Laser Cutter Training

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Laser Cutter Basics and Safety

Safety Rules

The laser cutter is an exciting and very useful tool.  However there are safety precautions that should be taken when using this machine.  It uses a concentrated beam of high power laser radiation to vaporize away material to cut and etch.  It is capable of catching materials on fire very quickly.  It is capable of causing serious burns, severe eye damage, and blindness.  Never operate the laser cutter with the case open!  Do not operate the laser cutter unattended!  Make sure you understand what materials are safe to cut!

Burn and Fire Hazards

  1. This device uses a Class 4 Laser and is capable of producing severe injury’s.  It only takes literally a millisecond to create a deep burn and significant tissue damage.
  2. Never operate the machine with top open.  The window in the lid absorbs the specific wavelength of light created by the laser tube and is safe to watch through.
  3. This device can ignite materials quickly and should never be operated unattended.
  4. Make sure you are familiar with the location of a fire extinguisher when operating the laser cutter.

Material Safety

Some materials are not safe to cut because they produce toxic and/or corrosive byproducts.

Safe Materials

The laser can cut or etch. The materials that the laser can cut materials like wood, paper, cork, and some kinds of plastics. Etching can be done on almost anything, wood, cardboard, aluminum, stainless steel, plastic, marble, stone, tile, and glass.

Cutting

Material Max thickness Notes WARNINGS!
Many woods 1/4″ Avoid oily/resinous woods Be very careful about cutting oily woods, or very resinous woods as they also may catch fire.
Plywood/Composite woods 1/4″ These contain glue, and may not laser cut as well as solid wood.
MDF/Engineered woods 1/4″ These are okay to use but may experience a higher amount of charring when cut.
Paper, card stock thin Cuts very well on the laser cutter, and also very quickly.
Cardboard, carton thicker Cuts well but may catch fire. Watch for fire.
Cork 1/8″ Thin cork can be cut, but the quality of the cut depends on the thickness and quality of the cork. Engineered cork has a lot of glue in it, and may not cut as well. Avoid cutting thicker cork (5mm). Engraves well, cuts poorly.
Acrylic/Lucite/Plexiglas/PMMA 1/2″ Cuts extremely well leaving a beautifully polished edge.
Thin Polycarbonate Sheeting (<1mm) <1mm Very thin polycarbonate can be cut, but tends to discolor badly. Extremely thin sheets (0.5mm and less) may cut with yellowed/discolored edges. Polycarbonate absorbs IR strongly, and is a poor material to use in the laser cutter. Watch for smoking/burning
Delrin (POM) thin Delrin comes in a number of shore strengths (hardness) and the harder Delrin tends to work better. Great for gears!
Kapton tape (Polyimide) 1/16″ Works well, in thin sheets and strips like tape.
Mylar 1/16″ Works well if it’s thin. Thick mylar has a tendency to warp, bubble, and curl Gold coated mylar will not work.
Solid Styrene 1/16″ Smokes a lot when cut, but can be cut. Keep it thin.
Depron foam 1/4″ Used a lot for hobby, RC aircraft, architectural models, and toys. 1/4″ cuts nicely, with a smooth edge. Must be constantly monitored.
Gator foam Foam core gets burned and eaten away compared to the top and bottom hard paper shell. Not a fantastic thing to cut, but it can be cut if watched.
Cloth/felt/hemp/cotton They all cut well. Our lasers can be used in lace-making. Not plastic coated or impregnated cloth!
Leather/Suede 1/8″ Leather is very hard to cut, but can be if it’s thinner than a belt (call it 1/8″). Our “Advanced” laser training class covers this. Real leather only! Not ‘pleather’ or other imitations .. they are made of PVC.
Magnetic Sheet Cuts beautifully
NON-CHLORINE-containing rubber Fine for cutting. Beware chlorine-containing rubber!
Teflon (PTFE) thin Cuts OK in thin sheets. See https://www.ulsinc.com/materials/teflon ; the issues listed in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polymer_fume_fever should not matter because our lasers are fully vented and exhausted.
Carbon fiber mats/weave
that has not had epoxy applied
Can be cut, very slowly. You must not cut carbon fiber that has been coated!!
Coroplast (‘corrugated plastic’) 1/4″ Difficult because of the vertical strips. Three passes at 80% power, 7% speed, and it will be slightly connected still at the bottom from the vertical strips.

Etching

All the above “cuttable” materials can be etched, in some cases very deeply.

In addition, you can etch:

Material Notes WARNINGS!
Glass Green seems to work best…looks sandblasted. Flat glass should be engraved in our cutter as we have no rotary device. Round or cylindrical objects like bottles or glasses will have distortion.
Ceramic tile
Anodized aluminum Vaporizes the anodization away.
Painted/coated metals Vaporizes the paint away.
Stone, Marble, Granite, Soapstone, Onyx. Gets a white “textured” look when etched. 100% power, 50% speed or less works well for etching.

NEVER CUT THESE MATERIALS!

WARNING: Because many plastics are dangerous to cut, it is important to know what kind you are planning to use. Make has a How-To for identifying unknown plastics with a simple process.

Material DANGER! Cause/Consequence
PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride)/vinyl/pleather/artificial leather Emits chlorine gas when cut! Don’t ever cut this material as it will ruin the optics, causes the metal of the machine to corrode as chlorine is released and ruins the motion control system.
Thick ( >1mm ) Polycarbonate/Lexan Cuts very poorly, discolors, catches fire Polycarbonate is often found as flat, sheet material. The window of the laser cutter is made of Polycarbonate because polycarbonate strongly absorbs infrared radiation! This is the frequency of light the laser cutter uses to cut materials, so it is very ineffective at cutting polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is a poor choice for laser cutting. It creates long stringy clouds of soot that float up, ruin the optics and mess up the machine.
ABS Melts / Cyanide ABS does not cut well in a laser cutter. It tends to melt rather than vaporize, and has a higher chance of catching on fire and leaving behind melted gooey deposits on the vector cutting grid. It also does not engrave well (again, tends to melt). Cutting ABS plastic emits hydrogen cyanide, which is unsafe at any concentration.
HDPE/milk bottle plastic Catches fire and melts It melts. It gets gooey. It catches fire. Don’t use it.
PolyStyrene Foam Catches fire It catches fire quickly, burns rapidly, it melts, and only thin pieces cut. This is the #1 material that causes laser fires!!!
PolyPropylene Foam Catches fire Like PolyStyrene, it melts, catches fire, and the melted drops continue to burn and turn into rock-hard drips and pebbles.
Epoxy burn / smoke Epoxy is an aliphatic resin, strongly cross-linked carbon chains. A CO2 laser can’t cut it, and the resulting burned mess creates toxic fumes ( like cyanide! ). Items coated in Epoxy, or cast Epoxy resins must not be used in the laser cutter. ( see Fiberglass )
Fiberglass Emits fumes It’s a mix of two materials that cant’ be cut. Glass (etch, no cut) and epoxy resin (fumes)
Coated Carbon Fiber Emits noxious fumes A mix of two materials. Thin carbon fiber mat can be cut, with some fraying – but not when coated.
Any foodstuff ( such as meat, seaweed ‘nori’ sheets, cookie dough, bread, tortillas… ) The laser is not designed to cut food, and people cut things that create poisonous/noxious substances such as wood smoke and acrylic smoke. If you want to cut foodstuffs, consider sponsoring a food-only laser cutter for the space that is kept as clean as a commercial kitchen would require.
Material with Sticky Glue Backing Coats lens, cracks lens There are many normally laserable items such as thin wood laminates that you can purchase that become un-cuttable when the manufacturer adds a layer of peel-off glue on the bottom to attach them to surfaces. Examples include cork tiles, thin wood laminate, acrylic tiles, and paper stickers. Never cut these materials in the laser cutter if they have this backing. The glue will vaporize forming a coating on the lens that will coat it, cloud it, heat it, and then potentially crack the lens. The glue residue is worse than resin, and can’t be removed without risking damage to the lens … requiring a lens replacement.

Basic Operation

  1. Turn on the laser tube chiller located below the Laser Cutter Computer and ensure it is operating.
  2. Turn on the evacuation fan located on the right hand side of the machine (purple power strip) this also provide power to the machine.
  3. Turn on all switches on the right hand side of the machine.
  4. Ensure that the Air Pump is operating.

Setting the Machine for operation

  1. Ensure the the cutter head is located in the home position (upper left corner)
  2. Place your material on the cutter bed.
  3. Set the cutter head to the proper height for the operation you are going to perform.
  4. Close the lid and run your job.
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