Balsa wood is a soft yet high-density wood that requires powerful laser cutters. Most users may cut thin balsa but the thick timbers require an expert guide. Normally the lasers would cost between $400 to $2000 depending on the power and other features.
Finding the best laser cutter for balsa wood can sometimes be challenging.
Balsa wood is the softest commercial hardwood which is why crafting using balsa is still the most popular.
Despite being hardwood, balsa is the most lightweight and offers the lowest density which makes it perfect for any type of woodworking task.
This article will focus on the technical aspects of laser cutting balsa wood and will recommend some suitable laser cutters for balsa wood cutting.
What is tricky in balsa wood laser cutting?
Since the balsa is very soft and lightweight yet is hardwood, cutting it with a laser can expose it to a few risk factors as below:
- Inappropriate laser power can destroy the cutting or engraving accuracy
- Sometimes balsa cannot be cut in a single pass and you need a laser cutter with a memory restoring function because in case of power unavailability or shutdown, the laser machine needs to start where it was left on the earlier job otherwise the balsa workpiece will get damaged.
- Improper air pressure in air assist may not bring the cleanest cut with a laser cutter
- Naturally, balsa comes in a spongy texture due to having cells filled with water which means, dried balsa lumber wood has blank spaces inside which requires special guidelines while being cut with a laser cutter. Otherwise, edges can get overburned or, there might not be a clean cut.
- Due to its high density and softness, balsa is widely used for making models or miniatures which alternatively depicts that the balsa lumber needs to be cut into smaller portions. Here comes the attention that any laser having inaccurate focus, power or precision would create trouble while cutting a balsa lumber.
- Cutting balsa wood creates more smoke compared to other materials, a laser cutter without smoke exhaust would cause fumes or even accidents without a smoke exhaust.
- Lastly, balsa comes in different thicknesses ranging from 1/4″, 1/8″, 1/16″, or 1/32″ depending on the necessities. thin balsa can be easy to cut using diode lasers but, the thicker pieces would require a CO2 laser and even multiple passes.
What are the best settings for laser cutting balsa wood?
You can not apply unique settings to different thicknesses of balsa lumber or workpieces. You need to understand where’s the problem and how to conclude!
For instance, for 1/32 inch balsa, you may use 500 or 600 mm/s with 60% power. Usually, laser cutters above 30W would offer you a clean cut in a single pass for the 1/32-inch balsa pieces.
Cutting 1/16 inch soft balsa can also be easy using 400 mm/s and 60% power. This is also possible to cut in one pass using any powerful diode laser such as xTool S1 or any CO2 lasers such as xTool P2, OMTech Polar, and Gweike Cloud Pro.
The problem begins if you cut 1/4″ balsa. We saw someone who couldn’t even cut after 12 passes. Later we noticed that he used a normal diode laser (snapmaker) to cut balsa pieces.
The problem here is not the settings, is the machine itself.
Cutting thicker balsa is not possible using normal diode lasers which are originally designed specifically for engraving.
Thicker balsa is easier to cut at 100% power, and 50-100 mm/s cutting speed using a powerful CO2 laser machine such as xTool P2.
We will suggest a few more laser cutters especially for balsa wood later in this article.
Best laser cutters for balsa wood
Below are the top laser cutters for balsa wood:
- xTool P2 (Best overall)
- xTool S1 (Best in diode category)
- Atezr V35 Plus
- Gweike Cloud Pro
- OMTech Polar
As said earlier balsa wood is stronger than pinewood so it would require powerful laser cutters.
Let us a quick comparison of the laser cutters:
|MAX cutting thickness
|Large material conveyor
|Gweike Cloud Pro
|Atezr V35 Pro
The P2 stays on top due to its powerful cutting ability and excellent add-on features. With this, you can easily cut any size and thickness of balsa wood. The xTool S1 can also be a good option yet being the diode laser. It has a proven record of cutting both balsa and pine wood. However, you cannot cut 1/4″ balsa with the S1.
Atezr V35 plus can be a budget-friendly option for cutting 1/16″ and 1/32″ balsa however, being the diode laser, Atezr V35 plus cannot make a clean cut of 1/4″ balsa.
Other than the P2, both Gweike and Polar can be a good choice since both of them are co2 lasers having more than 50W of laser power.
In the above laser cutters, only the first two (P2 and S1) come with a smoke purifier which not only protects the workplaces free from smoke but also offers clean air. The Atezr V35 plus is an open frame laser that will not help you in collecting smoke, nor with the purification process. However, the OMTech and Gweike both come with powerful duct fans and exhaust mechanisms but none of them have smoke purification facilities.
In the above 5 laser cutters, you will get air assist with all of them which helps effectively while cutting balsa wood. Apart from that, only P2 will deliver a material feeding conveyor to cut larger workpieces.
xTool P2 laser cutter
The xTool P2 is a 55-watt CO2 laser that has been the most demanded and hyped CO2 laser of 2023. In our opinion, the P2 is the best choice for laser cutting any type of wood including balsa, pine, base, and MDF.
The most appealing factor of the P2 is that it can cut at 22 mm/s and engrave at 600 mm/s. Notably, the P2 comes with a motorized pass-through that helps to feed longer-sized work pieces. Alternatively, there is no work bed limitation in P2 due to the availability of the motorized pass-through.
Here’s a balsa wood cutting word we did with the xTool P2:
Below are the positive sides of the xTool P2 in respect to cutting balsa wood.
- Powerful enough to cut thicker balsa wood
- Since balsa cutting generates smoke and fumes, P2’s air purifier absorbs the smoke and ensures up to 99% of air purity which has been a winning factor so far.
- Balsa cutting needs accurate air assistance to protect against edge burn improper cut. P2’s air assist is just amazing in that case.
- P2 cuts at a precision of 0.001 inch which ensures the thinnest balsa cut especially if you are trying to cut different modules for a build.
- Furthermore, P2 is well compatible with Lightburn which is a plus point if compared to cloud-based lasers such as Glowforge.
- xTool P2 is an expensive laser compared to budget-friendly options such as Gweike or OMTech. However, experts suggest that the price you pay will be worth it in full.
xTool S1 – best diode laser for balsa
xTool S1 is a successor of the P2 which offers almost similar features to P2 but with the diode laser module. Due to the nature of balsa’s density and hardness, laser enthusiast prefers a CO2 laser for clean cutting. However, the xTool S1 comprises a 40W powerful diode laser (also available in a 20W version) along with a 2W IR laser module that helps in engraving stainless steel.
The S1 cuts 18 mm of balsa in one pass which alternatively means that you can cut even thicker wood with multiple passes.
As said earlier, the S1 comes with every feature that the P2 offered including a motorized roller conveyor, air assist, and smoke purifier. Overall, the S1 can be a budget-friendly option for balsa woodcutters and will also offer some other advantages such as stainless steel engraving and curved engraving.
These are the main advantages of the xTool S1 from the point of balsa wood cutting
- Cuts 18-20 mm of balsa wood and pine wood in a single pass
- Can engrave on uneven surfaces at 600 mm/s speed
- offers both diode laser and IR laser modules for larger material compatibility
- The laser is upgradable to any option that is available at xTool store such as a motorized roller conveyor, bed riser, and many more.
- The material positioning system is new and effective.
- The S1 is a Class 1 safety certified which eliminates risk of any accidents arising from cutting wood.
Motorized roller conveyor is not included in the base price, you need to order that seperately.
Atezr V35 Plus
Atezr V35 plus is an open-frame diode laser (an inferior version of xTool S1) capable of balsa wood cutting. You may cut 12 mm of balsa wood with Atezr V35 plus in a single pass. However, thicker materials can also be cut with multiple passes.
The main advantage you will enjoy with ATezr is the price flexibility which is why this is highly recommended for someone with a tight budget.
This is a very basic diode laser with a cutting accuracy of 0.001 precision.
Most importantly the V35 plus is a lightburn compatible laser that makes is most compatible to cut as per the CAD patterns in one click.
Air assist kit, rotary, and honeycomb bed will arrive with the primary package, however, you may need to order the expansion kit separately if you need a larger work bed.
Here’s a tiny project where took the assistance of Atezr:
- Powerful enough to cut 1/16″ balsa wood pieces.
- Cutting accuracy is close to 0.001 which makes it a great choice.
- Works at a speed of 24800 mm/minute which is significantly higher than other open-frame laser machines.
- Frame/gantry structures are made of alloy steel that makes it sturdy.
- Very easy to install and operate yet it does not offer camera-based positioning.
- This is not enclosed and as a result risk of incidents is not covered like the xTool’s S1.
OMTech Polar CO2 laser
OMTEch has always been great in terms of CO2 lasers. I have seen many wood crafters has been using OMTech’s CO2 lasers having more than 10000 hours of active operating hours.
To cut balsa or other types of wood, OMTech would be in priority after the P2. The OMTech Polar is the latest CO2 laser version which has been successfully competing with other prominent brands such as Glowforge and xTool.
- Powerful CO2 laser (50W) to cut any thickness of balsa wood
- The working area is as large as 20 x 12 inches which perfectly accommodates most of the workpieces
- Cuts 18 mm of balsa wood in a single pass and engraves at a speed of 500 mm/s
- SPot accuracy is as low as 0.001 which is close to the accuracy offered by the xTool’s P2
- Arrives with honeycomb bed, air assist, and water chiller.
- This laser machine is fully enclosed having all necessary safety and batch processing features.
The Polar is not upgradable with an automatic roller conveyor material feed and does not feature and pass-through.
Gweike Cloud Pro
The Gweike Cloud Pro is another low-budget beast in the CO2 laser market. This is almost identical to the OMTech’s polar having almost the same specifications.
The gweike cloud pro is available in both 50W and 55W versions and is able to cut at 60 mm/s speed. However, there is no flexibility in using IR laser modules like the xTool S1.
The Gweike offers live preview and 100 DPI high precision which ensures most clean cut of balsa wood and other types of wood. However, this is mostly used as an engraving machine rather than a cutting machine as the benefits outweigh the cost if you can sell types of engraving services.
- Powerful enough to cut any type of wood-workpieces
- Comes with air assist and other modern laser features
- Works in Lightburn
- The air venting system is amazing but there is no air purifier inside.
The Gweike is surely a low-noise laser cutter but the absence of air purifier and work bed expansion made it hard to compete with P2.
Balsa Wood vs Pinewood
This is equally important to understand whether you would use balsa wood or pinewood for crafting or modeling purposes. Balsa and pine are each other’s opposites. However, both of them can be cut with the same laser cutter.
Balsa is extremely lightweight but hard. So if you are thinking about making something to fly (a model airplane) balsa is the only choice. However, anything made from balsa should not be exposed to moisture or water. For instance, if you need to make anything that will float in water, pine should be used because pine is flexible and durable compared to balsa.
Again, if your priority is to somehow rotate or bend the workpieces to a certain degree, pine would surely win the bet ahead of the balsa. Due to the texture, pine can easily be bent. Balsa holds the strength till the point its workpieces are straight, not bent.
Remember, balsa is only chosen due to its lightweight.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
These are the most frequently asked questions regarding balsa wood cutting.
What is best for cutting balsa wood?
Usually, a craft knife would be enough to cut balsa wood. But precision cutting (let’s say cutting an airplane model pieces from a single workpiece) would require powerful laser cutters such as xTool P2 or S1 diode laser.
How thick of wood can you cut with a laser?
Usually, a 45W laser cutter can cut 1/4″ thick of balsa wood in a single pass. You may double the pass count to cut thicker pieces. To be on the safe side, try using a lCO2 aser cutter at or above 50W.
How weak is balsa wood?
Balsa wood is the softest yet the strongest wood. Weakness depends on how thick is your workpiece. For models or crafting, 1/16″ balsa pieces are great. However, you may try 1/8″ balsa pieces for better longevity.
Is balsa stronger than Pinewood?
Yes, balsa is stronger than pine, hickory, and oak. The balsa grows in rainforest and naturally, its inner density is lesser than the pine which makes it soft but stronger than pine.
Are there different types of balsa wood?
There are three different types of balsa wood which are low density, medium density, and high density. For crafting, low-density balsa is highly preferred.
Balsa and other wood cutting with laser machines are now becoming an easy job due to the variety of choices around us. However, you should carefully choose what you want since every machine has its deliverables.