How will you become familiar with your Glowforge? (step by step)

There is already a thread asking what we will be doing with our Glowforge in the first week. I have lots of ideas and projects ready, but my mind tends to work in a more linear fashion. The first week will involve learning the nuances of the machine, limitations, resolution, kerf, power effects, any effects due to camera distortion, duty cycle and much more. One capability at a time, low to high complexity. Let’s pretend that a Glowforge Basic or Pro has just arrived on the FedEx truck. It’s not necessarily a Beta unit but may or may not have all of the production capabilities enabled. We don’t have a detailed manual with a step by step guide to follow. What questions need to be answered before using it for the most complex designs, and what kind of test will you perform to answer those questions? Let’s concentrate on the Glowforge itself, so assume you have all the skills necessary to upload a test command, pattern or design. Again, one capability at a time, low to high complexity.


First question: What material will best show effects of speed and power control? I will need to choose a material that easily shows inconsistencies in the energy delivered under a number of unique use cases. For examples: When the laser turns on and off in raster mode there may be a hysteresis in the energy delivered. This could result in a darker burn at the beginning or end of a raster cut. Also, when turning a 90 degree corner the laser may linger longer on the corner making a darker or deeper engrave. Some lasers allow you to set corner power. I do not know whether this is a setting in the Glowforge. My first thought is to use wood because the eye is the best discriminator, but what would be the best type of wood for that test?

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id say acrylic would be better. as it is consistent in density, and transparent, you can see whats going on in the cuts.

I plan on creating a full test library of every material im going to use with a number of different tests.


Heres a template someone made that you can grab from thingiverse:


I will probably start with cardboard first, as a cheap material with which to learn the basics. That Thingiverse template will probably be one of the first things I try with wood or acrylic.

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^^ ditto. I’ll throw a few odd ball things in there right off the hop to get the excitement of creating something new out of the way and then it will be a week or 2 of looking up MSDS and using different materials to make templates of power settings for any task on any given safe material. While most of my personal work will be with acrylic, wood and aluminum I will have to expand that material list as my business grows.

Yes I saw that template and it will be one early project. But as far as using acrylic… I’m not sure you will be able to see the inconsistencies in the engraving patterns as easy because there is no color change, the material has a tendency to melt. Measuring depth changes might be possible but not as easy as seeing a darker pattern.

How will we measure kerf? Different materials and thicknesses will result in different measurements. Might be as simple as measuring the width of a specific material then cutting it into 10 equal pieces, sliding the pieces together and measuring the new width with digital calipers.

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The template printed in acrylic in the above photo looked interesting so I’m guessing that printing it will be instructive at some level. For me at least, the first week or two will be mostly about learning features, limitations, and capabilities and especially the process to go from design to completed project so almost anything will move me toward that goal. So far as kerf goes, my first thought would be to cut rectangles and discs and take measurements with a digital caliper. 3D printing often benefits from the same testing when printing engineered (as opposed to artistic) components, especially when trying new filaments. My concern would usually be more for the final dimensions of the part than for the width of material removed. Kerf-wide slots would be an exception and for those, I’d probably try an optical comparator, either bench or hand-held. Quality hand-held models are available from Edmund Scientific for $70 or so and Ebay probably has imports for much less.

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I will start by taking it out to dinner and see how things go from there. :smile:

Next step will be to take some basic designs from things I’ve done on my CNC and cut those on laser-safe materials. This is my first laser, so I have nothing to base first tries on.


I’ll be mixing up two different paths: 1) meticulously cutting and engraving samples of test materials to create a reference library of the machine’s capabilities and effects, and 2) cutting a bunch of little “joy projects” that I’ve been fantasizing about since way before I know the GF existed. I have a lot of beautiful paper, leather, wood, tile, and acrylic waiting to be turned into small pieces of mixed media jewelry, book covers, and home decor. I find that mixing it up this way keeps me jazzed about the process while I learn the machine.


All of this information is very helpful. I’m new to both designing and using a laser etcher/cutter so will be starting with cardboard and acrylic. Although, I am very interested in wood etching so hopefully the learning curve isn’t to steep.

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I’m planning on following a similar path! Start with some basic test cuts, move onto more detailed templates like @takitus linked to (thanks for that!) and then trying out some small pet projects to see what all the tests mean for actually making something. Plan on having the intro projects fall under different construction methods as well: interlocking models, pancake-stacked things (like the glowforge globe lamp!), engraved things with a solid cut outline…can’t wait!!

Since I have roughly the 10200th Glowforge on order, I plan on soaking up all the test data that all the 10199 owners before me will generate. Fortunately they are nearly all very generous and helpful.


I’m going to chime in to give a voice somewhat “in opposition” to the plans here.

I plan to do essentially nothing to get to know the Forge.

I will download things which are interesting, and belt them out. My own creations will rarely be anything more than boxes to put electronics inside of.

The only way I will ever figure out any limitations of the machine is when it turns out to not produce the expected results. So if a box is a bit too loose, I would adjust the file design to make holes smaller or tabs wider until it is nice and snug. If the adjustment is significant, then I guess I will have just learned about kerf.

I imagine that when I let the wife and child play with the forge I will start to learn about the capacity for tracing hand drawings. Quite likely when it doesn’t do as they expected/desired, and push me to “fix it” for them.

Of course… anything peculiar which happens and catches my interest will steal an absurd amount of time from all my other projects as I delve into the mysteries that present themselves.

But… so long as it works to expectations, it will remain a “Magic box” entity in the back of my head, waiting for a chance to explore it (and never getting one)


Your approach clearly resonates with me. I knew there were some thought processes going on in my head, but I had not yet put them to words. Most likely, I’ll be doing pretty much the same type of things when the time arrives.

What a wonderful thread @rpegg. It’s like do you get a kiss on the first date. (I know I’m old school.). I do believe I will do a test sheet from the thingverse template and then try to make something, most likely my matchbox. I have 95 10" x 3.5" by 3/16th pieces of planed and sanded walnut. Thanks for provoking some good discussion and workflow ideas.

Cool stuff!

Bit of trivia: if you buy a CO2 laser from a high end manufacturer, they shine it on a very expensive meter and print out the results for you. If you buy it from a low end manufacturer, they shine it on a piece of clear acrylic and photograph the results.

If you want to see variations in laser power, just engrave a straight line in clear acrylic. You can see it through the side like a window.

If you want to measure kerf, you can just cut a 1" square and measure it. Another approach is to cut a fixed shape, then cut a few lines through it, and measure again.

That’s just how we do it - I’m sure you all will teach us some techniques too!


I’m going to echo much of whats been said here already. I’ve been saving up boxes since I pre-ordered. I’ll just get used to the sofware and figure what I can out. Then I think I’ll probably make a simple dice tower to show off to all my nerd friends.

Great thread! Lots of great info!
Personally love taking some structured approach.

Would be great to put together some kind of get to know your GF overview, maybe for different applications (everyone has different use plans, so one guide want fit all…). For folks with little background, some explanations of expected results/what to watch for/what can go wrong etc will also be good.