Is a lasercutter for me?

After consideration, maybe not.  Following Maker Faire Bay Area 2011 I was again prompted to investigate the feasibility of a lasercutter.  Now, I don’t have any great big grand plans for one – I just think it would be awesome to have one and I would be able to think of some pretty sweet uses for it if I had one lying around.

In any case, from what I can see there are some small and very professional looking fully assembled models starting around $8000. 1  As a hobbyist with no actual plans for immediate use of a lasercutter, this is way way too much for random projects.

I’ve seen a few websites that purport to have models for around $2,500 or so with kit options starting around $1800.  The way I look at it, there’s not a lot that can go wrong with a 3D printer.  A laser on the other hand…  could blind, burn, and cut from an arbitrary distance.  Besides, if a company can’t put together a simple WordPress website, I’m hesitant to drop thousands of dollars on their product. 2

There’s also two DIY options – the open source BuildLog.net and the promised-to-be-open-source Lasersaur.  It’s not exactly fair to criticize them for incomplete documentation.  BuildLog.net appears to be a collection of people documenting their laser cutter builds and aren’t advertising themselves as a complete tutorial.  Lasersaur started off as a very popular Kickstarter project but their site was almost devoid of information or developments until they re-surfaced at Maker Faire Bay Area 2011.  Going through the Lasersaur’s bill of materials I stopped tallying the cost once it hit $4,000.00.  At that point, it probably doesn’t make sense for me to try building my own.

For the time being, I don’t think I’m going to invest in a lasercutter, DIY kit, or open source project.  Besides, there are plenty of places in the Bay Area nearby I could have something cut or rent time on a machine.  If there was a project for up to, say, $2500 and had really great documentation, I might reconsider – but I don’t see that happening soon.

 

  1. I was thinking of the lowest Epilog model and one referred to as a “Turnkey Laser Business.” []
  2. And, really guys, come on. []

13 Responses to “Is a lasercutter for me?”

  1. whosawhatsis says:

    I keep pricing laser cutters, and keep deciding that they’re hideously overpriced.

    Everybody’s putting together BOMs for 2- or 2.5-axis cartesian bots on the order of 10 times what they should cost, then there’s: “…and buy a laser to connect to it,” or at best: “and here’s where you can get a $1000+ laser to connect to it,” as if this was what the community really needed. Cartesian bots are easy, and I already have 3 cupcake/mendel-size bots and have started working on one large enough to fit all of these in its build volume with lots of space to spare. Any one of them could, in principle, be converted to a laser cutter much less expensive than any of those. What we need is a good source of lasers to connect to them, replacing as many expensive commercial parts as possible with open source alternatives.

    Sure we won’t be able to fabricate CO2 laser tubes at home any time soon, but maybe there’s some way we can combine and focus an array of salvaged or surplus laser diodes with an open-source driver circuit to achieve comparable power. The Reprap project is full of experiments with using components outside their specifications to make a 3D printer for orders of magnitude less than the commercial equivalent, and we need the same for lasers.

  2. MakerBlock says:

    @Whosa: I completely agree. But, the two DIY options just aren’t ready for prime time. (And, frankly, I have my doubts about the Lasersaur. Wouldn’t it make sense to release as open source now – rather than at the end of development?) There was an interesting article through Slashdot recently where someone had placed a low power laser on a reciprocating Z axis, allowing it to essentially drill down into the material. ( http://builders.reprap.org/2010/08/selective-laser-sintering-part-8.html )

  3. Michael Cook says:

    I always thought it would be neat to have one (not that I have a use for one). It would be much quieter than a CNC for when you are just cutting out shapes, and you don’t have to worry about the bit breaking or all the wood chips that would pile up.

    But then I bought my MakerBot Thing-O-Matic. While the machine is really neat, it taught me an important lesson: I wouldn’t want to smell laser cut wood all the time or clean the ash off all the edges. I’d imagine the smell of cutting plastic would be quite bad too. I wouldn’t think metal would be too bad, but metal plates are going to be a lot more expensive than plywood.

  4. beak90 says:

    Honestly I think the best way to get into lasercutters would be simply plopping a powerful laser diode on a Makerbot and seeing what happens. Here’s one: http://www.dealextreme.com/p/100mw-405nm-blue-violet-royal-purple-laser-module-3v-80923
    You might want to put some optics on it to focus it to a small beam. I really want to try this too.
    If you’re willing to spend some money then you could try this: http://unitednuclear.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=94
    And if you want more build space then put it on a larger xy table. Thats another few hundred dollars. And there you have a laser cutter for under $1000. But really the problem is the laser price. I mean here’s a laser that would actually be useful: http://unitednuclear.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=27_82
    But when you get into the giant laser tubes, then you have to use mirrors to move the beam, and that gets complicated and dangerous.
    I saw someone at Makerfaire (in the fiesta fall actually) that had a bunch of laser things setup, including a little laser diode attached to an xy table attached to 2 knobs for manual control. It really burned the cardboard more than cutting, but I’m sure you could figure out how to make it work.

  5. beak90 says:

    But honestly a cnc router or cnc mill would be a lot more useful than a lasercutter. Also a lot cheaper. Maybe not a fast and exact, but it can do a lot more than a lasercutter.
    Maybe this one: http://sherline.com/8540pg.htm
    Or a shopbot (although they would be the same price as a lasercutter): http://www.shopbottools.com

  6. whosawhatsis says:

    I remember that, the reciprocating lazer cutter or something to that effect. That’s the kind of innovation we need, not more expensive designs for cartesian bots.

  7. The Ruttmeister says:

    @beak90

    At least 1 person has experimented with adding a high power solid state laser to a cupcake…. I don’t think that he did anything in the way of safety upgrades though. Personally I like being able to see enough that I’m not going down that route without some decent safety mods to protect myself.

    @Makerblock

    You know Noisebridge has one of those Full Spectrum machines right? The build area is a bit limited (and I don’t think they have tried actually cutting plywood with it) but I’m iching to go try cutting with it.

  8. MakerBlock says:

    @TheRuttmeister: OOooOOooOooh! I didn’t know that! I’ve been meaning to go check out Noisebridge, how I have another reason to do so. The Full Spectrum was the company I was admonishing for having a terrible website. :) Being able to cut plywood the size for a Thing-O-Matic would be about the maximum dimensions I’d ever really play with – so that’s good enough for me.

  9. MakerBlock says:

    @Michael Cook: Well, most laser cutters are enclosed and have ducts, fans, and filters. But, cleaning ash off the wood is a small price for the ability to lazzor things. :)

  10. The Ruttmeister says:

    I’ll probably be there tonight to get some help with bootloaders (lost my ISP :( ).

    I was trying to talk them into running a makerbot session every wednesday, but got scared off by the counter offer of me imparting my collected pattern of mistakes, sorry, knowledge, of makerbots to others.

    Only downside to that laser is that it is a really tiny working area. I don’t think big enough for ToM parts. Well, not the large panels anyway.

  11. MakerBlock says:

    @The Ruttmeister: Why would you be scared off?! We all learn from mistakes! Heck, have you seen 3/4 of my posts??? This entire blog is basically one long list of cautionary tales…

    How big is that working area? How much does it cost to rent time on it? I don’t have any projects in mind, but it would be useful to have an idea of what my options are.

  12. The Ruttmeister says:

    @Makerblock: Well, I actually blame having teachers for parents, makes me wary of teaching ;)

    I believe its 9″ x 12″ roughly, its the 40w full spectrum jobby.

    And I suspect that the ‘bridge is dangerously communist, because they haven’t charged me a penny yet. Well, they did for a TinyISP kit. But not for using anything. Just wait till wednesday when I set fire to things with the laser cutter… Muwah ha hah aha ha!… ahem, I’ll try cutting stuff.

  13. MakerBlock says:

    @The Ruttmeister: Ha! Both of my parents were teachers too! (Long lost brother?) If anything, it has made me more enthusiastic about teaching/sharing.
    9″ x 12″ is a very respectable size! No charge?! Well, well, well… I see dangerously focused beams of light in my future!