Soft woods are hard to engrave on and get great quality. Hard woods are the best woods to engrave on and you can easily achieve great or even outstanding engraving quality with a low powered laser machine.
Soft woods are porous and their surface texture is very uneven. Therefore, when you try to laser burn a light single line, usually you’ll see only part of the line gets burned. Another way of saying this would be to say if you were trying to laser burn a light line 20mm long, you might end up with a 10mm or 15mm line burn. If you were to burn 16 lines close to each other in the same burn direction, you would most likely see parts of the lines missing or incomplete burns. I call this the “paint chip” effect. It looks like small ‘chips’ of the laser burns are missing (and they are).
Below is a picture of what that looks like if you try to burn a light single line or a group of 16 lines, too lightly. This is Craft Plywood in the picture immediately below and it is not the best choice of wood to try and engrave with. You can see the light single line burns are incomplete. You can also see the ‘paint chipping ‘ effect with the 16 line burn groupings.
The other soft wood that is difficult to engrave on is Baltic Birch. Craft Plywood and Baltic Birch are not the best choices in wood to try and engrave with.
Note: Soft woods are fine to do B&W engravings, but not so good for Grayscale engravings.
One of the laser tool calibration steps for engraving with BCL is to try and find the lightest shade for a 16 shade grayscale burn pattern. This light shade will represent the lightest of 16 shades, ranging from black to ‘white’ (white being the lightest shade you can burn on the target wood).
So you can see in the above picture, that level of a light shade doesn’t work well on this porous wood (Craft Plywood). The light areas of your image will look like they have ‘paint chips’ in them.
Hard woods have a nice hard surface and their surface is more even, more uniform, compared to soft woods. This attribute (hard, even surface) allows lasers to burn more efficiently and more uniformly. This is exactly what we want for GS engraving.
It’s important to note that you also want a light colored hard wood. Below are some example pictures of light colored hard woods.
The lighter the hard wood color, the better engraving results you will get.
For example, imagine drawing by hand with a black pen on white paper. You can easily see your drawing. Now try the same thing using brown paper or a dark colored paper. Your black lines will be harder to see. Same with laser burning and wood colors.
Engraving on Mahogany (a dark hard wood) does engrave well, but it’s hard to see the overall engraving. So Mahogany really isn’t a good hard wood choice for GS or B&W engravings.
In summary: pick a light colored hard wood to engrave with and you’ll be very pleased with the results.
Below are some recent test engravings using Alder wood.
I calibrated a new laser tool with up/down direction and then I calibrated another new laser tool with 45 degree direction.
Small test area burns from the Image Settings window shows better texture burning using 45 degrees.