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Pearl Sutton
09-02-2017, 4:03 PM
Hi!
Iím hoping to buy a laser cutter soon, and am hoping to get input on what exactly my requirements are. There are lots of smart people here, Iíd love to pick your brains for expertise! :)

To start with: Iím running low budget, Iíll almost certainly end up buying second hand, possibly home made. $500.00 range is affordable. So Iím not looking at new systems. For a lot of reasons, I prefer an open gantry, no box, they just get in the way of what I want to do, and Iíd end up hacking it to remove the box.

What I need to be able to do is cut thin wood (masonite or similar wood, 1/8 inch thick is, I think, normal?) as well as fabric, paper and maybe vinyl.

Questions:
What is the lowest power laser that will do what I want? What would be way more than I need? If I knew the correct range, Iíd have an easier time ruling things out.

Are there any brands/models that I should look at more or avoid when trying to buy second hand?

Are there software requirements for most systems? I am REALLY good with PhotoShop, and own the whole Adobe Creative Suite of programs, can easily learn any graphics or CAD program, but donít own any others right now. Is this something I need to watch for?

Anything else I need to be aware of that I may be missing?

Are there any sites that I should check?

Know anyone who wants to sell something like this? :D

About me, if it matters: good graphics skills, good hand skills, have been doing craft/artwork for many years, good with tools, better with hardware than software issues, thing that fix with a wrench make sense to me. I have in mind a couple of major projects for myself, that could easily spin off into a business, if I did that, first money in would be used to buy a better laser, I suspect. The major projects for myself are part of building a house, part of the decorative style (I really donít know words for what I want to do, havenít seen it done anyplace. ďLattice type doorsĒ is the closest words I have, but thatís not very close. ďLaminated fretworkĒ might be close too, but again, not very.) I am pretty capable of working with weird systems, I run moody old cars and tools, and am used to working with machines that have personality quirks. ďTo make it start you have to do this, then that, and then turn the key back a half turnĒ is pretty common in my life. A nice shiny turnkey system in a box is not only not affordable, itís probably not what I would get along with best. If I had time/energy etc (I donít, Iím building a house and doing all the work I can myself, including some interesting custom cabinetry and built-ins through it all) Iíd build my own system. Second choice is to figure out what will do what I want, and buy it used.

Any advice/suggestions anyone can offer would be greatly appreciated!
Thank you!!
Pearl

John Noell
09-02-2017, 5:09 PM
So many of your questions have been asked and answered previously. You can use the search function to find the answers. Other than the infamous K40 machines from eBay (and now Amazon), there is almost nothing in the $500 range (new or used). The machines at that price are not going to be easy to use or last long. The laser tubes themselves often cost that much by themselves. There is good reason that even a basic self-imported Chinese machine will run you several thousand dollars.

The beam can be very dangerous so open gantry means you must wear goggles or risk losing your vision, risk burns, or damage things. Lower power means cutting only thinner things and/or doing it more slowly. At your price point you will only be looking at poorly made Chinese machines with glass tubes. Those machines use Chinese software that is more than a bit clunky to use. Most people use CorelDraw to create the images and then import the vectors and bitmaps into the Chinese program (specific to the brand of controller).

I would suggest you try out a laser in a maker space and get some experience before wasting even $500.

Bert Kemp
09-02-2017, 9:06 PM
What John said. Your not going to find anything with your specs for 500 ebay k40's are closed box and very small cut area.you really need to research more. As for wattage 40watt would be your minimum to cut 1/8

John Lifer
09-03-2017, 11:20 AM
And fergit vinyl in any volume unless your machine is disposable. Do what others have said and READ much here and elsewhere. You can get a lot of info if you spend a few hours reading. (or even days.)

Kev Williams
09-03-2017, 10:17 PM
For what the OP is asking, 60 watts is just about necessary...

$500 will barely pay for a 60 watt tube with shipping. Then there's 2 or 3 stepper motors, belts, belt cogs, drive rods, aluminum extrusions and various other framework, guide rails, mirrors and mounts, lens mount, lens, power supply, laser controller, stepper motor controllers, drag chains, air hose, table, lead screws, various brackets, screws, nuts, bolts and other hardware and labor to assemble it into a working machine... which will roughly quintuple the first $500...

or, $500 can get you an EZ-Bake oven that thinks it's a laser engraver... ;)

IF future plans include getting a better laser, the best course of action is to buy it first and save the $500...

My Triumph, affectionately known as 'the dumpster', is huge- it eats up 4 cubic yards of space (which is the size of most apartment dumpsters ;) )-- it's a 1390 machine, with a work area of 51" x 31", and with the open back, 51" by any length (barring walls in the way) is possible. It has an 80 watt RECI tube, and non-moveable table. It came with an exhaust blower and air pump. I got it in November 2013 and the to-my-door price all in was less than 5 large. Without trying hard, the machine paid for itself in 3 months.

Consider this:
--On an average day, these machines will generate $100 per hour easy--
--$5000 borrowed for 2 years at 7% will cost $224 a month--
--If you can find just 3 hours of 'market rate' work for the machine every month, it will make the payments. After that is gravy.

Buying used is fine, as long as you don't buy a used $500 machine... Just get a decent machine :)

Mike Null
09-04-2017, 8:36 AM
Kev

You're sounding like a sales rep. The machine won't generate 20 cents an hour without a customer base. It's not a "build it and they will come" situation.

I'm with the others--do more research and save your money until you can afford a machine with some reasonable expectation of reliability.

Bill George
09-04-2017, 9:33 AM
Ten minutes with the Search function here will give you hours of reading. I love the talented folks who buy a K40 machine off eBay for $300 and then spend $100's more and hours to make it work. When they could be selling and making money they are working on the machine.

Kev Williams
09-04-2017, 12:51 PM
Kev

You're sounding like a sales rep. The machine won't generate 20 cents an hour without a customer base. It's not a "build it and they will come" situation.

I'm with the others--do more research and save your money until you can afford a machine with some reasonable expectation of reliability.

need a laser, need a customer base--It's a catch-22 not much different than: I need a car so I can get a job, but I need a job so I can get a car... ;)

My point: you can't build a customer base with a laser that won't do the job, same as a $500 car won't get you to work if it's being towed.

Otherwise, yes- get a useable, reliable machine. :)

Michael Henriksen
09-04-2017, 3:33 PM
Kev

It's not a "build it and they will come" situation.

It can be if you have the right product to sell and don't rely on being a job shop. I bought a laser so I could make marble machine kits. To my knowledge no one had ever offered a product like that before. I just assumed that since I found it cool others would as well. I've sold thousands of kits now.

Mike Null
09-04-2017, 5:18 PM
I personally know of quite a number of guys who had "can't miss" ideas who had to sell their machines or had them repo'd. You're one of the lucky ones.

Michael Henriksen
09-04-2017, 5:34 PM
I kept my investment low - I had to as I had just lost my job and had little savings. Bought a LS3040 with a 60W tube and worked out of a shipping container in a muddy field by a farm.

Robert Bonenfant
09-04-2017, 10:31 PM
Save up a little more and research alot more. $500 is just not enough to jump into laser cutting for profit. Your better off farming the laser cutting to other companies and working on your designs. You can then buy $500 worth of finished products to sell and see if your idea pans out.

Lets say you get a machine for $500, You still need to buy stock like wood, acrylic, products for engraving - What a lot of people dont understand is theirs alot of extra stuff that is needed - Table Saw to cut materiel to size, Sander if your working with wood, Packaging supplies if your selling online. Once you get your machine your gonna waste aton of supplies on learning the system and then alot more on stuff no one wants to buy. Its really hard to get a hit product right off the start - If it wasn't everyone would own a Laser cutting and be make tons of money. 9 out of 10 start ups fail within the first 24 months, do your research and have the right amount of funds available and you'll have a chance to be in the 10% that succeed.

John Noell
09-12-2017, 12:12 AM
I'm pretty sure we scared the OP away. :)

Ian Stewart-Koster
09-12-2017, 8:58 AM
Let's just say his question is akin to buying a box of toothpicks, knowing you'd like to build a house later on when you have enough lumber... ;)
But yes, 'read', and use the search function...!

Bert Kemp
09-12-2017, 6:11 PM
I call them one hit wonders. They sign up ask a question and poof never to be heard from again.I think I mentioned it before that you have to become a contributor to ask questions.

Pearl Sutton
09-19-2017, 10:54 AM
Hi! Thank you for all the comments! Not a one hit wonder, my email settings were wrong and I thought no one was replying to me. My error. And I wrote a long reply yesterday and the computer ate it. Trying again.

Thank you for good information. I know I need to read more, most of what I was finding on this site was people who have a machine already, not people figuring out what machine will do what they want. So it sounds like 40 watt is my minimum, 60 would be better, thank you :) Any suggestions for threads to read that would be more focused for what I need to learn would be excellent, I have not found any that seemed to ask what I am, which is why I started this one.

Further explanation of what I want to do: I already do things for fun and profit that involve cutting paper, fabric, and light wood. I have the tools and supplies to do it. I mentioned I am building a house, the whole walk out basement will be shop/studio space, I have never had enough room to be able to do any sort of production on my work, I have always done things like run my radial arm saw in the kitchen. I’ve always done one time projects due to space limitations. Most of the things I do could easily sell multiples of them on Etsy etc. So I’m not looking for a whole new paradigm in my life, only a way to make my design/layout/cutting systems more effective. Currently I design on my computer, get my layout how I want it, break it all into 8.5 x 11 size, print it on many sheets of paper, tape them together, cut out the patterns, sometimes transfer it to stencil material, cut my stencils, transfer it to my materials, cut out the materials. All that cutting takes a long time, gets done many times, and my hands HURT. So a laser cutter isn’t “how I would make money” it’s one more tool to add to my collection to make what I do easier, to reduce my exacto, scissors, dremel, and scroll saw time. Open gantry is needed because my cuts are generally not small, I can move the sections around, but a boxed cutter that has a 7 x 10 space just gets me back to the same issue I have with my printer doing 8.5 x 11 paper. Makes me crazy, I don’t work that small. I’m used to using good safety equipment, not worried about that.

So, let me rework my question to y’all: Given these specs (open gantry, need to cut paper, fabric, and light wood) what would you consider my best machine? Not interested at all in engraving, just cutting. Cutting does not have to be fast, I can work with slow if I need to. I’ll see what I can come up with money-wise. Building the house is taking all my current cash flow, and without work space or time, extra cash won’t be coming in for a while. I have a part of the house detailing (still don’t have a word for it, 3D painted latticework?) that would be an excellent project to learn laser cutting on, which is why I’m trying to find a cutter now, when the money is tight.

It was mentioned to find a company to do my laser work for me, I’m in the boondocks, as far as I know, no companies around here, no idea how to find out if anyone around me has one. And my cutting isn’t big batch stuff, it’s lots of small weird projects. It wouldn’t help a lot to not learn as I do things, I like to learn, it makes more interesting projects happen next time. The laser I have met that I fell in love with is 1000 miles away, but just watching what he was doing with it (not anything I’d do, his projects are nothing like mine) my head exploded with cool ideas for how to use it to do my work. He doesn’t have time or inclination to mess with my stuff, and shipping it to him would be expensive. I keep trying to talk him out of his cutter, he refuses to ship it to me. Crud! :D

Thank you for all the feedback, I am listening (and making notes) I apologize for not replying in a timely manner.

I curtsy nicely at you all :)
Pearl

Michael Henriksen
09-19-2017, 11:57 AM
Open gantry machines are usually big with a 130x250cm cutting area or bigger. Probably outside of your budget.

Michael Ramsey
09-19-2017, 6:56 PM
Even the RabbitLaser open gantry machine is about $14k over your budget. Someone mentioned earlier that even a 60 watt tube will be more than $500. Whats the largest piece you will require to cut? I am basing my machine size on the 90% rule, meaning that I can do 90% of the projects I design within this format. I will occasionally have to resort to other means. The amount of revenue the 10% generates is not enough to justify the cost of a larger machine, maintenance etc. To Clarify by "piece size" I am referring to the produced piece and not the dimension of the raw material.

Bert Kemp
09-19-2017, 8:34 PM
whats the widest material you would need to cut. My Rabbit will cut 23 inchs wide and with the pass thru door length is unlimited.

John Lifer
09-19-2017, 9:16 PM
You mentioned paper, don't expect laser to cut thru multiple pages well. Laser will probably burn it up under the top layer. Just say'n

Robert Bonenfant
09-19-2017, 11:14 PM
I would suggest putting this idea on the back burner for a while. $500 for a decent laser cutter is just not enough - Check out Rabbit Lasers, Camfive, Boss lasers (Other can recommend a few other companies) Look at there entry level laser cutters and work from there. Im just trying to save you some head aches. You cant just jump into laser cutting and expect a plug and play machine for $500 , you need a good machine before you even start the learning curve. You also want to make sure you have customer support and I highly recommend a warranty. Imported Lasers are not built like tanks they have problems and you'll need support when they break down. Do you want a paper weight or a tool that can help you make money ?? I would get your budget to atleast $3000

Bill George
09-20-2017, 9:59 AM
I have a wonderful true 40 watt laser / engraver with a 12x20 powered table that was less than $3000. The LightObject machine worked out of the box, no issues in over 6 months. It just works. Highly recommended.

Get a machine that works, and put your gantry machine on your List.

Bert Kemp
09-21-2017, 7:27 PM
Bill glad you got a good machine, but after reading the payment methods and their return policy I don't know if I'd want to buy from them.

Mark Davison
09-22-2017, 7:54 AM
I would suggest putting this idea on the back burner for a while. $500 for a decent laser cutter is just not enough - Check out Rabbit Lasers, Camfive, Boss lasers (Other can recommend a few other companies) Look at there entry level laser cutters and work from there. Im just trying to save you some head aches. You cant just jump into laser cutting and expect a plug and play machine for $500 , you need a good machine before you even start the learning curve. You also want to make sure you have customer support and I highly recommend a warranty. Imported Lasers are not built like tanks they have problems and you'll need support when they break down. Do you want a paper weight or a tool that can help you make money ?? I would get your budget to atleast $3000

This ^^ Its not often that waiting is the best option, but in this instance it is.

Bill George
09-22-2017, 2:51 PM
Bill glad you got a good machine, but after reading the payment methods and their return policy I don't know if I'd want to buy from them.
I have dealt with LightObject since before my first post on here. Subject returns.... I ordered nearly $1000 worth of stuff from them and others as I was going to "build" my first machine. After reading here and learning, I sent all of it back to LO and got my money back. On another occasion I can recall, I received some defective merchandise from them, no return needed just take a picture and refund without an issue.

Pearl Sutton
09-23-2017, 6:05 PM
Thank you all SO much! :) Need to fix my settings again, I didn't get notifications again. Not sure what I'm doing wrong there...

I don't have a specific size I need to be able to cut. I know 7 x 10 is way too small. Some of my work ends up huge but gets done in sections, mostly I want to have enough options to make the tool useable to me. The stuff for the house, for example, will end up being about 12 foot tall at highest, and 28 foot long. Not going to get that in a cutter! Not even going to get 4 x 8 wood in the cutter. But if I can turn it, move it, and make it cut everything it can reach, I might be able to get something decent sized cut if I start with a 18-24 inch cut swath. That's part of why open gantry. So I can make it cut more than the bed size.

I may have to wait on this. I just hate the idea of doing a huge project (the house stuff) with a dremel and jigsaw, and not learning to do it on a cutter. I have little problem with my learning curve errors being in my house, rather than on things I'm trying to sell.

I have looked at most of the machines/companies mentioned, and realized they are out of my preferred price range. That's why I'm looking second hand. I'm hoping to find a machine someone built or outgrew that they are willing to sell cheaply. This wouldn't be the cornerstone of my business, only a good addition to my current tools. Hard to justify a very expensive item when it may or may not make it's own money back soon. If I start with a used machine, and learn if I can sell the output, I can move up easily enough to something better. If I buy something more expensive, that makes a very pricey paperweight if I don't find a market for it's output.

Thank you all :) I'll think hard on all of this.

Michael Henriksen
09-24-2017, 10:21 AM
Why not have someone cut your designs for you to begin with? You might not make that much profit on them but it should give you and idea of market demand.