Tips For the Inexperienced

Alright friends, As @Jules suggested, I am going to start a list of useful tips for the inexperienced.
Please add things that might be common knowledge to those who are comfortable with lasers but that might be big news to someone who is new.

We were crediting the folks who generated the tip; but discourse only allows you to mention ten members.

General Tips

dan:

You want to go the fastest you can at the highest power possible to have clean edges.

Accessories to invest in

  • Digital Calipers - inexpensive is ok; but spend enough that they are accurate.
  • Flatbed Scanner - referenced several times in this forum
  • magnets for sure
  • Update: Make a cup of these Glowforge bed pins. The most recent iteration is toward the bottom of the thread; but the original works well for me. You’re welcome.
  • a needle for pulling small pieces out without moving the rest, and also checking to make sure that the cut went all the way through by jiggling the piece [Update: I really like dental picks for this. Cheap ones that your dentist would never touch are perfect.]
  • squeegee
  • masking
  • a square of some sort, I have an old plastic right angle triangle from school I use a lot to make sure things are square on the bed. There are also free designs here on the forum, so you can make your own rulers.
  • some xacto knives to cut small stuff/peel up masking
  • gorilla tape for getting off masking

Smells

jules:

removing the masking promptly and sticking it in a ziploc bag pretty much eliminates the smell. (And keeping the buildup off of the grid. I use a wire brush on it weekly. Just like cleaning a grill.)

After doing leather or acrylic, I make something in wood, because burned wood smells much better to me. You still don’t want to breathe deeply with your nose in my Glowforge; but the ambient odors when you open the lid are less offensive.

Materials

jamesdhatch :

When etching glass, put a thin film of dishwashing soap or cover the piece with wet paper towel or newspaper. This helps cool the glass under the beam and prevents fracturing.

When engraving acrylic, if you defocus the laser a bit the beam will be wider when it hits the material and create a smoother “softer” engrave.

For LED acrylic projects the edgy engrave of a correctly focused laser will tend to refract the light more and make for more vivid images.

takitus:

Craft foam or EVA foam is great for prototyping. It lasers really well, and is great to work with, especially in cosplay/costume creation. You’ve probably seen the foam floor mats that look like puzzle pieces. Those are EVA. Smooth on one side, textured on the other. They can be shaped with a heat gun to hold different forms. Great material all around. Cut like butter on the laser.

andymock:

Vegetable tanned leather really likes Neatsfoot oil or any other quality leather conditioner. That and just using it will make it pliable. If the leather is really dry it’s best to condition it well before working it as the grain may crack.

jamesdhatch:

You can relieve the stress in acrylic by annealing it like glass - an hour in the oven at 170F will do.

palmercr:

Regarding annealing acrylic or curing glue: “I often use my printer’s beds for curing glue quickly…” “[oven at 170F] is only 80C so I would place it on the bed of one of my 3D printers with some insulation over the top. Should be much more accurate than a domestic oven.”

printolaser:

In the event of glue damaging a complicated time consuming piece, the surface could be recut.

I have polished automotive acrylic enamel paint films with graduated wet/dry paper from 400/600/1000/ 1500 followed by ‘final cut’ then ‘swirl remover’ buffing compound.

There are also compounds for plastic polishing on a buff, (@smcgathyfay: novus plastic polish) you just need to be careful not to overheat and melt it

jules:

(For holding down paper during cutting) “You can make your own [Seklama mat] for about $10. Sheet of scrap ply, sprayed with 2 coats of Krylon Repositionable Adhesive #7020. Refresh the spray as needed to replenish the sticky.”

jonnyvermont:

Cardboard/Chipboard Thicknesses:

Masking, Weeding, Cleanup

jamesdhatch:

You can use a quick wipe of isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) on a sponge or scrubbie to clean the smoke residue off of most masking. I would expect Proofgrade’s masking would allow that too. Then your Gorilla tape should grab.

I dumped my pieces into a piece of Tupperware with some fine grained sea salt; closed it up and tumbled it around for a couple of minutes. Every nook and cranny is clean and no salt hanging to the pieces. Plus, it can be reused several times. I just dump the pieces into a strainer over another container and recapture the salt.

Gojo 957 Natural Orange Pumice Hand Cleaner is also a good way to remove staining from wood after cutting when you don’t use masking tape. It’s got fine pumice to provide the abrasive action and a citrus based carrier that removes the sap or oils in the stains. Apply with a fingernail cleaning brush for large pieces. Both available locally or on Amazon.

takitus:

(re: removing masking from detailed cuts) On that piece I probably would have used an eraser or something rubberized. Sometimes I use the rubber handle of one of my files. Masking tape for small detailed parts that might break

leaving the masking on after, or removing before a cut can leave you with some nice coloration

Jules:

Removing the mask before 3D engraving is a good idea. The adhesive and/or burned paper tends to gunk up the details on really tiny deep areas, making things look fuzzy. And it’s hard to clean out.

The Cricut Tools Craft Spatula and Scraper is an excellent tool for removing bits & pieces of masking without damaging an etch with a harder scraper. It’s available on Amazon for $11.

Add weeding lines to make a delicate cut easier to remove from the backing material.

eljefe4:

Here is a little tip regarding mask removal…After the job is complete, get some packing tape or a tape with a Stronger adhesive then the mask… apply it on top of the gooey, messy mask. Smooth it down the best you can… and nowwwwww the moment of truth…Pull the packing tape up and it will take the original mask with it! It’s particularly helpful when you have a ton of detail. You might need to find the right combo of tape/mask but it’s a no brainer once you have it. I have done his technique for years with my current laser cutter and just wanted to pass this first tip along to my (hopefully soon)… glowforge brothers and sisters.

jamesdhatch:

You can use a scrap piece of acrylic as a scraper to weed acrylic. Non-marking, no scratching and pretty quick - just rub it over the engraving.

Machine tips

takitus:

Wrap your vent hose in something sound dampening. It will decrease the noise drastically!

marmak3261:

Yesterday I noticed a hole in my vent hose… No defect in the hose, they just aren’t made for repeated contact and manipulation… Duct tape to the rescue. I’ll probably wrap the whole thing in duct tape to give some protection to the foil. Will also look for an insulation sleeve to go around the whole thing for sound proofing as @takitus suggests.

Preparation

jamesdhatch:

I always do new projects using chipboard first. Yeah, it doubles up the time because I’m doing it twice but I amost never get it all right the first time. It’s pretty cheap if you recycle cereal boxes, etc. but not that much more if you buy it as stock from Amazon or Blick.

marmak3261:

My pre-flight check before the final save of the design:

  1. Stroke to path and no hidden double lines.
  2. No fills, white or any color where you don’t want lasering. Punch out the holes or do Boolean operations to get the blank spaces.
  3. No design masking, just ask @cynd11 about this. Material masking is golden though.
  4. If you want text in your design like for instructions, put them on a different layer so you can turn that layer off before printing.
  5. Assign each object you want to process differently a different color. They are imported and set up as distinct operations. Check that colors are consistent.
  6. Don’t overlap or allow objects to touch if they are the same color. Can’t separate them in UI.

jamesdhatch:

For any material, surround your engraves with an outline score (a cut but with insufficient power to cut through). This will give your engraves nice crisp edges.

marmak3261:

if you make the document property landscape 20 by 12, you can do a little easier packing ahead of time for processing the cut.

jules:

When cutting paper…I use a Scotch ATG 714 Tape Gun to run a strip of adhesive on the back of the areas that are to be cut out. It makes the cuts stick to the grid until you lift them off.
That particular type of double sided adhesive can be carefully rubbed off if you don’t want it on the paper, or it can be used to just stick the cut down to whatever you want to use it on afterwards.
And it keeps the cuts from flying around on the bed.

cynd11:

if you have a design with a lot of raster engraving, orient it so as much of the engraving is horizontal as possible. It may take significantly less time to engrave.

Post Processing Issues

jules:

Deeply engraved pieces can warp with exposure to humidity if too much material is removed.

Double sided engraving will also alleviate the situation.

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All the likes!!! :grinning::+1:

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If you make it a wiki we can all just add to this top post.

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Well that’s a grand idea. I think I just did that. Thanks.

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Great. I added one to Jules and updated another of mine. I’ll dig through my tips file for my students and see what else I have.

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DITTO ! great minds, and all that - I was thinking that a wiki would be a great format. Thanks for taking the leadership role on this - woooo hooooo!

Creativity + Generosity = Prosperous Community :heart_eyes:

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Now I want to like some of your specific tips. Thank you for sharing.

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Hey didn’t some of you laser folk have a tip for knocking back the burned smell on your prints in a hurry?

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Not sure what others use but I use Febreze on some stuff once in awhile :slight_smile:

But mostly I don’t worry about it. I let it dissipate naturally. Others may have more useful hints.

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Perhaps post a separate Q&A about this? It’s a good question, and I’m going to guess the answer varies by materials.

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Certainly :slight_smile: I did some MDF last night (I’m building a fireball throwing trident for Neptune in a stage production of the Little Mermaid) and it still smells today. That will get the Gojo treatment to clean the edges and it’ll be good.

Acrylic tends to stop smelling pretty quickly for the jobs I do.

Wood tends to be in between MDF and Acrylic (MDF seems to smell more than the other woods I use) but gets the Gojo treatment. Once I’ve applied a finish the laser odor doesn’t seem to be noticeable.

Leather and wool tend to smell nasty during the cut and I get the residual sticking around. Both get the Febreze treatment. I’ll usually hang wool outside on a clothesline to flap in the breeze for a day. Leather takes longer. I do try not to seal it until after it’s aged a few days. And then any dyes and oil treatments tend to take care of any burned skin smell.

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I’ve got another tip…If you’re working with solvent glue on acrylic, make sure you don’t get any on your fingers and then grab the shiny surface. :sob:

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:scream:

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I am putting tips here still as I encounter them.
I added a couple more today.
Even though I started the thread, I’m bumping it in hopes that it will be useful to somebody beside myself.

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I’ve used it a bunch of times.

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additional accessories/tools:

  • magnets for sure
  • a needle for pulling small pieces out without moving the rest, and also checking to make sure that the cut went all the way through by jiggling the piece
  • squeegee
  • masking
  • a square of some sort, I have an old plastic right angle triangle from school I use a lot to make sure things are square on the bed
  • some xacto knives to cut small stuff/peel up masking
  • gorilla tape for getting off masking
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masking, gorilla tape, calipers and magnets are top on my list.

I should mention that a bunch of different types of magnets are useful. For paper, some thin ceramic disk magnets are fine. For material 1/8" or thicker the weak ceramic magnets don’t hold the material down very well and can actually jump off the material onto the head as it passes over. The head has it’s own magnets and is mounted to a heavy ferrous metal plate. You might wonder where your magnet went or watch your material be dragged across the bed if they are too weak. I use larger thin rare earth magnets for the thicker material. They are about the size of a quarter and only twice as thick. And very, very strong. If you use a magnet too thick then the air assist port can ram into it as the head moves.

You’ll learn what not to do.

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I’ve been collecting weights in anticipation of getting the GF and picked these antique irons for about $10. The bottom weights are detachable so the are lower profile. I already am a big fan of magnets, but will likley be collecting more of those too

.

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Start picking up “scraps” to practice designs on!

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That looks like it could be me :slightly_smiling_face: Well maybe not the ones spanning the width of the car. But the only time I use the sunroof on cars is to put long pieces of stock through for the trip home from the big box or lumber store :grinning:

(When I bought my first Mercedes - used- my son was with me & during the test drive the salesman was talking all about how luxurious the leather was, how nice the ride, etc and my son piped up “huh, dad will have 2x4s sticking out the roof before it’s home a week”. The salesman looked appalled :grinning:)

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