Laser Cutting Answers in 2017

laser cut woodWhether you’re a creative and innovative hobbyist working out of your own shop creating cool, wooden models or a small business proprietor building memorabilia or souvenirs to sell online – it’s no mystery that the co2 laser cutter is a dynamic tool for boosting your business. You no longer have to endure the hardship of pains taking, long hours of building parts or carving out a souvenir manually or settling for the limitations of a CNC spindle.

Today, laser cutters can do the REAL intricate jobs in short order.  Once you have your design done up on the laser interface software and ‘print’ the same to the laser it’s like printing a page.   If you are carving out a small statue from wood just throw some material in the laser cutter work table, shut the lid, and watch it detail that design you created on your computer screen. A hobby laser cut is a tool that simply makes your creation process faster, more precise and efficient. It enables you design on a computer and cut the design on your preferred material. Also, it is imperative to understand, the laser cutter prices depends on the performance and capacity of this versatile device.

The CO2 Laser tube and the laser cutter

The CO2 Laser tube is practically carries the heart of the hobby laser cutter. It’s the periphery of the blade, and where the material gets processed – etched, cut, or engraved. The majority of hobby lasers include CO2 laser tubes and the power is given in watts. Higher wattage is better especially in terms of cutting.  More power translates to deeper or faster cutting.  Don’t undervalue more power. However, do not compromise on quality and design of the laser tube because it is more important. It goes without saying that since it does most of the work; it will wear out pretty fast. Go for a laser cutter with the strongest CO2 laser and it will go a long way. High wattage laser cutters will allow you cut thicker and denser materials. Generally, they also cut with more precision compared to those with lower wattages.

Functionality of the hobby laser

When considering laser cutter prices keep in mind that many retailers will give you a base price to get you attracted at first but leave out some accessories necessary to run a job.  Some laser cutter accessories are not mandatory but help enhance its functionality such as rotary attachments, photo engraving software, or different working platforms. Rotary attachments often come as add-ons and are used to engrave or cut cylindrical designs for objects like wine bottles and aluminium cylinders. It enhances precision when etching cylindrical objects. Focus lens are add-ons classified in terms of inches and used to serve different functions. Depending on the focal length, it is used to cut thin, medium and thick materials with increased sharpness of finish. If you are raring to engrave some photographs into a block of material or solid objects, look for a good photo engraving software. It will enable you control parameters while producing the finest quality. An air compressor is very important in a hobby laser cutter. It blows away tiny particles produced during laser cutting and normally maintains cool temperatures in the cutting zone. This prevents fires and wicks away toxic fumes. Removal of matter during the process also enhances cutting and engraving quality.

Can it be used as a Wood Laser Cutter?

Laser cutting wood is one of the most popular and obvious uses for laser cutting machines.  Actually, with CO2 a Laser Cutter machine will engrave or cut virtually anything on the condition that the object or material in question will not produce any kind of explosive or poisonous gases during processing. Wood is one of the appropriate and popular materials for laser cutting because it is soft and easy to cut or engrave compared to other harder artificial, non-organic materials. Even smaller pieces of wood can be intricately engraved, etched to detail within the work area of your hobby desktop laser cutter.

What about an Acrylic Laser Cutter?

In principle, all desktop laser cutters including hobby laser can handle Acrylic blocks. You can come up with beautiful and intricate engravings in the interior of a block of acrylic. You can also etch or engrave and cut acrylic to put together very appealing jewelery. Acrylic is actually the preferential medium for most hobbyists since it is simple to cut, releases lesser fumes and produces far less debris compared to other plastics. Acrylic also appears far much neater when incised into parts, jewelery or molds. An added advantage with acrylic is that its see-through nature allows you to monitor the progress during cutting. However, with the nature of accuracy delivered by small desktop cutters these days, the issue of monitoring should not be a problem.

Where to buy a hobby laser

Apart from convenience, the other issue is a laser cutters price versus quality. There are many Chinese manufacturers directly importing laser cutting machines that are sold cheap because they are exactly that – CHEAP.   I would not advise buying direct from China due to importing issues that often occur due to the China supplier not having proper FDA credentials at all or up to date.  Many choose to import directly from China under the presumption that it will be cheaper compared to those locally stocked by U.S based outfits. The problem with importing lasers imported directly from China or other Asian countries (on your own or through eBay) is that they may be considerably cheap in retail price, but they are going to be more costly in the long run owing to shipping and custom duty in addition to chronic maintenance costs and components that you will be required to buy and replace time and again. Direct importation or buying from eBay means that time differences can cause a great deal of inconvenience.

Read CNC forums and the support, software, replacement parts, and foreign support will add you headaches not to mention the overall build quality. Again, the FDA is cracking down on Chinese machine imports and more buyers are finding their purchases stuck at the border for lack of valid customs or FDA documents among Chinese companies.  It’s best to buy through a local or regional US based company that offers you support that you’ll not get overseas.

Experts and most people that have experience from both sides strongly recommend that you buy desktop lasers that are imported by U.S. companies. U.S importers service the lasers and add remarkable value in long term support. You will pay a little more compared to direct imports, but it will still be cheaper compared to laser cutter prices by U.S. manufacturer. Look for a U.S company with good reputation and whose support system can be verified. Even for DYI’ers, look for a company with a competent tech support, refund option and a warranty. Do not build your own DIY machine is my advice.  If you import directly or buy from eBay it means you will have to build the DIY and no technical support for setting up the machine. This is risky and expensive in terms of usability.

General buying Tips 

It is easy to get a review of the U.S companies from blogs and business reviews online. Be careful when buying from companies that have changed names or websites or are less than a year old. Be wary of laser cutter prices below $2,500. Before buying, call the U.S Company and talk to the technical support. Ask how the company knows about the amount of wattage in the laser tubes. Do not buy a hobby laser with an engraving area of less than 12″ x 12.”

 

Example of laser cutting wood:  https://youtu.be/I4iQ5d9ck0Y