PaxSpace Laser Cutter Information

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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.

  1. DO NOT LEAVE THE MACHINE UNATTENDED WHILE CUTTING/ENGRAVING!
  2. ALWAYS the laser exhaust and air assist. If required, tape your material down with masking tape.
  3. NEVER try to operate the laser with the machine lids open.
  4. NEVER cut or engrave unapproved, found, "discount", or unmarked materials.
  5. DO NOT attempt to defeat the safety mechanisms or alter the machine.
  6. DO NOT adjust, touch, or attempt to clean the optics yourself.
  7. DO NOT attempt to engrave yourself or others.
  8. ALWAYS clean fallen materials out of the machine after cuts.
  9. Keep all liquids and food away from the machine at all times.

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.

Power

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).


Materials

Approved

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/

Approved Materials
Material Notes Source
Cast Acrylic Best for engraving - gives a frosted appearance. Relatively stiff and somewhat brittle. Has paper backing. Acrylic
Extruded Acrylic Gives polished edges when cut. Engraves "ok". More flexible than cast and easier to drill. Has paper backing. Acrylic
Untreated Wood/Plywood Try to stay under 1/8 inch for cutting. Avoid resinous woods (fire hazard + gunks up mirrors). Local lumber yard, Wood
Paper/Cardboard No tissue paper. Watch closely for flame. Hobby/craft store
Glass and Glass Mirror Glass can be etched and possibly scored. It cannot be cut. Use multiple, quick passes instead of slow movements to prevent cracking. Local hardware store
Bare Metal Bare 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. Local hardware store
Anodized Aluminum The anodization will be removed by the laser leaving the bare metal behind. Online
Cotton/Flax Fabric Do not cut thin fabric. Craft stores like Joann Fabric.
Leather Please stick to small and simple line drawings. Leather creates dust that coats the optics. Cut your material with a knife or shears outside the machine. Craft stores

Banned Materials

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/Florine-containing plastics
  • HDPE (Milk-jug material)
  • ABS
  • Fiberglass
  • Treated carbon fiber (raw cloth would have to be discussed).
  • Corian
  • Foods or food-like materials
  • Plastic blends
  • Waxes
  • Any "found" or discount plastics