CNC Laser Cutters

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I am interested in exploring CNC laser cutters, if only theoretically at this juncture.  I have done a little bit of laser work at a makers space, but unfortunately that is closing permenantly.  

I'm interested in etching and/or cutting both acrylic and wood.  So what's out there at a hobby level or even an upscale hobby level?  I see adds for CNC routers with laser options at Rock-Craft, but are these toys or capable?

How thick a piece of acrylic can you cut with these things?

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Etching or engraving may not be too dificult, but cutting ability depends on wattage. Lasers are perhaps not the best choice for plastics, as they cut with heat and can easily leave a melted mess. They will work, just a little fussy in those cases. So, like most tool purchases, use the planned outcome to guide your decision. Don't expect to cut very thick material with anything less than a ginormous laser, as the focal point is where the heat concentrates, and it disperses above and below. I think the desktop Glowforge unit can cut some materials up to 1/4" or so, but that one is kind of pushing the typical hobby budget. Something like Epilog would do more, but better generate an income!

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  • 3 months later...

I've also been falling down this rabbit hole a bit the last week or so. It seems like for basic etching or engraving you could maybe get away with one of the small diode laser machines that are a couple hundred, but they definitely have drawbacks. Those are about the power level and complexity I would want, but I don't like the idea of having them operating without an enclosure, so I'd end up building something. I'd love a Glowforge, but there's no way I can justify the cost for how much I'd use it. Right now I'm looking at maybe getting one of the baby CNC machines (the 30x18 cm size) that can have the spindle swapped out for a laser, but I've changed my mind daily. The K40 CO2 lasers from China look like the best bang for your buck, but they scare me a bit in terms of the safety and cooling aspects. @Mark J, did you end up doing anything with this?

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I looked into it deep enough to get a no from my wallet.  I was using a big Epilog at the makers space and it easily and cleanly cut 1/4" acrylic.  But that was big, as in floor standing.  I think the lase was 40 watts.  When the maker's space closed the asking price on that was $9800.  

Epilog makes smaller units and you can cut a given thickness by making multiple passes, but were still talking serious money, i.e. thousands for new.  

A CNC machine might be in my future (the distant and foggy future).  They are cool in there own right, but the available lasers are really directed more to etching.  

In the meantime I have discovered that one of my turning club mates has a desk top Epilog laser.  In principle he's willing to do some cutting with me, but there's this dang pandemic.  

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Fair enough. I'm on the fence about whether I'll buy anything, but I mostly would like to do some small etching. Part of the thought with getting a little CNC that can swap to a laser is that if I really want to cut 1/4" or thicker material, I'll just use the spindle and cut it. My upper limit that I'd be willing to spend on this is probably around $1000, but I'd have to be convinced it was something that would work in the longer term. We talked about buying a GlowForge for work, but it was one of the items that got cut when we started talking about how much we'd really use it.

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On 9/18/2020 at 8:27 PM, wtnhighlander said:

@SawDustB, if simple etchings are the thing you want to do, have you consider abrasive or chemical methods? A Crikut vinyl cutter is a pretty cheap tool for cutting masks.

Nowhere near the 'cool factor' of a laser, though...:D

I hadn't considered that, I'm sure it would work. The Crikut is also pretty cool, but at least around here not all that different in cost from the most basic laser cutters. I'm still interested in cutting veneer and thin materials if I can.


I will fully admit, I've also just always wanted a laser, but they've been way out of reach until recently. I'm in the midst of home renos for a bit, so I'm not doing much in the shop aside from cutting plywood. I'm trying to figure out if I'm ordering anything that's going to take 8 weeks to get here, so I'll have something to play with when I'm done. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

So I ended up out of commission for a while this week with a hand injury, so I spent a while on the internet looking at these again. I ended up buying one of the diode laser units ("20 W" power, really 5-6 W of optical power). There was one from Banggood that had about a 8x12 inch working area that was around $200 USD, so I decided to take a chance on it. 


I also picked up some laser safety glasses off of Amazon, with a rating of OD 6 in the blue range that these operate with. Once it arrives, I'm going to throw together a small enclosure with some scrap plywood.

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Report how it works. I've been wanting a device to do engraving for gifts and other random things. A small laser set up like this could work out really nice. Adding paint with the engraving would really make signs pop and add a fun dynamic to some items.

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