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  • Feedback on Laser Cutters

    Hello Y'all,

    I have some questions for those members of the forum board who own or have access to a laser cutter and use one to assist in their modeling. I am interested in purchasing one for the purpose of being able to produce my own structures, parts, etc., and to possibly offer detail parts, etc., for those who are in need. I am very frustrated with the lack of support and ability to have parts produced at a reasonable price, so the old adage rises up: If you want something done, do it yourself. This does not reflect on any one person, business, or entity. I just want to be able to laser cut at my leisure and enjoy the hobby at a new level. If I can help someone along the way, great!

    I know I want a CO2 Laser, but that is where my knowledge ends. I see the MicroMark model, Muse, and a few others. Where does one begin to shop? What model do you use? How happy have you been? What are the pitfalls? Would you change anything now that you have experience under your belt?

    Any advise, wisdom, or insight would be appreciated. It is a small investment and I don't feel like making a 2K-5K mistake.

    Thanks,

    Manny

  • #2
    Make sure you research the manufacturers. Some of the foreign items $ raise my eyebrow.

    Philip
    Philip

    Comment


    • #3
      I've done some research on lasers. To get an idea of what's out there check out the CNCZONE forum on lasers.

      http://www.cnczone.com/forums/genera...ne-discussion/

      I was looking back a few years ago to purchase a laser. I read some of the posts from people who had bough Chinese machines from E-bay. Some arrived not even working. Plus getting parts, like a laser tube was difficult. Micro Mark is a repackaged Chinese laser. You'll need a step up transformer and CorelLASER software plug-in and CorelLASER User’s Key. Something I don't like about the Micro Mark unit.

      If I was going to get a laser cutter I would go for the Full Spectrum Lasers: https://fslaser.com/

      Or if you want to step up a grade go for an Epilog Laser: https://www.epiloglaser.com/

      If you plan on doing work for others it pays to get one that costs a bit more. Just my opinion, your mileage may vary.

      Bernd
      New York, Vermont & Northern Rwy. - Route of the Black Diamonds

      Comment


      • #4
        I vote for Epilog. I have 2 and the first one is now 14 years old and runs like a champ ad use it every day. Still can get parts and support.

        They cost more then some others but them made in the US. Full Spectrum is still a Chinese laser with some upgrades.

        Check out the engraver forum on the sawmillcreek forum https://sawmillcreek.org/forumdispla...ecf8aee29e5b79

        rich

        rslaserkits
        In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame,

        two is a law firm and three or more is a congress.

        --John Adams

        Comment


        • #5
          I have friends doing production work with both Epilog and Universal systems, with equally favorable comments from both camps. My outside impression is that discussion quickly becomes much like Ford v Chevy, blondes v brunettes, Canon v Nikon, etc.

          Almost two years ago a friend with changing circumstances offered me a new-in-box FS Laser Gen.5 H Series cutter at a price I couldn't refuse, so I snapped it up. It has worked well for my personal needs, and the software is friendly. There are a few minor quirks coming from my set up or work flow however, and without sorting them out I am not sure I would want to do much production work with it. Definitely not a deal breaker for me or my son's projects, but enough frustration that I would likely want something more robust for pleasing customers.

          Thayer

          Comment


          • #6
            Thanks guys for all the feedback. I spoke with a friend who has the Epilog as well. He loves it. I'm doing the research and all your input has really helped. My intent is make things for myself, buildings, car parts, etc. Will it expand? I don't know. I may start putting out small building kits. I just don't know. I don't see myself becoming a Bar Mills, FOS, or any other major player, but time will tell. Epilog is sending me out a package on specs, prices, etc. As for Chinese stuff, I have read enough. I'm staying away. I may pay more for American, but I know I will have the support and not have to worry about Chinese garbage.

            If you have any more input, please, keep it coming.

            Thanks,

            Manny

            Comment


            • #7
              get on the epilog email list. They do sell used machines as they get them. All are reconditioned and have a one year or more warranty.

              Rich
              In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame,

              two is a law firm and three or more is a congress.

              --John Adams

              Comment


              • #8
                If you're just looking to do your own stuff, from basswood and balsa and cardstock, an LED laser will meet your needs for a fraction of the price of a CO2 laser. It's not necessarily as fast, but if it's just for you, what's the rush? There's good support for the Eleksmaker-type open-frame laser cutter/engravers, and you'll be able to get some experience with the technology without sinking a bundle into it.

                Regardless of which technology you choose, you're going to have to learn CAD (Autocad, Fusion360, Sketchup or the like), and you are going to have to be able to fiddle with hardware. They're not like a laser printer that's just plug'n'play.

                I have an A3 laser system I ordered from Banggood, it was less than $300 delivered, and I've learned tons from www.benboxlaser.us. It's a group of people with a bunch of different types of lasers (some CO2, mostly LED, some homebrew) and 3D printers that support each other and offer great advice. There are several software packages offered and supported through the site that take your CAD drawings and translate them into the machine code that your laser will use.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Manny,

                  Marcus makes a good point about the LED laser. If you are willing to consider that route, take a look at the machines from Stepcraft. https://stepcraft.us.

                  They are offer multiple options on the same machine. In addition to having an LED laser available, you can also mount a spindle for milling wood, aluminum, etc, as well as a 3D print head.

                  I recently picked up one of the 2/600 systems and am assembling it now. So no, I haven't used one yet, but I have seen them in operation and held a few sample pieces.

                  Thayer

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Markus & Thayer,

                    What you present is great. But Manny is probably more interested in using a laser to produce a model railroad items than get into the hobby of assembling or "tinkering" with a laser. I got interested in electronics as applied to model railroading and wound up getting very interested in electronics. My model railroading hobby became a second hobby. This is only my personal opinion. Sometimes it's better to buy a tool than it is to build it. The info you guys have given is valuable for somebody that is interested in learning more of how a laser works.

                    Bernd
                    New York, Vermont & Northern Rwy. - Route of the Black Diamonds

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Hey Y'all,

                      Bernd is absolutely correct. I really don't want to have to assemble a "laser". I want to plug and play as much as possible. The whole purpose of getting a laser is to be able to make railroad car parts, and to make structures, and structural detail parts that are not available on the open market. Modeling the 1880-1910 period is very difficult to do because of the ornate nature of structures and the complete and total lack of detail parts available in that era. Would I cut something for someone else at a reasonable price? Sure. I don't know if I want to become a producer at this time, but I want to have the parts I need, and just cannot find anyone to farm them out to. I'm afraid the old adage "If you want something done, you have to do it yourself" is coming to pass for me. With the craftsman side of the hobby dying off to pay and play, I feel that in order to continue my time era love, I have to do something.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Bernd and Manny,

                        Saying that Eleksmaker-type laser is for people who want to learn to build a laser is like saying people buy IKEA furniture because they want to be cabinet makers. There's some assembly required, but no more than any other model railroad related item. The assembly is about as complicated as an IKEA chest of drawers.

                        The software for these things is pretty plug'n'play, but don't think you're going to pull up a picture of a depot, tweak a couple of things in Photoshop and send it off the way you do to a printer. Regardless of what system you choose, what software comes with it, you're going to be at the bottom of the learning curve for it, as well as needing to learn an illustration package like Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape, or CAD, whether it's old-school 2D like AutoCAD, or 3D like Sketchup or fusion. Whether it's a $200 LED laser or a $20,000 Epilog, they still need vector files, usually either in DXF or PDF form, and you will need to be able to create them from scratch, and be able to manipulate them to tweak the output from the machine.

                        I've had a 2.5W LED laser for a little over a year. It was less than $300 shipped, took about an hour to assemble, and ran fine out of the box. I bought the BenCutLaser cutting software, it cost me less than $50, and it works great. I've tweaked and upgraded my machine over the last year, but nothing requiring anything more complicated than an allen key and a file. I can cut balsa, basswood, craft plywood, some foam, some felt, on paper and cardstock, stock up to 16" wide and 36" long. It works for everything I need for building structures, rolling stock and model aircraft.

                        Manny, I have no idea what your background is, or how comfortable you are with computers and software, so I'm not trying to 'splain you anything, just laying out where I think you're heading. If you've got several grand to plonk into a machine that's going to spend more time gathering dust than churning out product either for you and your friends, more power to you. But I think, for starting out, drop a few hundred on one of the LED machines and learn the ropes. Or, just pay a local jobber to do the work on their machine, and save your pesos. Local guy here charges a $20 setup fee and $1.50/ minute.

                        But I get it, there's a lot of satisfaction in making your own stuff, fighting your way up the learning curve and being able to create something unique. Which is why I think you should start with the LED laser, and make some smoke and prototypes. Regardless of the laser type, you're going to burn through a lot of material just in learning how to set the machines up and achieve the results you want. If, after working with the little laser, you feel you can make a go of it, that you've got a list of projects long enough to justify a few grand overhead, or there's enough demand for your product, _then_ spring for the big CO2. The way you get a million bucks in the hobby business is to start with 2 million. I've seen lots of guys with big ideas spend the big bucks for a commercial laser, it would pay for itself with the craftsman kits they were going to produce... except the demand wasn't there, and so they've got a machine that turns out beautiful material, but has yet to pay for itself.

                        My rather lengthy $0.02, but there y'are.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          The IKEA analogy is most apt.

                          We aren't talking about actually building machines, just doing some simple assembly to get them up and running.

                          The "assembly and tinkering" for my FS Laser consisted of little more than plumbing the water cooling, ducting the exhaust fan to a suitable vent in my shop, and plugging it all in. There was a little bit of software configuration as well, but nothing that remotely resembled a bother. I started setting it up on December 23, and the next day cut some acrylic ornaments to take to a Christmas party that evening.

                          My CNC mill came disassembled in several boxes. It took a few days to assemble and figure out how to make it run, but that was nearly 10 years ago. Since that time, I have made all sorts of interesting projects in wood, steel, brass, aluminum, plastic, etc, both final pieces, and also tooling for assembly and casting other items. Most applicable to this forum are some Fast-Tracks-inspired, home-brew fixtures for hand-laying turnouts and track, a rail bender, some additional fixtures for scratch-building On30 boxcars, and roof walk supports for the same. I've scattered some posts about all this throughout the forum, but for expediency the following links will take you to consolidated accounts of the projects.

                          http://www.gryffinaero.com/modelrail/rgboxes.html - building Richard Gardner's boxcars

                          http://www.gryffinaero.com/modelrail/track.html - hand laying track & my rail bender

                          I originally mentioned the Stepcraft system as I believe that you may find that a stand alone laser will not do everything you want. Take for example, Bernd's gorgeous brass box cabs. Switching the Stepcraft between a router, laser or 3D print head takes only a few minutes, giving you several unique tools, while limiting the shop space needed for that capability. The main system comes in a single box, and I expect it will take even less time (as I can find it) to get up and running than my mill, due to their fine engineering and customer support. Stepcraft.us has posted a series of videos on YouTube that walk you through each step in the assembly process, and frankly, short of having them bring an assembled and tested machine to my shop and plug it in for me, I can't imagine it being much easier to bring this capability to my hobbies.

                          Trust me, the last thing I need is another hobby, and for my needs, these three machines have been acceptably close to "turn-key" systems to justify their acquisition. In each case I will have invested a couple of days to bring a new machine on line in my shop, and then quickly forgotten that investment as I go on to make things.

                          Thayer

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Thayer,

                            I thought your name looked familiar. So no need to explain to you about my history on metal working.

                            Marcus,

                            A little background on me. I spent 30 years in the machine tool industry working for a leading gear manufacturer. I was a two year apprentice worked through the shop learning the various machines and machining methods. I learned both manual and CNC machines. I spent many years on the assembly floor bringing these machines to life before they had a customer visit for a demonstration. I spent the last few years as a assistant electrical engineer before retiring. My second hobby is home shop machining. So I know my way around machines and machining methods. I have several machine tools in my basement consisting of 2 lathes, a 10 Logan and a Sherline with milling attachment. I have three milling machines consisting of a Bridgeport, a Grizzly mini-mill and a Sherline CNC.

                            Now I work in two scales HO and TT. Those gorgeous brass box cabs that Thayer mentioned, thanks for the kind words Thayer, where drawn up in Draftsight. I used CamBam to convert the DXF files into G codes. I can also program in G Code with the help of a CAD system. Sherline uses EMC2 software to the run the Sherline mill. I more than understand you can't take a picture and magically push a button and have your 3D machine print it out for you as much as some modelers wish they did. So do I qualify in deciding what laser to use?

                            If I wanted to save money I would buy a Full Spectrum laser first. If I didn't care about spending money I'd buy an Epilog. One thing to remember that some modelers may have more money to spend on their hobby than you might realize.

                            Bernd
                            New York, Vermont & Northern Rwy. - Route of the Black Diamonds

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Marcus,

                              When you do get a laser, remember that most local frame shops throw away a lot of artist's mat board. They save the big pieces that get cut out of a middle of a new sheet, but after a while those pieces shrink too much, or the "usable scrap" pile gets too big, and they need to get rid of some of it.

                              Our local store has been very generous, and keeps me in good supply. I think the current stack is well over 2 inches thick. I have used it for many test cuts and mock ups, as well as a few final projects.

                              If nothing else, it is a great substitute for more expensive materials while you figure out the final geometry.

                              Thayer

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