View Full Version : WHat to look for in a laser

James Carpenter
01-04-2004, 9:15 PM
I suspect this question is directed more to Keith since i see a good majority of the post come from him (plus he owns a laser so i assume he has done his homework). First - the reason for a laser is to add to my woodworking as a hobby but with military retirement in 3 years the possibility of doing woodworking after then is a strong possibility. I have a shop paid for, i will have aquired all the necessary tools, and possibly would have a laser. So with low overhead a woodshop as a business seems very fessable. Now, what do you need to look for in a laser? As with tool buying - you pay for quality - so the assumption would be the more expensive, generally the better quality of laser. What would be the minimum wattage to look at? Can all lasers do 3D cutting? How about table size? Enclosed table or not? I found a laser kit company and for about 10K i could have a 70 watt with a very large table. Here is the link. I don't know if it is even a good idea. I do want a laser for my hobby and even put a bug in LOML's ear, plus i could have it paid for before retirement. PS - i don't see me going much more in price just in case a business down the road does not pan out. Thanks for any suggestions you can offer.

James Carpenter
01-04-2004, 9:49 PM

Mike Leonard
01-05-2004, 5:45 AM

Great minds think alike. I am sitting at 19 years and was all set to drop my retirement papers when Uncle Sam promoted me. So, I'm sticking around for 2 more years.

Anyway, the LOML has asked me if I would be interested in owning a laser and has asked me to look into it. I live about 10 miles from Keith so I get to see him and his laser in action. I am amazed everytime I see him and his machine at work. A laser really opens up a whole new world of possibilties and creativity to woodworking, among other things.

I am sure Keith will chime in here so I will leave the machine spec questions to the subject matter expert. One piece of advice he did give me was to get a copy of Corel Draw before buying a laser and practice using it. It is a very powerful program that has a pretty steep learning curve. That way you are not trying to learn to use Corel and the laser at the same time. Sounded like good advice to me. Corel has a rebate right now. If you are interested go to Amazon and look at Corel Draw Graphics Suite ver.11.

I have info coming from Universal Laser and Epilog Laser. Keith has told me that one of these companies, possibly both, have a refurb program. This might be a good way to get started without breaking the bank. Something worth considering.



Hope this helps

Keith Outten
01-05-2004, 6:54 AM

I'll look at the web site you provided today and get back to you ASAP.

Keith Outten
01-07-2004, 6:46 PM

I visited the web site you referenced in your post. The price seems very reasonable for such a high powered CO2 laser but I'm not at all sure about a laser kit. It could be that these are the best value going but it might be real tough to build it, shake out the bugs or problems and at the same time test your software and learn to use the machine. If someone had a lot of experience it might make perfect sense. I keep remembering my first month with my laser and I had my hands full just learning to use the software and get the dang machine to do anything that I wanted it to do.

When I decided to purchase a laser I went with a major vendor just because I knew that my lack of experience might be a problem getting started. I also knew that I had very few resources for information that I could trust. Unlike most woodworking tools there are still very few laser engravers used in workshops and very few people who can provide advice. This is one of the reasons that I started the Laser Woodworking forum. It won't be long before we have a dozen people who are laser owners and can share our experience just like the other forums here at the Creek.

I've only purchased one laser engraver, not enough for me to give but so much advice at this point. I have tried unsuccessfully to schedule a visit to a Universal dealer in Fredricksburg Virginia, each time something comes up. The last time it was lots of engraving work :)

Visit every vendor you plan to consider purchasing any equipment from and make them put the machine through it's paces while you watch. Better yet take a few of your own projects, things that you plan to do with your laser when you get it, the dealer should be more than happy to engrave your samples. A real world test is still the only way you will feel comfortable with any machine you are considering purchasing.

Call me, an hour on the phone will save you a lot of time. I will openly share with you anything I have learned to do and what not to do, especially in the marketing area. Send me a private message and I will provide my cell phone number.

Here is the short list of all of our active members who own lasers;

Keith Outten
Steve Krim
George Skinner
Ken Nelsen

Nick Silva owns a Universal laser but hasn't visited SMC in months. Nick posted some beautiful pictures of his work in this forum awhile back.

Mike Kelly
01-08-2004, 12:18 PM
James, the kit built approach may be very enticing from a dollar standpoint, but I would be worried about the safety and liability issues with a build your own approach. I have worked around a lot lower powered lasers in a lab environment on an optical table and they can blind you in a microsecond. I would worry about us neophites trying to do something we didn't really understand well and suffering the consequences. The manufacturers have almost idiot proofed their machines and this is mostly the reason for the higher cost I suspect. It is not a real high volume thing either. If you know what you are doing with optics, go for it. If not, I would be very cautious and wear protection at all times.

James Carpenter
01-08-2004, 6:29 PM
I sent an email to Emission technologies asking a few questions - here is the response.

"The kit is fairly easy to assemble by anyone who is a little mechanically inclined.
There is no machining to be done, there is no electronics to build.
Everything has already been done for you.
Assembly will require drilling the table top and mounting the machine to the table.
Then you will install the laser and align all of the optics. The instructions are well written, and of over 10 units in the field all of them have been assembled and are being used, some even without any questions whatsoever on assembly and setup. All software is supplied with the kit. You must supply your own computer and a CAD drawing package to do your drawings.
The major difference between my kits and a Pinnacle of Epilog is the price.
You get a 50 Watt System for a base price of $7800.00
You get a 70 Watt System for a base price of $9400.00
The usable cutting area is over twice that of an Epilog or Pinnacle. (24" X 48" Usable)
The cutting resolution is the same.
My system cannot however raster an image onto the workpiece.
Epilog or Pinnacle can act as a printer, and raster a bitmap image onto something. That is beyond what my machine can do.
It was mainly designed for cutting, not engraving, however you can engrave by just turning the power down.
The power must be set manually before the cut or engrave operation and cannot be controlled from software.
With this system you must do your drawings in a CAD program and then export them as a .dxf file."

So - how important is this inability to raster, or is turning down the power a viable solution. Personally, that is how i thought the machines engraved, by reducing the power. Any thoughts??

Keith Outten
01-08-2004, 7:06 PM

If your goal is to engrave then raster is the tool you need. There is a great deal of difference between raster and vector operations. I would agree that you can do some engraving by turning down the power and using vector mode but it is very limited. We do this for simple outline work because it is very fast. Raster mode works like an old printer, the head moves back and forth and indexes down just a few thousands of an inch with each pass. This is what allows you to do such high resolution engraving.