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).
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 or engrave wood. It can pose a serious fire hazard.
Now, don't worry. There are many other ways to safely use lasers to engrave – or even cut or weld – materials, which we will discuss later in this blog. 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
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. However, when the beam travels into wood, its absorption can’t be controlled. This reaction is caused by 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.
Fiber lasers create poor marks on wood.
The goal of any marking or 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 mark looks uneven, with some places charred and others barely identifiable.
This is probably not the result you're looking for:
A fiber laser creates uneven, charred marks on wood as a result of a short wavelength and uncontrolled laser beam absorption.
The bottom line: Fiber lasers + Wood = Dangerous conditions and poor marks.
When used correctly, however, fiber lasers can be highly effective machines, capable of creating precise, high quality marks. There are plenty of fiber laser videos that showcase this.
So, What is the Best Way to 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.
Its 10600nm wavelength is ten times larger and is easily absorbed by organic materials, reacting with wood like a true cutting tool.
This video demonstrates how a CO2 Laser engraves clean, char-free marks into wood.
The benefits of using a CO2 laser marking machine include:
Clean and controlled marks on organic materials, free from charring and campfires
Compact and cost-effective, making them popular solutions for companies upgrading from ink jet or labeling part identification methods
Capability to produce quality marks at high speeds, helping operations save costs and improve cycle time
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 laser 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
Stanley Furniture wanted a more cost-effective way to enscribe “Made in America” on their wood products. They wanted a bold look, but also needed to do it in a way that wouldn’t slow their manufacturing process.
After communicating with the team at Stanley Furnature, MECCO test marked several wooden part samples. We discovered a solution to create a mark that not only met their needs in terms of branding, but also in operational efficiency – using a CO2 laser.
Additionally, the company required a more efficient way to present the parts to the laser. The MECCO team worked with our partners to engineer an innovative solution using a Direct conveyer belt and Class 1 enclosure with openings strategically placed at each end for the belt to pass through.
The project wrapped up just in time. Stanley Furnature was able to meet a tight deadline with a quick turnaround thanks to MECCO's CO2 marking solution.
“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?
This is one of the most popoular questions I get about lasers. If you’re wondering if you can use a laser machine to cut through wood materials, the answer is yes.
As always, though, it’s important to consider the materials you’re laser cutting to determine the right machine to invest in.
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 a demo of a CO2 laser machine cutting paper:
What Else can Laser Machines Do?
As you can see, laser technology has many uses and applications, which is why it's used in a wide variety of manufacturing operations large and small. But, what else can laser machines do?
Laser Plastic Welding
One increasingly popular application, especially in the automotive and medical device industries, is laser 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.
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:
Does it pose any safety risk to my operators?
Will it allow me to achieve my desired mark, cut, weld, etc.?
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.