Can a Fiber Laser Mark Wood?

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Can a Fiber Laser Engrave Wood?

by Joshua Christley
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Fiber vs CO2 Laser on Wood

If you’re looking for a powerful technology that can be used to create clean, fast, high-contrast permanent marks for identification and traceability, fiber laser engraving machines are the way to go. Their high peak power and superior beam quality make them ideal solutions for marking and engraving on a wide variety of materials (as you can see in this Laser Materials Chart). Their versatility and other benefits are why fiber lasers are used across industries, from automotive and aerospace to electronics and medical device manufacturing.

But can a fiber laser engrave wood?

Like many of our customers, you may want to expand the use of your fiber laser and “get your money’s worth” by using it to engrave wood. Or you’re looking for an industrial engraving solution for your wood product. Either way, you want to find the best machine for the job at hand.  

However, don’t (I repeat, don’t) use a fiber laser to mark wood. It can pose a serious fire hazard.    

There are many other ways to safely use lasers to engrave – or even cut or weld – materials, but MECCO does not recommend using a fiber laser for wood applications.

Here’s a more in-depth look at why:

2 Reasons NOT to Use a Fiber Laser to Engrave Wood

 

  1. Using a fiber laser on wood is essentially like starting a campfire.

    The 1064nm wavelength of a fiber laser transmits partially through organic structures (like wood) based on its shorter wavelength. This is why 1064nm is used for medical procedures like laser eye surgery, where the laser beam travels through skin or eye tissues to do its work non-invasively at a deeper level. 

    Unlike the human eye, when the beam travels into wood, its absorption can’t be controlled. This is because of the variances in the wood material. Heat builds up, and eventually the wood will ignite. This creates an extremely dangerous situation. The fire will spread quickly with the wood acting as fuel for the intense heat.
     
  2. Fiber lasers create poor marks on wood.

    The goal of any engraving project is to create a mark that is readable, either by human or machine. Uncontrolled absorption, however, results in an uncontrolled mark on wood. This looks uneven, with some places charred and others barely identifiable.
 

A fiber laser creates uneven, charred marks on wood. This is the result of a short wavelength and uncontrolled laser beam absorbtion.


The bottom line: Fiber lasers + Wood = Dangerous conditions and Poor marks.

When they’re used correctly, fiber lasers can be highly effective and profitable machines, and there are plenty of fiber laser videos that showcase the abundant capabilities of this versatile technology.
 

So, How Do You Use a Laser to Engrave Wood?

There is another type of industrial laser engraving machine that can be a valuable tool to mark or engrave your wood products.

CO2 laser will successfully mark wood without the safety risk of starting a fire. Its 10600nm wavelength is 10x larger and is easily absorbed by organic materials, reacting with wood like a true cutting tool.


 

The results are clean and controlled marks, free from charring and campfires. CO2 lasers are compact and cost-effective, making them popular solutions for companies upgrading from ink-jet or labeling part identification methods. With the capability to produce high-quality marks at high speeds, these lasers often help operations save costs and improve cycle times. 

 

Using a CO2 laser to engrave wood creates a high-quality mark thanks to the even absorbtion that results from a longer wavelength.


Many of our customers have used the CO2 to successfully add branding marks or traceability information to their wooden products, including gun stocks, floor planks, pallets, barrels, and furniture.
 

Case Study: Proud to be Laser-Marked in America

The Challenge

Stanley Furniture wanted a more cost-effective way to mark their high-quality wood products as “Made in America”, and they needed to do it in a way that wouldn’t slow their manufacturing process.

The Solution

MECCO marked samples of their product in our laser applications lab and found the best way to get the right mark – using a CO2 laser. Then, the MECCO team worked with our partners to develop an innovative way to present the parts to the laser using a Direct conveyer belt. Our CO2 laser included a Class 1 enclosure with openings strategically placed at each end for the belt to pass through.
 

Find out the results in the full case study on Stanley Furniture
 

“I just want you to know that every day you establish work like this in our factory, you set forth a path through which American manufacturing survives and someday thrives!” 
- Stanley President & CEO Glenn Prillaman
 


Can a Laser Cut Wood?

If you’re wondering if you can use a laser machine to cut through wood materials, the answer is yes.

However, it’s important that you consider the materials you’re laser cutting to determine the right machine to invest in.

As I explained in this video on using laser marking machines for other applications, there are some basic guidelines for laser cutting:
  • Consider the type of material you want to cut, either organic (wood, packaging, etc.) or non-organic (metal, plastic, etc.).
  • If you have an organic material, your best choice is a CO2 laser for smooth cuts and minimal discoloration.
  • If you’re cutting a non-organic material, you want to use a fiber laser. They have the power to cut through very hard materials such as metals and metal alloys.
So, again, the CO2 laser wins out when working with wood products. With the capability to operate at a high power and cut through thicker materials, CO2 lasers make the cutting process efficient and deliver precise results for organic materials.

Here’s an example of a CO2 laser machine cutting paper:


 

What Else can Laser Machines Do?

As you can see, laser technology has many uses and applications, from branding, identification, and traceability marks to cutting. It’s used in manufacturing operations large or small, like this winery that laser etches their wooden wine barrels.

Other laser machine capabilities include:
One increasingly popular application, especially in the automotive and medical device industries, is laser plastic welding. In fact, reports predict that the laser plastic welding market will expand at an 8.3 percent compound annual growth rate from 2017 to 2025.

The intense heat that laser welding creates melts the plastic together, forming a tight seam at high speeds. This technology provides a cleaner, faster, more cost effective welding method that helps manufacturing companies stay competitive by utilizing innovative technologies. And as a non-organic material, we recommend fiber lasers in most plastic welding applications.  
 

Get the Best Tool for the Job

When working with wood or any other materials, it’s important to understand how it will react to different types of lasers. Start by asking these three questions as you're considering industrial laser equipment options:
  1. Does it pose any safety risk to my operators?
  2. Will it allow me to achieve my desired mark, cut, weld, etc.?
  3. How will it alter my current processes?
Of course, there are a number of additional factors to consider. You can download the Guide to Choosing the Best Marking Solution worksheet to help evaluate your needs based on your materials, manufacturing process, and system integration.

What if you currently own or are considering a fiber laser and are looking for additional applications?

Like I said, fiber lasers are versatile machines and can be used in many of the applications listed above. Here’s a helpful video that explains the advantages of MECCO’s fiber laser marking system.

There are plenty of options when it comes to finding the right technology for your operation. You can always contact us, and the MECCO team and I will be glad to work with you to get the results you need. Or leave a comment below.

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