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No matter the material being cut, Ponoko offers the same degree of precision, accuracy, and repeatability across all 200+ engineered materials including laser-cut wood. We offer a dimensional accuracy of ±0.13mm, including a laser kerf of 0-0.2mm no matter the quantity ordered. Furthermore, we house multiple laser cutting stations utilizing different technologies such as fiber and CO2 which are carefully matched to the material being cut to ensure the best quality outcome.
High precision laser cut wood components can solve many engineering and aesthetic problems when prototyping or building a new product. Ponoko has a wide range of materials available for instant quotation of your wood laser cutting project, with no minimum order quantity. The diverse selection of woods exhibit a variety of mechanical and artistic properties to meet your exacting requirements, through a full range of thicknesses.
With simple tabs and joins, you can easily build high quality wooden protective coverings for your hardware, whether its an enclosure or retail packaging. Wooden mechanical components offer an eco friendly, sustainable alternative to plastics and metals, while being lightweight and high performance.
Ponoko’s premium laser cut wood varies from artistic printed MDF to engineering materials such as high quality plywood and cork. Add some retro flair to your product's enclosure or control panel with adhesive backed hardwood veneer, or a touch of tactile quality by using solid hardwood.
Despite wood being a combustible material, it is very easy to cut with a laser cutter. While it is a common belief that laser cutters cut materials by burning, they instead use the intense heat of a laser beam to vaporize material (thereby removing it).
Numerous laser cutting technologies exist and it is essential that the right one is used to ensure an even and clean cut. In the case of wood, CO2 lasers are generally preferred as the infrared beam generated by a CO2 laser is easily absorbed by wood.
Ponoko has dedicated itself over the years to provide a high-speed, high-quality laser cutting service for all its customers whether they are individuals looking to prototype their next big idea or a large international engineering business looking to initiate their first production runs. With over 200+ engineered materials of varying thickness and colour, we help accelerate projects by removing the need to research laser-safe materials, provide same-day manufacturing of custom laser-cut wood parts, and provide a level of engineering precision that is unmatched across the laser cutting industry.
Not only can wood be easily engraved, it is one of the best materials to laser engrave thanks to the high contrast resulting from laser charring.
The carbonisation process of wood under extreme heat results in all woods having a deep black colour, and this stands out on all kinds of woods whether it is oak, birch, or ash. As such, wood is ideal for designs needing to incorporate graphics, art, and text.
To engrave into wood, laser cutters have two options; turn down the laser energy or speed up the laser head. Turning down the laser energy results in a laser beam too weak to cut through the wood, but strong enough to cause top layer carbonisation while speeding up the laser cutter prevents the laser beam from fully vaporising any one spot.
As engraving is binary, designs produced are monochromatic. This means that coloured designs cannot be achieved without the use of additional printing (this is another service that Ponoko provides). Engineers should also note that designs submitted should be in vector format wherever possible as this achieves the greatest level of detail no matter the size of the part whereas raster graphics can result in blurred edges if the resolution of the graphics is low.
Overall, laser cut and engraved wood is an excellent choice for those looking to create artistic designs with an atheistic appeal, but is also ideal for engineers looking for a construction material that is easy to machine.
Unfortunately, not all woods can be laser cut meaning that engineers have to be careful when selecting wood stock. Oily wood, such as eucalyptus, can cause fires inside the laser cutter during operation. Additionally, wood with inconsistent grain structures can result in uneven cuts. Engineered woods tend to be the best for laser cutting.
Some woods, such as eucalyptus, contain large amounts of oil which can cause fires inside the laser cutter during operation. This oil can also smoulder and produce thick tar and soot which damages laser cutter optics and other critical mechanical parts.
Other woods can have inconsistent grain structures (such as knots), which are significantly harder or softer than the surrounding material. Such inconsistencies can result in uneven cuts that either burn too much or don’t burn enough, and this can be particularly hard to account for during manufacturing. At the same time, these inconsistencies also make such parts unreliable from an engineering point of view with wide variations in tensile strength and density.
By far the best types of wood to laser cut are engineered woods. Generally, such material stock is made up of wood pulp that is shaped and formed so that they are internally consistent, has well-documented engineering characteristics, and are easier to machine. One such example would be MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard), which is compressed wood pulp and glue, while another example would be plywood which is made from multiple layers of wood sheets at perpendicular grain orientations.
To help engineers choose suitable wood for their laser-cut wood projects, Ponoko has a range of specially curated wood that is engineered, highly reliable, and laser-safe. The consistency of our wood stock ensures that any two parts made using our service will exhibit near-identical engineering properties including tensile strength and density, and this allows engineers to not only prototype laser-cut wood parts but also to create mass-produced parts that will exhibit a high degree of reliability and repeatability.
All laser cutting technologies can be used to cut wood, but CO2 lasers typically show the best performance.
While fibre lasers are by far the most powerful (and therefore the fastest), they pose a fire risk when cutting wood due to the intense laser energy. LED lasers are extremely cheap and can be used to cut very thin pieces of low-density wood (such as balsa wood), but rarely have the energy to cut thicker sheets of MDF and plywood.
CO2 lasers, however, emit IR radiation which is readily absorbed by wood. As such, CO2 lasers cutting wood not only show a high level of efficiency, but the lower energies used in CO2 lasers reduce the overall risk of fire. As such, Ponoko stocks a wide range of laser cutting platforms with each platform matched to specific materials. Therefore, every single part manufactured by Ponoko conforms to the carefully controlled set of precision standards including dimensional accuracy, laser kerf, and complex feature sizes.
Of all machining methods available to wood, laser cutters present one of the most economical options providing an excellent compromise between precision and speed.
The first major benefit to using a laser cutter with wood is that there are no tooling costs. Cutting wood with saws and routers requires the use of mechanical tools that wear down over time, and this sees a significant increase in cost (especially if the part is complex). However, in a laser cutter, there are no tools that wear down over time, and as such the running costs of laser cutters are significantly lower.
The second major benefit of using laser cutters with wood is that is no need for mechanical clamps to hold the wood stock down. This is due to the lack of any mechanical force from the laser beam, and this allows for extremely intricate parts to be made. At the same time, the lack of mechanical forces also eliminates the need for tabs or breakouts in parts, and this allows for laser-cut wood parts to be a perfect copy of a design.
Thirdly, the use of CNC axis controls and a laser head removes the need for any custom moulds or tooling. As such, laser-cut wood parts are extremely cheap to produce, make changes to, and even scale up production rates in real-time.
Overall, Ponoko is a laser cutting company that has years of experience in the field of wood parts. Having served over 33,000 customers and manufacturing over 2 million parts, we are confident in our laser cutting abilities for any wooden part no matter its complexity, size, or production quantity.
While other manufacturing techniques doe xist for wood, none provide the same balance of speed, precision, and cost that laser cutting does.
Saws come in various types including jigsaws, bandsaws, and circular saws, and are very good at cutting at high speed. These saws are also ideal for processing raw wood into planks that then get used in the construction industry. However, their inability to accurately produce curves and create complex features means that they are only economical for basic straight line cuts.
CNCs are the closest machining method to a laser cutter in that they both use numerically-controlled axis, and are able to produce any 2D shape. However, CNC use router bits that rotate at high speed to mill away areas to be cut and/or engraved instead of a laser beam. This use of tools requires slower cutting speeds (to improve the quality of the cut and extend the life of the bit), and as such sees CNCs take longer to manufacture parts. At the same time, the use of tooling bits also increases the cost of expendable parts, and the use of mechanical force against the wood stock also requires clamping. This in turn also sees parts require tabs and breakouts which adds further complexity in the manufacturing processes.
Water jets are popular for cutting tough materials such as metal and ceramics, but unfortunately cannot be used with wood. This is due to the fact that wood absorbs water very well which changes its physical properties, and that the absorbed water will also cause swelling of the part (and this further results in warping).
Overall, laser cutters provide one of the best solutions for cutting custom wood parts. Their ability to cut and engrave in the same machine cycle reduces the complexity of manufacture, the strong contrast of engraved wood presents numerous opportunities to designers, and the high speed and low-cost nature of laser cutting enable Ponoko to produce laser-cut wood parts same -day.
By far the biggest disadvantage of cutting wood with a laser cutter is that the intense heat caused by the laser beam chars the wood, and this can impact the quality of the final part both from an engineering and design perspective.
To start, the intense heat causes the edge of a wood part to turn black (through carbonisation), and if this carbonisation is not carefully monitored, it can see the edges of a part become fragile and break off. As such, creating parts with a high degree of precision presents challenges when the edge is prone to breaking away.
The second challenge is that the blackening of the edge leaves a physical change in appearance. As such, designs that want an all-wood appearance need to ensure that cut edges are covered. However, in many designs, a laser-cut edge is highly aesthetic (even desired), due to the strong contrast.
The third challenge resulting from laser-cut wood is the effect on the laser cutter. The carbonisation of wood sees the release of volatile organic compounds as well as tar and soot. If these waste products are not properly extracted during the manufacturing process, they can adversely affect the performance of the laser cutter by interrupting the laser beam or damaging sensitive optical components.
At Ponoko, the maximum thickness of wood stock for laser cutting that we offer is 6.7mm, has a maximum laser kerf of 0.2mm, and dimensional accuracy of ±0.13mm. With that in mind, the maximum thickness varies significantly based on the laser cutting device itself.
The maximum thickness of a laser-cut wood part isn’t determined by the wood, but by a phenomenon called laser kerf. Simply put, as the laser beam leaves the laser head, the beam diverges which reduces its cutting power with distance. At the same time, the width of the cut also increases, and this sees the cutting width on the surface narrower than the underside.
As such, cutting extremely thick pieces of wood can present challenges in trying to control laser kerf. Even though it is possible for a laser cutter to work with wood stock that is 4 inches thick, the resulting part would have extremely poor dimensional accuracy. To account for laser kerf, it is technically possible for the head of the laser cutter to be lowered with each passing cut, but most laser cutters have fixed Z heights and therefore cannot lower the laser head dynamically during operation.
Thus, it is best to restrict the thickness of wood stock to ensure that the laser kerf never goes beyond a designated value (in the case of Ponoko, it's 0.2mm).
Compared to other materials, wood is one of the cheapest to laser-cut thanks to its support for high-speed cutting, cheap stock, and availability.
One advantage that engineered woods have over natural wood is that they are manufactured from ground-down wood fibres that are then bonded together with adhesives meaning that they are more efficient to produce. At the same time, the fibres used to make sheets of engineered wood can be sourced from waste in other processes thereby maximising the yield of harvested wood.
Additionally, laser-cut wood also presents engineers with numerous post-processing opportunities for prototyping whether it is small adjustments to the shape via further machining, the addition of more cutouts, surface finishes, and construction of 3D shapes. While metal and plastic also present the same opportunities, wood is both safer and easier to machine.
For those needing laser-cut wood parts, Ponoko offers customers the ability to quickly scale designs from initial prototypes to first production runs. Using wood provides engineers with a cheaper alternative before committing to a more permanent material such as metal or plastic, and when production runs are ready to be ordered, discounts on bulk orders can be as high as 93%. There are very few manufacturing services available to engineers that can move from prototyping to full-scale production as quickly and cheaply as Ponoko can.
Despite the name, the difference between hardwood and softwood isn’t to do with their density, but whether the tree that produces the wood is deciduous or evergreen. Hardwood comes from trees that lose their leaves while softwoods come from evergreen trees, and this relates to the time taken for the tree to grow.
A good example that demonstrates why hardwood doesn’t relate to the density of the wood can be found in balsa wood. Balsa wood is a hardwood that is popular in RC models thanks to its extremely low density, low cost, and ease of machining. Another example of how the term hardwood and softwood don’t relate to the density is cedar. This wood is extremely dense and yet is classified as a softwood because the tree is evergreen.
But generally speaking, hardwoods take a long time to grow (such as oak), and this results from the loss of leaves during the winter. The slow growth allows for the wood to increase in density, and thus the majority of hardwoods are indeed “hard”. Softwoods always have their leaves and therefore can grow quickly, and this rapid growth typically sees a lower density (hence soft).
Wood is an excellent choice of material when creating living hinges thanks to its uniform structural integrity, uniform density, and ease of laser cutting.
Living hinges are commonly found in applications that require mechanical lever action but need to remove the need for additional parts. They are made during the same machining cycle as the rest of the part making it an integral mechanical feature that arises naturally from the flexible properties of the material.
One example of a living hinge commonly found in mainstream use is egg cartons. The lid and base of an egg carton are thick pieces of cardboard that do not flex, but they are held together by a thin piece of cardboard that allows for the lid to open and close.
In the case of wood parts, trying to make a piece of flexible wood by thinning it out is not practically possible. Instead, living hinges in wood can be made by using alternative cuts starting from the outside of the part going in. These cut lines are made parallel to each other, and the resulting pattern allows for the part to fold. While this allows for 3D shapes to be made, the removal of material reduces the overall strength of the part.
Laser-cut wood parts can be used for all kinds of projects including enclosures, faceplate experimentation, prototypes, aesthetics, and brackets.
By far one of the best uses for laser-cut wood is to prototype designs that allow for additional machining and adjustment. While metal and plastic are typically stronger, they are also far more difficult to manipulate and adjust after the fact. At the same time, the swarf created from these parts when further machined can be particularly dangerous making them difficult to work with. Wood, however, can easily be cut, sanded, painted, and reworked, and the low cost of wood can help R&D teams accelerate their designs with the development of numerous design iterations.
Enclosures made from laser-cut wood can create extremely aesthetically impressive designs thanks to the carbonisation of cut edges and engraved patterns. In fact, the effect has now become popular amongst gifts and other commercial products, and this allows for laser-cut Ponoko parts to be used in market-ready designs. Enclosures made from wood also provide a degree of electrical insulation, and the engineered nature of wood stocked by Ponoko allows for uniform characteristics of parts such as tensile strength and density.
Faceplates are another common part that can be quickly prototyped in wood. Faceplates used on HMI consoles and other machinery require both cutouts and graphics, and this can be achieved in a single machining cycle by Ponoko laser cutters. As such, laser-cut wood faceplates are not only cheaper, but the strong contrast caused by carbonisation creates graphics that really pop out.
From $50 for just 1. 93% off for 10,000.