PaxSpace Laser Cutter Information
To use the laser cutter, you must take the required class which covers safety and proper use. By using the laser cutter, you agree to follow all of the rules set forth by this wiki which are the same in training. You also agree to incur the financial cost of replacing or repairing the machine or the supporting equipment in the event misuse results in damages.
Minor repairs and fixes are expected given the nature of a community equipment. If you believe the machine needs to be fixed or tended to, unplug the machine, place an "Out Of Order" sign on the lid, and contact the Quartermaster (via Slack or the Paxspace.org contact page). We'd much rather fix a small issue than have it go unreported and have it turn into an expensive repair.
Only members 18+ with training are allowed to operate the laser cutter. Members as young as 16 may operate the laser cutter with an adult present - both must have the laser cutter training.
Laser Cutter Safety
Laser cutters can be extremely dangerous if not used correctly. Never operate the laser cutters at PaxSpace without the required training. In order to mitigate risk of injury to people or damage to the machine, the following shall be followed. Failure to do so will permanently ban you from using the laser cutter.
- DO NOT LEAVE THE MACHINE UNATTENDED WHILE CUTTING/ENGRAVING!
- ALWAYS use the laser exhaust and air assist. If required, tape your material down with masking tape.
- NEVER try to operate the laser with either of the machine lids open.
- NEVER cut or engrave unapproved, found, "discount", or unmarked materials.
- DO NOT attempt to defeat the safety mechanisms or alter the machine.
- DO NOT adjust, touch, or attempt to clean the optics yourself.
- DO NOT attempt to engrave yourself or any other living thing.
- ALWAYS clean fallen materials out of the machine after cuts.
- Keep all liquids and food away from the machine at all times.
A small flame following the laser is possible if not expected on some materials. This is caused by the vaporized material being ignited by the laser and is not dangerous if monitored closely. Best practices and proper speed/power settings will reduce or eliminate this entirely. If you find you are getting a large flame on your material and don't know how to deal with it, please contact the Quartermaster who will either help you or point you to someone with more experience.
While vapor flames are expected on some materials, burning, charring, and active flames are not. Should this occur, please observe the following operating proceedure. The baking soda mentioned is found on a shelf above the laser cutter. A fire extinguisher is found by the upstairs door.
- Do not remove the material from the laser cutter.
- Press the ESTOP button on the laser and turn off the exhaust.
- Carefully open the laser bay and extinguish the flame.
- If the flame is small (burning area smaller than a half dollar):
- If the material won't fly into the air, try blowing out the flame like you would a candle. Cover any smoldering areas with baking soda.
- If the material is thin or the flame can't be blown out, cover the burning area with baking soda.
- If the material continues to burn after applying baking soda, use the fire extinguisher.
- Wait for the smoldering to stop and then place the material into water for 10 minutes to further reduce fire potential.
- If the flame is large (burning area smaller than a half dollar):
- If the flame is contained to the machine, use the fire extinguisher. If safe to do so, carefully remove the affected material and place it into water for 10 minutes to further reduce fire potential.
- If the flame escapes the machine while the lid is closed, evacuate and call 911. Do not attempt to open the hot lid or expose the fire to open air.
- If the flame is small (burning area smaller than a half dollar):
- If the flame was put out using baking soda or a fire extinguisher is needed:
- Unplug the laser cutter and place an OUT OF ORDER sign on the lid. (The laser will need to be cleaned and assessed for damages.)
- Contact the Quartermaster and let them know there was a fire and the extent of any damages.
Air Assist and Exhaust
The air assist is a small jet of air that helps to put out flames as well as keep the lens clean. The air assist will automatically come on when the laser cutter is powered. You can check that it is on by disabling the laser (push the "Laser enable" switch such that it pops UP) and then placing your finger under the hole. You should feel a small stream of air.
The laser exhaust removes the smoke and fumes from the laser cutter and transports them outside. The power switch is located on the wall to the left of the laser cutter. Turn the exhaust system ON whenever you are cutting and leave it on for at least 5 minutes after you are done to remove residual smoke/fumes.
Laser Power and Speed
Different materials require different powers to cut and engrave. This is especially true with woods which vary in density even from inch to inch. As such, you will likely have to do several test cuts/engraving swatches to tune the laser power for your material. Consistent materials, such as acrylic, will have the recommended power and speeds posted near the machine for you to reference. Feel free to tweak and experiment with both to get different results.
There are two ways to set the power. The primary power adjustment is on the machine itself. This is currently a dial that goes from 0% to 100%. Typically, you choose one primary power setting for the entire cut/engraving session for a given material.
The secondary power adjustment is done through LaserWeb. This also goes from 0%-100%. You use this setting to change the power during a cut/engraving. For example, you might set the power to 10% for engraving and 100% for cutting.
Speed vs Power
Generally, the higher the power, the faster you want the laser head to move, especially when etching flammable or melt-able materials. This is so that the amount of energy deposited into any one spot is roughly the same. General rules of thumb to use when adjusting speed and power:
- Engraving is typically done at a low power and quick speed to mark only the surface of a material.
- Cutting is typically done at a higher power and a lower speed.
- For melt-able or thick materials, consider multiple passes to get a better result and to avoid charring.
- If the material is melting/cracking/burning, decrease the power or increase the speed or both.
- If a material isn't cutting/etching, increase the power or decrease the speed or both.
- If you need really high power to mark/cut a material and are getting burning/melting/cracking, use multiple passes at high speed instead of one pass at low speed.
One quick thing to consider is that the laser tube itself takes a small amount of time to rise to full power. If the laser head moves too quickly, you will get delayed starts to lines. This usually isn't apparent in the final product, but if you are wanting clean lines for fill engravings, keep your speeds relatively low (at or under 1000mm/min).
Below are a list of materials approved for PaxSpace. If you do not see a material listed below, you are NOT allowed to cut, engrave, or etch it without explicit permission from the quartermaster. If you would like to try to cut/engrave something not found below, please place a message to the quartermaster channel on Slack (preferred) or reach out via the contact page here to start a discussion: https://paxspace.org/about-paxspace/contact-us/
|Material||Notes||Cut Power/Speed||Etch Power/Speed||Source|
|Cast Acrylic||Gives frosted appearance when etched. Cuts very well. Relatively stiff and somewhat brittle. Has paper backing.||Medium Power, Medium Speed||Low Power, High Speed.||Inventables|
|Extruded Acrylic||Gives polished edges when cut. Etches mostly clear. More flexible than cast and easier to tap/drill. Has plastic backing.||Medium Power, Medium Speed||Low Power, High Speed.||Inventables|
|Untreated Wood/Plywood||Try to stay under 1/8 inch for cutting. Speed/Power settings vary greatly. Avoid resinous woods (fire hazard + gunks up mirrors).||Multiple passes at Medium Power, Medium Speed||Low Power, High Speed||Local lumber yard, Wood|
|Paper/Cardboard||No tissue paper. Watch closely for flame. Papers can curl when cut.||Medium-high Power, High Speeds||Etching/engraving not recommended||Hobby/craft store|
|Ceramics, Glass, and Glass Mirror||Glass can be etched and possibly scored. It cannot be cut. Contact the Quartermaster to test yellow/green glass and antique ceramics for radioactivity before etching.||N/A||Depends on material. Experiment!||Local hardware store|
|Bare Metal||Metals can be marked by applying a water-based potter's glaze, engraved with the laser, and then the excess glaze rinsed off. Use clean metals without grease/oils. Do not try to engrave galvanized or plated metals. Etching dry, lightly spray painted metals is ok.||N/A||Depends on material. Experiment!||Local hardware store|
|Anodized Aluminum||The anodization will be removed by the laser leaving the bare metal behind. The metal cannot be cut. Please remove batteries from electronics before engraving to avoid a lithium fire.||N/A||Depends on material. Experiment!||Online|
|Cotton/Flax Fabric||Do not cut thin fabric. May curl or char slightly when cut. Double sided tape to hold the material down is recommended.||Medium-High Power, High Speed||Low Power, High Speed||Craft stores like Joann Fabric.|
|Leather||Please stick to small and simple line drawings. Leather creates dust that coats the optics. Please cut your material with a knife or shears outside the machine.||Discouraged||Low-Medium Power, Medium-High Speed||Craft stores|
These materials are hard banned from use in the laser cutter at PaxSpace. If you'll like to cut these, please use an exacto knife, scissors, a hot wire, or a jigsaw. No exceptions will be made for these materials for any reason.
- All foams/foam core/foam board
- All types of vinyl (PVC, vinyl decals, linoleum)
- Chlorine/Bromine/Iodine/Florine-containing plastics/rubbers
- HDPE (Milk-jug material)
- Treated carbon fiber (raw cloth would have to be discussed).
- Foods or food-like materials
- Plastic blends
- Any "found" or discount plastics
- Known hazardous, explosive, or caustic materials
- Radioactive materials
- Apart from obvious raw materials or ore, this also applies to uranium glass (aka "Vaseline" glass or yellow/green depression-era glass) and uranium-glazed/plated ceramics (often seen in old dishware such as "Fiestaware").
- If you would like to engrave antique plates or yellow/green glass, contact the Quartermaster to verify the material is not radioactive via a Geiger counter.