Laser cutter

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Introduction

This tool cuts sheet material such as card, acrylic and wood. At a reduced power rating, it will mark the surface without cutting all the way through. The laser cutter focusses a point of high-energy light into an area just a fraction of a millimetre across, and it instantly vapourises the material that it touches.

This information sheet does not describe how to create a computer file containing the shape to be cut.

Safety

Two things to remember: Don't use it with plastic compounds containing chlorine (PVC, poly-vinyl-chloride for instance), and don't ever look at the laser beam when it's cutting.

There are protective glasses allowing you to glance at the beam while cutting, but these are not recommended for continuous viewing

Hazards include:

  • Chlorine gas fumes when cutting prohibited materials
  • Eye damage from looking at the light beam
  • Material catching fire when cutting too slowly
  • The mechanism crashing into something on the cutting table that's too high

Before use

Switch on the laser cutter using the illuminated green rocker switch on the right-hand side. Switch on the extractor fan using the controller on the wall. Check that the cooling water reservoir is not empty and that the pump is running. Check for a gentle air blower at the cutting head.

Switch on the computer monitor. The computer itself is left normally running.

Preparation

Using the computer, keyboard and mouse, open the RDWorks programme. There are two versions. Version 8 is recommended. Use File > Import to read in a .dxf, or use File > Open to read a .rld

Select the shape that is to be cut, then allocate a colour from the strip of colours at the bottom of the window. Double click the colour as it appears in top right of screen, and set the power level and the speed appropriately. Cutting all the way through wood requires a high power level, cuting through card or plastic sheet can be done at a lower power level and a higher speed.

Optionally, text or patterns can be selected in a different colour, and the speed and power settings may be chosen for marking without cutting. Large areas or designs with half-tone regions may require the 'scan' setting to be used.

Open the cover on the laser cutter and position the material to be cut onto the honeycomb support. Use the arrow controls on the top panel of the laser cutter to move the cutter head to be above the material. Adjust the height of the honeycomb support using the push buttons on the right-hand side of the laser cutter, so that the head is exactly 25mm from the surface of the material. There's a plastic guide to help with the measurement.

Using it

On the screen note the 'origin' mark, a small green square. Manually drive the cutter head to a position over the material where the origin should be.

The cutter head has a small red light beam that shows where the laser beam will cut. The accuracy of the red beam is affected every time the height is changed, so you may need to re-calibrate it.

Close the top cover. Back at the computer screen, click on the button 'Send to cutter' and the laser cutter should start to operate almost immediately. Sometimes there's an error message, in which case just repeat the click on the 'Send' button. If it still won't work after a few tries, switch off the laser cutter and switch it back on again.

At the end of the cutting process, the laser cutter emits three quiet beeps.

When finished

Clear up any cuttings from the honeycomb support. Switch off the laser cutter and the extractor fan. Exit from RDWorks, turn off the computer monitor leaving the computer switched on.