What I have learned by owning a laser engraver.
This is my second year of owning an Epilog Helix 24 X 18, 50 watt laser. In this blog I offer my experience and insight in helping woodworkers who are considering buying, or have just bought, a laser engraver. I am not the greatest wood worker-just an average guy with some tools.
When I saw a demonstration of the Epilog, I could see so many opportunities for wood working. Opportunities I never considered - until now. As a retired, disabled woodworker some tasks in the shop were a challenge, if not downright impossible.
In spite of a disabling cancer surgery, I still tackle some of the standard woodworking projects, but by a conservative estimate, I find I use the Epilog laser 50% of my shop time. Due to newfound capabilities, the laser is my favorite tool. With the laser in my shop, I was surprised to find my woodworking interests heading in unexpected directions. There are several limitations in laser work, but there are double the opportunities as well. Inlay, marquetry, and vector cutting are now part of the possibilities bringing, for me at least, creative fulfillment.
When I bought the laser I had hoped to help my son in his sign business. I was thinking in the right direction, but I was still limited in my horizons. Floundering about, it was discovered that no one was making patterns or plans for lasers. Most scroll saw pattern designers will not permit their art work to be used in any form with a laser. I blundered around until I came upon a more or less educational site "MakerBot Thingiverse" with Creative Commons licenses and open source thinking. Many of the patterns presented in Thingiverse are projects not really suited to woodworking. I was very discouraged to say the least.
While searching through the files at Thingiverse I found the living hinge. What a fascinating concept! A vectored line of hairline thickness, in a digital pattern, guiding the concentrated laser to burn through ¼" thick plywood. In such a pattern the laser removes hairline thin strips of wood, much like a repetitive kerf in a bending board. The result is a sheet of ¼" thick plywood that bends in half like a notebook. If you want to see what develops with a vector cut plywood, look at these photos. Every cut made with a laser.
I decided to give it a go. After considerable computer time, I had my first pattern ready. I ran the files in the laser and it came out surprisingly well. Several modifications were yet to come, but the novelty of the living hinge was total excitement.
My son, dropped by after work to look at the living hinge I was raving about. Now it was his turn! He went wild and took the sample down to the local pub showing it around, where other business owners gathered. Word spread like wild fire, and folks were literally swarming into the shop wanting to see the living hinge they had heard about. A process to bend wood? Well, not quite but that was the rumor. One of the other businesses in our community saw the box and told us if we could bring it in under their budget, he would buy 175. We went to work on building a good working pattern. Two months and 12 days of laser time later, I am glad we took the job.
We made a video of the living hinge. It will give you a great visual on what is possible.
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