Question for craftsmen: Will you use your laser instead of - or in addition to - your hands?

We have such a diverse group of makers here, and I’m very excited to see the myriad ways that we’ll all use this same tool. In seeing the various beta and sample projects, I’ve come to wonder how many people will create projects that are exclusively laser made, and how many will create “hybrid” projects that use a combination of lasered + handcrafted techniques?

When I initially purchased, I intended to use my Glowforge primarily for the latter. I’ve been doing leatherwork for roughly 25-ish years, and I take pride in the skills and workmanship that I’ve honed in that time. While there are certainly some things that a laser can do much faster and more precisely than a human hand, I want my Forge to enhance or expedite my craft, rather than replace my handwork entirely.

So for example, I hope the Glowforge will do most of my leather cutting and hole punching (which is tedious, and at times hard on my shoulder) - but I’d like to continue doing my carving, tooling, burnishing and such by hand. Don’t get me wrong - I’m not a total purist. I’d definitely like to add some of the fancy flourishes that only a laser can offer. But when I imagine how I’ll use this tool for my craft, I realize that it’s important to me to retain a handmade element. As in, obviously crafted by a human hand. Thus, I hope the lasered elements will showcase my skill, rather than replace the need for it.

On the flip side, while we’ve been waiting and jabbering in this forum, I’ve seen and imagined a lot of cool ideas that are almost entirely laser made. So now I’ve got a second list of projects (like household gadgets, storage, decor) that shouldn’t require much previous skill or handwork to complete. It tickles me that the Glowforge will enable me to actualize some of these ideas without having to invest years into learning yet another craft.

I’m curious where other craftsmen (craftspeople?) stand on this? Some of you have been woodworkers, carvers, etc for many, many years. Will your Glowforge replace your handwork entirely, or just help with some elements, or? There’s no righter wrong answer here, and no judgement either - I’m just curious to hear the different perspectives on this.


Great question–like you, I’m a leatherworker (among many other things), and I want to use the Forge to do cutting and some pattern transfer for me. In addition, adding decorative elements that I wouldn’t necessarily want to add by hand is very high on my list.

I also want to use it to cut and decorate a lot of items I wouldn’t necessarily do by hand because they’re in materials that I don’t normally work with. For example, I’m looking forward to engraving glass panels for my front door and to cutting and engraving wood panels to cover two pillars in my solarium.

I also hope it will free me up to do some work I would never do by hand in leather because my cutting skills just aren’t precise and/or fast enough–inlay and onlay work is my specialty, but there are very complex pieces that I want to do that would take months by hand, and less than a day with the laser.

I’m also pretty sure I’ll just use it to solve a bunch of niggly little problems in graceful ways–cutting a custom phone-holder for my car, for instance.


Exactly. The best tools I ever used were my hands. They are strong and practiced. Driven with my mind and inspiration, my many tools expand their ability, but nothing could replace them.
Precision and speed. You nailed it.


Mine definitely gets added to the stable of tools for various craft projects…it will be an enhancement for many builds, and the star of several of its own.

And twisting things up is a favorite pass time of mine, so there will definitely be a lot of mixed media and crossover testing, from a lot of past craft endeavors.

(I was cutting clay with digital cutters and engraving on glass with those, so years of fun times are ahead!) :smile:


I’m a jewelry designer. I really enjoy hand working metal into new and interesting shapes. That being said, I am kinda jealous of many of my 2d artist friends who can spend the same amount of time on one piece that I do and then sell it (hopefully) a hundred times. So I’ve started to explore ways to be able to do a design once and iterate it as many times as i need. In that quest I’ve taught myself 3d modeling using Blender 3D and sold some things on Shapeways and I even designed my own wedding ring and had another company mill out the wax and do the castings for me. I just LOVE how technology can allow us to make beautiful things faster and more reliably than ever before.

Now with all of that said, I plan on making and designing many many projects that range from quick laser enhancement to full laser projects to laser accented items. Mixed media and mixed techniques will often help to make a project feel finished and give depth to a design.

Being able to sketch out a quick design by hand and use that to make Earrings, a Bracelet and Necklace all out of wood or leather or acrylic will be AMAZING! AND to have that new design series done in a matter of an afternoon or weekend would allow me to not have to worry about having a huge back stock of stuff.

Then seeing all of the fantastic design concepts around this forum and in the dark corners of the internet has given me ideas for so many things… Helping me make some cosplay costumes that were beyond my technical expertise, simple yet personal touches on gifts, Heck, even displays for my jewelry designs when I go to craft shows. This is the fist of hopefully many amazing tools that will allow me to make more amazing things faster and closer to the designs in my head. For me, it’s more about the end result, the tools used to get that end results re just that, tools. And how far you take them is only stymied by your imagination and skill.


Everything I make will be with the best tools that I have available. Wood working tools, lathes, CNC, laser, etc.

My personal opinion: I’m not knocking the workflow of others, still, it often confuses me how folks bend over backwards to make stuff with one tool. It’s cool to make a laser box. Once. The laser can create a lot of stuff very difficult or impossible to do in other ways. It is also great at personalizing objects. But I’m having a hard time thinking of something that I want to create that won’t be better if other tools are used in addition to the laser.


I know some wood workers that bristle at the thought of any digital help. The line is fuzzy and wide in my eyes. I use digital tools wherever I can but there definitely will be a lot of hand work. I’m actually doing more hand work now as cnc has freed me up to do so. I think the bottom line is if you design it, it is your creation no matter what tools you use.
I’d have no problem using a cnc router, a laser, and a cnc plasma cutter in the same piece and still call it hand made. I’d probably have as many minutes in it hand working.


I’m not sure I’d be considered a craftperson by your definition. However, the Glowforge will be added to my arsenal of automated tools to help me create what I design. I come up with a lot of ideas but don’t always have the artistic ability to use my hands to create what I imagine. And, sometimes, when I do, tendinitis flares up making it difficult to do. That said, I’m sure many of my projects will involve some amount of hand work. But I try to rely on technology to perform the tedious tasks.


Have some friends whose entire carpentry/woodworking career has been to build using the same tools and methods from the late 1600s. A group of people recreating historically accurate settlement in Southern MD. 10s of thousand of wood shingles and wood pins made using original methods. About the only reason I can thing of not to use the best modern tools.

edit: Oh yeah, forgot the Amish. But even they use multiple tools. Just don’t plug them in.


I am a wood worker like many of you. A laser would free me from mundane tasks like cutting out shapes in wood and alow me more time to use more carving skills to work my projects with more detail… I am also to try my hand at marquetry, which the laser is well suited . :relaxed:


Right, here the methodology is as much the creation as the product. Like a 16th century orchestra. But I know people who will buy $700 jigs but cnc is somehow cheating.


Robin Wood, the English pole lathe turner and Peter Follansbee. Both good examples of not only an unplugged shop, but deliberate choice of period tools for a certain aesthetic. It’s in all arts and crafts.

All depends upon what you want to fill your workspace with in many cases. If you buy and use one tool, what all can you make with it?

The laser represents a different form of creating and communicating design and method. Is a real artist someone who only uses his or her hands, or are they allowed pneumatic tools? And what does power and capability of the laser do? It allows for a certain precision of design and fabrication that is beyond the skill of many people, even given a workshop full of the best tools.

So it’s another way to connect to a community of shared interests and it is a great motivator to try something new because there are immediate results.

Do digital tools really create somethilng new? What is the value added that comes from a digital tool? How do digital tools spark creativity? I think a lot of folks are looking for some personal fulfillment in this project. Keeping the enthusiasm going is part of the quest.

I’ll use the Glowforge for some small items that create personal connection with others. I’ll make them lots more attractive than if I were to cobble them together with hand tools. But I would like to get a full 4x8’ cnc. Why? Because when I’m not in my shop, I can still mess around with design and then do the work when I get there.


I have lousy motor skills. So I’ve always relied on jigs, fixtures, specialized cutters. Most projects I’ve done have been designed around the tools I have available to get rid of the freehand element. A laser will be one of those tools, perhaps more powerful and flexible than most. I’ll still enjoy assembly and finishing, but for me the ability to take my hands out of the process makes it that much more likely that what happens in the material will resemble what I see in my head.



I’ve never been able to draw what I “see,” at least not to my satisfaction. Straight As in drafting, but not so much in art class. I’ve always gravitated toward photographic methods, appreciating their instrumentality. Likewise, I’ve never been able to cut, carve, engrave to a point where I’m happy with the outcome.

3D printing and then kvetching lasercutting and my Silhouette have been a godsend- I can finally achieve OCD-compliant results.

My glowforge will allow me to realize a wider range of projects (and products) than would otherwise be possible.


Yep, me too. Before I got into leather craft, I did (and still do) seed beadwork. I love the material, process, history and limitless possibility of this medium, but it is a slooooow craft. The labor intensive nature of beadwork may be part of why I began to dabble in leatherwork and wirework. Sometimes it’s just nice to work on something that you can finish in an afternoon.

With that said, I agree wholeheartedly with this comment:

Like you, I sell my work, so I spend more time than I’d like to worrying about whether I have enough stock. I’m really looking forward to being able to streamline production for my bread and butter work, and for more tedious processes. It’ll alleviate the worry about having enough stock, and free up my time and my hands for work that is more elaborate and/or more challenging.


Half of the reason I got it was for doing the the tedious stuff I don’t have time for. Like marquetry and some small jigs. Also rapid prototyping in cheap materials just for proof of concept.

The other half is production. I plan to make money off my machine. So whether I am personally running a jig by my router, or a machine does it, I get the same product. So does it really matter in the end?

Also as I type this I remember having to hand cut gears for a clock on my bandsaw. It took forever and they never meshed right. Much later I tried on a CNC router, and it worked perfect with no adjustments.


Yes, I know a lot of artisans who feel that way. I was in that camp for a long time, and interestingly enough, two of the folks who really caused me to reconsider that stance are artists who work in very traditional, old fashioned mediums! One is a man who does beadwork, flint knapping and restoration of Native American artifacts for museums. The other is a Tsimshian woodcarver who creates traditional NW boxes, canoes and totem poles. At different points along the way, both of these fellows have basically laughed at me and said: “Y’know, our ancestors were pretty smart - if they’d had these tools available back then, they would have used them too!”

So ironically, the two people who helped to shift me out of that rigid way of thinking are both “primitive” artists. I doubt I would have even considered a laser if not for their perspectives.

TBF, I didn’t provide a definition :wink:

I’m not sure that craftsmanship is defined exclusively by the tools that we use. I do believe that skill is important - but that doesn’t mean that using a computer or automated tools makes one less of a craftsman.

In my mind, craftsmanship is a combination of a drive to create and a desire to push the limits of what can be done in your chosen media. It’s about experimentation and risk taking, and chasing beauty, functionality, and quality down to the tiniest detail. I’m rambling, because it’s really hard to articulate … but I think it has more to do with how you approach your work than what you use to create it. Does that make sense?


I’m buying the GF to do things that I can’t do with my hands. Like cutting a straight line… Seriously, I am incompetent with hand tools.


I plan on doing both, but will spend more time up front seeing how the glowforge works with different materials and get a feel for those so that I will have a good knowledge base to go on when it comes time to use the glowforge in larger projects.

Its hard to not want to engrave all the things!

Ive definitely used my k40 in larger projects, some of them which ive posted on the forums, and plan to do even more with the glowforge!


That reminds me of watching forklift drivers: some of them are so fluid it is like watching ballet, while others approach the craft as a demolition derby.

I got the :glowforge: to use in addition to the tools I use, and hopefully use for tools for working in other mediums that I haven’t tried yet. As an example, I like leather, but don’t have tools to work it, so everything I have done to date is completely utilitarian and lacking in character. Not having to buy all the tools is a big plus. Same for paper, glass, insert new media here. And, all the other reasons that everybody else have articulated so well!