A friend recently got funding to buy a laser cutter to use with his students and I sent the following to him. With the, relatively recent, arrival of affordable easy to use lasers on the market I realized there might be other teachers out there with new tools and not a lot of experience. So I thought I should share what I’ve learned. My school got a laser a couple years ago with similar cutting/engraving capabilities of most of the hobby grade lasers on the market today.
For material we use a lot of 1/8” Baltic Birch Plywood. I get it from Amazon in 12” x 12” sheets. It works really well, but occasionally there are inconsistencies in the glue. These inconsistencies can some times prevent the laser from cutting all the way through the wood. You can sometimes salvage the piece by finishing the cut from the back side with an exact-o-knife. This is a problem with all plywoods. I get this in a box of 50 sheets for $65, so less than $1.5 ea.
If I want wood for nicer projects I mostly get it from a place in Wisconsin, Woodchuck’s Wood. They sell a variety of thin stock hardwoods (1/8” and 1/4” thick). They’re a relatively small operation so it can take a couple weeks to get your order. As far as price and variety, this is the best place I’ve found for thin stock.
If you want to try plastic you need to look closely at what the plastic is composed of. Never put PVC (including Vinyl) in your laser cutter. Burning it produces chlorine gas that is harmful to you and the laser. For plastic I mostly use acrylic, which is safe to burn. Our #1 rule is, “If you’re not 100% sure it’s safe to burn, it doesn’t go into the laser.” You can order thin acrylic on Amazon, but I found a local plastics place and I go in and dig through their off cuts. It ends up being far cheaper than buying online.
One of the things we’ve been using the laser for is fund raising for our Technology and Robotics Club. Listed below are some projects that can be used to easily generate revenue.
Christmas Ornaments – No brainer. Our robotics club sells these every year November/December at the fall play, Christmas concert, and some home games. Depending on the size/design we get 9 – 12 out of a single 12”x12” birch panel. For pricing we do school logo $3 or two for $5 and student designed ornaments for $5 ea.
Candle Holders – Small lidless box with vector cutouts to let the light out. The easiest way to generate e box is to head over the MakerCase. There are some advantages to designing your own boxes, but MakerCase is just so easy to use. I recommend a small battery powered light, or a candle in a glass jar. You can do these in different sizes. We’ll be adding these to our sales next year.
Keychains – For strength and durability I recommend doing these from two pieces of 1/8” plywood glued back to back. This way you can have a design on both sides. You should also rotate them 90 degrees to each other when cutting for maximum strength. Technically you just need the keychain ring, but I’ve found it works better to also use a split ring. If you use both your cost in materials is still less than $0.25 ea. And you can easily sell them in the $3-5 range.
Pins – We’ve also sold school logo pins. Done both with the birch ply and acrylic. The mirrored acrylic looks really sharp. We use a high viscosity super glue to glue on the pin backs. Again, we sell these in the $3-5 range
With the pins and keychains you get a bunch out of a single sheet of plywood or you can even get them out of the scraps left over from other projects. It’s also a great way to make a bunch of small things quickly that can be given away to students. The birch plywood ends up being pennies per keychain or pin.
It’s been awhile since I’ve really posted new content to either this blog or my YouTube channel. I’ll try to get some laser project stuff up over the next few weeks. Try being the operative word.