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A foray into lasers......

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A foray into lasers......

Postby StevieB » 29 May 2023, 18:56

My name is Steve and this is my confession. About a year ago I started to become somewhat obsessed with lasers. It started, as many such obsessions do, with YouTube. We have all done it, watched a video that makes something look so easy, sells the benefits without any of the downsides, has a fancy 'unboxing and set-up' or demo video and before you know it you are hooked. You do the research, toy with different possibilities and then eventually hit the 'buy' button because if you procrastinate any more you might just explode. This is how I came to be the owner of a Sculpfun S9 laser cutter. This is a low level entry into the world of lasers, shipped direct from China in a box that you then need to assemble yourself.

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You know it will take a bit of fettling, and building an enclosure for it is a must as you only have 2 eyes and are quite attached to them. Then you are off and hooked. Sure, it takes a long time to cut out a piece of wood, but you are impressed by the 0.1mm level of accuracy and finally have the chance to produce the accurate cuts you have always dreamed of. You can engrave, cut shapes, make signs and stencils and although you are limited to approx 3mm thickness of timber, this is a serious bit of kit that has potential. A brief foray into requests from no 2 son and soon his friends are requesting their first orders - bespoke boxes to hold Magic The Gathering Cards (no, I didn't know anything about it either)

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If it was just a little faster you could potentially make a business on the side out of this, there must be a market for things cut out of wood, or an Etsy store at least...... a quick search suggests yup, but you are not alone in trying to exploit this interesting new tool. It is also clear that you are going to need a bigger tool. Much bigger. In fact a diode laser from China is not going to cut it (excuse the pun) you are going to need a CO2 laser. A big boys laser. One that comes in a crate and is impossible to hide from SWMBO. You also need some serious cash, or, in my case, some serious saving. 9 months saving to be precise. Then the big day arrives, and finally, with much trepidation and excitement, a delivery.....

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It goes through a doorway on its side, it is however delicate, and no 1 son and no 2 son are required to help with the logistics of unboxing and installing until finally, with a bit of rearranging of the workshop, its in!

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Now what to make..... what to make...... lets start with something for the workshop! But first, upgrade the fan to stop the workshop filling with smoke, and get hold of some distilled water (don't even think about complaining about the price of distilled water!) and we are off - an 80w CO2 laser that will cut through wood like a knife through butter......
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Re: A foray into lasers......

Postby StevieB » 29 May 2023, 19:01

So something for the workshop, something for the workshop.... something to store all the bits of hardware we all accumulate - boxes, that's what I need!

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Now we are getting somewhere. Bit of a steep learning curve in terms of software, but YouTube comes to the rescue and we now have repeatability. We can also engrave or etch lines and cut lines at will. Time to really start putting this tool through its paces.....
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Re: A foray into lasers......

Postby StevieB » 29 May 2023, 19:11

Now to get serious.....

Another obsession for a while has been puzzle boxes, including escape boxes. For those who have not come across these, they are a series of locked boxes with a puzzle or task that gives a combination to open the next until you get to the end. Many are cut with a laser. By chance, work put some of us through a team building exercise (yeah yeah, I know) and one of the tasks was such an escape box. Opening my mouth and jumping in with both feet, 'I should be able to design and make one of these' I find myself saying, and what's more I could theme it - students would love it and it would be great as a start of term ice-breaker (I work as an academic in a University, don't hold it against me!). So behold, my first prototype Bioscience themed escape box:

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Size is 500mm x 30mm x 250mm, 6mm birch ply throughout. Each compartment has an individual puzzle to allow entry into the next (which I am deliberately not showing at the moment - trade secrets don't-ya-know, not because I haven't taken pictures yet, honest) and has been huge fun to design and build, albeit with a few false starts along the way. Is it fine woodwork? No, but as an adjunct to it this is great. When I cannot get into the workshop I can still design on a computer, and I can see some great potential for this. Still haven't cut any veneer however, which was what sparked my initial search on YouTube......
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Re: A foray into lasers......

Postby Cabinetman » 29 May 2023, 19:43

Very good write-up thank you, my first bump into one of these was just for engraving/burning names into long strips of oak which wiere then cut up and made into keyrings for all the guests at my sons wedding, you’re right the smell is atrocious! We were in a shed without a fan, not good! A good source of distilled water is from a dehumidifier, produces gallons of the stuff. My Pam bought a couple of those puzzle boxes for her two boys and yes they are extremely precisely cut, I just wish I had taken photos as I went through the layers so that I could remember how to put the damn thing back together again!
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Re: A foray into lasers......

Postby Doug » 29 May 2023, 19:54

They’re excellent kit Stevie, a good friend had one & made quite a few things for me including makers marks & labels for systainers. He had a nice line in woodworking items that Classic Hand Tools & Chris Swartz used to sell so as you say they have great potential, best of luck with it.
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Re: A foray into lasers......

Postby Malc2098 » 29 May 2023, 21:12

You boys! :)

It was going over to see member Dave Neal of Lasercutz do my commission that prompted me to investigate what a CNC router could do for me.
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Re: A foray into lasers......

Postby Andyp » 30 May 2023, 07:03

Would it be possible to make those DTs oversized so that the scorch marks could be sanded away?
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cheers
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Re: A foray into lasers......

Postby StevieB » 30 May 2023, 07:55

Thanks for the comments - I am really enjoying it so far. I have had it a couple of months now and starting to understand the software a bit better - mistakes are expensive when using birch ply, although I tend to use laserply, which is not quite full on Birch but still void free and good surfaces but slightly fewer laminations. I think it is sometimes called popular ply as well. A good bit lighter than full on birch play but cuts well and strong enough for anything I have needed to cut.

I have even produced my first commercial order - 21 keyrings, company log on one side and key description on the other. Not quite paying for itself yet but a small start!

Andy - yes, absolutely. I have done that on occasion as well, it is just a faff. Certainly possible however. There are a few websites that generate the box code for you, it is just a case of specifying the parameters you want e.g. https://www.festi.info/boxes.py/Menu The small boxes I show above I was going to try veneering the fronts of, just for practice. While it will not be fine woodwork, the scale at 40x70x100mm and 3mm thick means I would never be able to do this by hand (or certainly not to this level of accuracy, they are all absolutely identical, the laser works to 0.1mm) Incorporating laser cut elements into other work is a definite possibility however - laser cut veneers being one obvious application. While some might not consider it woodwork, it is a tool, and no different to CNC or a Shaper Origin in my view, I am never going to have the time to perfect hand tools, but this enables me to get there by a different approach.

I should add that although I have only shown birch ply being cut, it should be entirely possible to cut 6mm solid timber, or veneered plywood/mdf. I have also cut plastic for a few puzzles when playing about, so definitely scope to take it much further than I have done to date.
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Re: A foray into lasers.....

Postby Andyp » 30 May 2023, 08:31

As far as I’m concerned if it uses wood it’s woodwork. There is a time and place for everything.

I can see that a CNC router may be more versatile. When I have time I might do a start up cost comparison. What scares me most are the tech skills required and time to learn CAD drawing which I have struggled with before.
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cheers
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Re: A foray into lasers......

Postby EssJay » 23 Aug 2023, 07:02

Hi Stevie

Welcome to the world of lasers, I've had one for a few years now. Started off with a K40 using inkscape and K40 whisperer software but soon out grew that, I now have a Omtech 60w but an earlier version than yours I got locally second hand.
First thing I alwasy do is change the mirrors for the gold coated type and also put a good quality lens in, another excellent accessory is the LED alignment tool that Omtech sell on their website for around £29 ish I think, mine came the other day and after realignment Im now cutting 12mm mdf albeit slowly. I assume your using lightburn software which is excellent although I do still use inkscape occasionally.
Aword of warning, once people know youve got a laser you will be VERY busy in the lead up to Christmas, in fact I'm cutting Christmas items now :mrgreen:

Have fun
Steve

PS Just finished building another cnc using Aluminium and 1605 ballscrews, it all becomes addictive :D
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Re: A foray into lasers......

Postby Woodster » 23 Aug 2023, 10:58

They had a laser cutter where I used to work and even with a large dedicated extraction system hooked up to it there was still a pervasive smell of burnt wood around the machine. This was over ten years ago so I expect they have a different machine now. I believe the whole setup including special extractor/filter was in the region of £30K at the time.
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Re: A foray into lasers......

Postby StevieB » 23 Aug 2023, 12:11

Hi - thanks for the good wishes. I am having loads of fun with it, but not in great demand from others just yet. The biggest issue is actually getting good quality laser ply - the stuff available now labelled as poplar ply or lite ply is rubbish for taking a crisp image and nothing like the good stuff I was able to get a year ago. Prices are also insane for a 600mm x 400mm sheet. 'Proper' Birch ply is an option but I find it properly burns and does not cut well, leaving a charcoaled black edge, so buying an 8' x 4' sheet and cutting it up is also out (quite apart from price). I have therefore been playing with MDF, especially veneered, and acrylic. Latest thig is a small puzzle box https://www.bennoboxes.com/ :

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Which has 4 sliders to enable one of the squares to be pushed and open the hidden lid which sits on magnets.

Never did get around to making enough stuff to open an Etsy store or similar - major lack of time mainly, but it is currently my 'go-to' tool when I do have some capacity at the weekend.

Yes to Lightburn software - generally excellent but the inability to easily design in Lightburn is a bit of a drawback. For pasting in images and engraving/cutting it is fine however.
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Re: A foray into lasers......

Postby Andyp » 23 Aug 2023, 12:59

fascinating website.
I wonder of those plans can be used on a CNC router and not just a laser?
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Re: A foray into lasers......

Postby StevieB » 23 Aug 2023, 14:49

Having cut one, I would say no Andy, the tolerances are very very tight and corners are all square on the internal parts to make it work, but with some fettling it would probably be possible. I should also add that he has scaled these for 4mm wood, which is difficult to get unless you go for Veneered MDF, so I rescaled to 6mm making them a bit larger overall but they are still manageable.

I do like the look of the Mayan one as a next attempt!
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