Thursday, January 16, 2014

Laser Woodworking - Craftsmanship in the 21st Century

The ancient craft of woodworking has been used to ornament the greatest cathedrals on earth, one hand, and to create something as simple as a child’s toy, on the other.  From crude flint tools to files to drill bits, each generation of woodworkers seeks to master its craft through the creation of tools that enable them to work more precisely and rapidly, without sacrificing the innate creativity of creating art with one’s hands.
CNC (computer numerically controlled) machines commonly used in factories, may just be the next big thing for woodworkers.   Much as a printer impresses ink upon a page based on a digital file’s image or content, CNC lasers can impress any digitized image onto a wood surface, by using heat and evaporation to score the image onto the wood’s surface.

This does not mean to suggest that the laser does all the work and the woodworker simply uploads a file and hits “print”.  The depth of each cut determines the dimensionality of the final product.  Shallow, medium, and deep cuts create corresponding degrees of depths, such as engraving, relief carving and pattern cutting.

Coherent’s CO2 lasers allow users to create three-dimensional effects, similar to low-relief carving, in wood.  Because of the elevated precision of these lasers, intricate patterns (as you might see on awards, medallions, or interior details such as moldings) can be achieved.  Settings are adjusted in a printer driver on your computer, adjusting the rate (or intensity of the laser), allows users to go from superficial scoring or “burning” of a surface, to peeling away at layers of wood, to cutting completely through it.

Typically used to make the extremely intricate inner details of wooden clock parts, small-scale objects (such as dollhouse furniture or interlocking puzzle pieces), life-like models, or 3-D sculptures for woodshops,  small scale wood working enthusiasts are also using Coherent’s CO2 lasers to create personalized objects such as nametags and key chains and one-off objects d’art.

Mark Williams is the author of this article about laser woodworking. He has worked in the laser manufacturing industry for a number of years and has collected a variety of sources including to write this article.

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