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Obtaining a laser cutter

As a true maker, what do you need? I think that is everyones own perspective, but for me this is at least a 3D-printer. Preferably a printer, that was built from scratch. Some basic electronic tools such as a soldering station, a huge pile of wires, pliers and of course some electrical components and modules. While you can do a lot with a 3D-printer not everything is satisfying to do with it. For example creating a small box takes hours or even days – depending on its size. That’s where the dream of a laser cutter comes into play.

CO2 Lasercutter

A laser cutter is a great thing to cut certain materials fast and precise. Let’s assume you are going to make a simple box 10x10x10cm. It’s going to take at least a few hours with a 3D-printer and you know, based on the accuracy of the machine, the wobbling during printing and filament properties, the result might by a not so accurate box which may have some problems to fit all pieces together.

Laser cutting a simple box on the other hand should be pretty easy and fast. Just cutting the 6 panels (4 sides + top + bottom) and gluing them together: Done! You can even cut the pieces with finger joints to have an even more strong connection between the individual cuts.

The main difference between a 3D-printer and laser cutter is the way it creates objects. If you are familiar with a 3D-printer, you know, that objects are created by putting got plastic layers on top of each other until the object is created from the molten plastic. Technically speaking, this is an additive method of fabrication.

Laser cutting instead is a “subtractive” method (don’t know if it’s called like that) but you basically already have a huge sheet of thin plywood or acrylic glass and you just cut that with light. No material needs to be molten, extruded and applied layer for layer. This makes the laser cutting process way faster than 3D-printing.

Of course, laser cutting can not replace a 3D-printer, but for easy 2D shapes of things that can be put together with 2D shapes, this is a fantastic thing to own. And that’s why I though it may be a good idea to get one for myself.

In the year 2020, having a laser cutter is nothing special anymore. The prices are mostly lower than getting a 3D-printer. The cheapest laser cutters you can get here in Germany from eBay are around 300 Euro (shipped from Germany already).

One last (and most important) word on laser cutting: Most of these high power lasers work with CO2 laser tubes. This means, that the laser is invisible to the human eyes. Unlike the red laser pointers you might know from school or work (which are even harmless, if pointed into an eye), the power of such laser cutting lasers is enormous! Even more dangerous, if the laser beam is invisible, because it is outside of the visible light spectrum (like for CO2 lasers). That means it’s not unlikely to just get blind while working with the laser! It’s incredibly important to always have the lid of the machine closed while the laser is working. For you own safety, get some professional laser goggles (not the cheap ones, supplied with the laser cutter). Also do not trust the acrylic glass which is installed in the laser cutters, they are made to be cheap and security can be treated as optional.

Some of these cheap laser cutters even do not have any security features. For example the lid can be opened, while the laser is running and the laser does not stop, when the lid is open. Just a small reflection of the laser and your eyesight is gone!

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