A logical extension of your CNC repertoire is laser cutting and engraving. My Sienci CNC has a 7 Watt diode option which you can read about here. Why would you use a laser? For me the answer was obvious; because it existed…
Capabilities of a Diode Laser
There isn’t a “one size fits all” laser for hobbyiists. Some can cut metal, some cut fast, some cut wood, some are big and expensive and some are quite affordable. There’s three kinds of lasers that a hobbyist might consider: Fiber lasers, Gas lasers, and Diode Lasers. As a general rule Fiber lasers can cut metal but the cut area is small and costs to do so are in the thousands of US Dollars. Gas lasers are faster and bigger, and can cut thicker non-ferrous materials but require a lot more space. Diode lasers are cheap, can be mounted to a CNC and can cut the same area (more or less) as your CNC. They are good for engraving and are slow for cutting up to 1/4″ (6.35mm) but that will take a LONG time. Even 1/8″ (3 mm stock) will take four passes to get a clean-edged cut.
What You Need for a Laser Setup
Obviously you need a laser, but you also need software, safety equipment and a smoke removal plan:
- Laser: We covered that above. you’ll need to mount it to your CNC. Here’s how I’ve mounted mine on the side of the router:
- Software: You need to generate G-code to control the strength, duration, and laser depth of cut. I use Lightburn Software. It is a great program; it’s one of the best software programs I’ve ever used (and I’ve used a lot as a CTO) and it is only $60. You can control the laser directly from the program or generate the G-Code and use it in you G-Code program of choice.
- Safety equipment: The laser will permanently damage your eyes if you look at it. So don’t look at it! Also you should have glasses that filter out the wavelength in case you are inadvertently exposed (which can happen easily). The laser normally shows as blue, so special with a blue filter will eliminate it and show the world in an aremgeddon-like orange: See what I mean? You should also consider making signs that say “Laser in Use” just in case someone wants to open the door to the laser.
- Smoke Elimination: Lasers work by burning, so there’s going to be smoke. Also some materials (like PVC) will produce hazardous fumes. I run mine in a shed separate from my house so I’m not so concerned, but I’ve also built a smoke remover that attaches to the vacuum setup.
Cutting the Boxes:
Lightburn lets you design the layers with a variety of tools. It supports the all font libraries. In my case I wanted some custom “Christmas-y” fonts, I also purchased graphic design files online for the little houses that I wanted to cut out. Once the design is set in Lightburn, generate the G-code and upload to your favorite G-code processor.
I used Boxes.py to generate my box files:
It’s another great resource that save a lot of time for coding standard (and some not-so-standard) box shapes.
Here’s some cutting and assembly photos: