I have a new project or two coming up that will require some finer cutting than I can get from my CNC router, so I decided to start researching lasers. The first thing I discovered is that there is a lot of options out there and you can spend months looking at every article, YouTube video, and review. I just decided to focus on my minimum needs and buy one within my price range that came from a company that I recognized. Over the July 4th holiday weekend, Rockler had a sale on the Laguna PL 1220 Laser. It was 10% off and it had a 12″x20″x2″ cut area with the ability to remove the bottom and pass longer stock through if needed. I decided to take the plunge and made the purchase. It was supposed to be delivered within a week or two, but after 3 weeks, I called Rockler and they got in touch with the Laguna to get things moving. My laser arrived the next week.
Don’t assume that these things are small. These machines can be anywhere from 100 pounds to over 1,000 pounds. I was very busy trying to make space in my shop for it, but when it arrived, I got a big surprise. The shipping weight of my laser was supposed to be 220 pounds and it was supposed to arrive in two crates. This beast came in a single crate that was over 400 pounds.
When I opened it, there was an extra section below the laser that I couldn’t find anywhere on the manufacturer’s website. When I inspected further, I found that the extra lower section was a Z-stage, which is an adjustable table that raises and lowers your material to auto-focus the laser. It also increases the vertical capacity of the laser from 2″ maximum to about 12″. This is a seriously useful upgrade that I was not expecting. I contacted Laguna and was referred to a technician who was surprised that they had sent me the new version of the laser. He thought it had not been released yet. Apparently there was some confusion going on when they moved their facility from California to Texas and I got shipped the latest upgrade at the old model price. I am not complaining. I did however have to wait 2 weeks before the first version of the manual was written… They have also commissioned a series of videos to be made on how to set it up. It is definitely not plug-n-play. The technician was extremely helpful and responsive though. Apparently there is only one other person that has one of these at this time. The laser itself looks like the older version, but it is completely different inside so setup was an adventure…
It was also a problem because I did not have the physical space for it in my shop. So it got an upgraded location, and moved into my basement.
It came with lots of parts that needed to be nearby.
A chiller to cool the laser tube, an air compressor to blow waste out of the way of the laser, and an exhaust fan to suck the smoke out of the laser and exhaust it outside.
Since this is not going to be in my shop, I had to change my exhaust exit plan from on old dryer vent to a window.
I designed a panel to insert into the window that had a low profile dryer vent with louvers so I didn’t have to remove my window screen.
I also used a bolt-on 4″ dust collection connector to attach the duct.
I wrapped it all with weather-stripping and placed a piece of foam at the top of the window sash to prevent smoke from coming back in. It actually works really well.
To get things set up, I had to cut away a bunch of zip ties.
I found the location for the laser tube and the power wires to connect it.
Since this is a newer version, they did not match the old manual of course.
I was further confused by additional connectors that were shipped with it.
Along with a bunch of other items that came in a toolbox.
According to the technician, Laguna ships these components with all of their lasers and he has no idea why…
I found the laser tube in a box, stuffed safely inside the lower section. It took a little effort and a conversation with the technician to get the laser installed and all the mirrors aligned without any instructions or videos, but I found a few videos of similar setups that helped and after an hour or so of playing with it, I think it is set up right.
I threw in a piece of scrap plywood and started playing with the onboard software until I found a demo to run.
After my initial success without any mishaps or fires, I figured out how to auto-focus the laser to get a finer cut and tried cutting out my logo in cherry and walnut.
Here is a video of the logo being cut out if you are interested.
I also went online to Thingiverse.com to find a couple of quick projects like this cell phone stand with a live hinge.
I cut it from some 1/8″ plywood and it works well.
Since everyone uses different materials, there are no real useful charts out there for setting speed and power so I will have a lot of trial and error getting started initially.
I did about ten different test cuts on this church image to get the correct settings, for example.
But once I found the right settings, I carved a highly detailed version into hard maple. This image is only about 2″ tall. I think it is really good. I cannot get that kind of resolution from my CNC router.
I also read that you can laser engrave onto food. My son was deep frying potato slices, so I grabbed a couple to experiment on. One raw and one cooked. It turned out really cool, though there was a slight burnt flavor to the chip. It does open up possibilities though…
I will definitely keep you updated on my progress with this beast. I am very happy with the upgrades this machine has and I look forward to testing its limits.
I did notice, when writing this blog, that Rockler pulled this laser from their web page. Hopefully they will be selling it again when they fully release the new version.