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Thread: CNC or Laser First?

  1. #1

    CNC or Laser First?

    I've identified some capabilities I want to add to my shop, and am struggling with what equipment will best serve my priorities. I could use some words of wisdom from those that have come before me.

    I am a small 1 person shop that is beyond hobby, but it is not full time. Maybe best described as a side-hustle with ambitions for growth. I recently upgraded the tablesaw to a Felder slider last year, and have a good stable of basic machines including a wide belt sander. I make a lot of cutting boards, book shelves, and refrain from more complicated pieces due to the time to cut.

    Capabilities to Invest In
    • Capacity - I'd like to reduce the time it takes to make complex cuts. As an example, I have plans for an Adirondack chair that I think would be too time consuming to cut individually to be profitable.
    • Personalization - I get requests on some items, like cutting boards, to do photos or engraving. I've tried engaging local shops, but their backlogs make it difficult to make this manageable.
    • Inlays - I'd love to incorporate these in my work. The obligatory US flag with inlay stars, table tops, etc...

    Equipment I'm Looking At
    • Laguna Laser MX, 24x36, 100 watt
    • Laguna SmartShop M2 4x8 w/ATC

    Here is how I think each piece would work:
    Capability Laser CNC
    Capacity Create templates out of MDF or 1/4" sheet for complex parts. Jig part creation. Start my day by loading sheets and program, and come back to cut parts at lunch time.
    Personalization Engraving is the sweet spot for this machine, plus added capabilities for personalizing other products beyond my own wood creations. Possible with carving/resin or inlays, but not necessarily a high volume approach.
    Inlays I've seen videos of inlays done with a laser, but I don't have a sense of the quality. VCarve inlays is what I think i'm really after. Combined with my wide belt, i think this would be the better option

    Looking forward to hearing advice.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Deep South
    I don't own and have never used a laser cutter but my CNC router would accomplish what you want to do with ease and precision. I do vcarve inlays in boxes, cutting boards and other personalized items and they typically look better than hand cut. Here are some examples. Click to enlarge.

    DSC_0526.jpgEWM box 01.jpg
    Last edited by Art Mann; 01-31-2020 at 9:58 AM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2019
    Averill Park NY
    I bought a laser first and regretted not going with the cnc. That said I now have both and use both. The idea of loading the cnc in the morning and coming back at noon time. Is not a good idea. Many will tell you the cnc needs to be watched while cutting. There is a chance that your machine could stop moving with the bit still turning. As any good Boy Scout knows friction on wood equals fire. When my machine is running Iím in the shop working on something else or binging on YouTube.
    Some Blue Tools
    Some Yellow Tools
    And a Pet Grizzly
    Blue and White 50 Watt

  4. #4
    You never want to leave a CNC running unattended. You have to be at the very least within hearing distance of it. Look up some videos on fires caused by CNCs. Something as simple as a clamp loosening and letting the material shift a bit can cause a fire in seconds not minutes. Mine is in my garage and I am even leery of going inside to the restroom while it is running.

    I have never had a laser but am wanting one now to do some very fine detail work that it would be better suited for and engraving some round objects. I can live without one. If I had to choose, a CNC router just has much more versatility for what I do. You will be happy with buying an ATC also. I have just converted my machine to an ATC. Makes work so much faster.

    Everyone has to decide what is important to them for the work that they do but I don't think that you can go wrong with the router first.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Hayes, Virginia
    I am also think that purchasing a CNC Router first might your best bet although that is not what I did so I learned from my mistake. The perception of value of most CNC produced projects has always been far superior to anything I have ever laser engraved. I have to admit that this is based on the projects I normally do for my commercial customers, someone else my find my results to be backwards

    Those who have a very high artistic talent, which is most desirable when laser engraving, may experience the opposite of my results.

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