Got a new Toy ... one with fricking laser beams

So a while back a company called Glowforge offered basically a laser cutter for $2k which at the time was less than half the price of the cheapest laser cutters available to the hobbyist it also had some really nice features

Now most laser cutters are somewhat basic in the ease of use and software capabilities you have to spend a lot of effort calibrating and aligning the laser as for it to cut properly the focus has to be just right. You also have to recalibrate this for different materials and also the laser power settings the feeds and speeds of cut were often a processes of trial and error. It also often left positioning of your cut to you such that if you did it wrong you might miss the material or not use it efficiently.

Glowforge offered a unit that would be self calibrating would be able to recognise the materials you put in it (as long as you bought them from them) and used a nifty camera on the lid of the unit to show you teh whole work area and allow for positioning of cuts and also neat tricks like the ability to cut on lines you draw onto the material with a sharpie rather than needing plans drawn up in cad. Another nice feature was the inclusion of an air filter so it could be used without needing a vent for the smoke and fumes the cutting generated.

It seemed like the ideal package cheapish very easy to use and very capable. They also offered a more expensive pro version that had a more powerful laser and a pass through slot using the inbuilt computer vision so you could push material through the cutting area having it auto realign to cut things longer than print bed.

I decided a normal version was fine and ordered one then set in to wait ... this was september 2015 they promised machines early 2016.

Early 2016 rolled by and they said "we're on track but it's taking a little longer we estimate first half of 2016"

Then it was By December 2016

Then it was March 2017

Then it was July 2017

I was beginning to think I'd been conned again like the Peachy printer like the Buccaneer and a couple of other Kickstarters that went off the rails and absconded with my cash. This would be the biggest no return on investment thus far but it had gone on so long I'd basically written the money off at this point.

Then I got a Shipping soon email ... "Yeah right pull the other one it's got bells on" I thought but then they actually said they were ready to ship. There were stipulations to that the air filter wasn't yet ready they had even more problems with that part of it. If I wanted I could wait another few months till that was ready or I could get the laser cutter now and then the air filter later and in the mean time I would need to stick a hose out a window like with a dryer but in this case to eject smoke and fumes from the laser printer. I opted not to wait and in a week I got an actual shipping notice from UPS.

So I waited for the thing to show it needed a signature and give it was several thousand dollars of kit I waited to give one. It showed it on a truck I waited and waited but nothing. At about 8pm that day the "out for delivery" changed to "Cannot deliver incorrect address" they had forgotten to put the apartment number on the shipping labels. So some fiddling about and emails to the people and they sorted that out and the next morning a UPS guy appeared with this huge box on a cart that was almost as tall as I am and maybe a meter wide by about 30cm think.

So I now had the machine ... but no materials to use in it. As part of the "Sorry it took so fucking long" they shipped a load of trail materials from their "proof grade" stuff which works automagically with the printer this came as a separate package and arrived today.

So I setup a folding table I got from target for this purpose near the door to the balcony so I could run the dryer hose outside and put the machine on it.

After some poking about the app (it uses a cloud sort of setup to run) I set it up to print a test piece a ruler. It's fun to watch it go this small piece took about 6 mins to complete (and it's advisable to watch it as it could catch fire it's not a machine to just set and forget) the laser tube pulses as it engraves and goes full when it cuts.

Here's a timelapse

So I now have a laser cutter ... not sure what I'm going to do with it yet but should be a fun toy to have.


I've looked at laser cutters a few times, they are incredibly useful in the modelling/wargaming world for scenery construction. Here is one of many examples of small companies selling laser-cut scenery packs made from thin wood. I've also seen templates, markers and rulers made from laser acrylic sheets.

If you want other ideas for projects, there is a thriving trade on Etsy for laser-cut items, including this rather nice Catan set, or how about a a Carcassonne set?

What is the bed size of that Glowforge? When I was looking there were 2 sorts £500-800 "special" chinese models with a weak laser, small bed and a habit of over-heating/exploding, and small commerical models starting at £5,000...this seems to be a good mid-way point (even if not full operational yet).

babychaos's picture

It's got a 290 mm*515 mm cutting area

It has a 40 watt water cooled co2 laser that I think is class 1 so doesn't need any special safety equipment the glass lid is enough to make it safe

Will cut wood and acrylic up to 13mm thick although that seems to be only some materials they recommend 6mm as the max for most stuff
It can etch things like metal and glass but not cut it.

One thing it promises is also variable depth engraving using height maps so you can take a flat piece of wood and engrave to varying depths with just a black and white bitmap as a source. Not sure how common that is on other models of laser cutter but it allows for some interesting effects

Evilmatt's picture

Looking at some of those laser cutter tiles in those links most of them see incredibly easy to make and they're flogging them for 10 quid each seems like a fairly high price for a bit of wood with a grid drawn on it. Some of the more complex things like buildings and such I can see they would be tricky to make by hand. Still the price for effort vs materials there seems like a pretty high profit margin.

Evilmatt's picture

You need to factor in replacement laser cost, but once you have the hardware, its mainly design and time. Of all the "maker" tools out there, I think they are the one most capable of turning a profit... mainly as you can convert very cheap materials (thin acrylic or wood) into marketable items.

babychaos's picture

Indeed that tends to be pretty expensive I think the replacement cost on mine out of warranty is 500 dollars. It's also relatively quick to run, things like 3d printers will take hours to produce even small parts plus any time for cleanup etc. A laser cutter can cut and engrave in minutes

Evilmatt's picture