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Get the Perfect Cut Every Time with your Plywood Laser Cutter

Plywood is by far my favorite thing to cut with a laser cutter. Birch in particular is what I’ve been using for years to make my Activated Art sacred geometry mandalas.

Just like it has done for me, plywood laser cutting has opened up a world of creative potential for woodworking enthusiasts, hobbyists, and professionals alike.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the ins and outs of plywood laser cutting, from selecting the right plywood laser cutter to mastering cutting techniques and overcoming challenges.

I also include several laser cutters, both CO2 and Diode, that I believe are good for cutting plywood. For a full list of the best laser cutters and engravers for every budget and project size, see our guide here.

Key Takeaways

  • The best types of lasers for cutting plywood are CO2 and Diode. CO2 lasers are better for larger projects and thicker wood, while Diode lasers are good for small, thin pieces (and cheaper too).

  • Be sure to make several test runs and adjust power settings and cutting speeds according to material thickness and the type of laser you have

  • Utilize air assist systems, exhausts systems, multi-pass techniques & masking tape to reduce edge burns & scorching while managing smoke production.

Choosing the Right Laser Cutter for Plywood

The quality of your work heavily depends on the type of laser cutter you use for your plywood projects. The success of your laser cutting endeavors hinges on factors like laser type, power, cutting speed, and material compatibility.

The right laser machine and settings can result in clean, precise cuts on various materials, including laser cut mdf and plywood types.

CO2 Lasers

Aeon Mira 9 Laser Cutter

CO2 lasers are the powerhouse of plywood laser cutting, boasting impressive power and accuracy. These high-powered lasers are capable of cutting through thicker plywood sheets with ease, generating smooth, precise cuts.

The recommended CO2 optical laser power for cutting plywood is 60W – 100W, and the maximum thickness of plywood that can be cut with high-powered CO2 lasers is around 0.6”.

Cutting thicker sheets of plywood, like 9mm birch, might lead to a slightly discolored cut line and challenges around wood knots when cutting wood. Starting with lower power settings and gradually increasing them until you achieve the desired cutting depth can help resolve these issues.

Always remember that every laser cutter and material batch may have slight variations, so adjustments to the speed, power, and focal length may be necessary for optimal results.

Diode Lasers

xTool D1 Pro 20W Laser Engraver

If you’re working with thin plywood sheets and seeking a budget-friendly option, diode lasers are a cost-effective alternative. While diode lasers are suitable for cutting thin plywood, they are not the best choice for cutting thicker materials due to their lower power output.

A diode laser is the perfect choice for DIY and small business projects. Its power output should be at least 10W for best results. However, keep in mind that other factors, such as material type, laser speed, and laser beam size, should also be considered when employing diode lasers.

Also, Diode laser cutters are generally much smaller than higher powered CO2 laser cutters, so keep in mine the size of projects you plan to work on before purchasing a laser engraver. For a list of Diode lasers that could be useful if you’re just starting out, see our post on the best laser engravers under $500.

Plywood Laser Cutting Techniques

The quality of your cuts can improve and potential issues can reduce significantly by implementing appropriate laser cutting techniques. Here are some tips to achieve the perfect cut every time:

  1. Adjust power settings according to plywood thickness and laser type.

  2. Optimize cutting speeds to ensure clean and precise cuts.

  3. Use air assist and exhaust systems to remove smoke and debris during cutting.

  4. Run experiments on test pieces with different settings to dial in your specific laser cutter.

By following these techniques, you can enhance the quality of your laser cuts and minimize any potential issues. For a deep dive on optimal speed and power settings for any type of laser cutter, see our post here.

Power Settings

Laser cutter settings

Minimizing edge burns and optimizing cut quality necessitates adjusting power settings according to plywood thickness and laser type. As an example, when cutting 0.35” (9mm) of 5-ply plywood with a 100W CO2 laser like the Aeon Mira 9 Pro, it is recommended to adjust laser power to 85%. Additionally, the cutting speed should be set to 1 ips (24mm/sec).

However, be prepared to make adjustments based on the specific laser machine and desired cutting results, as every laser cutter and material batch may have slight variations in the laser cutter cut.

Cutting Speeds

The combination of material thickness and laser power will dictate optimal cutting speeds. A high cutting speed is preferred to reduce the dwell time of the laser, preventing edge burns and scorching. However, for thicker pieces of wood, you may need a lower speed to ensure a complete cut.

For example, when cutting 2mm thick plywood, a low-powered diode laser cutter such as the xTool D1 Pro 20W can be used. It is recommended to have a cutting speed of 300 mm/min and 3 passes for best results..

Remember that using a multi-pass technique, where the laser passes over the material multiple times at a high cutting speed, can enhance results on thicker plywood.

Air Assist and Exhaust Systems

Managing heat, smoke, and debris during the cutting process relies heavily on the use of air assist and exhaust systems. Air assist, which blows molten material out of the kerf and regulates the temperature of the cutting area, increases cutting speed and protects the focusing lens.

An exhaust system eliminates smoke from the cutting area, improving the quality of the cut. By employing these systems, you can achieve cleaner, more precise cuts while minimizing potential issues.

Overcoming Plywood Laser Cutting Challenges

Plywood cutting with a laser cutter may pose specific challenges like edge burns, scorching, and smoke production. By addressing these issues, you can achieve better results and encounter fewer problems during the cutting process.

Overcoming these challenges and ensuring the success of your plywood laser cutting projects requires optimizing parameters and implementing effective process control.

Preventing Edge Burns

laser edge burns

Adjusting the power settings and cutting speed is the initial step to prevent edge burns. For instance, decreasing the laser power or upping the cutting speed can minimize edge burns on the plywood.

Additionally, executing the cut in multiple passes can help reduce the risk of edge burns, as it allows the heat to dissipate between passes. Remember that every laser cutter and material batch may have slight variations, so adjustments to the speed, power, and focal length may be necessary.

Reducing Scorching

Scorching occurs when burn marks appear on the surface of the plywood due to excessive heat generated during the cutting process. To reduce scorching, use masking tape on the surface of the plywood to protect it from the heat.

Additionally, optimizing cutting settings, such as power and speed, can further minimize scorching and ensure a cleaner, more precise cut.

Managing Smoke Production

Achieving a clean and precise cut during the plywood laser cutting process necessitates proper management of smoke production. Utilizing suitable exhaust systems and work table designs, such as pin tables or honeycomb work tables, can effectively eliminate smoke from the cutting area.

These systems help maintain a clear cutting area, reducing the risk of smoke-related issues and ensuring a cleaner cut.

Popular Plywood Types for Laser Cutting

There are many types of plywood that work for laser cutting. We’ve outlined a few below, but for a comprehensive understanding, see our full post on the best wood for laser engravers and cutters. Numerous plywood types, each with its unique characteristics and applications, are favored for laser cutting. The most prevalent plywood varieties for laser cutting are:

  • Birch

  • Basswood

  • Alder

  • Basla

  • Bamboo

Comprehending each type of plywood’s properties can guide you in selecting the ideal material for your laser cutting projects to produce the desired results.

Birch Plywood

Birch Plywood laser cut art

Birch plywood is a top choice for laser cutting and engraving due to its uniform grain, affordability, and versatility. In fact, my Activated Art mandalas are made out of birth.

This engineered wood, featuring a smooth and thick wood veneer, is specially crafted for laser cutters, enabling effective cuts across the material.

Additionally, birch plywood is available in various thicknesses, making it suitable for a wide range of laser engraving projects.

Its ease of use and consistent results make birch plywood popular for beginners and experienced laser cutter users.

Basswood

Basswood air plane

Basswood is another excellent choice for laser cutting and engraving, thanks to its lightweight nature, ease of work, smooth cuts, and highlighted engravings.

This wood is ideal for intricate designs and detailed engravings, offering minimal streaking and a crisp finish. Its light color also provides a good contrast for engraved designs, making them stand out beautifully.

Basswood is a fantastic option for those looking to easily create stunning laser-cut and engraved projects.

Alder

Alder laser cut wood

Alder wood is a beginner-friendly softwood that is perfect for laser cutting and engraving. Its reddish-brown color and moderate smoke production make it an attractive and manageable option for those new to laser cutting.

Alder wood’s consistent grain and low resin content ensure smooth cuts and well-defined engravings, making it a top choice for various laser engraving projects.

If you’re just starting with laser cutting and engraving, alder is a great wood to consider.

Balsa

Balsa laser cut plane

Balsa is a lightweight, low-density wood that is ideal for a variety of applications, including model-making and sound insulation.

Its low density and ease of manipulation make it a great choice for laser cutting and engraving, as it can be cut efficiently with lower power settings.

Balsa wood also produces minimal smoke and residue, making it a cleaner option for laser-cutting projects. Its versatility and ease of use make balsa an excellent choice for both beginners and experienced laser cutter users.

Bamboo

bamboo laser cut

Bamboo plywood offers a unique appearance and dense wood grain, making it an attractive option for laser cutting and engraving projects. Its eco-friendly nature and resistance to pests make it a popular choice for various applications, including:

  • Furniture

  • Flooring

  • Wall panels

  • Cabinets

  • Countertops

  • Decorative items

When cutting bamboo plywood, be sure to use low power settings, slow cutting speeds, and air assist and exhaust systems to prevent edge burns, scorching, and excessive smoke production.

Top Laser Cutter Models for Plywood Projects

While there are many great laser cutters that can be used to cut plywood, there are a few that are particularly well suited for the job. Below are three of my picks, but be sure to check out our complete list of the best laser engravers for any budget and project size.

OMTech 100W CO2 Laser Engraver

OMTech 100W CO2 Laser Engraver

Overview

The OMTech 100W is by far the largest and highest-powered laser cutter we’ve included in this list, and it’s the best one we’ve researched for small businesses.

It’s great for projects that require speed, large surfaces, or both. Being larger than the other laser cutters (it’s not a desktop machine), you’ll need a bit of space in your shop to fit this bad boy, but it’s well worth it in my book if, like me, you love creating larger art pieces.

As a small business, you’ll love this machine.

Key Features: 

  • Materials: wood, glass, leather, coated metals (anodized aluminum), and acrylic

  • Thickness it can cut in a single pass: Wood: 18mm, Acrylic: 20mm

  • Work area: 20″ x 28″

  • Laser type: CO2

  • Laser power: 100W

Price: $3,800 | View Product Page »


Glowforge Plus

Glowforge Plus Laser Engraver

The Glowforge Plus is a user-friendly and versatile laser cutter, boasting a powerful 40W laser, quick setup, and hand-drawing function. This machine is perfect for small businesses looking for an all-in-one solution capable of engraving and cutting various materials. However, the Glowforge Plus comes with a higher price tag compared to other models on our list.

Glowforge Plus has many advantages, one of them being its large cutting area which measures 279 x 495 mm (11’’ x 19.5’’). In addition, it also has a cutting depth of 50 mm (2’’). This provides ample space for working on small to medium-sized projects.

The Glowforge Plus also has the option to upgrade to the Glowforge Pro, which features a 45W CO2 laser, a passthrough slot, and advanced high-spec features.

The Glowforge Basic is also available as an entry-level model at a lower price, but with some limitations and without the air-filter accessory.

Key Features: 

  • Materials: wood, glass, leather, coated metals (anodized aluminum), and acrylic

  • Thickness it can cut in a single pass: Wood: 18mm, Acrylic: 20mm

  • Work area: 20″ x 28″

  • Laser type: CO2

  • Laser power: 100W

Price: $4,995 | View Product Page »


xTool D1 Pro 20W

xTool D1 Pro 20W Laser Engraver

The xTool D1 Pro is a reliable and affordable diode laser cutter and engraver, offering excellent build quality and professional features. It’s suitable for cutting various materials, such as wood, leather, and plastic, but it’s not as powerful as CO2 lasers for thicker materials. Among diode laser cutters, the xTool D1 Pro stands out for its performance and affordability.

This laser cutter is versatile and perfect for businesses offering a wide range of cutting and engraving possibilities with its easy-to-use design. It features an open design, allowing for easy access to the work area and quick adjustments when needed. Compared to other laser cutters, this machine stands out for its versatility and user-friendly operation.

With an affordable price tag, the xTool D1 Pro is an excellent choice for small business owners who want a reliable and efficient laser cutter without breaking the bank.

Key Features: 

  • Materials: cuts and engraves wood, leather, paper, cardboard, opaque acrylic ( black, brown, red, yellow, green), stone, paint glass, paint ceramics, stainless steel, titanium, iron, and aluminum oxide

  • Thickness it can cut in a single pass: Wood: 10mm, Acrylic: 6mm

  • Work area: 16.9″ x 15.3″

  • Laser type: Diode

  • Laser power: 20W

See our comprehensive review of the xTool D1 Pro here.

Price: $1,100 | View Product Page »

Creative Plywood Laser Cutting Project Ideas

A plethora of laser cutting plywood project ideas, spanning from home décor pieces to personalized gifts, offers a platform to unleash your creativity. By using different laser plywood types and laser cutting techniques, you can create unique and eye-catching projects that showcase your skills and imagination.

Some popular project ideas include custom wall clocks, layered wall art, personalized door hangers, festive Christmas ornaments, and one-of-a-kind coaster sets. In addition to the list below, see our post on 33 laser cut masterpieces here, and 68 epic 3D illusion laser engraving designs that you can sell here.

Wall Clocks

Creating custom wall clocks with intricate designs and personalized engravings is a breeze with laser-cut plywood. By experimenting with different plywood types, shapes, and patterns, you can craft a unique timepiece that reflects your personality and style.

Not only do these wall clocks make for an impressive display in your own home, but they also make for thoughtful, personalized gifts for friends and family.

Wall Art

Sri Yantra laser engraved and laser cut wall art mandala

Design unique wall art by layering laser-cut plywood shapes and patterns. This technique allows you to create stunning, multi-dimensional pieces that can be tailored to your specific tastes and preferences.

By experimenting with different shapes, patterns, and colors, you can craft a truly one-of-a-kind masterpiece that will be the focal point of any room.

Door Hangers

laser cut door hangers

Craft personalized door hangers for holidays or special occasions using laser-cut plywood. With the ability to cut intricate shapes and designs, you can create door hangers that showcase your unique style and personality.

These door hangers make for a fun and festive addition to your home décor and can also be used as thoughtful, customized gifts for friends and family.

Christmas Ornaments

laser cut christmans ornaments

Make your holiday season even more special with festive Christmas ornaments crafted from laser-cut plywood. Featuring intricate designs and engravings, these ornaments add a personal touch to your holiday decorations.

Create ornaments for your own tree or as thoughtful, personalized gifts for loved ones. With endless design possibilities, you can craft ornaments that celebrate cherished memories and traditions.

Coaster Sets

Design and create custom coaster sets with laser-cut plywood, adding unique designs and finishes for a personal touch. Experiment with different patterns, images, and text to create coasters that reflect your individual style.

These coaster sets not only protect your furniture from spills and stains but also make for a fantastic conversation starter when entertaining guests.

Summary

Plywood laser cutting offers endless possibilities for creating unique and intricate designs for both personal and professional projects. By choosing the right laser cutter, mastering cutting techniques, and overcoming common challenges, you can transform ordinary plywood sheets into stunning masterpieces. Whether you’re crafting wall art, personalized gifts, or intricate model pieces, the world of plywood laser cutting awaits your exploration and creativity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you cut plywood with laser cutter?

Yes, you can cut plywood with a laser cutter – either a diode or CO2 machine. The controlled air assist of compressed air and the right lens and laser power will produce an optimal cutting result.

What is the best laser to cut plywood?

For the best result when laser cutting plywood, a CO2 laser machine is the optimal choice. With the use of compressed air and the right lens and power, you can easily achieve excellent results. CO2 lasers are the most efficient and cost-effective way to cut plywood. They are also the most precise and can produce intricate designs with ease. The laser beam is focused on the

How thick can a laser cutter cut plywood?

Laser cutters can generally cut plywood up to 15 mm thick, however, an 80 watt laser cutter can cut plywood up to 1/2 inch thick. Make sure to use a high pressure source of air for efficient cutting.

What is the easiest plywood to laser cut?

Birch Laser Plywood is the easiest to laser cut, making it great for beginners. It cuts smoothly and reliably, and its density makes it ideal for laser cutting.

What factors should I consider when choosing a laser cutter for plywood projects?

When choosing a laser cutter for plywood projects, consider the power, cutting speed, and material compatibility for optimal results.

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