CNC Machines vs Laser Cutters – What’s Best For Your Business?

By: Nikita
Published:

When it comes to woodworking, carving your vision out of plywood requires skills and apt knowledge about machinery and all the processes involved. When we think of carving plywood to create stunning wood items, there are two main choices: CNC machines, and laser cutters

CNC machines and laser cutters are frequently compared as they can carve and cut similar materials, but they’re very different.

But beyond the basics, it can be tough to know exactly what both of these machines do. It can be even tougher to figure out the differences and benefits they each have over one another. 

This article provides you with an overview of CNC machines vs laser cutters, and what’s best for your business.  

CNC Routers

A CNC router is a tool programmed to receive and interpret designs from a computer and thereby guide a cutter – usually a router bit or a laser

CNC wood machines use computer numerical controls to automatically engrave, cut, mill, drill, and groove different materials, such as wood, foam, stone, plastics, acrylic, glass, ACM, copper, brass, aluminum, PVC, MDF, etc.

How Carving Works with a CNC Router

Cutting from a CNC machine is an easy and simple process. It just requires the design and technology skills to work through the following process:

  1. A design is created on a computer using CAD (or CADCAM) software. 
  2. A section of wood is placed on the cutting surface. 
  3. The design is then sent from the computer to the CNC router via CNC software, signaling it to cut. 
  4. The machine interprets the draft as a series of detailed directions and moves the cutter back-and-forth and side-to-side along the axes, cutting the wood as it follows the g-code.

Advantages of CNC Routers

1. Easy to design

CNC machines make designing and creating projects easier than ever. They combine perfectly with almost any CAD software, such as Fusion 360, Solidworks, and AutoCAD, so you just need an idea, your creativity, and technical knowledge to fabricate beautiful wood items. 

2. Depth of cuts

CNC machines incorporate the advantage of carving perfect and precise cuts. CNC machines can cut far deeper through than laser cutters, which typically can only cut fairly thin softwoods.

3. Rounded Cuts 

CNC machines struggle to cut really sharp edges, but for some artisans, it’s an advantage: these round edges provide their design of wooden items with a beautiful curved look and feel, such as in furniture.

Disadvantages Of CNC Router

1. Radius & Precision 

CNC machines are less effective for sharp edges and angles. Precision is limited relative to the radius of the bit.

2. Clamping 

Materials need to be secured to the cutting surface. If this isn’t done, the torque of the router will spin the material or at the very least, destabilize it so your final design is wildly inaccurate. Wood is most often fixed to the surface with clamps. Lasers often don’t require the same clamping, but I often clamp my laser projects anyway to guarantee the design is engraved or cut in that exact location.

However, a great deal of tension is created when applying a fast-spinning CNC router bit to a tightly-clamped piece of material. This tension has the potential to warp or damage the wood and can make cutting very thin or fragile materials a challenge.

3. Labor 

Cutting with a router is also more labor-intensive. This can result in greater costs to the consumer. 

Laser Cutters

Wood laser cutters carve plywood to create wooden products. Lasers are used for woodworking whenever clean edges and high processing speeds are needed. Typical applications for laser cutting wood are gifts, jewelry, inlays, toys, and model making.

How Does Woodcutting Work with Laser Cutters?

Laser cutters work in the same way as CNC machines. The important difference is that lasers don’t use friction to cut but use heat to cut. A high-energy light beam burns through the wood rather than carving it away.

Advantages of Laser Cutters

1. Precision Cuts

While the smallest router bits have a radius of just under 1 mm, the radius of a laser beam can be set to as small as 0.1 mm. Extremely detailed cuts can be made with stunning precision.

2. Cleaned & Sealed Edges

The laser cutters use the technique of burning through wood, so the result is crisp edges. Though this burning can cause some discoloration, steps can be taken to avoid unwanted burn marks. Burning also seals edges, thus it reduces the expansion and contraction of cut wood.

Disadvantages of Laser Cutters

1. Limitation of material thickness 

Comparing laser cutting to other thermal cutting methods, it is not suitable to cut very thick plates. The largest suitable thickness depends on the available machinery and the know-how at hand. On average, most metal lasers can laser cut metal up to 15 or 20 mm.

2.Cost and Hazardous fumes 

The laser cutter is an expensive alternative as compared with CNC machines and other alternatives. Although the running costs and efficiency make up for it in long term, the initial investment is still quite large. The thermal cutting method also results in emitted gases and dangerous fumes.

Conclusion

Although CNC routers can cut deeper through tougher materials in lower price ranges, laser cutters and engravers offer pinpoint precision, less oversight and monitoring, and they’re generally less noisy and messy.

Picking up one machine from these both solely depends on your and your design’s requirements and needs. You can browse through manufacturers such as Biesse to find out more about CNC machines and laser cutters, and potentially pick a machine that aligns with your business needs and requirements.