Help me pick a machine please?

Hi to all.
OK here is the thing. I am a long time woodworker but recently moved into a smaller space that is limiting the size of items I can produce. This caused me to look at smaller items like the usual bread/cheese/cutting boards etc.
The obvious next move is to buy a laser cutter/engraver to make above mentioned more sellable.
Easy right? NO NOT SO MUCH!!!
After spending hours on youtube watching videos where every other review I check the ‘reviewer’ claims that machine xyz is the newest benchmark in desktop lasers, I realised I need some help in picking.

OK lets start with what I do know/think I want.

  1. Obviously lightburn is the one thing that is fixed and that is why I ask here instead of on a manufacturers forum.
  2. Budget is around $1500
  3. I think I like the expandibility of lasers like the Atomstack and Sculpfun (maybe others as well)
  4. I would like something that is a bit future proof.

Now the confusing stuff:

  1. The wattage issue. Am I correct in assuming higher wattage means deeper cutting and faster speed? Are there downsides like not as good at the engraving part?
  2. Automatic air assist. I think I know what that mean. WDoes thit help with that ‘overburn’ effect where the edges of the engraving is not clean and show some faded burning as well?
  3. Can a piece of wood bigger than the lasers bed be engraved? I will still be fine in engraving only the bed size but maybe on a corner of a bigger piece of wood?
  4. Are there brands that need to be avoided due to support/reliability etc. And on the flipside, is there brands that can be rcommended because of above mentioned?

Apologies for all the questions, but I really need some assistance

1: wattage, yes, faster and deeper. Also a wider kerf, so fine details may be more difficult or impossible. Do NOT trust the manufacturers spot size claims. Virtually all are hopelessly optimistic. Decent rule of thumb is to double whatever they claim. So, a claimed .06mm x .08 is likely closer to .12x.16. Many seem to be approaching a rectangle “spot” with aspect of 1.5:1 or 2:1. That .12x.16 could easily be .12x.20.

If you print something out on paper at 600dpi, and again at 300 DPI, that’s roughly the difference.

And that rectangular kerf is gonna cause headaches if you plan to cut anything that requires precise joinery. Just a reality check. Anything with enough power cut well (20W+) is going to limit your resolution to sub 300dpi. More power means bigger spots mean lower resolution. Some of the new machines have dual power modes that claim to “do it all”. I have no experience.

2: Air assist in whatever form, IMO, should be considered mandatory, whether included or “optional” or DIY retrofit. It keeps the lens clean for longer life, less maintenance, and also cleaner workpieces.

3: Big workpieces. Yes. Within practical limits. Lugging around an expanded 4’ square frame to lay on top of a big slab is doable, but not ideal. The same done with a 2’ machine is much easier. I’d consider the smaller machines mobile in the same way a big miter/chop saw is mobile. You can do it, but it’s a pain in the arse.

  1. Everybody has their favs. I don’t really wanna get into the “what machine/company is better” argument. They all have pros and cons. I’d just suggest sticking to companies that have a lot of topics here. You won’t get good support from any of the manufacturers, so you may as well stick with what’s popular. That way forum help is easier/faster.

  2. Unmentioned… Your budget should include accomodations for an enclosure and exhaust. You will eventually be creating a surprising amount of smoke/fumes/odor. Keeping it out of your workspace will quickly become a pressing issue without a way to move it away.

2 Likes

In addition to what @cggorman notes about spot size, manufacturers (and sellers) straight-up lie about diode laser power. The only power that matters is what the laser beam delivers to the material, but manufacturers claim any other power they possibly can, just to get a bigger number.

Commonly available diode lasers convert somewhere between 10 and 20% of their input power into light output power, so manufacturers use the much larger diode input power. For example, Laser Tree has an 80 W (input power) laser that produces 10 W of light (output power). I suspect considerable optimism in the “10 W” power, but at least it’s in the right ballpark.

The most egregious example of specsmanship is touting “machine power”, which is the sum total of the laser input power, the stepper motor power, the controller power, and anything else they can find; they may be using the wall wart’s overall input power rating. That claim seems typical for cheap machines with low-power diodes and terrible hardware, so treat “machine power” as a hard no.

Regardless of the power level, diode lasers require multiple passes to get through 1/8 inch laser-grade plywood and MDF. While thicker wood can be cut, you probably won’t be satisfied with the results. Also, ignore any and all claims about how well / fast a diode laser cuts any thickness of anything.

Chris pointed out the absolute need for an enclosure and fume exhaust to keep your shop livable; any pictures of a happy family engraving coasters on the dining room table are fanciful. Be aware that other end of the exhaust tube may create a problem for nearby neighbors if they’re not accustomed to wood smoke and, should you venture into engraving / cutting plastics, they could get downright hostile.

But you’ll discover a laser is a wonderful tool after you surmount the initial learning curve. My (considerably larger) CO₂ laser rapidly became the most-used tool in my shop and lets me build widgets that would be impossible (for me, anyhow) with any other tool.

Welcome aboard!

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I’ll add… most ssl (solid state lasers) exist in low output power… mostly around 5 to 6W. As the modules/manufacturing gets better the gang these up, combining the output into a single beams… at least theoretically… This is an xTool M40 module only… uses 8 * 5.5W diodes to get 40W output. What I’m trying to say, and put so poorly, is that if it’s over ~5.5W it likely contains multiple ssl devices.

image

I don’t know much about xTool and I’m not saying yea or nea, just there are higher power options available at added cost.

I think with the right materials, either my 40W co2 or this 40W appear to cut about as well…

I will put in a word of warning… I’ve seen a fair number of videos from reviewers that actually had these running and cutting 1/2" wood and mdf. I also noted the manufacturer doesn’t have any of these on hand. This can for a couple of reasons… they sell them off more quickly than they make them or they are a failure and won’t be back. Hunting around on the Internet, I found one site that stated they were discontinued… so I don’t know the reality.

These are not easy to make… everything has to be aligned perfectly with complicated beam combiners. They also have to stay aligned after a trip half way around the world…

As these are not user serviceable… it works or it doesn’t.

Good luck

:smile_cat:

Ikier recently announced a (claimed) 70W output module. I’m sure it’s roughly the same size and weight as a small planet. I feel this form factor is maxed out. Anything above about 40W will soon be moving to fiber coupled, IMO.

…and here I am, the lonely cowboy, looking for LESS power and a smaller spot…

That’s this monster with 14*6W ssl…

Like the Atomstack 20W fiber, has a fiber connection to the head that mounts on a gantry.

Don’t think I buy into their pitch that this 0.2x0.2 beam at 70W is going to work better than a 130W co2…

:smile_cat:

Endurance lasers have an 85w laser head with water cooling.

Thanks for all the input guys.
At this stage I am leaning towards this one:

Neje

Review here (I actually follow this guys woodwork channel):

Review

Anything specific that I am missing on this one? The one thing I did pick up is it seems like the air assist is optional??
What do you guys think about the laser specific marketing blurb?

I’l go out on a limb here. For your budget and you mentioned mostly engraving, you will be looking at a diode. Many are now coming out with fully enclosed gantry lasers taking them from Class 4 (bad if you look at them) to Class 1 (safe…mostly safe…always wear goggles though). Along with this, many include the air assist, a honeycomb bed, a camera(for better but never perfect placement) and a rotary for engraving tumblers, mugs, etc. Along with this, many now offer the ability to only use some of the diodes. Less for detail and more for cutting. As you add diodes, you MUST increase beam size. Regardless what a certain YT’er states with some seriously bad math. Less diodes…smaller beam size. Also, each combined diode necessarily loses a percentage of power. 6 5watt diodes does not quite equal 30 watts combined. Not all beam size is rectangular, some can be more oblong as well. Also a 20 watt does NOT do twice what a 10 watt does. Just doesn’t work that way.

IMO, right now, Roly Lasermatic offers the best deal and has nothing but praise for customer support. They offer various configurations and their 20 and 30 watt modules can be tuned down to 10 watt for fine engraving. It will be my next one. I believe the 30/10 watt with enclosure, honeycomb, air, and camera is $1400. I’m not sponsored by them. Just keep in mind the hidden costs for cheaper lasers. Trust me, it adds up quick lol.

Thanks to all and after carefull consideration I decided on this one.
Local support and good price and ticks most of my boxes. The Neje was very tempting.

Ortur Laser master 3 20A

Is the linked item an entire machine or just a laser head?

Complete machine.

I felt the same when I saw happy family (including young children) manipulating epoxy resin without any protection, smiling blissfully.