Laser / CNC Consumer level laser cutter - what's worth the $$?

Discussion in '3-D Printing and Related topics' started by beantownJPL, Aug 29, 2019.

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  1. Aug 29, 2019 #1

    beantownJPL

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    I would love to have a small desktop laser cutter for cutting balsa, vinyl (for stickers or painting stencils), and etching/engraving on various materials.

    I've done a little googling, but it's a confusing space for a beginner like me.

    I'm a Mac user, so MacOS compatible software is a plus, but I could always use a Windows VM if necessary, and I probably have an older windows machine lying around that I could use if the hardware specs to run the software aren't too high.

    I've seen products that range from ~$200 on up into the thousands. I'd be much more interested in the lower end of that scale, provided it can reliably cut materials commonly used in our hobby. Etching/engraving of more robust materials is a plus.

    Who's got some experience in this space that could recommend a lower-end device that's worth the money?
     
  2. Aug 29, 2019 #2

    dr wogz

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    I've looked a a few. Recently for one that can do up to 1/8" stainless steel, 4' x 4' or 4' x 8' sheets. Yeah, not cheap. Like, German / Italian sportscar 'not cheap'! :D

    For a decent one that will cut wood, 1/4" ply, and in the sizes that make sense [12" x 24" or 18" x 36" bed], I was looking at anywhere form $1500 to $2000. The bed size is the killer. And these usually come fully enclosed. You can get smaller ones, but they'll only do about 8" x 8" or 8" x 12" for under $1K. And you'll need safety glasses.. Some will barely cut, just engrave / burn..

    I have toyed with the idea of building one.
     
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  3. Aug 29, 2019 #3

    memcbride

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    Have you checked out any local maker spaces in your area? I belong to one that has laser cutters, 3D printer, vinyl cutters, full wood and metal shops, CNC router and plasma cutter. It’s much like belonging to your local NAR/Tripoli club. You get the advice and support of the other members. It could easily be a cheaper route to take with access to higher end machines.

    Also, many libraries now have maker spaces as well that only charge for materials used. Our local library even has a UV ink printer that prints in color on many materials. There’s got to be use for that in rocket building :)
     
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  4. Aug 29, 2019 #4

    beantownJPL

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    I think I could handle a smaller bed ... not trying to turn out commercial quantity. I wouldn't mind cutting larger sheet stock down to size to turn out a set of fins ... or even a fin at a time. Of course, that's limit me on the size of the biggest stencil I could make in one piece ... but that's still better than the capabilities I have now.

    I've seen machines like this one for ~$400 on Amazon, but I have a hard time figuring out if it'll only do engraving, or if it'd be able to cut balsa, etc...

    Definitely not concerned about needing safety glasses ... I've been around "safety glasses required" areas quite often!

    I haven't ... yet. I recently joined a local club that has their meetings at a makerspace near me. I've only attended launches so far, but will probably attend the meetings more as flying season comes to a close.

    That said ... having something in your own shop that you can mess around with when an idea strikes tends to get things done more frequently then when you have to travel somewhere and possibly pay a fee.

    A smaller home unit for prototyping, smaller projects, etc... would be cool - then use a makerspace when I need more horsepower.
     
  5. Aug 29, 2019 #5

    Rainmaker

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    V1engineering.com has a kit for a CNC Router. Total purchased from them is about $500, and you can save about $130 if you print some of the parts yourself.

    That provides the electronics and structure (make the bed any size you want). Then you add your cutting device: blade for vinyl, laser or bit for cutting wood or other materials.
     
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  6. Aug 29, 2019 #6

    beantownJPL

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    Definitely worth looking into ... I like the DIY aspect of it.
     
  7. Aug 29, 2019 #7

    dr wogz

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    Frankly speaking, for $400 you can get yourself a bandsaw & belt sander. You are then not limited to material size, thickness, or density. And you'll find many more uses, and not have to worry about files, set ups, etc.. Print out your template, glue it to your sheet, and cut. Sand the edges smooth, then bevel them..

    It's what I have, and I find it hard to justify a laser cutter, except for the coolness factor..
     
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  8. Aug 29, 2019 #8

    Doug Holverson

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    What's a good hobbyist one that could cut a 50cm or more long piece of balsa or basewood?
     
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  9. Aug 29, 2019 #9

    KennB

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    The Hatch Makerspace we meet at charges no fees for our use of the space and tools (if anything would carry a charge, I'd think it would be the 3D printers as something is consumed there - laser cutting is free). We've only had one person try the laser cutter, so far, but his program didn't scale right; it was a great looking centering ring, just a little small.

    I'd think twice about using a laser on vinyl. There could be some nasty gasses coming off of that.

    See you at a launch or a meeting.
     
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  10. Aug 29, 2019 #10

    memcbride

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    I wouldn’t laser cut vinyl or any pvc based materials. KennB is right about nasty stuff being released. Our maker space specifically prohibits those two materials.
     
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  11. Aug 29, 2019 #11

    memcbride

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    Like all things, laser cutting does take practice; both in good designs that allow for the cut and in finding a good speed/power tradeoff for the engraving and/or cut given the material properties.

    Our maker space has a materials guide with suggested starting values for speed/power and basic guidelines on using the software for design. Much like the learning I’ve been doing about rocket design and building, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying how to use the tools effectively (laser cutters, 3D printers, etc.)

    Good luck in your choice and enjoy the journey.
     
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  12. Aug 29, 2019 #12

    neil_w

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    Not useful for balsa or basswood, or for cutting small centering rings out of 1/8" ply.
     
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  13. Aug 29, 2019 #13

    beantownJPL

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    I do have a little hobby belt sander and it works ok. Don't have a band saw, but I'm pretty handy with a coping saw. Besides the "cool factor", I'd love to be able to accurately cut centering rings and such. Yes ... I can cut them by hand, but it's time consuming and less precise.

    I spent many years building model airplanes, and definitely can "get by" with with "traditional" tools. However, modern equipment does take it up a notch.

    Also, can't cut painting masks and decals with a band saw :D. I've made do with a computer, printer and x-acto knife in the past, but again ... fiddly, time consuming and imprecise.

    Looking forward to it! I better get busy with some software and figure out how this stuff works. Can you tell me a little about what goes on in the club meetings? I live real nearby in Newton, so definitely looking forward to attending one. Is the "no charge" only during club meetings, or can I go any time? Stop by and say "Hi" if you see me ... planning on going to the Amesbury launch with my son.

    You're probably right about vinyl ... laser is overkill for that anyway. Looks like a lot of these CNC jigs can do a lot of stuff though, so a drag blade could replace the laser for vinyl cutting, and a router head can be swapped in for shaping bulk material. Be neat to CNC some balsa nose cones! All that for in the neighborhood of $600 seems like it might be worth the investment. Maybe I could start by building the frame, 3D printing the necessary stuff at a local makerspace, and use the "physical" cutting tools while I learn up on the laser stuff.

    I also might look into a Cricut machine. That'd work for card stock and stencil cutting, and I know my wife would put it to use for crafty pursuits. I should see if I can keep my eyes out for a used one.

    I'm a software engineer by trade, and a hacker by nature, so fiddling with that stuff is right up my alley. Looking forward to playing with it. As you know, laser cutting has really taken the "balsa-based" hobbies to another level.

    Also looking forward to getting into some 3D printing. My kids are definitely stumping for a 3D printer for their own hobby pursuits. When I put down my model airplane hobby a little over 10 years ago (too time consuming and spendy for a full-time professional and family man these days), 3D printing was just becoming a consumer-level thing. I flew everything from small gas planes in the 80's and 90's all the way up to the more powerful electrics that are dominating the hobby these days. LiPO power and brushless motors had really just taken the dominant (read: affordable) position for model airplanes when I had to put it down. I actually still have some "mid-build" projects I hope to pick up again some day when both kids are at a more "independent" age.

    What I love about having found rocketry is I can easily throw together a decent model for a few bucks in a couple of evenings ... not not cry to hard when it "spontaneously disassembles:.


    You can do it to a point. BT-60, sure. BT-50 and below ... watch your fingers. A hobby-sized scroll saw can get you pretty far in balsa, basswood and light ply ... not so much for card stock.
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2019
  14. Aug 29, 2019 #14

    jlabrasca

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    https://www.snapmaker.com

    A CNC router may be a better choice. As noted, there are materials you will not want to put on a laser cutter. A 3-axis CNC router will also do 3D profiles. As you say, add a drag knife, and it will do the work of a vinyl cutter.
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2019
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  15. Aug 30, 2019 #15

    dr wogz

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    actually, with a fine toothed blade, you can do balsa. same with basswood.. it does take a steady hand though..
     
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  16. Aug 30, 2019 #16

    KennB

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    Club meetings are much like our launches. You can get rocketry things done (short of painting), get advice and chat about rockets or just make a social visit out of it.
    Here's the Hatch website. While library membership in their network is required in general, they are happy to have our club hold our meetings there. No talk of fees yet so don't know what may trigger anything like that. You have to sign in on their computer every visit so once you've done that, you're likely in anytime.
     
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  17. Aug 30, 2019 #17

    Locksmith

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    I will 2nd the maker space idea, save your money chances are a local maker space has a much better one then you can afford and all the tinkering is already done for you.

    I have been a member of one for coming up on 3 years and it's been probably the best decision I have made ever seriously ever.
     
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  18. Aug 30, 2019 #18

    gtg738w

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  19. Aug 30, 2019 #19

    vcp

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    I'll bring it up, since it doesn't seem to have been mentioned by name in this thread: The most common generic, cheap Chinese laser cutter is the k40 'family'. I say 'family', since the k40 seems to be offered from many different vendors, with slightly different features. It's 40 Watts, and will cut materials 1/8" thick or greater. Like most low-end 3D printers, it does usually work out-of-the-box, but there is a great deal of potential fiddling and upgrades to be done to it. There's lots of stuff on Thingiverse for it, several Facebook groups, and lots of aftermarket stuff. Many people replace the controller board in it, to improve software compatibility, or alternately, some driver software called 'k40 whisperer' is supposed to work.

    I've had one for a few years, but haven't done anything with it. Two moves since I got it has put a crimp in trying to use it, but when I did fiddle with it, the carriage moved well and the tube fired when I pushed the 'test' button, punching a very fine, focused hole. But then the test fire button stuck 'on', and that put a damper on messing with it further at the time. Time and the moves have probably turned it into a pretty blue box of junk.
     
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  20. Aug 30, 2019 #20

    beantownJPL

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    I love a product with built-in hackability and a community around it. I'll look into these.
     
  21. Sep 4, 2019 #21

    vcp

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  22. Sep 4, 2019 #22

    beantownJPL

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