Understanding the capabilites of laser cutters and how to get the most out of them is the focus of this instructable.   I will use knife, tool and various other machinery I have designed to demonstrate what I have learned about this medium.   The main exciting feature of laser capability is the ability to take a CAD drawing and have it replicated in a material exactly to within .001" of the drawing.   The drawing needs to be vector based, meaning that the parameters of the image are mathematical dimensioned lines.   I imagine that there are programs to convert sketches into vector based lines but I don't have information about that. 
Thus laser cutting can create extremely complex accurate shapes exactly the way you want them.   And very cheaply.  A simple rule of thumb is that laser cutting costs 10 cents per inch cut plus the cost of materials.   When compared to sawing and machining, this is a real bargain. 

Since laser cutting is limited to one dimension, there are a variety of strategies to add the third dimension to your work.   These include, bending, rolling, machining and various fastening options such as welding or bolting your parts together.    Another option is to make mating tabs and slots for your parts and simply snap your project together.

Looking at the CRKT knife design
Here is a review of the finished product by Butaangas

Here are some of the design parameters that I considered when creating this knife.   Firstly, any knife on today's market needs to be both locking and easily operable with one hand. 
In addition to this I have added these criteria to the mix:
Ambidextrous operation.   Able to be opened and closed with thick gloves.  Easy to clean. Affordable.  Absolute minimum of parts and fasteners.  Uniqueness,   Safety,  Lots of Panache and unlike anything on the market.
Another primary desire was to make a very versatile every day carry knife with a focus on outdoor fun activities such as camping and boating.   To this end there is a carabiner and bottle opener included.

I was inspired to create this knife after seeing Ed Halligan's KISS knife, and wanted to do the same ultra simple knife only with a side opening mechanism.  One of the primary ways that the knife is so utterly simple is that the pivots are intrinsic with the blade and frame, and there are no fasteners between the blade and frame while at the same time  firmly locking and easily operated.

Where does laser cutting come in?    Well this knife may look simple, but getting all the parts to play nicely together required more iterations than almost any project I have worked on.   This involved the fit and finish, the bending of the frame and generally getting the knife to "walk and talk" properly.  Fortunately,  almost every part was a candidate for laser cutting.   Generally, I create a CAD drawing of the part and send it to my cutter along with the metal that I want the parts cut from.   Shortly thereafter, beautiful bits of metal arrive in the mail ready to be formed, machined and assembled.   Warning: If you make mistakes on your drawing, you will get those as well. 
Shown are the Tribanda Knife which features ATS 34 Blade steel and titianium frame and clip, all laser cut parts, below it is a stone set in a laser cut part originally designed as a low torque cog. The second image is of a set of dies for the Multiwrapper a machine I developed for Strawjet.  They are cut from 1/2" Aluminum plate.

Step 1: Planning what to cut

As with most projects,  a clear plan of what you want to end up with is always good.   Unlike some media, laser cutting will not introduce interesting random anomalies such as you may get with splattered paint.  You will get exactly what your drawing describes.   Thus you want to do as much of your design work in the computer, as this will allow you to ultimately have the best outcome from your endeavor.  
I am not going to attempt to address the whole computerized drawing arena, suffice it to say that there are programs all the way from free to those costing tens of thousands of dollars that you can choose from.   Primarily, I recommend a program that is robust enough to create the shapes you want, and can translate into a DXF file, which is the normal machine language for the industry.  Be prepared to work with your provider.  Like formatting issues with printing, there are similar issues with getting the files to work.  Also, put some visible dimensions on the drawing as scaling issues are very common.  

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