How Thick Can a CO2 Laser Cut?

Updated February 26, 2018

Many manufacturing companies now use lasers to cut and machine a variety of materials. The carbon dioxide (CO2) laser can produce an intense, powerful beam capable of cutting wood, plastic and metals. Cutting thickness depends on material, speed and the laser's power.


A standard CO2 laser can cut soft materials such as wood and plastic up to 1 inch thick. The ability to cut metals depends on the laser's power and the type of metal. Higher powered lasers can cut steel over 1 inch thick, though it cuts copper with poor efficiency.


You can use the energy of a cutting laser in two ways: speed and depth. If you need to cut lots of material, you need to make shallow cuts. Cutting more slowly lets you cut more deeply for a given laser power level. A typical laser system will cut at speeds of about 10 feet per minute.


CO2 lasers of 35W can cut ½ inch of wood, which is increased to 1 inch at 120W. Lasers of 1,000W can cut up to 5/16 inch of mild steel. A 6,000W laser can cut ¾ inch of carbon steel.

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About the Author

Chicago native John Papiewski has a physics degree and has been writing since 1991. He has contributed to "Foresight Update," a nanotechnology newsletter from the Foresight Institute. He also contributed to the book, "Nanotechnology: Molecular Speculations on Global Abundance."