Picking A Laser Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, February 22 at noon Pacific for the Picking a Laser Hack Chat with Jonathan Schwartz!

You’ve got to admit that it’s a pretty cool world to live in that presents a problem like, “Which laser cutter should I buy?” It wasn’t all that long ago that decisions on laser purchases were strictly in the realm of Big Science, and the decision was driven as much by spending grant money as by the specifics of the application. If you were in need of a laser back then, chances are good you had some deep pockets, or at least access to someone else’s pockets.

Fast forward a couple of decades or so and buying a laser is an entirely different exercise. Lasers have become a commodity, and finding the right one depends entirely on your use cases. Lasers are no longer jealously guarded laboratory instruments, but workhorses on the vanguard of the desktop manufacturing revolution. They engrave, they cut, they melt — in short, they do a LOT of work. And it’s up to you to choose the right laser for the job.

join-hack-chatTo help us sort all this out and come up with a plan for figuring out the best laser for any use case, we’ve invited Jonathan Schwartz back on the Hack Chat. Jon dropped by back in March of 2021 to share his wealth of laser experience thanks to his laser-cutting business. This time around we’re going to focus — err, concentrate — oops, drill down — oh, whatever! — on the more practical aspects of buying a laser. We’ll talk about laser types, fiber lasers, applications vs. laser specs — anything you can think of. If you have questions about buying a laser, we’ll have answers!

Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 22 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

25 thoughts on “Picking A Laser Hack Chat

  1. Just don’t buy one on aliexpress/alibaba. The seller will be non-compliant, the FDA will seize the laser, alibaba won’t refund it, it will be sitting 1000’s of miles from you, CBP will fine you 3x the cost, and you did nothing but try to buy an industrial machine the FDA shouldn’t be regulating in the first place. Stay far away from importing lasers. No experience with the government is ever pleasant, and lasers take this rule to excess.

    Side note: because alibaba took the side of the cheater laser maker, I won’t touch them except for last resort. Even then, becarefull of throwing 1000’s of dollars that way. If *ANYTHING* goes wrong, anything at all, you’re out your cash. F that.

    1. What did they put in the marketing material to get the FDA to notice? Did some loon suggest using it as a tooth whitening device? Or a surgical robot? Or did they “accidentally” send a pill-stuffing machine instead of a laser? This is pretty weird even for bureaucracy.

      1. Ok, found out where the FDA comes in – somehow they ended up with authority over the laser safety class designations. Apparently the seller must have left off warning that it was a Class IV.

          1. While I completely agree with you on not importing from Alibaba or AliExpress for more reasons than what you’ve run into, to give the blanket advice that people shouldn’t import at all is simply bad advice. G. Weiki and Hao Tian are the main manufacturers for 90% of the major brands in the US that buy from them and re-badge the machines as their brand (Boss, Stealth, Laguna & Thunder are all brands that use this model). I’ve bought 2 machines, a gantry CO² and a Galvo fiber from Haotian. Both shipped straight from China, both for half what I paid for my comparable Boss 100w 1630 and would have paid for their Galvo of the same wattage, both with no issues except for a lengthy weight for the gantry CO² due to sea freight shipping. It is a matter of choosing a company that is reputable and well established, not some online mall seller that doesn’t care about anything except separating you from your money.

          2. Honestly, I agree, mostly. In fact, I’m pretty certain the one I bought was just a clone as well. I’m not sure how I got singled out, but they looked at it, and complained. This was my comment about a laundry list of violations that every other laser cutter allowed has. I’m not recommending buying from the US companies that justify their prices with “support”. Rather, I’m recommending leaving the import to ebay sellers who take the risk rather than you. They know what they’re doing to keep the FDA/CBP off their backs. You don’t. Trust me on that. I ended up with an omtech off ebay. At the time there was incredibly limited stock, and while omtech was a more expensive “brand”, it was far better than dealing with the FDA/CBP.

        1. I’ve successfully disputed debit payments with my bank(s). I guess it depends on the bank, crappy ones might not help.

          But lesson learned, right? Only use credit card for sketchy online purchases.

          1. Yup, a whole lot of lessons learned. Still, the debit charges are the least of my concerns….

            and I couldn’t reply to the comment following, but yes, thats the point, buyer beware, because the consequences of getting a bad seller are worse than a defective product. It will cost you far more than that. The world is insane. At a minimum, if you’re going to risk this insanity, INSIST the ship it to a local port. They may charge you more for shipping as it changes the shipping type, but trust me it would be more than worth it. I’d still say, leave it to the professionals that import all the time. They know their sellers, and make sure they are meeting codes. They also take the risk on the import. Its more than worth paying the difference in price you see on US stock vs alibaba/aliexpress prices, because the risk is so incredibly high. At least with US stock, the only risk is a defective product.

          2. Oh yeah, and the even worse part of the whole thing? By the time I got through the dispute process the period to add feedback had passed. I couldn’t even warn people of the bad seller! The guy was clearly a scam artist, and quite good at it. I’m the type who doesn’t immediately leave bad feedback. If the seller resolves the issue, I don’t want to blemish their reputation. There’s plenty that can go wrong in an in-country sale, so international can be even worse! So I gave him the benefit of the doubt. That made it so I couldn’t even warn others :(


      No, it was misrepresented. But that somehow makes *ME* a criminal. If you think this is sane, please never participate in any activity that requires thought ever again.

      1. Really?! You think I’d warn people of my bad experience with a seller claiming he had everything in order to actually be trying to do something illegal?! Something that was going to cost me a small fortune?! Are you nuts?!

        How about growing some brains, heeding the warning, and leave importing lasers to professionals, and ask your congressman to make the process easier and not criminalize citizens working in good faith…


    3. Can’t say I ‘ve never had a problem ordering on Aliexpress, but I’ve ordered two high power semiconductor lasers and not had a problem with either, and in fact, the seller reached out to me to make sure everything arrived in good condition. I’ve always said, don’t spend more on Aliexpress than you’re willing to lose and you’ll be OK. I’ve since moved to a CO2 laser from Amazon, just because if the tube got destroyed in transit, I’d want to return it, and it’s easy to shop for a vendor based on reviews if you focus on the latest reviews (since I never trust the early ones).

      1. I think laser components are less regulated than finished machines, but, I don’t have the full laws read….I really wanted (past tense) to add a fiber laser to the machine. (Its something of a fools errand to add metal cutting to one of these CO2 machines…the size of the gas assist heads alone make this idea difficult, as well as the sparks generated….better to build a machine from scratch if you want to do this!, but I digress – adding engraving capability though should be trivial, and a 50W source would be plenty. I may still do this eventually!)

        Anyhow, I don’t know if I’d risk $3500 on a rebuilt fiber laser now, unless I knew the law said components required less regulation.

    4. I bought an industrial laser from a Chinese company directly (no ali*) without issues. Sent them money with Swift from my credit union. They shipped via DHL. Customs decided we had to pay a tariff, which was unpleasant, and it sat in customs for a couple days while the Chinese reseller figured out how to do the FDA form, but otherwise no issues. Would do it again (albeit I would make sure that the company I was buying from had the FDA paperwork done ahead of time, because I can definitely see how that could have ended badly.)

      Of course, I’d entirely do away tariffs except for one based on Human Development Index / Freedom Index. It’s really silly that there is a tariff on fibre lasers given that they are not made in the US commercially.

      1. Incidentally, the threatened consequences of not filling out the form was that the laser was going to go back to China, not be destroyed, nor that we would be fined. We wouldn’t have had to pay for sending it back (though that may just have the fairly high-end DHL shipping package the seller chose.)

        Would definitely have been problematic (not sure if the seller would have refunded our money less shipping costs or just kept it and said “see you never”) but definitely not as bad as the other experience reported.

        1. They would not “return to sender” even if paid. I had no address information. Worse, when the FDA singled it out for inspection, they leave it at the dock. Fees were roughly $500/day for storage! Talk about a racket! The FDA said they would do a full inspection in 3 weeks. You do the math. Its already a losing prospect, and that was just to reject it! This is why I say, its risky doing the import yourself. I’d strongly recommend finding an ebay seller who already took the risk. Yeah, the tarrifs and shipping will be rolled into the price and paid all at once, but its well worth it.

    5. That’s why you buy it via amazon … let them worry about it.

      That’s what I did ( in the Netherlands) For 300$ you get a K40 type laser that will have all kinds of problems. No problem, all fixable. If your time is cheap ;) (I bought mine in 2020 as a project during lockdown)

      1. Yup. Amazon doesn’t generally have the bigger cutters though (I think mine is the 60cmx90cm but it may be the next size up. Just can’t remember which I bought, but its nice and big!), which is why I went to ebay after the fiasco. Let someone else deal with the import process. Dealing with governments is always painful. If it isn’t, go buy a lottery ticket, you got lucky. Maybe you’ll get lucky again.

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