Introduction: Hosting Laser Cutting Workshop for Beginners

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In February 2017, I joined a relatively new Makerspace in Hong Kong! it's the Robotics Garage!

Some so-called "MakerSpaces" in Hong Kong are over-prized and hard to get to in old industrial building. However Robotics Garage is located in the tech zone in Hong Kong Science Park, home to many tech companies and research teams. And the very Affordable membership fee is student friendly!

Anyways, I started sharing my maker tips with others and vie versa. I start designing and hosting workshop for other members, introducing machines and project ideas! I held a 3d scanning and printing workshop, This time i did a Laser Cutting workshop for complete beginners! there are quite a few concepts they need to grasp to get up and running. Here are my attempts to present these ideas the simplest yet clearest way.

If you are running a makerspace and wanna get more makers to start using the laser cutter, this the instructable for you!! I am sharing my teaching material including simple slides and project files! Also include some teaching tips and multi-platform support etc.

Step 1: Understand Your Participants

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Most participants are here with result-based mentality, which means they are here to do exactly what was advertised. So pick the right thing to put in your poster and stick to that in workshops!

We see that a lot of people are paying big money for customized coat hanger on etsy and Instagram. Also coat hanger is not really age/gender specific, this ensure we can cater a wide demography. That's why we picked the coat hanger as our sample project. A wide demography we got, some of the participants are software developer, graphic designers, mother who wants to make customized hanger for her whole family, people work at marketing...

As for the Candle holder, i plan write a separate instructable for that! stay tune...

Yes our goal is to advocate the potential of the awesome laser cutter, but many of them are only interested in the hanger they can take away, so manage your contents so they stay interested! I suggest doing technical stuff for them in back end, so they only need to do the fun part in front end! You will see more about this later.

Step 2: Hardware and Software

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Hardware:

  • GCC LaserPro X500III Laser cutter(we just so happens to have this one)
  • 1/4inch or 6 mm MDF boards
  • Laptops (ask your participants to bring their own laptops)
  • Mouse! (not using mouse is so 1964!)

Software:

  • Inkscape
  • Adobe Illustrator

Step 3: Introducing Laser Cutting

Picture of Introducing Laser Cutting

Here are the slides I made and used during the workshop

Here are the concepts/knowledge that your participants need to understand:

  1. The key components and operation of a Laser Cutter
  2. Visualizing positive and negative space
  3. What Vector drawing is and it's advantages
  4. Basic Vector editing skills

For more savvy participant who come up and ask you for more about laser cutting, you can tell them abit more about:

  1. Level of detail (depends on machine)
  2. Tolerance
  3. Complete workflow
  4. File formatting

Step 4: Front End Software: Inkscape

Picture of Front End Software: Inkscape

Multi-platform Vector drawing software. Opensource, free and easier to use than the full blown illustrator.

Download here: https://inkscape.org/en/

A tip is to ask them to install it before coming to the workshop. Also they can send the finish.svg to you via email, which can then be batch processed in back in next step.

Your participants need to know their .svg vector file are composed of Objects.

There are mainly 3 types of Objects 1) Text 2) Primitive shapes 3) Lines called Paths! All objects need to be turned into paths at some point of editing, since only Paths are editable with fine controls. I have created some simple charts with Inkscape UI element, explaining the above ideas for easy presentation. Should be handy for your participants to get started. They don't really need other tools than those i listed out.

After they got the basics they can start creating custom shapes by:

  • Drawing in Inkscape after importing reference image
  • Trace along picture from the internet or hand doodle with Trace bitmap function
  • Import existing .svg files

Then mix and match these shapes with the hanger template with boolean Unionand Difference.

the Hanger template should be good for cutting from 35 cm to 38 cm wide depending on should width for your participants.

Inkscape is mostly the same across Windows and Macs. common hotkeys are the same as MS office:

  • Zoom Ctrl + scroll
  • Pan Middle mouse button Drag
  • Save Ctrl + S
  • Undo Ctrl + Z
  • Select object Click
  • Edit object Double Click
  • Select multiple Shift + Click

As a diligent Host, you should be able to support your participants regardless of platforms. Some features are not available to Mac at the time of writing:

  1. Copy and paste Path between multiple inkscape windows, Mac would only paste a rasterized version of the path.
  2. Importing bitmap images by drag and drop, Mac user must go to file>import from their directory
  3. For Path Boolean Union, Difference tools,

Step 5: Back End Software: Illustrator

Picture of Back End Software: Illustrator

Many laser cutters like our X500III run with a custom driver as a printer with illustrator. i suggest you do this back end, especially if your makerspace cant afford the Ai licence for all your participants!

The take home message is your cut line has to be 0.001 pt thick.

For more details, you may refer to this nice instructable:

https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-create-a-l...

These driver can commonly cut in passes base on stroke color. Each pass allow varying laser power or travel speed for possible engraving. I find the 1st pass is most useful to do etching/engraving, then cut all the holes on a piece, than last pass cut the outer most contour. This ensure your piece won't break free and offset itself before the detail holes are carved.

As you see in my sample .ai file, I organised all the etching in red and inner holes with violet pass which are cut first. Whereas the outer cut is in black as the last pass. you can refer to other format requirement from the sample .ai file i provided!

Step 6: Laser Cutting

Picture of Laser Cutting

Back end:

Get the material and do test cut some 2 cm squares and circles first! For example our machine's X and Y motor speed are independent, inferring the laser move slower when the path is parallel with X or Y axis, much faster with diagonal and curvy paths. Shorter exposure to laser on diagonals might lead to incomplete cut.

The focus of your laser is also an important setting! for us, focusing halfway inside the thickness of the material giys the smallest kerf and burnt. while focusing on the surface of the MDF gives almoat 1mm kerf with heat char-ing the top and bottom surface.

Test around so you get nice cut without overpowering!

Front end:

This is the super fun part your participant would wanna witness!! Wait for them and do a live demo! this could be life changing moments for them! one participant tells me after seeing it in action, he is determined to make a shelf with the cutter!

Ensure to repeat the safety reminder to them!!

Hope this help you guys out a little!! feel free to use these material to hold courses for your makers!! see you guys in the next instructable!

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