Affordable Laser Cutter and questions on use

I posted several years ago regarding a 3D printer and members steered me to considering laser cutters. I had health and financial issues that kept me from really finding one. Recently I have been looking at the ones on eBay and also others such as the Boss. The eBay cutters are a lot more affordable but all have things that make me to hold back. I found a lot of hidden charges such as lift gate service residential delivery fee etc. Also there is not one that I can confirm that is ready to cut or engrave without purchasing other things such as software vents and coolers.

What cutters do you think I should look at? I want to use it to build structures for my railroad and possibly make some to sell to help offset the cost. My wife is the real craftsy one. She would like to make signs and other crafts which would include wood, plastic, cloth and paper. I really don't think I can afford those similar to the Boss because by the time you add on the extras its well over $5000. Is there a more affordable cutter that I can consider? Should I risk buying one of those less expensive ones on eBay? If I go the eBay route what other things do I need to purchase such as vents and software? If I need software what software do I need? 

Also for those of you already using a cutter can you provide some information on how the design gets from my PC to the cutter? A lot of these state USB port but I'm not sure if that's a cable from my PC or a USB thumb drive. 

Any help that you can provide is appreciated. This is a major expense and I need to make the right decision. 

Thanks!

Dave

Original Post
Balshis posted:
dpg posted:

A lot of these state USB port but I'm not sure if that's a cable from my PC or a USB thumb drive. 

 

Neither.  A USB port is a socket, into which a USB cable is inserted.

Yes and you can also insert a USB thumb drive so my question is do I use a cable or thumb drive to send a file to the laser cutter.

You have a choice of both. Either move your files from your computer to a USB drive then plug them into your cutter. Or you directly connect your computer to the cutter. I would prefer USB since you won't have to worry about moving your laptop around. Or you would not have to set up the cutter nearby the computer.

The question you also need to ask is what materials do you want to cut and/or engrave? I have a 15W  40"x 40" laser "cutter" that I assembled,  coming from a Chinese company.  The issue is also with the software controlling the cutter. Chinese software is not well-written compared to American software. Chinese software and product "support" is all but non-existent, meaning that that the more you complain the less you are listened to.

A 15watt laser will engrave Masonite as I used it to cut joints in sidewalks that are perfectly straight and orthogonal. Engraving on most materials except glass and clear Lucite or other plastics, except I was able to engrave clear when the paper was left on both sides of the clear plastic.

  I tried to use it to cut 1/8", 1/16" specially designed laser cut-able wood and did not have the best results. It burned the cut.

If you want to cut wood, plastics, clear or otherwise you need at least a 30Watt gas laser. But if you are going there, you really should have a 100Watt laser. However with these you must ventilate the cutting area with a very functional blower.

AlanHN

On the larger 30-100Watt gas lasers the cutting occurs from a stationary laser whose laser beam is moved across the cutting surface with a series of mirrors mounted on movable x/y arms focused on that surface. For depth control there is a focused lens that is adjusted for depth.

All of the preceding is all controlled by the software that takes your image created in let's say CorelDraw that produces a .jpg file. The .jpg file is turned into G-code by the printers software. G-code is the same language that is used for CAD-CAM machines, except instead of spinning a router bit it turns on and off the laser beam.

AlanHN

AlanRail posted:
I tried to use it to cut 1/8", 1/16" specially designed laser cut-able wood and did not have the best results. It burned the cut.

That's how a laser cutter works, it incinerates the material, so on wood it will always have a 'burnt' edge.  But with a low power laser like 15W what you do is speed the laser up and make multiple passes.  In this way you'll get a cleaner cut with less scorching.

Now that you mention it, it does seem like most (maybe all) of the laser cut kits I have seen do look a bit scorched around the cut edges. I'll pay closer attention form now on. Shows you what I know about laser cutters.

Also, I see Micro Mark is now offering a couple of laser cutters. I didn't look closely at them, but it seems like they were in the $2500-$3500 price range? One was a Dremel, I forget the other one's brand. Anyway, just curious if anyone has looked at or knew anything about these items? Good, Bad, Ugly, etc....

Maybe you have thought of this, but I found several sources to do the actual cutting for me to get my feet wet designing the building parts first.  Several of the model kit builders will do custom cust with your file for a reasonable cost.  

depending where you live the public library has laser cutters you can use for free, and there are maker type clubs/shops you can rent/share time on larger machines.

not dissuading you fro  buying a machine, but for me in the end simply having the parts cut to my design was much simpler that buying the machine.

OP here,

After careful review I am going to stay away from the cutters on eBay. Many reviews express extreme dissatisfaction with the setup process and customer support is non-existent. Also you have to buy additional software and other items to obtain full use of the cutter. 

I am considering a Glowforge cutter. https://glowforge.com/our-products

The website addresses most of my questions and they are located in the United States. They are considerably more than the eBay cutters but there is a company behind the product. They also state that in most cases you are up and running in 30 minutes or less. They also offer files that you can download and cut/print. 

Also the eBay 50 watt and up cutters have hidden fees such as lift gate and residential delivery charges of $150. These charges are on a separate eBay purchase and are required for any residential delivery. I agree that these machines are more heavy (143 pounds) but I would only require lift gate. I asked what the residential charge covered and was told it was a charge to deliver to my house. Also they advertise a rotary cutter engraver option but to make it work you have to buy an Irregular-Laser-Cylinder-Rotary-Rotary-Axis-For-50W-100W-Engraver-Cutter-Machine at a cost of $183. 

If anyone is familiar with Glowforge system please let me know how it has worked out for you. I'm still going to do some more research before I put down that kind of money.

Thanks!

Dave

 

I feel like laser cutters are still in their early days and as such, I have been reluctant to dive in just yet.  There are so many pros and cons of each model online that it can be overwhelming.

I'd recommend trying them out at Maker spaces just to get your feet wet and decide what features might be the most important to you.

Also, look for brands that offer some sort of local support.  One thing to consider it to buy from Rockler if you have one in the area.  With something as expensive as this, I like being able to go to a physical store if I have issues.  https://www.rockler.com/search...amp;w=laser%20cutter

towdog posted:

I feel like laser cutters are still in their early days and as such, I have been reluctant to dive in just yet.  There are so many pros and cons of each model online that it can be overwhelming.

I'd recommend trying them out at Maker spaces just to get your feet wet and decide what features might be the most important to you.

Also, look for brands that offer some sort of local support.  One thing to consider it to buy from Rockler if you have one in the area.  With something as expensive as this, I like being able to go to a physical store if I have issues.  https://www.rockler.com/search...amp;w=laser%20cutter

Towdog,

Thank you so much for this response!

There is actually a store about a 1/2 hour away from me. I can get a Full Spectrum 40W laser with a full 2 year protection plan that even covers accidental damage for $4200. There is a "product specialist" at the store to answer any questions and they have a demo machine there that you can actually see it in use. 

I know that $4200 is a lot of money but this way I know I'm covered for repairs for two years and I have someone I can call and ask questions if needed. Also this unit is fairly portable so if we started doing craft shows once my wife retires we could take it with us and personalize any items that the customer would want. 

Thanks again!

Dave

Hmmm...That is a very good tip! Never would have thought to look there? I think our local woodworking store is also a Rockler store/dealer? It was a Woodcraft, but I think they have made some changes the last couple of years. May not be buying anything, but it would be nice to learn more about these things. And it just happens to be right on the way to the local train store too!

I am in the same place… I have been using outside contractors to do my laser cutting and would love to have my own machine. But $4,000 to cut four buildings makes for some pretty expensive buildings. If I were to cut 40 of them, then that's a different equation. The LED lasers on the cheap Chinese machines are not good for cutting the materials we use for models. For now, I've identified several folks that are doing their own commercial kits and do my work for a fee. One is River Leaf Models. Others are Mini-etch and Rail-Scale-Models. Each has their own way of valuing how much you job will cost, but it's still much less expensive than buying your own machine and dealing with the distilled water and fume extraction issues. They are not maintenance free. CO2 lasers don't last forever and are expensive to replace.

There are a bunch of commercial laser cutting services targeted to the Maker market. Here's one pulled from Google at random:

https://www.ponoko.com/laser-cutting

Wouldn't a place like that make more sense than kitmakers doing it on the side?

--pete

 

 

My heart is warm with the friends I make, 

And better friends I'll not be knowing;

Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,

No matter where it's going.

                        Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

Could be… kit makers have down times and custom work fills the queue. It depends on price. The kit makers would be more familiar with the needs of us model makers especially in making windows and engraving bricks. Kit makers are also more familiar with the materials we want to use.

ToddModel posted:

We are available to cut the pieces for you. Please give me a call at the shop or, if you are going to York, stop by at Orange Hall DD-11.

Thank you for your offer!

I really want my own unit as wife is really interested in making a variety of crafts with it as well

Dave

Dave-

If you and yours have not done so already, check out the forums on sawmillcreek.org. Their Laser Engraving General Topics may be a good source of information- methods, equipment, materials and problem solving. 

We have a Trotec and most likely could not be convinced to use another brand. My first machine was an Epilog (20 years ago plus) and it still runs in a former employee's basement.

Avanti posted:

There are a bunch of commercial laser cutting services targeted to the Maker market. Here's one pulled from Google at random:

https://www.ponoko.com/laser-cutting

Wouldn't a place like that make more sense than kitmakers doing it on the side?

I looked at using ponoko after Andre went out of town, but had difficulty navigating the website and templates. I would design my stuff on corel, email to Andre and he would cut it out. It was pretty simple. I emailed Andre just this morning to see if he is back yet, I have more buildings that need cut.

Don't take it too serious- they're just toys...

Rogerpete and all-

Please consider talking to us about your later cutting needs! In addition to developing a line of shadowboxes and now buildings for the O Scale train market, we are a full-service arichitetcural modelmaker. Better yet, stop in to see me at York next week in the Orange Hall, DD-11!

Laser cutters today are a lot like color laser printers back 25 years. Then no one could find a use for them and we went to Kinkos ( did they exist 25 years ago?) if we needed a good color print.

Who would spend $2,000 for a color laser printer back then?  Today they cost a few hundred dollars and we all have them. Yes you may only have 4 buildings to cut now but I find so may uses for my 3D laser printer that I never could have thought of before I had it.

The same will be true of a laser cutter; I thinking of buying the mid-range GlowForge.

AlanHN

Good point! But, the important takeaway is they won't be commonplace until the price point is below $500.00. Like flat screen TVs, and VHS tape players, prices had to crash before everybody had one. When VHS tape decks hit $99, Betamax was instantly out of business. I know, I had an AIWA Beta player.

That same curve is followed over and over with electronics. OLED TVs are the next in line.

The cost in the good laser cutters is the CO2 laser. There are high-powered solid state lasers that could do the trick, but they're not commercially available (yet). When the prices for a cutter (not engraver) get to that point, I will have one too. And yes, once you have one, you will find lots of good things to do with it. I've had that experience with my Resistance Soldering Unit. I thought it was just for precision soldering jobs. Now I use it for many utility uses too.

There is truth to the "printer" analogy. But, I am a little skeptical at things will be quite so dramatic in the case of laser cutters. At $500, lots and lots of hobbyists and small businesses will buy them. But I can't see them ever being an item found in every home, or anything like it. If you ever see them for sale in a physical Walmart, I will be proven wrong.

I think that 3-D printers will eventually come closer to the mass-market than 2-D cutters ever will, despite the fact that the latter is arguably more useful in our little world. The former can produce many ready-to-use items, whereas the latter is mostly for producing components with "some assembly required".  This limits the market dramatically, I think.

At least that is how I read my crystal ball.

--pete

 

 

My heart is warm with the friends I make, 

And better friends I'll not be knowing;

Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,

No matter where it's going.

                        Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

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