Best Wood For Laser Engraving Projects

When considering a laser engraving project, the choice of wood plays a pivotal role in determining the quality and aesthetics of the final product. Just as a carpenter is particular about their materials, selecting the right wood for laser engraving can make all the difference.

In this guide, we’re going to explore some of the best woods for laser engraving, whether you’re just starting out or have been at it for a while. We’ll dive into the specifics of each type, so you can make an informed decision for your next project.

Wood species for laser engraving

Laser engraving and laser cutting have both become popular in the DIY and crafting community thanks to some innovative technology that allows users to have a laser machine in their homes.

While you can laser engrave nearly any type of wood as well as many other materials, you can’t expect the same result each time. Each wood has its unique properties—like grain patterns, hardness, and natural colors—that can interact differently with the laser.

For instance, a softer wood like pine might engrave faster and require lower power settings than a harder wood like oak. Additionally, woods with a consistent grain can result in a more uniform look, whereas those with varied grain patterns might produce more unexpected and unique results.

So, what makes a species of wood perfect for laser engraving? There are a few things to look for when searching for the perfect wood.

  • Consistent Grain – Wood with a fine, consistent grain will produce a cleaner and more detailed engraving. Inconsistent grains can cause uneven engraving depths and affect the clarity of the design.
  • Low Resin Content – Woods with high resin or sap content can become sticky when engraved, which may cause a messy appearance or become difficult to finish properly.
  • Wood Color – Lighter-colored woods often provide a higher contrast, making the engraved areas pop out more.
  • Free from knots and other imperfections – Knots are very dense areas and usually dark so an engraving on a knotty area may not penetrate very deeply and will be difficult to see. Look for cuts of wood with minimal knots.
  • Flat and Even Surface – Make sure the wood is planed and sanded to an even surface. Uneven surfaces can result in inconsistent engraving depths.

Based on my experience, I have decided on 7 great choices of real wood species for laser engraving. These are the ones that I have had the most success with and enjoy the results I get from using them. There are also some honorable mentions that I’ll go over as well. Let’s look at them below.

7 Best Woods for Laser Engraving

1. Cherry

Cherry stands out as my favorite choice for laser engraving due to two primary factors: consistency and the striking darkness of the engraving. The consistency of Cherry wood makes it an excellent medium for engraving as it ensures a smooth and even surface. This uniformity is crucial in reducing any irregularities in the engraving process, thus allowing for a fine, precise design.

Cherry lumber

The aspect of Cherry that is truly captivating is the depth of color that can be achieved in the engraving. When this wood is laser-engraved, it responds with a rich, dark hue that is deeply contrasting to the lighter wood surface. This contrast allows the engraved design or text to really “pop,” creating a striking visual effect.

It’s this unique trait of Cherry wood that results in a finished product that is not only impressive up close but equally striking from a distance.

Ultimately, the uniformity and the dark, contrasting engraving that Cherry wood provides make it an unbeatable choice, resulting in an end product that is as eye-catching as it is consistent.

The innate richness and warmth of Cherry wood, combined with the dark, sharp engravings, deliver a finished piece that truly stands out, regardless of the complexity or simplicity of the design. What’s more, Cherry only looks better with age as it darkens into a rich reddish brown.

2. Walnut

Walnut is another excellent choice, with its own set of unique characteristics that make it stand out. Walnut is a darker wood and its density, which is slightly higher than that of Cherry, is an important factor to consider. This denseness provides stability during the engraving process, allowing for a clean, crisp finish in your designs.

Blank cherry lumber with interesting grain pattern

Walnut’s darker hue is both its strength and its challenge when it comes to laser engraving. Unlike Cherry, Walnut’s dark wood means that the engravings, while crisp and clear, don’t contrast heavily with the background. This can result in a subtler, more understated aesthetic.

However, this is not necessarily a downside; it simply depends on the look you’re aiming for. If you prefer a design with less contrast and more integrated with the wood, then Walnut’s subtle contrast could be just what you’re looking for.

Despite the subtler contrast, the detail achievable with Walnut is impressive. The denseness of the wood allows the laser to etch fine, precise lines—a feature that is ideal when engraving intricate designs or small text. This precision, paired with Walnut’s rich, dark color, results in a sleek and professional finish that’s hard to match.

3. Basswood

Basswood is a fantastic option for laser engraving, offering its own unique set of advantages. Despite being classified as a hardwood, it is surprisingly soft, which facilitates easy engraving and manipulation. This softness, however, does not compromise the quality of the engraving.

Basswood lumber

Basswood is known for its very fine grain structure, which ensures a high level of consistency when engraved, resulting in a smooth finish. Additionally, the wood’s light color allows the engraving to stand out well, providing a sharp contrast that is visually appealing.

Its smooth texture and light coloration make Basswood a top choice for those aiming for clear, refined engravings in their projects.

4. Hard Maple

Hard Maple is yet another fantastic choice, and it has its own unique qualities that make it a standout option. One of the most notable characteristics of Maple is its hardness. The denseness of Maple provides a stable base for the laser engraving process, ensuring that the engraved designs remain sharp and clear.

Closeup of hard maple wood

The hardness of Maple allows the laser to etch into the wood with precision, maintaining the fine detail of intricate designs or text. This is particularly ideal for projects that demand a high level of detail or precision, such as intricate artwork or fine text engraving.

Another reason why Maple is highly favored for laser engraving is because of its light color. This pale hue serves as an excellent canvas for the darkened engraving, creating a stark contrast that makes the etched design stand out prominently. This contrast is not just aesthetically pleasing, but it also enhances the visibility of the engraved design, making it easy to read or appreciate from a distance.

5. Alder

Alder wood is a preferred choice for many laser engraving enthusiasts primarily because of its fine grain and lighter color. The smoothness of Alder’s grain allows for a consistent, even burn during the engraving process, leading to detailed and precise designs. The fine grain allows the laser beam to maneuver smoothly across the wood’s surface, reducing the likelihood of skips or jumps that could potentially disrupt the design’s consistency.

Beautiful piece of alder wood

The real allure of Alder, however, lies in the contrast created between the engraving and the wood’s natural color. Alder’s light, almost creamy color, provides an excellent backdrop for the dark burn marks left by the laser.

This high contrast ensures that the engraved designs stand out starkly against the lighter wood, making them visually striking and easy to see, even from a distance.

While Alder presents many appealing qualities for laser engraving, careful selection is important as this wood can often be knotty. Knots in the wood can lead to inconsistencies in the engraving process and disrupt the uniformity of your design. The laser might respond differently to the knotted area compared to the rest of the wood, creating uneven depths or unexpected burn marks.

Therefore, when choosing Alder for your project, it is crucial to inspect the wood carefully and select pieces with minimal knots to achieve a smooth, consistent engraving.

6. Poplar

Poplar is a great choice for those considering laser engraving, combining accessibility with admirable performance. This wood type is widely available and affordable, making it an easy choice for many. Poplar’s natural characteristics also lend themselves well to the engraving process. It has a relatively soft texture, allowing the laser to etch the surface with ease, delivering crisp and clean designs.

Furthermore, like some of the other species mentioned, Poplar’s light color provides a beautiful contrast to the dark burn marks from the laser, creating a visually appealing result. The combination of its easy availability, affordability, engraving ease, and aesthetic outcome make Poplar a solid choice for laser engraving projects.

7. Plywood

Plywood is widely regarded as a viable alternative to solid wood for laser engraving. This engineered wood material is not only cost-effective but also offers a smooth and consistent surface that is ideal for engraving. Specifically, baltic birch plywood is among the most popular options on the market.

One of the most significant advantages of using plywood is its lack of warping or shrinking, attributes often seen in solid wood due to moisture content. This lack of distortion ensures that your design remains accurate and precise, making plywood a reliable choice for laser engraving.

However, while plywood presents many benefits for laser engraving, it is essential to be aware of the potential risks associated with certain types of plywood. Many plywood varieties are constructed using glues that contain formaldehyde, a chemical that can become dangerous when heated by a laser. The smoke produced during the engraving process could potentially be toxic, posing a significant health risk.

To mitigate this risk, it is crucial to use safer plywood alternatives that do not contain formaldehyde. These safer options, often labeled as E0 or CARB-2 compliant, use adhesives that are free from formaldehyde, making them a safer choice for laser engraving.

I typically use Birch plywood that I purchase from my local Home Depot. This product does not contain formaldehyde as is a healthier alternative than traditional plywood. It is a bit pricier but you can’t put a price on your health, it’s really the most important thing you have.

Regardless of the type of wood you’re engraving, including plywood, it is always essential to ensure that your machine is properly ventilated. Proper ventilation ensures that the smoke produced during the engraving process is effectively removed from the work area, reducing potential exposure to hazardous fumes.

This is an essential step in maintaining a safe work environment, especially when working with materials like plywood that may contain chemical additives. By taking these precautions, you can enjoy the benefits of plywood for laser engraving, while also ensuring a safe and healthy work environment.

Honorable Mentions


Oak is often overlooked for engraving purposes due to its pronounced grain, which could potentially disrupt the consistency of engraving. However, with careful technique, Oak can yield impressive results. The distinct grain structure, often regarded as a downside, can actually lend a unique character to the engraving, giving it a rustic charm that other woods can’t replicate.

From my personal experience, Oak has been a decent choice for engraving projects, producing results that are rich in detail and texture, making each piece one-of-a-kind. You’ll need to experiment with the laser power and speed in order to achieve a lighter or darker burn.


Pine, due to its affordability and ubiquity, is often a popular choice for beginners looking to delve into the world of laser engraving. It’s a soft wood which allows the laser engraver to etch into the wood with ease. However, Pine’s pronounced wood grain pattern can often lead to unexpected results when engraved. The laser might react differently to the varying densities between the grain and the softer wood, causing inconsistencies in the engraved design.

Pine also has a high resin content that could pose a problem and leave your wood engraving less than desirable.

While some might appreciate this for its rustic appeal, others seeking precision and uniformity might find the results less than desirable. Nonetheless, the wide availability and lower cost of Pine make it an accessible starting point for those new to laser engraving.

Bottom Line

When engraving wood, the species you choose is a crucial decision that can significantly impact the outcome of your project. From Alder’s smooth texture to Poplar’s affordability, Plywood’s consistency, Oak’s unique rustic charm, and Pine’s accessibility for beginners – each wood type offers its own set of advantages and challenges.

It’s essential to understand the unique characteristics of each wood species and how they interact with the laser engraving process. This knowledge, coupled with health safety considerations such as avoiding formaldehyde-based plywood and ensuring proper ventilation, will help you make an informed decision that best suits your project needs and personal preferences.

Ultimately, the key to successful laser engraving lies in selecting wood that suits your project goals. With careful attention and consideration, you can achieve wood engravings that are beautiful, precise, and unique.