Fold-out Laser Cutter Prototype Promises Portability (But Maybe Not Safety)


fold out laser cutter

Often times it’s tricky to make space for a full size laser cutter… so a group of friends over at Pittsburgh TechShop have been working on designing a fold-out version for easy storage. It’s still a prototype/proof of concept, so we’ll overlook the obvious safety concerns for now.

It’s built predominately out of aluminum extrusion and a few custom machined parts. A 40W CO2 laser tube sits in the back with optics reflecting it out to the laser head. The X-axis pivots on a heavy duty hinge mechanism and then locks in place for use. Unfortunately there are no videos of it in action, but the whole arm-linkage is apparently quite rigid and robust.

Like we said, this is one of their first prototypes or proofs of concept — as they continue to enhance the design they are considering taking it to Kickstarter down the road. They plan on enclosing the beam path in order to make it safe, and we’ll certainly be interested to see how that works out!

For more info on the project, there’s a thread on Reddit going strong.

[Thanks Ollie!]

21 thoughts on “Fold-out Laser Cutter Prototype Promises Portability (But Maybe Not Safety)

      1. I’ll clarify, it’s an interesting project, but your life would be better spent running a cash register than trying to sell *that* as a product. There’s a reason why machines have enclosures.

  1. Setting aside safety issues , that fold out arm represents a very large mechanical moment and is going to present some interesting dynamics challenges when the arm starts and stops. Without careful ramping (and corresponding control of laser power) or very low feed speeds there’s going to be some serious overshoot when the head is at the end of the arm. Also focus height is crucially important to getting a good cut, and without an integral adjustable bed maintaining proper focus across the cutting area is going to be a nightmare.

  2. This is what happens when high power lasers become common place enough for anyone with a few bucks to buy one and cram it into some contraption. This is one of those things that looks cool and it’s obvious that quite a bit of work went into it, but it is also extremely dangerous without a full enclosure. Without the proper enclosure, and interlocks it is illegal to sell inside the US, additionally there’s no CDRH qualification I’m sure. I’m assuming these people have no idea who or what the CDRH is, if they did, they wouldn’t be talking about the idea of a Kickstarter and they may not have built this thing except as a private project. Just a humble suggestion: Put this one on the back burner and use those skills and teamwork to come up with something else that won’t land you in court, jail or bankruptcy.

  3. ok, so pretty dumb implementation; safety issues, legal issues, inertia issues, and probably a bunch more.


    What if they made a collapsible enclosure for it. The bulk of a laster cutter is mostly empt space. So make the enclosure slide together or fold up. That covers the safety issues and probably the legal ones too. Next, make the arm lock into another stepper assembly on the other end. When the machines unfolds, the hinge locks in place. Not as sturdy as bolts, but good enough.

    1. They may be able to do that, any hinged sections would have to have overlapping seams. A cabinet for a laser cutter needs space underneath too, since the laser cuts through the material. Also some kind of exhaust handler as well (which for a lot of shops might not be an issue). Co2 laser containment is fairly easy as acrylic or other clear plastic is opaque to to Co2’s wavelength. The thing is, the laser would need to be made in such a way that the laser would not function without the cabinet in place. It’s easy to say ‘but we included a cabinet’ with a wink, knowing the customer won’t use it, which is why there are regulations regarding this stuff. The CDRH has all of the requirements, they provide the end goal, you put all the puzzle pieces together to reach it and maybe they approve of it.

      1. I was kind of thinking that the cabinet was permanently attached to the cutter and it would sort of telescope out. It wouldn’t even be possible to operate the cutter without the enclosure extended as the act of opening the enclosure would open the arm too. Or something along those lines.

    2. I just want to say that John and HV rock. I understand the safety warnings by others but you guys have gone the extra distance to give helpful ideas to overcome the issues. Collaboration is a two-way street and solutions and ideas are much appreciated.

  4. Even if they can get a way to operate it safely with some interlocking protecting the user(s) from the laser etc., it might still be a good idea to have an enclosure to contain a fire if the material catches fire (from the laser) and to contain smokes/fumes so that they can be filtered & vented.

    1. Yeah, I wouldn’t use a laser cutter without an exhaust blower and a filter. Burning wood produces particulates and burning plastic produces all sorts of *fun* VOC emissions. An open-air laser cutter is a bad day waiting to happen even if you keep your body out of the beam path.

    1. You’ll burn your eye out, kid.

      I’m not usually a stickler for safety because an emergency room can fix up cuts and burns from other hacks to a respectable degree. I know people who have cut their fingers nearly off with power tools and gotten most of the function back after surgery. Laser eye damage is permanent and being blind because you were an idiot really sucks.

      1. Up until last week a lot of people we’re into FPV piloting, but thanks to a minuscule fraction of all FPV flyers in the US, who flew in front of airplanes, around national monuments, over cities and people and literally into crowds or for commercial purposes, the FAA has made FPV flying illegal and also made being a sponsored pilot at an R/C show illegal. The few people doing that stuff will still do it because they’re not smart enough or into the hobby enough to know it’s illegal, the law abiding people have now lost a hobby. The only people hurt in the end were the people doing it right, not the loser who was never into the hobby and who dropped a grand to shoot some risky aerial video and then move onto the next thing.

        I don’t want more reckless people to make ANOTHER one of my long time hobbies illegal because someone is incapable of forethought and consideration when given the opportunity to show their intelligence and instead Kickstart another hazardous laser device.

  5. Honestly, this laser is pretty safe as long as they cover up the collimated beam path. Once it goes through the focusing lens, its power drops off rather rapidly as distance from the machine increases so eye-damage is rather less of a concern than people here are blathering on about. I suspect most people complaining about safety issues have had very little actual time servicing laser components or even operating a laser cutter for that matter.

  6. I’m confident they could sort out the safety issues – perhaps not enough to make it possible to sell, but certainly enough for their own use.

    My first thought was that when it’s unfolded and ready for use that the mirror alignment will certainly be off. Having to realign every time you unpack it would be a pain.

    Keep going though. Once we stop trying crazy ideas that probably won’t work, then we’re screwed.

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