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Thread: Laser for Hobby use and stay under $2K budget

  1. #1

    Laser for Hobby use and stay under $2K budget

    Not sure how I should title it, but complete NEWB with laser cutting. What I am looking to do is get a cutter to cut out the parts for some airplanes that we are planning to build. A friend of mine wants to scratch build an 1/8th scale B-17, and is working on drawing up all the parts. He would like to have the parts laser cut. I also have at least 5 different large scale planes that I want to cut out as well. I would need a cutting area of about 24", though a couple parts exceed 24", so have been looking around at Chasers (Chinese Lasers) and came across a few with 28 x 20 cutting area, 60-80 watt CO2. One example is This one which fits the budget. I had initially looked at Glowforge and was highly impressed until I learned it is all cloud based. I work with the cloud, I know how unstable it can be, and I also know that if the cloud ever goes BOOM, then I would have a very expensive paperweight! It also requires an internet connection, which where I live is spotty, so using it would be very time consuming as it sends what it sees to the cloud, where it gets it thing together, then transmit it to my PC, then back to the cloud to control the cutting. Yeah, not going to work, and expensive to boot. Looked at Dremel, did I mention expensive! WOOF, even more!

    So, there are K40 lasers, $400, cool, well, 12 x 8 is no where big enough for what my plans are. There is a 16 x 16 one, 50w, for under $700. Doable, for some, but not everything I plan to cut. The one linked above is the most appropriate sized one, with the power needed to cut through at least 10MM aircraft plywood, which is the thickest we would be using. The majority of cuts will be in 1/8" balsa, with some parts being made of laminated balsa up to maybe 3/8". I will be converting a lot of it to metric since my plans are all done in metric, but materials are mostly sized SAE here.

    OK, so to get to the main part of my post, the questions. I have not done CNC since 1988 back when I programmed Strippet turret punch presses where the program was punched out on fanfold paper tape and loaded into the machine via a light reader. The laser isn't really much different with X Y coordinates, and the power level and on/off for the tooling instead of the turret position and ram speed.

    1. What I don't know, is there a Z axis on these with the table position? I see that the table is power adjusted on the model I linked, but is that just for positioning the material to the laser focal point?

    2. The software.

    2a. Importing, I have found and am testing out Inkscape. My plans are all in PDF format, so I can import them, and I guess, trace the parts, but that is as far as I got with it. I will need to figure out what to do with the trace, or how to trace it so that I can export the parts. EDIT: No question! LOL Other than Inkscape, any others that do what I want to do, import PDF and trace it.

    2b. Exporting, once I have my parts, what software is used to "print" the parts out on the laser? It does not appear that the cutters I am looking at have any software, but instead have a USB input to the controller, and possible can load a file from a USB stick.

    2c. Would prefer it to run on Linux. I have a Sherline CNC mill that runs on Linux, maybe can even use the software from it, but doubt it since it is for the mill. I haven't used it yet because the power supply that I got with the mill was the right voltage, wrong type, and AC does not function well with a DC based controller. Thankfully the power supply burned up and not the controller (Diodes are wonderful aren't they?). Would be good to have one machine to run both, less bench space used, and just needs the output software, the CAD work can be done on other machines I have.

    3. The Cutter/engraver itself. Anything, and everything! I want to stay on budget, but if an upgrade can/should be done for the controller, then I can make it work. Is there a better controller than what comes on these, and will it work with the same output software?

    4. Power output. I have read where the meters, well, they didn't meter well and the tubes burned out long before their time. What is the best method for controlling the output, and is it something that an upgrade will be needed?

    5. Did I miss anything? Already have ideas for a chiller, and ventilation.

    I have no problem with modifying, upgrading or anything like that, I am well versed in mechanical/electrical and enjoy it as another hobby. My main hobby are RC airplanes, and I have no intentions of making a business out of this, but if someone wants parts made, I would do it for them for a small fee for my time. I might mess around with engraving things, maybe for gifts and such, but the primary use is to cut out parts for our planes, as of last count there are at least 8 of them to cut, with hundreds of pieces each.

    Do I test the waters with the $700 machine, what do I do when I need to cut larger pieces, as I don't think it has passthrough on it, if it did, then it would be good. Would 50W be enough for what I need to cut? So far everything points to the one that costs twice as much, is it worth it? Since it is via a company with a physical location, would that be a better choice to purchase from? If I go to Amazon, there are similar machines that cost more, but free shipping, so in the end, the cost is pretty much the same when shipping is added to the one above.

    My other concern is the weight. I would like to have this in my workshop, which is in my basement, but getting 400 pounds downstairs will be rather difficult. I really do not want to have this in my garage where the temps vary too much and gets pretty dirty in there.

    I know, lots to read here, hopefully those with the best answers didn't skip because TL;DR.
    Last edited by Todd Heide; 06-12-2019 at 3:14 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    NW Arkansas
    First, Do you have any Maker's spaces close to you?
    A lot of them have co2 lasers of varying sizes from K40's to Epilogs. Some have free time available, some charge. Get your feet wet with one of these if possible.
    $2k is tight budget. Chinese machines better than k40s are available for close to that, but you need some equipment, chiller exhaust fan and ducting. I use Coreldraw, early versions are fine, you can sometimes find them cheap.
    PDFs import into Corel just fine and I use them a lot.
    Linux.... Go for it. Must emulate Windows as most of the software is windows based. Inkscape is ok for free... you get what you pay for...
    60 watt will cut most of what I think you want to do. Look for Rudia controller, Runs RDworks and is what most of them run.... Read, and research....
    Woodworking, Old Tools and Shooting
    Ray Fine RF-1390 Laser
    Ray Fine 20watt Fiber Laser
    PM2000, Delta BS, Delta sander, Powermatic 50 jointer,
    Powermatic100-12 planer, Rockwell 15-126 radial drill press
    Rockwell 46-450 lathe, and 2 Walker Turner RA1100 radial saws

    RIA 22TCM 1911s

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Iowa USA
    If you did a Search you would have yours answer. This question is asked about 20 times a year.
    Retired Guy- Central Iowa. , LightObject 40w CO2 Laser and Chiller, MakerGear M2 3D Printer. Fine Line Automation 4x4 CNC Router- Mach4 ESS

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