[Noisebridge-discuss] Laser Cutter!

Gian Pablo Villamil gian.pablo at gmail.com
Tue Sep 29 15:47:43 PDT 2009

I was involved with getting the laser at NYC Resistor
(http://wiki.nycresistor.com/wiki/Laser), and here are some quick
lessons learned:

1) Actually having a laser at the space vs. going out and getting
stuff cut elsewhere makes a big difference. It lends itself to more
experimentation and learning. (See: on-demand cutting of forks for

2) At NYCR, the laser purchase was funded by setting up a laser
committee, of people willing to buy shares in the laser. Then we set
up a system of charging per minute, I think it was 50 cents per minute
for NYCR members, and $1 per minute for outside jobs. This money all
went into a pot, and was used to pay back the laser committee. There
was a lot of back & forth re additional compensation for the laser
committee, but I think it ended up being an interest-free loan. IIRC,
the laser has paid for itself, mostly because Makerbot has bought a
lot of time on it. I don't think etching of laptops and iPods ever
became a big business.

3) Venting is crucial. At NYCR we have an air assist system that holds
workpieces on the cutting grid by suction, and that goes through a
very substantial HEPA filter before venting out the window. Even so,
when the laser was in the main space, it was stinky enough to cause
discomfort (except when I etched a bunch of cedar boxes, which
actually smelled nice). The laser is now in another room. When cutting
plastic, you do NOT want to spend a lot of time close to the laser.

4) Maintenance is extremely crucial, more so than initially expected.
The filters in the laser, the external filter, the working platform
and the laser mirrors & lenses all need to be cleaned/replaced.  There
need to be strong ground rules for regularly cleaning anything that
can be cleaned, and scheduling replacements for everything that needs
to be replaced. Generally, a thorough tear-down and cleaning every six
months is necessary to keep it working. Replacement parts are costly
and need to be budgeted for. This is a key advantage of a US-made vs
Chinese laser: components are more readily available for the former.

5) Supervision is important. At NYCR, everyone who used the laser had
been through a course. No-one could use the laser unless they had
taken the course, or were supervised by someone who had. First run of
any given job type/material should be observed, to note risk of

6) Toxicity testing is important. New materials should always be put
through a burn test to check for the presence of chlorine. Results of
such tests are logged in a wiki. There are many bad things to put in a
laser, either because they are toxic, or because they will damage the
lens system! There is a nice video on how to do a burn test on the
NYCR site.

7) NYCR has an Epilog Mini. It works fine with the Windows drivers. We
have it set up with a dedicated computer with Corel Draw, Illustrator,
etc. It really is just "click print and fire laser".

8) Don't let all the cautions put you off, having a laser cutter is
fun and productive, and treated well, it will work nicely.

On Sun, Sep 27, 2009 at 3:57 PM, Jonathan Foote <jtfoote at ieee.org> wrote:
> After seeing the awesome you can do at Tech Shop and NYCResistor, I'm
> willing to spearhead (lenshead?) an effort to get a laser cutter for
> Noisebridge. Though I've used one a couple times,
> I'm a relative noob. Talking points:
> 1. Is this cool?
> 2. What do we want in terms of power, deck size, cost (i.e. name brand
> or Chinese)? Used (cheaper, but potential for fraud and jankiness)  or
> new ($$$$) ?
> 3. Assuming people are OK with it at Noisebridge, where does it go?
> The DJ booth seems good in terms of corner location (low vibration,
> out of the way, some sound isolation) and access to window/wall (for
> ventilation). The DJs might disagree. Thoughts?
> 4. How do we pay? Consensus donations seems to be a workable solution,
> but we would have to figure out a quid pro quo (i.e. donors get
> priority or something). Is $20K an unreasonable goal?
> 5. Maintenance. Who babysits and fixes it when it breaks? (I will
> volunteer some but can't be there 24/7.)
> Grey started a wiki page in June. If you are interested in donating,
> using, or just interested, please sign up:
> https://www.noisebridge.net/wiki/Lasercutter
> I will summarize any list discussion there.
> Just in: I asked Bre Pettis of NYCResistor (who makes a living on his)
> for advice. Here's his response:
>> Minimum: 35 Watt Epilog Mini. 12x24  Machine + Filter + Tax = 20K
>> Very Desirable: 60 Watt Epilog. 24x36 Machine + Filter + Tax = more than 20k.
>> We wish we had gotten a more powerful machine, but because we didn't know better and it's a lot of money, we went with the mini.
>> Don't get a chinese off brand machine. They are cheap and well, cheap.
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