A Comparison of Cutting Methods: Waterjet vs. Laser

Manufacturers and fabricators use several methods to cut metal. The available options make the decision more complicated than it might initially appear, from sawing to plasma cutting and electrical discharge machining. However, two tried-and-true methods have passed the test of time and remain common in an era of rapid technological advances in the industry. The efficiency and effectiveness of waterjet and laser cutting make both top choices to get the job done.

While there is substantial overlap among the benefits of these two approaches, there are a few critical differences that one should note. In this article, we’re taking a closer look at the attributes that set these two technologies apart.

Laser Cutting

If you’ve used a magnifying glass to melt or burn something utilizing the light of the sun, then you’ve experienced how powerful a concentrated beam of light can be. Laser cutting is the same concept, used on a much more powerful scale.

A laser cutter takes a column of high-intensity light, invisible to our eyes, and transmits it through a beam guided by mirrors. The directed light becomes superheated to melt, burn and vaporize the intended material.

Waterjet Cutting

The force you feel from the ‘jet’ setting of your garden hose provides a small-scale example of how a waterjet cutter works. A high-pressure pump forces water through a nozzle aimed at the intended material. The water, mixed with abrasives like garnet and aluminum oxide, disintegrates the material to form the cut.

The process harnesses the transformative power of erosion, a slow, natural phenomenon accomplished here at a vastly accelerated rate.

Attributes of Laser and Waterjet Cutting Technology

Accuracy, Precision, and Speed

Waterjet: One of the most significant advantages of the waterjet cutter is that a material’s thickness does not limit it. The waterjet’s needle-sharp stream can cut up to 15″, with the tightest accuracies maintained on thicknesses of 4″ or less. The process of cutting several layers of material in one pass, called stack cutting, is also a feature unique to waterjets. Stack cutting reduces production time without lowering the quality of the cut.

Laser: A laser cutter’s precision is unrivaled, excelling at cutting metals <1/2” in thickness. Its cutting path is narrower than a waterjet’s, proving hugely beneficial when cutting tight geometry on small, finely-detailed, or irregularly-shaped parts. If the material is thin, laser cutters can also cut 5 to 10 times faster than a waterjet.


Waterjet: Waterjet technology offers flexibility that other cutting processes cannot match. By increasing the cutting force with granular abrasives, JR Metal Works can cut nearly any material. JR Metal Works frequently uses its waterjet on steel, stainless steel, titanium, aluminum, and carbon fiber.

Laser: Laser cutters are more limited in the materials they can cut, though the technology has improved in recent years. Reflective metals remain problematic because the laser beam reflects off the metal’s surface instead of creating a cut. Rather, a laser cutter’s versatility lies in the range of tasks it can complete, which include cutting, perforating, drilling, engraving, creasing, ablation, structuring, and welding.

High Pressure and Heat-Affected Zones (HAZ)

Waterjet: A waterjet cutter uses a cold cutting process to cut heat-sensitive materials lasers could ruin. Excess heat can result in the melting and discoloration of softer materials. Heat can also change the molecular structure in the HAZ of steel and more rigid materials, making it challenging to machine during secondary operations. Waterjet cutting is particularly advantageous for components used in the aerospace, defense, and medical industries with strict quality, accuracy, and consistency requirements. Also, by eliminating the need to remove any heat-affected material, components can go straight to welding operations, improving efficiency.

Laser: Laser cutting has the advantage with extremely thin parts because a waterjet’s high-pressure stream can warp or bend the material. An experienced metal fabrication team can also sometimes prevent thermal stress cracking by adjusting a laser cutter’s speed.

Waste and Cleanup

Waterjet: Waterjet cutters do not generate hazardous fumes and vapors, making the metal fabrication facility safer for employees. In addition, the water, garnet used in abrasive cutting, and scrap metal are all recyclable.

Laser: Laser cutting does not require special waste disposal, which helps keep project costs down. The technology is also relatively quiet, reducing noise pollution during work.


  • Waterjet
    • Versatile
      • Can cut the broadest range of material types and thicknesses
    • Heatless
      • Removes the possibility of adverse heat-related side effects
    • Stack Cuts
      • Saves time without reducing cut quality
  • Laser
    • Precision
      • Unmatched performance and speed with thinner materials
    • Range of Tasks
      • Drilling, engraving, welding and more in addition to cutting
    • Low Pressure
      • Suitable for smaller, thinner parts that would be damaged by a high-pressure water stream

The methods are complementary, which is why JR Metal Works will soon offer both services.

JR Metal Works’ CNC Waterjet Cutting Services

JR Metal Works’ CNC waterjet cutting system uses multi-axis cutting heads and CAM software preprogrammed with design parameters. Cuts are made at high speed using a project’s exact specifications for maximum precision. The CNC waterjet cutting technology needs minimal fixturing and tooling, reducing setup time and unnecessary costs. The precise process is ideal for producing custom, complex components for any application conducted under strict quality regulations. A diverse range of industries uses the service, including aerospace, defense, utilities, paper, and construction.

JR Metal Works’ Laser Cutting Services: Coming soon!

JR Metal Works is investing in laser cutting in 2022. This addition to the shop will accelerate productivity and increase its ability to handle a broader range of customers and projects.

Put JR Metal Works’ CNC waterjet cutting to the test! Request a quote today.
© 2024 JR Metal Works LLC - All rights reserved.
Website by BAER & Fire Pixel