If you’ve read my other Basswood LASER cutting tests you’ll already know that it’s a great material for use with a low-power CNC-mounted LASER. So I wanted to see how well I could cut 1mm thick Basswood with my 5W LASER. As the photo below of my single-pass cutting test shows, 1mm thickness provides little challenge for the LASER.
In fact, a single pass, at 200 mm/min feed rate, at around 70% power, is all it takes to cut through it. And it’s likely that the feed rate could even be sped up a little too. Plus, as the photo below shows, the cuts were quite clean and don’t require too much effort to clean up.
MDF (a.k.a. medium density fibreboard), just like plywood, is a very popular material in LASER cutting circles, largely due to it being a stable and relatively strong sheet material. Its stability comes from the use of wood fibres set in glue and means its less likely to bow or warp compared to plywood. So it’s likely any CNC user with a diode-LASER will want to cut a piece sometime. However, it’s important to note that burning glue, and released wood fibres, can be hazardous to your health. For that reason the MDF sheet I used here, with my 5W diode-LASER, is a LASER-safe version with less hazardous glue: although care is still needed to avoid inhaling anything nasty. Below is a photo of my cutting test.
The main thing the photo shows is that cutting fully through 2mm of MDF is possible with two passes, at a feed rate of 100 mm/min, on full power. However, a second thing to notice is that the MDF burned heavily (with a small flame) especially after the first pass had blackened the surface. That’s likely due to the glue and the slow feed rate needed for a low-power LASER. So care is needed to avoid fires and multiple passes will require a lot of work to clean up. Most likely cuts will need to be offset slightly when designing, so that the edges can be filed or sanded back to clean material, although back faces were cleaner as the photo below shows. Overall then, MDF may be useful for some larger, low detail, pieces, or for faster feed rate engraving, but on the whole it’s not something I’ll risk too often.
Basswood, like Balsa, is a go-to material for many Maker projects. Unlike Balsa, Basswood is a little lighter and denser and so has many uses in structural and non-structural parts of scenery and model making. So LASER cutting 1.5mm sheet Basswood is likely a common need. For that reason the photo below shows the results of a cutting test with my 5W diode-LASER attached to my CNC machine, with the wood having a water content around 8%.
All of the cuts are for one pass, so you can see that there are various options for quick cutting. personally I prefer to cut quicker to save time and slightly reduce surface burning, so a single pass at a feed rate of 200 mm/min, at a power between 80% and 100%, seems the best option for me. Also, as the photo below shows, the back is quite cleanly cut and not in need of a lot of cleaning up and sanding.