Get to Know Laser Cutting: What is It and How Does it Work?

Laser cutting is a dream for those who need to make accurate cutouts while maintaining speed and consistency. This specialized method of cutting has become increasingly popular in recent years for its ability to cut intricate pieces made from wood, MDF, metal, acrylic, paperboard, and more. Hobbyists, DIYers, and professionals alike make use of it for its precision and speed.

What exactly is laser cutting and how does it work?

Laser cutting is a non-contact cutting process that uses a laser beam to precisely cut materials. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it approach for what would otherwise be a tedious task with a scroll saw or other manual tool. It can be used on many items such as metal, wood, acrylic, and paperboard.

Laser cutter cutting plywood

It’s commonly used for industrial manufacturing applications but can also be used by hobbyists or DIYers who need precise cutouts produced quickly. The laser beam is directed through optics onto the surface of the material which burns away leaving an incredibly accurate cutout. It is a great way for the hobbyist to enlist the help of technology for creating perfectly cut pieces every time.

In this article, we’ll explore how the process works and why it has gained so much traction amongst hobbyists as well as professionals.

Note: This article is meant for the home crafter who is interested in low-power laser cutters that can help you make quick and accurate work of projects at home. There is a big difference between these types of laser cutters and larger industrial cutters.

How does laser cutting work?

Laser cutting uses a focused beam of light to cut through materials with precision. The process begins by setting the parameters of the job — speed, power, material type, etc. — in the software associated with the laser cutter. Then, an X and Y axis is used to guide the laser beam along its path while a lens focuses its power into a very small area (the focal point).

As the beam passes over the material being cut, it melts or burns away sections until the pattern is eventually cut completely from the material. This entire process is done in one continuous motion without any breaks or pauses in between cuts — hence why it is so fast! Depending on the thickness of your material and the power of your laser beam, it may have to make multiple passes in order to complete the job.

Since the computer software is guiding the process, there is no human error after the completion of the job. The only human error that would show up would be if the software or material was not properly set up before the cutting process begins.

Benefits of Laser Cutting


The biggest benefit of laser cutting is its accuracy. Lasers can produce shapes with very precise dimensions that would be nearly impossible to achieve with hand tools. If your project requires exact measurements every time, a laser cutter will be essential in making it happen. They can achieve precision and accuracy that would be impossible to obtain with traditional hand tools.

If you are used to cutting out items with a scroll saw or other type of manual method, you may be quite surprised at what a laser cutter can do. While your manual process will show crooked lines and small mistakes, a laser-cut item will be accurate with no mishaps. Once you experience just how accurate these results can be, you may ditch any manual process you have been using.

Cleaner Cuts Than Traditional Methods

Because there are no physical contact points between blades and material (as there would be with saws), lasers can produce cleaner cuts than traditional methods. You won’t find jagged edges or burrs that need to be sanded off after something has been laser-cut. Instead, you’ll notice a clean line (depending on the material). Wood will have some charring from the burning process but the edge will still be left feeling smooth and needing very little in the way of sanding.


Laser cutting is much faster than traditional methods of cutting, such as using a saw or other manual method. We all know how amazing and fast computers can do things nowadays and since lasers are computer-controlled, laser cutting is no different. The speed is generally determined by the type of material, the thickness of the material, and the power of your laser. Some laser machines are much more capable than others.

This makes for a much more efficient process and a much quicker way of creating things. Time is your most important asset so anything you can do to save time is generally welcomed. Keep in mind that, unlike human-made items, faster doesn’t equal less quality. A laser works fast but also continues to produce accurate results.

Cut Complex Shapes Quickly and Efficiently

Whether you are cutting out a simple square or a complex pattern, a laser will have no problem. Lasers are capable of cutting detailed shapes that might require multiple steps and a lot of time and patience by hand. However, it can be done quickly and efficiently, often in one pass using a laser cutter.

No Human Error

Using a laser to cut materials means that the technology is doing all the work and is therefore much quicker and more accurate than manual methods. This means that human error isn’t as likely to happen since it’s all done by the computer. If you have your parameters set correctly and have check marked all other setup necessities, you can expect a consistent result from a laser cutting.

The great thing is that once you have the job saved in your software, you can reproduce the same cutout time after time with the same exact results.

Example of Laser Cutting Efficiency

To illustrate how efficient and accurate a laser cutter is, I’ll use an example of my snowman scroll saw pattern. This is a pattern that is generally cut out manually with a scroll saw. Because of this, there are often mishaps or errors that can be seen up close. Since a human hand isn’t steady, it’s sometimes hard to stay perfectly on the pattern lines.

Not only that but once cut, it often requires a little sanding. While the scroll saw does create fairly clean cuts, it still isn’t as clean as a laser cut. The following picture shows the image cut out with my scroll saw by hand.

Snowman pattern cut with scroll saw

Not bad…but this took about an hour to cut out and then some more time to sand off any burrs left behind from the saw blade. It’s not perfect but sanding often allows you to cover up imperfections.

Now, let’s look at the same pattern designed for laser cutting. I simply created a usable file for my laser cutter and loaded it into the laser software. Once loaded, it was just a matter of placing my material (.180-inch birch plywood to be exact) and then setting some basic parameters. These parameters included power, speed, and number of passes.

Once set, all that was needed was to frame the cutout on my material and then press start.

Snowman pattern cut with laser

The result was the same as the scroll saw cutout, only much more accurate. Beyond the accuracy, was the added benefit of it only taking about 20 minutes to cut. This could be even faster if you have a more powerful laser cutter. Mine is only 10 watts so a 40-watt laser could cut this in only a few minutes.

No sanding was needed after being cut and it was ready to be painted or stained as I wished and then glued together.

Now that’s what I call saving time and frustration. I was able to do other things in my workshop while the material was being cut. Once finished, I was left with pieces that were ready to be assembled. That’s the power of laser cutting and why it has become so popular with hobbyists and small businesses.


Laser cutting is an incredibly useful tool for both hobbyists and professionals alike that can drastically reduce production time while producing highly precise results every time. It can open up a whole new world of possibilities for what you can accomplish. No need for time-consuming manual techniques, unless of course, you enjoy that process.

In my workshop, I often consider my laser cutter to be a scroll saw replacer. It does the work of the scroll saw in a fraction of the time and with much more precise results. Of course, you have to consider the downsides of charred edges and the ability to cut only thinner woods and materials.

My scroll scroll saw still sees a lot of use but when I need something quick and precise, it’s often better to use my laser cutter.

If you are looking for a way to find more enjoyment or productivity in the workshop, a laser cutter may be the perfect solution. It will add some fun and allow you to produce some results that you wouldn’t have thought possible.