best wood for laser cutting

Best Wood For Laser Cutting: Top 4 Types (A Detailed Guide)

Half of the fun of buying a new piece of equipment is learning all about it first.

Now that laser cutters for wood are becoming more popular, one of the first questions that comes to mind is: What is the best wood for laser cutting?

The best woods for laser cutting are Basswood, White Pine, Alder, Cherry, Oak, Baltic Birch Plywood, Balsa, and Cork. Most laser cutters prefer softwoods that do not have a distorted, tight, hard-grain pattern.

How well each species cuts depends on the power of your laser cutter, along with thickness and speed.

Below, I will explain in-depth how to select the best possible type of wood for your laser engraving project. I will go over the types of wood that are decent choices for laser cutting.

**For those of you who already have a laser cutter, I was surprised at the precut selection on Amazon. If you want to get going on some projects right away, I recommend these Precut boards for laser cutting, available on Amazon. Make sure to check them out.**


Tips for Selecting the Best Wood to Laser Cut

Before starting your laser cutting project, make sure to read through the tips that are listed below so that you make the best possible selection of wood.

Take a Look at the Resin Content

The sap or resin content of the wood that is selected will have a notable impact on whether the wood burns are darker or lighter. If you are trying to get a darker burn, for example, then you should select a piece of wood with a high resin content.

Alder or cherry are both great options. However, if you are trying to find something that is a bit lighter, then you might want to try using oak.

Understand What Makes Wood Types Different

There several types of wood that are decent options for laser cutting. It is hard to distinguish what the differences are between wood types and how they will affect the result of your project.

Best Wood Types Of Laser Cutting

Wood Type:Description:Best For:Challenges:Ideal Laser Power:
SoftwoodInexpensive wood from evergreen trees like pine and cedarCost-effective projects not needing fine detail. Engraved marks contrast well.Resins can cause charring. Hard to cut intricate designs.40W CO2 laser
VeneersThin wood sheets, very uniformPrecise, detailed work. Maintains natural look of wood.Prone to burning or warping if settings not right30W+ CO2 laser, lower power and speed
HardwoodDense wood from trees like oak and mapleDurable products that can showcase wood grain. Handles etching well.Needs high power, slower speed. Expensive.60W+ laser, lower speed
PlywoodLayers of wood veneer glued togetherUniform thickness, doesn’t warp under heat. Clean cuts.Glues can cause issues. Knots affect cutting.50W+ laser. Slower speed for thicker sheets.

1. Softwood

What Is It?

Softwood refers to wood from coniferous or evergreen trees including pine, fir, and cedar.

It tends to be more affordable and readily available than hardwoods.

Why Best For Laser Cutting?

Softwoods provide a cost-effective option for laser cutting applications that don’t require fine detail or high precision.

At thinner sizes, the laser can effectively vaporize and cut passages completely through boards. Engraved marks also contrast well against lighter softwood backdrops.

Challenges And Considerations:

Resins and sap pockets common in softwoods vaporize rapidly when laser cut, preventing efficient downward cutting. This leads to excess charring on the wood surface.

The cut also follows the wood grain rather than a programmed path which challenges intricate designs. Precision engraving requires lower power and speed to prevent burning.


When laser cutting softwood, start with lower power settings and higher speeds compared to hardwoods.

A 40W Co2 Laser is best for cutting softwoods professionally. As far as the setting goes, keep in mind that you might have to cut with a couple of passes at higher speed. For instance, for cutting a 6 mm softwood, you’ll need to cut it using 5 mm through a couple of passes even at 100% power.

Speaking of softwoods, you might also like to know about what is the best finish for Pine wood, which is a popular type of softwood. After completing your woodworking projects, it’s that finish that really makes the impact. So knowing the right type of finish is crucial.

2. Veneers

What Is It?

Veneers are thin sheets of wood. They are often peeled or sliced from a large piece of wood, making them flexible and easy to work with. Their thickness commonly ranges from 0.8 mm to 4 mm.

Why Best For Laser Cutting?

Veneers are ideal for laser cutting because of their thinness and consistency. Their uniform thickness allows the laser to cut through easily, providing clean, precise edges. This makes veneers perfect for detailed work, intricate designs, or engraving.

Also, since veneers are made from real wood, they maintain the natural look and grain, adding an aesthetic appeal to any laser-cut project.

Challenges And Considerations:

The main challenges with laser cutting veneers involve adjusting power and speed settings correctly. Too much power can burn the wood. The thinness, while an advantage for cutting, also makes them delicate and prone to burning or warping if not handled correctly.


CO2 lasers of 30 W or more are good for cutting veneer. Most laser cutters require reducing power to 20-30% and cutting at a 25% speed when cutting wood veneers.

You can source Veneers from local woodworking shops, online specialty suppliers, or even large hardware stores. Look for suppliers that offer a range of wood types and thicknesses to find the best fit for your project. 

3. Hardwood

What Is It?

Hardwoods are from trees like Oak, Maple, and Cherry. These woods are denser and more fibrous compared to softwoods like Pine or Cedar. This density gives them a reputation for strength and longevity, important factors in woodworking and laser cutting. Common boards range from 1⁄4 inch to 1 inch thick.

Why Best For Laser Cutting?

Hardwoods provide a durable, aesthetic material for laser cut projects ranging from signs, puzzles, furniture pieces, decor items, and more.

The laser cuts intricate details cleanly through hardwood’s dense fibers.

The wood burns with variations in color when laser cut, creating attractive charred edges. Pre-finishing woods prior to laser cutting allows final products to showcase rich stained wood grains with accents of the laser cuts.

Designs etched into hardwoods are more resistant to wear and tear compared to those in softer woods.

Challenges And Considerations:

Working with hardwoods in laser cutting isn’t without its challenges. 

You will need a laser power of at least 60 watts with a slower cutting speed to penetrate these dense materials effectively. You’ll have to make quite a lot of passes to make the desired cuts.

More power means more burning. Be prepared for extra cleaning and sanding post-cutting.

Furthermore, Hardwoods are generally more expensive, with prices varying based on the rarity and quality of the wood.


To effectively use hardwoods, consider these tips:

  • Sand the wood surface lightly to ensure it’s even. This helps in achieving uniform cuts.
  • Many laser machines contain presets for hardwood species like cherry, maple, walnut, that provide starting points for settings.
  • Thicker pieces require lowering speed and frequency while ramping up laser power for deeper penetration. If you’re using a 55W laser to cut Oak board, then you’ll get best results at lower speed (2 mm/s) and high power (100% power) settings.

By the way, if you’re struggling to get wood cut to size, be sure to refer to guide to explore both free and paid methods to complete the task.

4. Plywood

What Is It?

Plywood consists of thin sheets of wood veneer glued together in alternating grain patterns for stability.

The core layers are typically softwood, while the outer veneers can be various hardwood species giving specific aesthetic looks. Normally, plywood sheets come in ½ inch thickness.

Why Best For Laser Cutting?

Plywood is a top choice for laser cutting due to its uniform thickness and stability.

Unlike solid wood, plywood doesn’t warp or split easily under the laser’s heat. Its layered structure allows for clean cuts and sharp edges, which is excellent for detailed designs.

Plywood is also relatively affordable and widely available, making it a practical option for various projects.

Challenges And Considerations:

When laser cutting plywood, be mindful of the glue used in its layers. Some adhesives can produce harmful fumes when cut or can cause inconsistent cuts.

The quality of plywood varies; lower-quality plywood may have voids or knots in the inner layers that can affect the cutting process.

Always check the plywood’s composition and quality before starting your project.

Speaking of plywoods, you might also like to go through this guide on how to waterproof plywood. In that guide, you’ll learn top methods and steps to waterproofing plywood so that you can protect plywood projects from rain.


For plywoods, Lasers of 50W and above are best to get good quality cuts. The higher the power, the lesser the number of passes you’ll have to take to produce uniform cuts.

Whereas using low power lasers, you will have to take multiple passes. For instance, with a 20W CO2 laser, you’ll need 3-4 passes to cut a 6 mm plywood at 8.3 mm/s speed.

The settings for laser cutting plywood depend on the thickness and the type of wood. Generally, thicker plywood requires slower speeds and higher power.

It’s essential to do a test cut to adjust the settings accordingly. Remember, the goal is to cut cleanly through the plywood without burning it.

As mentioned earlier you can check out a wide variety of wood for laser cutting pre-cut on Amazon.

Test the Wood Before Starting the Process

The thickness and type of wood that you choose to cut will have a significant influence on your wood cutting project. Your power, speed, and other laser cutter settings are factors as well.

Even the wattage of your laser and the environment that you do laser cutting in can have an impact on your settings. This is why you should conduct a materials test on a small piece of wood before you begin on a bigger piece.

Understand How the Wavelength of a Laser Affects Wood

The process of laser cutting wood can be completed with a 10.6 or 9.3-micron CO2 laser without any notable difference in processing quality. Wood does not quickly take in the energy emitted by a 1.06-micron fiber laser.

Laser cutting at this wavelength is not recommended. Laser cutting of wood with a CO2 laser results in a squared, slightly-darkened cut edge.

Final Words

If you choose to begin your wood cutting project with a decent piece of wood that is flat and has a very small amount of imperfections, then you will have a nice payoff in the end. Remember that the thickness that you need to create the result you are striving for.

When you have made all of your cuts and you are satisfied with the appearance of your wood, make sure to use a rag to lightly scrub off any resulting debris. You may also want to protect and preserve your piece of wood by applying a suitable finish.

The straight-forward way to make sure that your project is a success is by choosing the appropriate laser cutter with the most reputable laser cutter software.

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