Before You Buy A Laser—There are three things to consider when selecting a laser:
Size Matters. A lot! The larger the bed the more copies of a piece you can make saving reload time. Also, many jobs need to be produced on a larger bed laser. The 18” X 24” is fine for a large percentage of the market. Some of the higher priced cabinet doors, skateboard decks, and furniture need to have a large bed laser. If I had it to do over, I would have purchased the largest unit Epilog makes.
Power Matters. A lot! The higher the wattage of the laser tube, the faster your speed when you cut or engrave. At the going national average rate of $1 per minute, every minute you can deduct from production time is that much more profit or margin available to compete on price. Using Epilog’s own materials, they point out that one machine can engrave 22 sets in two hours and the other can produce 30. That is about $1.50 per unit difference. Even if I am just doing this as a hobby, the time for a project can be considerable. This living hinge box job was 175 boxes and it took 12 days at 10 hours per day. Not a lifetime but long enough to be boring once tedium sets in. The following photos are sampling of the boxes we have made using this laser.
Forget Faster and Easier. I mentioned earlier that we spent “considerable computer time” making the pattern. I had 20+ years of graphic design behind me, my son has the same, and both of us are expert in CorelDraw, and Adobe products. Many laser owners have to acquire at least some skill in a drawing program. My son started www.laserpatternwerx.com for the simple reason that computer time is, or can be, long and tedious to perform and to learn. Recovering the expense of computer software and time is a huge challenge. Many laser owners do not have the art background or time to develop new patterns. LaserPattern Werx.com has patterns that took 20 to 30 hours of computer time plus two or three test runs to make the item correctly.
What is the advantage of using a laser? You can make repetitive items in quantity whether you are tired, or feeling charged; the item comes out the same. Be sure that you will NOT compete with China and the volumes that their workers can produce. You will not put the scrollsaw or pyrography craftsman out of business. The laser products are not similar enough to pass one off as the other. You will be able to create products that have precision that is humanly impossible. Precise to .001 of an inch time after time, in my opinion is beyond human ability. Cutting a living hinge, in my opinion, is not possible by hand. Cutting box joints, by hand, tight enough that they snap together and do not require glue (though I use glue always) is not probable. If you have a product like a box and want to make the same thing, but with different alterations or decorations each time, the computer will save time on the repeat end, and the product can be made to the same level of workmanship. This video is of an Easter basket made of wood. Like the photo below. It will give you another idea of what can be cut and engraved on the laser.
Keep following this blog for more updates, I will keep focusing on woodworking and using a laser. I will cover adhesives, inlay, alternate materials and more.
Until next time!