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Laser Cutting in the Classroom Answered

After creating a makerspace at my elementary school, I was always on the lookout for fresh projects and new tools and a laser cutter was that one big item at the top of my wishlist that I just never got... but, I know some teachers and librarians who are brand new to the world of laser cutting and would love pointers from other teachers who have already worked through some of the challenges of starting something new. :)

So, if you have a laser cutter in your classroom or school makerspace, please share any tips or suggestions you might have for any teachers who are just starting out with one at their school. Also, feel free to share any cool projects you and your students have done or programs you use.

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Kiteman

7 days ago

Number one tip: let the students see you play.
You won't properly know what the cutter can do if you don't try things out, so why not try them in class? If the class is busy doing something else, let them see you try a new material or range of settings. Let them see you be excited about a success, but happy to fail.

Tip Two: use junk.
Collect scrap (corrugated) card and other scrap materials for test cuts.


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Downunder35m

26 days ago

I am not a teacher but I've build my own CO2 cutter from the parts of a chinese cheap one.
My number one concern with these toys is the fumes.
Modern, commercial models have come a great way here but it still is a factor that should not be underestimated in a classroom enviroment.
Providing a well sized ventilation system to remove all fumes before they enter into the room is crucial.
IMHO it is best to have a dedicated cabin for the machine so that whatever is in said cabin will be sucked out, creating a negative pressure enviroment.

Another thing that is often overlooked by the beginner is an active nozzle system - there must be a better name for it, so let me explain:
Whenever you are cutting or engraving something that can actually burn you create a burnt surface.
An air nozzle surrounding the the lens armature and providing a small exit hole does two things.
a) it removes debris created by the laser cutting.
This debris, especially when working with playwood, can make clean cuts quite hard.
You go slow and you create wedge like cut with the top burnt badly away.
You go fast and you need a multitude of cuts to get through.
b) it can help to prevent the workpiece to catch fire.
As said before, if something can burn then you have a chance to start a fire.
With the close distance of the lens to the workpiece a flame with the corresponding radiant heat and added smoke of a different kind can harm the lens.
Once you miss the cleaning routines too often the accumulated film on the lens can actually burn too.
This then can cause damage to the lens that you can't correct unless you replace it.
An active airstream with clean air will prevent any heat or smoke from reaching your lens ;)

In a school I would prefer a cutter/engraver with network support.
Standalong devices where you have to enter a USB stick or SD card are fine at home but the ongoing use in a scholl will wear them out quickly.
Wear is also a factor for the laser tube!
Unless there really is no other option you should limit the power to about 75-80% of max.
In return you get a far greater lifespan and with that lower running costs.

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WeTeachThemSTEMDownunder35m

Reply 23 days ago

You hit some really important points with this and provided some great tips! Ventilation is such an important thing to have for laser cutting in the classroom, and I know most companies that are catering to classroom setups have machines that are equipped with a fume exhaust and filtration systems, but it's still something to make sure of if purchasing one for your school. I know I have a lot to learn about laser cutting, but I never considered the damage the heat and smoke do to the lens and how important maintaining a cleaning routine would be. Thank you for sharing all this helpful info! :)

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KitemanWeTeachThemSTEM

Reply 7 days ago

The vast majority of schools will buy pre-built laser cutters, with all the associated ventilation built in or provided.

Biggest mistakes I've seen teachers make are cutting PVC (and venting the fumes directly into a class of 11 year old kids!), and cutting mirrored acrylic with the shiny side up, melting the lid of the cutter.

Never leave the cutter running unattended, and keep a CO2 fire extinguisher or powder extinguisher within reach.

As well as cleaning the optics, you need to make a routine of cleaning inside the cutter as well - small scraps and offcuts can accumulate in hard-to-reach places, presenting a real fire-hazard.

A networked cutter is a luxury most schools cannot afford (we only have a cutter at all because a charity stepped in). I find it easier to keep the cutter safe & controlled by funnelling the cutting jobs through my laptop - students create files on low-spec laptops using InkScape, email them to me, then I turn them into files for the cutter with propriety software, load them onto a pen drive and the drive goes into the cutter. This means I also get to monitor settings and material use more easily.

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WeTeachThemSTEMKiteman

Reply 6 days ago

Thanks for adding additional tips to this thread! I agree that funneling cutting jobs through the teacher computer is good practice. I did the same with 3D printing in my classroom. Thanks for pointing out that the cutter shouldn't be left running unattended and teachers should always have an extinguisher nearby. Really great info for teachers who have only used 3D printers and are moving into the laser cutting world. :)