If you’ve worked with a laser cutter before, you might not find much new in [Maker Design Lab’s] recent post about getting started. But if you haven’t, you’ll find a lot of practical advice and clean clear figures. The write up focuses on a tube-style laser cutter that uses a gas-filled tube and mirrors. Some cheap cutters use a diode, and many of the same tips will apply to those cutters.
You can probably guess that a laser cutter can cut like a CNC and also engrave where the cut doesn’t go all the way through. But it can also mark metals and other surfaces by using a marking solution. If you’ve done CNC or 3D printing, the process is similar, but there are a few unique things to know, like the use of the marking solution.
The best piece of advice about buying a laser cutter is the same one we give about buying a 3D printer. Try not to do it at first. If you can find a machine to use at a library or a hackerspace, then you should learn on that. There are even services that will do laser cutting for you for a fee. Once you have a feel for what you are doing, you’ll have a better idea if you really want to buy one yourself and what you need.
Among the practical material advice are such pearls as “use plywood with interior glue” and the fact that HDPE melts and may catch on fire. Even more important is the list of materials you should not cut due to the production of toxic material. For example, leather that contains chromium can produce toxic material as can carbon fiber and certain resins. You might wonder why leather contains chromium, but it is used in many tanning processes. You need veg-tanned real leather if you want to process it in a laser cutter. The Dallas Maker Space has a good page on what you should not cut and why, if you want more details.
In addition to material selection, the post covers creating a design file and setting up the printer. Obviously, the exact steps you’ll use will depend on your cutter, but there’s good general advice about preparing files and setting the power, speed, frequency, and focus of the laser cutter.