser cutting material you purchase, you will receive a free laser cutting and engraving files package. This package includes 35 files with themes like 3D puzzles and multilayer decorations for you to try out. What are you waiting for? Come and start your creative journey with Creatorally today!


I prefer using birch plywood or MDF due to their uniform texture and smooth finish.

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