How to Engrave Wood: A Beginner's Guide for 2021

wood engraved sign

It's Time to Learn

One tool on every woodworker’s wish list is a laser engraver. Powerful and precise, these machines can produce both functional and heirloom-worthy items. 

Laser engravers effortlessly cut through thick materials by burning the material’s surface, which creates a broader range of small-scale project options than your typical craft or vinyl cutter. CNC routers may work well on large-scale projects, but their attention to small details doesn’t compare to a laser beam’s accuracy.

If you’re learning to engrave wood to expand your online business or pick up a new hobby, investing in a laser engraver can provide an infinite number of possibilities to fulfill a creative outlet and impress your customers.

Not sure where to start? Check out our comprehensive wood application guide to enhance your knowledge regarding wood types, project ideas, and purchasing factors.

How does a CO2 Laser Engraver Work?

A CO2 laser engraver works by running electricity through a gas-filled tube (a mixture of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen, and helium) with mirrors at both ends. Through this process, a powerful light (laser beam) is produced inside the Laser Tube and reflected by three mirrors into a Focal Lens, which focuses the laser beam onto your target material.

The laser beam produces potent infrared light invisible to the human eye. First, its long wavelength easily cuts, engraves, and marks wood, cloth, paper, glass, and leather without touching the surface. Then, the laser’s excess heat vaporizes the cut material, leaving behind a smooth, accurate finish.

Advantages of the CO2 Laser Engraving Machine

Here are a few reasons why industrial manufacturers, custom print shops, and DIY hobbyists trust CO₂ laser engravers:

  •  No-Contact - The laser beam doesn't physically touch the target material, leaving minimal integrity damage to material and machine.
  • Affordable - Engravers are low maintenance machines with inexpensive replacement parts.
  • Safety & Security - No sharp blades to adjust, and the laser beam is sealed in a lightbox.
  • Consistent Accuracy - Achieve clean cuts with a smooth finish every time.
  • Versatility -  Engrave on various materials such as wood, leather, glass, acrylic, and metal.

The Best Woods for Laser Engraving

Wood is one of the best mediums for laser engraving. It has a natural and classic feel, perfect for a variety of projects. However, the type of wood used and its inconsistencies can significantly affect the final product.

For high-quality, professional engravings, choose a lightweight wood with minimal streaking. Wood that is lighter in color will create a more recognizable contrast. The wood’s resin content determines the shade of the engraving (light to dark). High resin content creates a dark burn, while low resin content leads to a lighter burn.

We recommend the following wood types for best laser engraving results:

  • Alder
  • Balsa
  • Birch 
  • Cherry
  • MDF
  • Plywood
  • Poplar

Wood Engraving Ideas

1.  Personalized Memorabilia

Cherished photos create lasting memories that friends and families enjoy sharing. Provide your customers with a custom engraved picture that can be passed down through generations.

Personalization doesn't stop with photos. Other laser engraver project ideas include one of a kind pieces to commemorate milestones, engraved wood signs, custom holiday ornaments, home decor, accessories, and more.

2. Inlays

Easily create intricate inlays by combining the power of cutting and engraving to build cabinets, furniture, cutting boards, musical instruments, bowls, and more.

3. Prototyping

Utilize scrap wood to create elaborate patterns for prototype projects. Before laser engravers, this pattern work was time-consuming and out of reach. Now you can use a laser system to reach your creativity and sales goals.

How to Buy the Best Wood Laser Engraving Machine 

Adding a laser engraving machine to your tool arsenal is a wise investment that can pay off. High-powered lasers combine with sophisticated technology to engrave detailed designs onto a variety of surfaces.

Please consider these 5 factors before you buy a wood laser-engraving machine:

1. Budget

Budget is a major factor when purchasing your machine. While buying the most expensive machine is unnecessary for most projects, investing more upfront could save you power and energy in the long run. 

Laser engravers vary widely in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Take a look at features like engraving area, laser power, laser type, and the type of material(s) you would like to engrave.

We understand running a business can be expensive. Investing in a laser engraving machine can add limitless product possibilities without breaking the budget. Plus, laser engravers are more affordable than CNC and most woodworking machines.

2. Material

Suppose you’re thinking about adding a laser engraver machine to enhance your hobby or expand your online business. Chances are you already have an idea about what materials you would like to engrave.

While most laser engravers can handle several wood types, it is essential to double-check the specs. If you plan on expanding your engraving options soon, choose a machine that can also customize acrylic, metal, and paper.

3. Performance

Purchasing a quality-assured machine can save setup time and excess material costs. Look for a machine assembled by proficient technicians, high spindle power, and a precise lead screw drive. To make the most out of your investment, it is essential that the laser engraver is built with quality parts and offers up-to-date features.

4. Maintenance

Prefer to DIY your laser engraver maintenance or hire a professional? The frequency and difficulty of upkeep can vary from machine to machine. 

Purchasing a machine that is difficult to maintain can result in unexpected costs and considerable downtime if you are forced to wait for a repairman.

5. Replacement Parts

Regardless of how well you maintain your machine, it will eventually need replacement parts. Are parts easy to purchase and install, or will you have to wait weeks for a back-ordered part? 

If waiting on parts will affect your customer service and order times, consider choosing a laser engraver that uses universal, easy to order replacement parts.

Buy the Best Wood Laser Engraver

If you are in the market for a well-constructed, powerful wood laser engraver, OMTech features industry-leading laser-engraving machines, software, and accessories. We offer professional-grade products to utilize a laser engraver for small business, hobbies, and crafts. Take a look at our laser engraver machine options, and feel free to reach out to our U.S. based customer service team if you have any questions.