Need help with wood sourcing... and learning about wood

Hi friends!

I recently went to home depot to get some wood until my Proof delivery arrives… well turns out I know nothing about “types of wood”. I’ve learned by Googling what MDF, different types of Plywood, etc - but I’m feeling stuck and hope my fellow makers can help me get a jump start. :slight_smile:

  1. Where do you source your 1/8 inch wood? ProofGrade is wonderful, but perhaps there’s another source?
  2. What type of wood works best for the different types of projects?

This “Red Oak” Hobby Board looks absolutely awful… perhaps i’ll just use this for garden stakes.

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There are lots of sources if you search the forum. For instance, Johnson Plastics Plus, Colorado Heirloom, and Ocooch Hardwood. In addition, there are some sellers on the Facebook group of Glowforge Users.


What @dklgood said. Typical search structure is like “plywood source” or “hardwood source”. Works for almost every material you can think of.

The biggest piece here is that im wanting to learn more about wood - so that if I’m out somewhere i know where to look / what to ask, etc

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You can Google the Janka test to learn about how wood is categorized by hardness. Beyond that, you need to think about what you are doing with the wood. Are you making boxes, earrings, signs? Are you painting, staining or leaving bare? Are you going to have large engraves or not? Google is your friend after you narrow down your field of study. Also, look through the Glowforge Gallery and the Made on a Glowforge sections to see what others have used and their results.


There is a terrific online source…

All you want to know and more


Thank you, this is a great starting point for me.

Could someone tell me why my wood is coming out this way? Perhaps it’s the quality of wood?

Oak is one of the more difficult woods to cut due to its high mineral content.
Try cherry, you will get beautiful results.


Posting for reference
Since Red Oak comes out like this - any suggestions on how to use it? :slight_smile:

Use it like that. What’s your problem with it? There are ways to change the look, I just need to know what your issue is (issues are?) exactly.

It doesn’t burn smooth as I expected.
I tried on birch and it’s smooth - where as on the red oak you can see the individual lines on the wood.

Both with the same sd engrave settings

OK so those lines are because of the grain structure in red oak being so pronounced. That’s just part of the species. Not much to be done about that specifically, but you can possibly minimize the appearance by infilling the engrave with paint or something.

You might also find that slowing down the engrave and/or upping lpi will yield darker results, it might also conceal some of that.

However, if these are going to get wet, expect your contrast to drop significantly if you aren’t painting the letters. Water will wash a lot of the contrast out.


slowing it down to 850 did the trick!
Turned out great, thank you :slight_smile:


Note that oak will turn rather dark when it get wet.
Odd looking cilantro plant. :slightly_smiling_face:


Interesting enough, I water tested it and it didn’t change color… Odd?
** it did change color, but didn’t over saturate, win win!

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Of all the species oak makes the biggest mess, but that does not keep me from using it, it just colors my expectations. No matter the species the hotter and slower the pass the less the grain shows up. Going colder. faster, and especially multiple passes make the grain show up stronger. If you are using a filter only MDF will fill it faster.

After the first month I had been doing a bunch of oak plywood and checking my exhaust it looked like burned cotton. On close inspection it was all those oak fibers that everything around them was burned and they broke loose rather than burning themselves.

I won’t duplicate some of the other advice but I didn’t see this mentioned - when using manufactured wood products, the bonding agents differ widely and some will offgas toxic chemicals when lased It’s important with plywood or MDF to make sure the stock is safe for lasers. Other than always buying Proofgrade plywood and draftboard, I’m not sure if there’s an easy way to certify that.

The other thing I’ll toss into the ring here is an observation on types of wood. When I researched making a cutting board from scratch I read that woods which produce edible fruits and nuts tend to be safe. That includes most of our domestic species like Cherry, Maple, Oak and Walnut. However, some woods, especially those with high oil content or that are very fibrous, can release irritants when cutting with blades or sanding. Lasing is not cutting or sanding but until I know much more about material safety I’m sticking with the same wood species I’d feel comfortable eating off of. These turn out to overlap the Glowforge Proofgrade materials quite a bit - Maple, Walnut, Cherry. I may try Oak but as others have noted it is very open-grained and dense so I would expect getting a nice print on it would require much more experience than I have just now.

“Spalted” wood can be extremely pretty but the spalting is the result of fungus. It is highly prized by woodworkers but usually kiln dried before use. Even so, the fungus can cause irritation if inhaled. I’m not worried too much about the bits struck directly by the laser, but a little concerned about the bits next to the kerf that are ablated into the air.

Last thing in my “wood safety” pitch is that using wood other than Proofgrade leaves you a bit adrift as to settings. Things like moisture content can greatly affect how the wood is worked with metal tools so I assume there’s a similar variability with the laser. Same with knots. High power, high LPI and slow movement might cut in one pass but may also impart enough energy to start a fire. Test on scrap wood. Don’t be afraid to make multiple passes. Just as when working wood with metal tools, patience will reward you.

Good luck! I’m looking forward to seeing some of your work!


White Oak is a very different critter than Red Oak (sometimes called Swamp Oak) both are strong but Red Oak is so porous that barrels made of it will leak. Red oak is more common and cheaper and thus more likely to be generic “oak”.

I’ve had very good experiences buying wood online from Bell Forest. They have a whole section with 1/8 thick dimensional lumber which would be good candidates for laser cutting. All the thicker common sizes too, of course. Click on any species to get a quick rundown of characteristics, a photo, and possible health issues. It’s not nearly as complete as the Wood Database someone linked to earlier but it does at least narrow down the exploration to a subset of species you could actually buy. Once you have a few candidates, look up those in the Wood Database.

When you do decide to buy a species you haven’t worked with before, be sure to get some extra to use to tune in the settings. I saw some great laser testing SVG files around here somewhere. Sorry, I don’t have a bookmark. But the gist was several patches of gray shades and different score lines. You use custom power and/or motion settings for each one. After printing you have a good idea of which settings to use for that species. I haven’t tried it yet but eventually I’ll take a break from making ear savers and then I plan to make several test panels for the woods I have in stock - Paduk, Purple Heart, Zebrawood, etc.

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Good point. There’s lots of variation within a family of species. (And some “families” are not actually related but just named alike.) I haven’t done enough wood on the GF to assess but I suspect that the cost of dialing in settings for non-Proofgrade stock makes the Proofgrade stuff more cost competitive for low-volume use.