Safe Wood?

I have been reading for about an hour trying to figure out what’s safe to use on my new GF. I don’t want to have to order from the catalog, I would love to just head to the hardware store and pick up what I need… So…

How do I tell if a plywood is safe? Are there types/things I need to avoid or look for? I read a ton of glues are unsafe, but how to I tell that in the store? Is this wood safe:

OR if anyone wants to send me any links to wood that is safe from Home Depot or Menards, that would be awesome. Thanks.

I’ve cut tons of birch plywood from HD with no problem. I’ve also cut their hard board with no problems.

Your best bet is to find a local reseller of Baltic Birch plywood as this will be the most stable wood to cut with no voids in the wood. Amazon also has some great deals on BB ply - do a search of the forums and you’ll find a ton of links. Here’s one of my fav’s:

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It should be mentioned that there are far less expensive sources of Baltic birch if you can find a local supplier.

You should be able to get that same amount of BB for under 20$, if you find a supplier.

So is Baltic Birch always safe? Or am I looking out for too many plys or a certain formaldehyde glue? It seems there are a ton of places online that sell laser safe wood… But I’m happy buying large pieces myself and cutting them up. I just have no idea what I’m looking for or how to ask a lumber supplier for what I need. Would I just ask for 1/4" birch? Or specify I need it to be laser safe? Or maybe heat safe?

Thanks for this! I see lots of online options now! I think I will order some until I figure out how to buy locally. I was hoping to buy larger pieces and cut them up myself - it seems a lot of these places are ‘middle-men’ just doing the cutting… I just don’t know what I’d be asking at a lumber yard. Do they know if something is laser safe?

Complies with CARB emissions standards in section 93120, Title 17, CCR, for Formaldehyde.

Just found some wood online with this tag (see above). Is that safe?

As people here say, your lungs, your decision.
If your ventilation setup is good (no leaks, etc) you don’t have a lot to worry about with most woods.


Exactly this. There are varying levels of “safe.” It could be - do the machine harm, do me harm in great quantities, do me harm in little quantities.

I mean, I’m not going to sit there and try and breath in campfire or fireplace smoke if I can avoid it, but I’m also not going to worry much about being around it. But, I’m also not going to throw random plastics in to that same fire and take a big huff.


The real truth is that the safety charts are generally not written with lasering in mind. There are no guarantees. There is, however plenty of info in the forum about what people are cutting in large quantities. You can search online for toxic woods and avoid the worst of those. And then you’ll want the least amount of formaldehyde possible, but it’s not easy to find glues or woods with none at all. If you want more guarantees, buy from GF. They’ve done the homework for you.

My favorite to work with for quick projects is Baltic Birch (not regular birch plywood) because it’s inexpensive and has a lot of different possibilities. I also love my HDF, but I can’t guarantee that won’t slowly kill you.

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Absolutely agree!

Regarding formaldehyde, 3M sells specialist filter masks for not too much money; if I recall correctly I got mine on Amazon after figuring out exactly which product number I needed on the 3M website.

There are a lot more issues than “will the smoke kill me or damage my machine” If you have good ventilation there is a lot more that is “safe” than you would want to use for a hundred other reasons.

The Home Depot birch is horrid because the Bondo filler they use is well nigh Laser proof and will mess up anything you want to cut out of it. Any pine plywood is just a mess even if not pressure treated with horrid chemicals. Anything made from sawdust will return to sawdust so IMHO even the MDF is not favored much less other schemes as likely marginal for resistance to lasers as lack of resistance to water of cleansers that can dissolve the glue .

On the positive side the stuff called “Revolution” plywood is about the lowest price available per square foot and though weak compared to Oak plywood is possible to make reasonable work.
Oak plywood is quite strong; the filler is used less and is not so laser-proof and can clean up very nicely. both of those are sold in 4’x 8’ sheets that you can have cut into five 19 -inch x 48-inch pieces that do well with a pass-through on the pro. Or sliced into 4-5 pieces each for the other machines.

Other woods are available at different prices but this is a good set of pricing to use for comparison and a good reliable source if you cannot beat the prices.

The “not wood” range is another kettle of fish I will not try to tackle here.

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Even if you can’t source it locally like @evansd2 mentioned, I’ve had pretty good success with this stuff: (affiliate link)

It’s a good bit cheaper than the link listed above. These pieces I got were 12"x12", but still good for a lot of stuff and makes them about $1.50/sheet. It engraves and cuts pretty nicely. This is with a couple of coats of spray lacquer on it after a light sanding (got lazy and didn’t want to mask it off)

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Just a friendly note that if you’re using an Amazon Affiliate code (just a guess), you are required (by them) to disclose that info when you post.


Thanks, Amazon police. :wink: I’ve added it to my post.


Hah. I would be sad if I lost my Amazon Affiliate status. :slight_smile:

I use a 1/4" plywood from Menards, that is really more like 3/16", but I don’t know if it is the one you linked to in your OP. I will say that it cuts very nicely on the glowforge and is pretty void free. It is not as good as proofgrade, but it is also true plywood: no mdf core. I would say it cuts through on my settings over 99% of the time. So I will use it to build pieces that require some actual strength. It is not pretty and does not take sanding or finishing all that well. My local Menards also stocks a lot of nominal 1/4" hardwood plywood with a mdf core. It is probably not as high quality a veneer as the stuff sold at Rockler or the proofgrade, but it is a lot cheaper. I have not had a chance to try any of it out.

The 1/4" Poplar boards sold by Menards laser well.

As other posters have mentioned, if you can get true Baltic Birch plywood, and not the stuff marketed as Baltic Birch (hint the true stuff comes in 5’x5’ sheets), you’ll probably be much happier.

I think the same concept applies in lasering as in pharmacology. The first thing we learned in pharm was, “There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ medication.” It’s all about risk vs. benefit. Is the medication going to do more good than harm? Are its side effects more tolerable/survivable than the condition it treats? Is the effective dose low enough that the potential risk is negligible?

There is also really no such thing as a “safe” laserable material. ANYTHING you inhale / spew into the environment / coat the innards of your machine with is going to have negative effects, even if it’s just clouding up the lens. Some things are less harmful than others – it’s easy to clean the lens, for example, so that “harm” is acceptable, whereas if the risk is of the material exploding into flame, maybe not so much.

So the answer to “Is this safe to laser?” is pretty much always “No.” But the answer to “does the benefit gained from lasering this outweigh the risk of doing so?” is really what determines what gets lasered and what doesn’t.

Now that my grandkids don’t live in the same house as my Glowforge any more, if I had a customer who would pay me $1000 per lasercut vinyl record, I’d be getting myself and hubs matching respirators and lasering every record I could find, toxic fumes and shorter laser lifespan be damned. :wink:


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