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Thread: Recommendations and budget to engrave firearms (mostly TEXT marking for NFA items)

  1. #1

    Recommendations and budget to engrave firearms (mostly TEXT marking for NFA items)

    I have an FFL and we have customers asking us all the time where to engrave their Form 1 items and we send them to a couple local places. We are considering getting a fiber laser and offering this service ourselves, so I am doing some research to determine what equipment I need and if it would be a good investment. One of the local engravers uses this Polymetal 30 from San Antonio Lasers and I see they offer a package deal with 5 days of training for $15,999.00. I also see what looks like very similar 30W lasers from Chinese suppliers around $5000.00, some even on Amazon.

    Polymetal 30 $15,999
    https://www.salelasers.com/polymetal30

    Amazon JPT 30W laser $5,499
    https://www.amazon.com/Marking-Machi...08CTFVVG9?th=1

    Is this an apples to apples comparison on the hardware, or could it be very different? Is the huge price difference basically for the training and support, is it worth it? Do these systems all run similar software or is the software from a US supplier going to be far superior? I appreciate any input.

  2. #2
    I have 4 cheap Chinese fiber lasers, and I'm doing work for more than one customer whose much-higher-$$ fiber laser 'went down again'. One customer told me his last warranty service was $4400 out of pocket, due to having to buy compatible hardware & software upgrades just to do the service. My 50w fiber only cost that much. This customer's fiber went down again awhile back, he brought me more parts and I assume he's just letting me do them from now on as he just keeps bringing me more!

    Regardless of the machine you're considering, if you're going to be engraving firearms, do yourself a favor and buy a 50w machine first. As to aluminum engraving, my 50w machine can do in 4 passes what my 30w machines need 12 passes to do. Many aluminum legend plates and operator panels requiring engraving and paint filling that I've tool engraved for over 45 years, I just do on the 50 now. Harder metals aren't quite that much more efficient as aluminum, but at around 40-50% faster is my guess. My only issue with the 50 is when you need very low power for some things, like black Delrin for example. Annealing is tougher to do with the 50, but my long 330/450 lens helps with that...

    I have zero experience with anything but good ol' EzCad software as to fiber lasers. It has its issues, but I can't think of ANY software that doesn't. As to the hardware, 2 of my 4 fibers have the smaller 58mm size lens scanheads, the other 2 use the 85mm lenses. My first one is a 30w Triumph (2015) a 'known' Chinese brand, my other three I bought straight off Ebay, two 30w "Vevor" branded within a month of each other (late 2018), and my 50w was a pure no-name I got just about a year ago. They all act pretty much the same, do the same thing, and even using 20x loupes to inspect the engraving, I can't make out a discernible difference between any of them, and the engraving is so ridiculously clean and precise, it's hard to believe... As to problems, my Triumph got a warranty-replaced scanhead about 15 months in, since then, no problems with ANY of them... Knock On My Head...

    One of my favorite show-off pieces is this thing:
    starwars1.jpg
    --you can tell how big it is based on my fingers holding it-

    This a close-up crop near the middle:
    starwars2.jpg
    To this day I'm amazed! And for reference, the vertical circles in Vader's mask
    near the upper middle, those measure all of .006"diameter...
    And all that engraving was done in just over 19 seconds!
    ...The cheapest fiber I own, $3200 to my door, did this...

    FOR MY PURPOSES, these machines do everything I could ask for. More spendy machines would likely have many perks mine don't have, and may offer more precise output than I get from mine-- Such as trying to engrave precisely space ruler markings, that sort of thing requires on-the-fly adjustments

    Good luck!
    Last edited by Kev Williams; 04-25-2022 at 6:23 PM.
    ========================================
    ELEVEN - rotary cutter tool machines
    FOUR - CO2 lasers
    THREE- make that FOUR now - fiber lasers
    ONE - vinyl cutter
    CASmate, Corel, Gravostyle


  3. #3
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    Not much to add to Kev's post, except I would never pay SAFe's outrageous Chinese laser cost. Figure you are buying a chinese laser from them for twice the delivered price, and you are paying $5K or more for a week of training. There is a FB group for Fiber lasers that has at least 3 guys who will do online training with you for a decent price. Even one of them is importing and doing some additional work to set up his own brand laser and is still way more affordable. It took me a few days and a lot of reading to figure out mine, but if you can set up a computer without a tech coming out, and actually read and practice, you can save a lot of money. Getting back $10K by doing $30 to 50 NFA engravings will take a LONG time, in fact, just getting back $5K will take a while. My suggestion is to get some scrap and just go to town engraving stuff on it. Learn on junk, not good salable items. 50watt is best bargain.
    Woodworking, Old Tools and Shooting
    Ray Fine RF-1390 Laser Ray Fine 20watt Fiber Laser
    SFX 50 Watt Fiber Laser
    PM2000, Delta BS, Delta sander, Powermatic 50 jointer,
    Powermatic 100-12 planer, Rockwell 15-126 radial drill press
    Rockwell 46-450 lathe, and 2 Walker Turner RA1100 radial saws
    Jet JWS18, bandsaw Carbide Create CNC, RIA 22TCM 1911s and others

  4. #4
    Thanks for the posts this is really helpful information. I will go with a 50W Chinese laser. I found a really useful site with a buying guide and LOTS of video content that you may already be familiar with https://www.lasereverything.net/ and they recommend a Mactron JPT laser from aliexpress, imported from China. There is also the JPT 50W on Amazon that ships from a US supplier, and is only $460 more over the imported one when you consider freight (free shipping on Amazon). It's not a huge difference so I wonder if it is worth the cost premium to get from a US supplier.

    They also recommend to buy a unit that has the EZCad2 board, and not EZCad3, as there is another software package called LightBurn https://lightburnsoftware.com/ that is developed in the US and will soon support fiber lasers. Currently it supports gantry style lasers only, but they are reverse engineering the EZCad2 board and close to having a version for fiber lasers ready for release. The guys at lasereverything are really excited about this software and raving about it and it's low cost ($120 or less for the current version).

    Question about which lens I should start with. We will mostly be engraving text and probably in an area that will always be less than about 3" wide. Would it be better to start with a smaller lens such as 110mm x 110mm in order to get cleaner output, or is it not that big a difference between say a 110mm and a 200mm lens? Or am I going to find that I will need more than one size?

    Another question I have is about the finish of the final engraving. With aluminum, I know it won't rust but for an anodized frame it will burn away the anodizing and leave the raw aluminum. We use a product called AlumaBlack that will chemically darken aluminum but what do you do for carbon steel or stainless? Is this where the "annealing" comes in? Sorry I'm new to some of the terminology. How do you prevent rust when you laser away the finish on a steel frame?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kev Williams View Post
    One of my favorite show-off pieces is this thing:
    starwars1.jpg
    I wish I could view the photos, but for some reason the site is saying I don't have permission. Apparently I have to be a paid subscriber or something to view photos?
    Last edited by David Christian2; 04-26-2022 at 9:52 AM.

  5. #5
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    For only a trivial $6 you can have contributor status and see photos. The benefit of this forum is well worth it. As you can see there are some very knowledgeable people here. (Not me) but you get the idea. Just the advice you got from Kev saved you thousands.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Christian2 View Post

    They also recommend to buy a unit that has the EZCad2 board, and not EZCad3, as there is another software package called LightBurn https://lightburnsoftware.com/ that is developed in the US and will soon support fiber lasers. Currently it supports gantry style lasers only, but they are reverse engineering the EZCad2 board and close to having a version for fiber lasers ready for release. The guys at lasereverything are really excited about this software and raving about it and it's low cost ($120 or less for the current version).

    Question about which lens I should start with. We will mostly be engraving text and probably in an area that will always be less than about 3" wide. Would it be better to start with a smaller lens such as 110mm x 110mm in order to get cleaner output, or is it not that big a difference between say a 110mm and a 200mm lens? Or am I going to find that I will need more than one size?


    I wish I could view the photos, but for some reason the site is saying I don't have permission. Apparently I have to be a paid subscriber or something to view photos?

    I'm in the closed beta group for LightBurn, and I can tell you that it will be a MAJOR game changer for the fiber world, just as it has been for the Chinese CO2 world. It's SO much better than EZCrash ever dreamed of being for sure.

    When I bought my machine, I picked up 100mm, 200mm and 300mm lenses with it. That way, I have everything I may need. Easier to have them and not need them than to want them and not have them.

    Viewing photos does require a membership, but the lowest level is only $6 per year, and well worth it to help support the board.

    I will also add that there is a very well regarded laser vendor by the name of Richard Zhang. https://www.omglaser.com/ I picked up a 60W JPT MOPA machine with rotary, rotating table, xy table, and three lenses for $7K, to my door from China. 3 year warranty, and they pay freight both ways if there are any issues with parts that need to be replaced. Check them out, been very happy with my machine from him so far.
    Epilog Fusion Pro 48 - 120 Watt
    OMG Laser 60W JPT MOPA Fiber

  7. #7
    Yes for a measly 6 bucks a year you be come a contributor and have access to photos , classifieds and a whole lot more. at the top of each page theres a donate tab if you want to be come a member
    If the Help and advice you received here was of any VALUE to you PLEASE! Become a Contributor
    Rabbit RL_XX_6040-60 watt Laser engraving/cutting machine Oh wait its a 3D Printer my bad LOL
    Lasercut 5.3
    CorelDraw X5

    10" Miter Saw with slide
    10" Table Saw
    8" bench mount 5 speed Drill Press
    Dremel, 3x21 Belt Sander


  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Bert Kemp View Post
    Yes for a measly 6 bucks a year you be come a contributor and have access to photos , classifieds and a whole lot more. at the top of each page theres a donate tab if you want to be come a member
    A bargain. Done!

  9. #9
    Lenses-- first, I have many lenses: one 70mm, one 100mm, three 150mm, two 220mm, one 290mm, and two 330mm... These numbers represent the approximate working area. Generally speaking, the longer the lens the lower the beam's power density, but increased 'usable' focus distance, also, while not too significant, longer lenses result in a slightly wider beam width than shorter lenses, meaning, depending on your engraving, you may need closer hatch-fill distances with shorter lenses.

    that all said, most of my deep engraving is done with a 150 lens regardless of which machine. My 70 lens will fit my 50w machine, but I've never tried it! The main reason is it's small working area, only 2.75" square, and the tight focus range can be problematic when engraving the small round parts I do regularly. However, with the 70 on my 30w machine the engraving power is noticeably increased. I bought it to do one specific job of 1600 parts that needed previous tool engraving "erased" and new text to replace the old. It worked great! But man, is it finicky to focus, up or down only 1/32" inch from 'tight' focus drops the engraving power quite a bit. Conversely, my 330 lenses, they have around a full 1" of 'freeplay' before the power suffers. (note: my 50w machine still would've done those parts in half the time, had I had it! )

    My advice, get a 150 if you're getting a 50w machine, best combo of power and working area, roughly 6x6", for your needs. Other lenses can come later, they're not that expensive
    Last edited by Kev Williams; 04-26-2022 at 12:46 PM.
    ========================================
    ELEVEN - rotary cutter tool machines
    FOUR - CO2 lasers
    THREE- make that FOUR now - fiber lasers
    ONE - vinyl cutter
    CASmate, Corel, Gravostyle


  10. #10
    Thanks for the response, Kev. I have another question regarding exhaust. The room where I plan to put the laser shares a wall with one of my range shooting bays. As far as exhaust goes, my plan is to use a 4" exhaust fan and just run a duct from the laser, up through the drop ceiling, and then over and into the shooting bay. The wall penetration is down range and that bay's exhaust is almost always running during business hours and that will take it out the roof. So I don't need any filtration or anything like that, I just need to pull the fumes from right at the laser source and then up for about 10 - 12 ft max to vent them into the range bay. Do you think a simple 4" inline fan and duct will be sufficient for this?

  11. #11
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    The inline fan will most probably work. I've a 6 inch and it works pretty good over about 8 foot length. I'd not drop to a 4 inch for that type of fan unless you are getting a really high volume. Most are 3 to 400 cfm and almost zero pressure rated. And if your Amazon seller is SFX - on ebay also, then they are a good seller. They replaced my 50w source with no issue under warranty 4 months after I purchased it. If the seller sells a bunch of other items not really laser or manufacturing based, i.e. toys and junk, then they are a reseller only and will most probably offer ZERO support if you have an issue.
    Woodworking, Old Tools and Shooting
    Ray Fine RF-1390 Laser Ray Fine 20watt Fiber Laser
    SFX 50 Watt Fiber Laser
    PM2000, Delta BS, Delta sander, Powermatic 50 jointer,
    Powermatic 100-12 planer, Rockwell 15-126 radial drill press
    Rockwell 46-450 lathe, and 2 Walker Turner RA1100 radial saws
    Jet JWS18, bandsaw Carbide Create CNC, RIA 22TCM 1911s and others

  12. #12
    Thank, I will go with 6" ventilation. I ended up ordering from Richard Zhang from omglaser as several customers online recommended him.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Christian2 View Post
    Thank, I will go with 6" ventilation. I ended up ordering from Richard Zhang from omglaser as several customers online recommended him.
    Good choice. Been happy with my machine so far.
    Epilog Fusion Pro 48 - 120 Watt
    OMG Laser 60W JPT MOPA Fiber

  14. #14
    As an aside to Kev's statement, I have one of those "more expensive" lasers. I bought it because of the two year "warranty". I put warranty in quotes because they want $2680.00 to come out and fix a unit that has never performed up to spec and was reported as such in the first year. Now the video card seems to be going out in addition to the "industrial" laser. If they don't come up with a better solution, I'll be outing them here so no one else ends up getting eaten alive by the over-hyped machine. Note that I'm NOT talking about the Epilog in my description, that unit has performed in every conceivable way and their service has been exemplary.
    Epilog Mini 24 45W/various other dangerous implements the wife has ok'd over the years

  15. #15
    To be sure, sometimes the 'higher priced spread' is worth it- case in point is all the Gravograph machines I've owned spanning nearly 40 years, whose combined ages total well over 300 years now. In all those 'years' I've had 3 power supplies go bad, a controller needing $300 worth of fixing and one laser tube recharged. --knock on my head-- -- HOWEVER, Gravograph's extended warranty service was unffordable IMO-- such as, over $1300 per year premium plus airfare and hotel accommodations (this was back in the '80s and '90's) for the mechanic to fix the machine 'for free'. Lucky for me I am, and have been able to fix and maintain this stuff myself for the most part, and Gravograph built me some good stuff--<< which is the most important part. While my experience with high end laser equipment is fairly limited, it seems that every business I know that has one has had it go out of service or simply doesn't use it. It's why I've bought machines I can fully replace for around the same price as warranty repairs of the high end machines...
    ========================================
    ELEVEN - rotary cutter tool machines
    FOUR - CO2 lasers
    THREE- make that FOUR now - fiber lasers
    ONE - vinyl cutter
    CASmate, Corel, Gravostyle


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