Large Scale Central

Laser Engraver/cutters questions

So I need another high tech toy. Since I am getting proficient enough at CAD to get things done with cool tools, I am kinda sorta thinking about buying a laser engraver/cutter. Several people have talked about using them. Cliff I know uses one. Bob C has talked with me about laser cutting the Carter Bro Coaches and led me to the file for them. Al P has mentioned he uses one to engrave lines for simulating tongue and groove. Plus I could make the argument that I can use it for my wood working as well. But I do have a question.

I know zero about them. I would for sure want one that would engrave and cut wood. That would be its primary use. But I know they cut styrene and acrylic with them but are they they same machines? Or will one for wood not work on plastic? Also with one for wood, do they cut or engrave any sorts of metals?

I’ll google this of course but I would love to hear peoples experience with them. Mind you I am not talking a big one. I have no room for a big one. It would have to be a hobby size one.

Wood and acrylic are done on the same machine. I think styrene may release toxic fumes as does PVC. Plexiglass is too hard to cut.

Laser power and bed size are what it comes down to. How thick of material do you expect to cut?

I use a commercial 60 watt laser (Epilog) and it can cut acrylic up to 3/8" thick, and light wood to maybe 1/2" thick. These are at very slow speed with 3/8" acrylic at “3-4” out of “100.”

I’ve done trestles, bridges, and structures, as well as pieces to improve the railcars. I also do lots for audio stuff like this switcher, cut from veneer.

Acrylic trestle and lowered bolsters cut on laser.

Thanks Todd,

I did read that there was an issue with styrene and chlorine gas. That would be a bummer unless I make a way to vent it will. That would be one of the main things I would want to cut. With wood I would think ( I really haven’t thought much about it) would be very thin. I can see using it more for engraving on wood than actually cutting it.

The problem is I really know nothing about it. I do know I would only want (at least to start) a small machine to do some engraving of wood for my wood working and then use it to cut parts for models.

I see many places online that say it is safe to cut styrene at least on the chlorine front as it is not a chlorine containing plastic. But there is a lot of mixed information on it.

I would recommend that you talk to Alan Friedland over at Great American Locomotion. He cut the styrene for the coach I built, so he could probably advise you about the best way to go about it. He’s a great guy to talk with (I have spent lots of hours on the phone with him)

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Thanks Bruce, I will reach out to him.

Sounds like you need a milling machine instead of a laser. Take a look at the Genmitsu 3018-Pro. It’s what I used to start out. Genmitsu 3018-PRO CNC Router DIY Kit –

I have considered one of those as well. A CNC router would be very cool. But it does not do the engraving. Though I do believe it would cut the styrene.

I’m not sure what you are considering engraving but you can surely chuck an engraving bit in that machine and do shallow depth engraving like pet tags as well as this which was the first thing I did.

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I guess what I am referring to is more wood burning. I know lasers can burn all sorts of designs into lots of materiel. But with that said for cutting styrene a CNC router would work well I would think. I would certainly put something like that small router to work on wood also. Maybe this is a better route to go.

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I use my Shapeoko to mill and cut PVC, Styrene, Aluminum and brass. You can add a low power laser to most any spindle machine.

is that the machine you used for the wood above? I did a little more looking at the link you provided and it does sound like this maybe more what I want than a laser.Now reading even further they have a laser that can be put on this machine. Thanks Dan I think this is at least sending me in the right direction. I really had no idea where to even start

Thanks Dan now I want one of those mini CNC machines now too…

No. That dragon piece was done with the Genmitsu 2018-Pro. After playing around with that and finding it would do what I wanted which was to use my STL files to mill PVC primarily, I bought the larger machine - A Shapeoko 4 XL. Here are some of my shipping container parts

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Okay Dan I think you sold me. I think this type of machine is much more in line with what I want to do. And the fact that is has the ability to attach a laser really sells it. In fact I think this is a better route to go because I can see doing just what you are doing with it where I can not only cut but carve with it. Your containers are just exactly like what I am thinking I would want to do. I can see why you decided you wanted a larger machine though. But Like you I had better start off small. Not sure the wife would be happy with me dropping the money on a larger machine.

Nothing to do with laser cutting questions but Todd you need to tighten them up and slam them down.

Just my opinion .


Think of lasering as a burning operation, with all the offgassing any lasered material wants to produce.

Yes, the “C” in PVC stands for “chlorine,” and cannot be lasered, period.

Acrylic and Plexiglas are equivalent, and are not dangerous. However, they, and wood, emit smoke and odors which must be well ventilated.

Styrene and ABS are laserable, but not very cleanly because they tend to melt on the edges more than acrylic.

The 3D routers don’t burn, but cut. So they don’t have the offgassing danger. Just a big mess, which you can build an enclosure for.

The 3D routers often have a “laser” mounted to them, and it might be sufficient to cut something really thin. But they’re mainly for (minor) engraving, because they just don’t have much power.

Most home-use lasers are CO2 based, and are limited in what they can cut (wood, acrylic, etc.) Metal-cutting lasers are a league in themselves, and another price planet.

CO2 lasers can be high and industrial-quality like the Epilog’s that Todd mentioned. Great machines.

At about 1/10th the price, you can get a Chinese laser of similar power / size. You won’t get the service or part quality. But you will get a tool that’s fine for hobby work.

Size matters, and big is expensive. I always recommend starting with a small ~$500 unit to get the hang of things. Here’s an example.

My Chinese 60w laser cost $2k, ventilation parts were ~$500. All has been working fine for 5 years at least.


I used the Genmitsu for POC as I believed cutting plastic or aluminum sheet would be a better option for constructing large linear parts than 3d printing. Happy to find it exceeded all expectations! I can now mill panels textured with brick, stone, corrugations, clapboard etc. Locomotive and rolling stock frames, roofs and sides including the Amtrak passenger cars. Best of all, None of the post processing associated with 3d printing. I’ve begun experimenting with making perforated metal roof walks for covered hoppers and such.

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Thanks Cliff and Dan,

Between the two of you I think a CNC router is more of what I had in mind without knowing what I was talking about. There is no doubt it will do everything I was hoping to do with a laser and much more that I wasn’t thinking of doing which is 3D carving. Any lasering I would be doing (at least at first) would be to do more engraving/burning of wood and leather than actually cutting.

I can see there are pros and cons to each but to buy one machine for hobby use its sounding like the router is the more versatile tool.

There is a bit of a learning curve as you are taking away material rather than adding but I find it much easier than 3d printing as you don’t need to worry about orientation and support. I keep adding to by list of things to try. Like scribing lines for bending metal or embossing rivets in brass sheet by putting a blunt pin in the chuck. Anyway, If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

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