Plywood is a versatile and durable material that can be used for making various products and items, such as furniture, jewelry, decorative items, and more. If you have the skills and tools to cut and engrave plywood, you can create a wide range of products for your inventory.
But how do you cut and engrave plywood with precision and quality? What kind of plywood should you use? What kind of machine do you need? In this comprehensive guide on laser cutting plywood, we will answer all these questions and more. We will also help you choose the best plywood and the right machine for plywood laser cutting with perfection.
Can You Laser Cut Plywood?
Yes. Plywood can be easily cut using a laser cutter, which is the reason it is mostly preferred for cutting as well as engraving. Furniture makers, artists, decorators, business owners, and professionals use laser cutters to cut plywood because it offers precision and fine results in minimal time.
What is Plywood?
Plywood is an engineered wood that consists of thin layers of wood veneer. These layers are glued together in alternating grain directions. The thickness of each layer can vary from 1.5 mm to 2.5 mm, depending on the requirement. The layers are stacked until the desired thickness is reached.
Thus, plywood is not harder than solid wood. Most of the time, solid wood is harder or sometimes equally hard. It means if a laser cutter cut solid wood of a particular type, it can also cut its plywood.
How Plywood Laser Cutting Works?
Laser cutting is a technique that uses a high-energy laser beam to cut through materials with precision and speed.
The process of laser cutting plywood involves focusing the laser beam on the surface of the plywood and moving it along the desired path, which is controlled by computer. The laser beam heats up and vaporizes the wood material along the cut line, cutting the plywood into desired shape.
In addition, laser cutters can also engrave intricate designs and patterns on plywood with fine details.
What Laser Should You Use to Cut Plywood?
To laser cut plywood, you need a suitable type of laser. You can only use a diode laser or CO2 laser to cut and engrave wood and plywood. Fiber laser cutters are mainly designed for cutting metals, and they are not recommended for cutting plywood. Fiber lasers are too powerful and can cause the plywood to catch fire. Moreover, fiber lasers create poor marks on wood that are not readable or aesthetically pleasing.
How Thick of Plywood Can a Laser Cutter Cut?
The thickness of plywood that a laser cutter can cut depends on the type of laser and the power of the laser. Let's understand these variables.
As far as the type of laser is concerned, CO2 lasers are quite powerful. They can cut plywood easily. Therefore, CO2 lasers are preferred for this task. However, diode lasers are also excellent, and due to new technologies, they can do a better job than traditional diode lasers. The most important thing about diode lasers is that they have a longer life compared to CO2.
The power of the laser plays a very important role. The higher the power, the more easily it can cut wood or other materials.
By power, we mean the laser optical/output power. You might see various power ratings listed in the specification. The machine power represents the power consumed by the machine.
The laser module also has two powers; one is the laser optical/output power, and the other is the laser electrical power. You need to see the optical/output while selecting a laser engraving or cutting machine.
The DIY laser engraving and cutting machines available on the market can cut plywood up to 15mm in one pass. CO2 lasers of around 40W can cut 10-15mm basswood, and diode lasers can cut 3-10mm basswood in one pass, depending on the optical/output power. For example, the xTool D1 Pro (20w) can cut 10mm basswood in one pass.
If the laser machine cannot cut the plywood in one pass, it will take one or two more passes. But several passes mean the machine will take more time, which will reduce productivity.
5 Simple Plywood Projects to Make with a Laser Cutter
With a laser cutter, you can transform plywood into amazing creations that showcase your creativity and skills. In this section, we will show you five simple plywood projects that you can make with a laser cutter. These projects are easy to follow and suitable for beginners and experts alike. Whether you want to make something for yourself or as a gift, these projects will inspire you to explore the possibilities of plywood laser cutting.
Wooden Wall Clock
Source: by 1LasercutFile via Etsy
Nothing beats a handmade wall clock to add some charm and personality to your home. With a laser cutter, you can turn a piece of plywood into a beautiful clock face that reflects your style and taste. Whether you prefer a simple or intricate design, a round or square shape, a natural or colorful finish, you can make it happen with a laser cutter. All you need is a clock mechanism and some hardware to hang it on the wall.
Wood Wall Art
source: by Maker Design Lab via instructables
If you’re looking for a way to spice up your walls, why not try making your own wood wall art with a laser cutter? You can cut out any shape or design you like from plywood and create a stunning piece of art that will impress your guests. You can also add some depth and dimension by stacking different layers of plywood together. Just glue them together and attach some hooks or hangers on the back.
Wooden Door Hanger
source: by JLeighDesignco via Etsy
A door hanger is a fun and easy way to decorate your door for the holidays. With a laser cutter, you can cut out any shape you want from plywood and paint it with festive colors. You can also add some text or embellishments to make it more personal and inviting. For example, you can make a snowman, a gingerbread man, a reindeer, or a Christmas tree door hanger and add some ribbon, bells, or ornaments to make it sparkle.
A Christmas ornament is a special and meaningful gift that you can make for yourself or someone else. With a laser cutter, you can cut out any shape you want from plywood and engrave it with your name, initials, or a message. You can also choose from different designs, such as a star, a heart, a snowflake, or a circle. Then, just tie some twine or string around it and hang it on the tree.
Wooden Coasters Set
source: by Lasaris via Etsy
A coaster set is a practical and stylish plywood project that you can make for your home or as a gift. With a laser cutter, you can cut out any design you want from plywood and protect your table from stains and spills. You can also add some cork or rubber backing to make them more stable and durable. You can choose from different designs, such as images, text, logos, or patterns. You can also apply some varnish or sealant to make them more resistant to moisture and heat.
Best Plywood for Laser Cutting and Engraving
Different types of plywood are available, so it is difficult for a beginner to choose one. But it becomes easier if you know what factors you need to consider.
First, you need to check the type of plywood and the shade of the plywood.
The shade of the plywood depends on your requirements and preference. The type of plywood will give you a better idea of the resin content, grain, available shades, and finishing.
You also need to look at the wood grain. It might not look appealing on the product you are making or might add to its beauty.
You can get an idea of the resin content by searching. If the resin content is high, the engraving results will be darker. But if the resin content is low, the engraving will be light.
Once you consider these factors, you can easily choose the right plywood for your work. Here are some plywood types, along with their details. It will give you a better idea of what you need to look at.
Beginners can start their plywood laser cutting ourney with birch plywood. It is one of the most commonly bought plywood for laser cutting and engraving. The appearance, finish, and color of the plywood are excellent. It can be cut without any hassle and at a faster pace.
Bamboo plywood is known for its excellent cutting results. It is available in multiple shades that you can choose. It gives an appealing light brown color at the edges. It has a natural lining or wood grain that is quite visible. If you do not want dense grain, then this is not the right plywood for you.
Hoop Pine plywood has an incredible finish that can be used to make high-end and luxury items based on quality/grade. It has smooth grain, which looks suitable for engraving as well. It is strong, durable, and water-resistant.
Other types of plywood that are suitable for laser cutting and engraving are,
- Walnut plywood
- Cherry plywood
- Basswood plywood
- Maple plywood
- Ash plywood
- Bubinga plywood
- Red oak plywood
- White oak plywood
- Mahogany plywood
- Pine plywood
- Fraxinus mandshurica plywood
Best Laser Cutters for Plywood Cutting
xTool D1 Pro
xTool D1 Pro is a diode laser engraving and cutting machine. The best thing about this machine is that it can be used for engraving as well as cutting as you can change the laser module for the task.
The 40W laser module, which is the world's most powerful diode laser module, can cut 15mm of basswood in only one pass. It is the perfect laser machine that can cut plywood quickly and without any hassle. You can achieve higher productivity with this cutting machine.
The machine is capable of cutting thicker plywood compared to similar products on the market because of its unique laser technology. It uses multiple laser sources inside the laser module, and the beams from all sources are combined at one fine spot. It makes the laser more powerful.
You can also get a 5W laser module for D1 Pro. It is specifically designed for engraving. The laser spot is only 0.06 x 0.06 mm to ensure finer details. It can cut basswood plywood up to 3mm in one pass.
The working area is large enough and measures 430 x 390 mm. Plus, the result of cutting and engraving is incredible. If you attach the Air Assist, you don't need to worry about burn marks and the change of wood color.
The safety feature of the D1 Pro makes it a perfect machine for wood or plywood cutting/engraving. It has a flame detection feature that alerts the user if there is any flame during the process and stops the machine automatically.
xTool Laserbox Rotary
Laserbox Rotary is a CO2 laser machine with an incredible power rating of 40W. It can cut up to 15mm of basswood plywood in only one pass. Plus, its incredible speed reaches up to 350mm/s.
If you are looking for a DIY CO2 laser cutter for plywood cutting, this machine could be the best choice due to its features. The AI auto-focus of the machine can adjust the laser according to the material and its thickness, which is very beginner-friendly. It can also increase your productivity as it is capable of batch processing.
Laserbox Rotary is a powerful but safe machine to use. It has a safety lid for preventing laser beams, and the machine stops when the lid is open. Most importantly, it has a smart smoke purifier that takes away the dust and smoke created during plywood laser cutting. Plus, in the case of overheating, flame, and other issues, the user receives immediate alerts.
xTool M1 is a beginner-friendly, easy-to-use, and compact laser and blade cutting machine. It is available in 5W and 10W laser optical power.
The 10W laser machine is ideal for cutting. It can cut up to 8mm basswood in one pass. The incredible multiple laser source technology helps in cutting wood at a very high speed. On the other hand, the 5W machine is suitable for engraving. However, it can cut plywood up to 3mm.
The machine has a built-in camera that helps in image extraction, batch processing, and auto-focus. It offers visual processing and smooth operation.
If you also want to cut other delicate materials, such as vinyl, you can use the blade cutter of the machine to cut the material with perfection. Therefore, it is a versatile machine for different types of materials.
The machine is completely safe because of the multiple safety features. It also has a safety lid as well as an automatic turn-off feature.
More Tips for Plywood Laser Cutting and Engraving
The burning of edges when you laser cut plywood or wood is quite common. It does not look appealing at all. There are a few tactics to reduce the edge burn while cutting.
First, you can try some other settings on your laser machine. Try a lower power and higher speed.
For surface edge burns, you can try applying masking tape on the plywood before engraving and cutting. The burn marks will appear on the masking tape, and the wood will remain safe.
The main cause of these burns is the production of smoke. Therefore, an air assist and exhaust system in the laser machine can be very helpful.
You can remove the burned edges using sandpaper. You can also try soap and denatured alcohol to clean the burnt area.
The smell is because of the adhesive used in plywood. You cannot eliminate this smell, but if you use an air assist and exhaust system, then there won't be an issue of smell.
Some laser machines are enclosed, and they have an exhaust system, such as Laserbox Rotary. While in some machines, you can attach the exhaust system and use an enclosure.
The laser machine should be equipped with the safety feature or a fire safety set of detecting any flame or fire. Never leave it unattended when it is working. Plus, you should also arrange a fire extinguisher to deal with any problem.
The fire in plywood cutting is mostly caused by the debris and particles that result from cutting. There should be an air assist to blow the residue away.
Plywood can be cut using a CO2 or diode laser engraving and cutting machine. With the necessary precautions and tricks, you can get the best results. We have shared how you can choose plywood and the best machine for its cutting and engraving. You can pick any of those according to your requirements and the type of products you wish to make.