Laser Cutter/Instructions

From London Hackspace Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

These instructions are intended as a companion to laser cutter safety training - not a replacement.

Refresher instructions found at Equipment/LaserCutter/Refresher

Powering on

  1. Place your card on the reader, insert key and turn.
    • If you turn the key on and nothing happens, check that the Emergency Stop (the big red button) is not locked down. If it is, turn it until is springs up and the laser cutter machine should power up.
  2. The PC is turned on using the 'e' button on the front of the PC (black PC with DNH "CCTV machine" label).
    • The password for the PC (the Laser Cutter User) is: "hackspace"
  3. Always perform the following pre-checks:
    1. Check that there is a CO2 fire extinguisher immediately to hand.
    2. Check that the water pump is running
    3. Check that the extractor fan is on AND that air is flowing. You should be able to feel it at the mouth of the extraction tube.
  4. Caution: Be certain that the water coolant is at a suitable temperature.
    • If you are unsure if the cutter has been used recently, or you have been using the cutter for an extended period of time (an hour or so) check the temperature of the water on the black box over the tank.
    • If the water temperature is outside the acceptable operating range (22 ± 3 °C) then wait for the water to cool before using the cutter.

Preparing your design

Produce your design. There are various options for doing this

Software packages



A good low cost choice



Free and used by many other Hackspaces



You will need a plugin to export DXF files



Export files as DXF or AI


Although strictly a 3d tool, it can do 2d sketch exports. It's nice since it is fairly parametric so you can specify dimensions properly.

It's a bit tricky to get the files into a format usable by Lasercut53 - here's what worked for me:

  1. Export as DXF as per FreeCAD docs
  2. Open in Librecad
  3.  Explode the object
  4. Resave as DXF R12

The explode seems to be surprisingly important otherwise it will either give an error, or silently import nothing!

Using the laser cutter

Use Lightburn software

Video Tutorials

Positioning your material

The origin denoted in the cutter software corresponds to the top left corner of the cutting bed, so your material should be butted up against that corner. This means the X axis shown in the cutter is the axis parallel to the direction the user is facing, with left screen movement translating to movement towards the user. The on screen Y axis is the axis perpendicular to the user with on-screen down translating to movement to the right.

Knowing the correct Z-Axis position

The bed height must be adjusted to the thickness of your material so as to ensure the focus point of the beam is in the optimal position for your task. The focus point of the beam corresponds with the top edge of the vertical ruler that is attached to the back of the cutting area. It's worth noting that this is at the same height as the bottom edge of the horizontal ruler that runs along the length of the bed so may be easier to judge the correct height using that albeit a bit less intuitive to remember. So:

  • For cutting materials <=8mm, the bed height should be set to the focus point, making the bottom of your material the focus point of the laser (i.e. the top of the cutting bed should line up with the top of the vertical ruler).
  • For cutting materials >8mm, the bed height needs to be adjusted such that the focus point is in the mid point of the material.
  • For engraving, the focus point should be the top of your material.
  • There is no instance in which the bed height should ever be set to be higher than the bottom edge of the ruler / focus point.

Setting the Z-Axis

  1. Software Method (preferred)
    • The +/-Z buttons in the laser cutting software are the preferred choice for setting the Z-Axis position.

Checking cutting boundaries



  • Caution: Never leave the machine unattended. The laser cuts and engraves by burning the material so you must be present to deal with any fires should this process undesirably escalate.
  • Caution: Know your material - be absolutely certain that your material is safe to use in the laser cutter. If in doubt - ask. For unidentified plastics try this test method.
  • Caution: There are a number of electrically live areas inside the cabinet towards the back. Be very careful when reaching around at the back as you may get a shock.
  • Know where the CO2 extinguisher is and that you can easily get to it without having to come nearer to the cutter.
  • Monitoring progress
    • What to watch out for
    • What to do in case of problems
      • Note: There are at least 3 different ways of stopping the cutter mid-process. There is the emergency stop button on the cutter, there is the stop button in the software (not recommended), and there is a sensor that detects if the lid is opened. There is also a pause/resume button on the cutter.
      • Please be aware that the software stop button has on at least two occasions had the unfortunate effect of moving the laser back to the start position while it was still on, leaving unwanted lines cut into the material.
      • For any fires, or issues where the head has moved outside the cutting area, place an "Out of Order" sign on the machine and contact the Mailing List.
  • . What to try if the result is not what you expect

When cutting flammable materials (or non-flammable materials which happen to emit gases which are flammable when cut) or materials with a thin oil/wax film - be prepared for fires or small flames. While not common - it does happen occasionally and should not be cause for panic. When it happens - press the stop button and use a small gentle blast of CO2 fire extinguisher to douse it. There is no need to get very close to the fire - generally the box 'fills' up with the CO2 gas which is heavier than air - esp. when things are not yet hot. Note this in the logbook (both so we can replace the CO2 and because of soot on the lens). Don't forget to report any fire to the Mailing List.

In the unlikely event that you cannot contain the fire with CO2 - switch to the powder extinguisher. Do not use water (risk of electrical shock). If you use the real (sealed) extinguisher - post an incident follow the accident/reporting protocol - to comply with fire, health and safety regulation.

If you are unfamiliar with fire extinguishers - and why there are many type - then read the instructions on both the CO2 and the ABC extinguisher ( as to understand the difference.

Logging use

  • Please log your Laser Cutter use in the Lasercutter logbook.
    • This is used to track how long the tube lasts, schedule maintenance, and keep an eye on any developing issues.
    • The time you have used the laser for is shown on the machine's display panel.

Switching off & shutting down

  • Put money in the box proportional to the amount of time you used (price displayed on sign next to machine).
  • Shutdown the computer from the start button on the desktop.
  • Clear any cutting debris from the laser cutter to help the next user and the maintainers.
  • Close the lid, turn off using the key, remove your card.

What to do with Scraps

You can either make some LaserCut Mechano with the scrap (files here: C:\Documents and Settings\Hackspace\My Documents\LaserCutMechano), put the scrap into the container on the right hand side of the lasercutter or, if the piece is too small to be useful, the 'landfill' bin in the workshop.

Chlorine Testing and Material Safety

Don't cut materials that release chlorine or cyanide, or catch fire! (See Rule 0) For various information about safe and unsafe materials, please see the ATX Hackspace Laser Cutter Materials, and potentially Materials for laser cutters.

Chlorine is a very dangerous gas used in the creation of many plastics (e.g. PVC) these are safe until heated; when they release the chlorine gas. The laser cutter will easily heat plastics enough to release chlorine, which will damage the internals of the laser cutter.

To test an unknown plastic for chlorine content try the following:

  1. Heat some copper (wire's easiest) until red hot (do this for a while to remove any PVC that may be stuck to the wire from the coating).
  2. Apply red hot copper to plastic so that it melts a little onto it.
  3. Heat copper wire until red hot again.
  4. A green flame means that the plastic contains chlorine so do not use it.