Intro: Deep Cleaning a Laser Cutter
Lasers are an integral part of any modern makerspace, and the Invention Studio at Georgia Tech is no different. We have 3 laser cutters operating throughout the semester, and they see consistent and relentless use during our workweek, evenings, and weekends. Laser cutters are really cool because they concentrate light to a fine point and then either cut or engrave a material with a high precision. These incredibly versatile machines are fairly easy to learn and use, and can run with minimal maintenance beyond lens cleaning and the occasional calibration.
But these incredibly popular and beloved machines come with a dark side: soot. When you use a laser cutter, you're literally burning away material that you don't want, which causes smoke and sooty residue to spread throughout the laser cutter. The better your ventilation is, the less residue gets trapped in the machine. The better trained your users are, the less likely they are to start fires in the machine. Even if you have both well-trained users and a great ventilation system, you're going to need to clean up your laser cutter. Soot and other flammable residues can block the ventilation system, get all over people's projects, and make your makerspace look grungy and unsafe.
Luckily, with a little elbow grease and the right equipment, you can deep clean your laser cutter. Deep cleaning your laser cutter can be a satisfying experience, and it brings your equipment back from a disaster zone to looking like-new! Today, I'll be illustrating my process through our semesterly cleanout of our Trotec Speedy 400.
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Step 1: Gather Your Supplies.
You're going to need some scrubbing/scraping supplies:
- Pipe Cleaners
- Stiff Bristle Brushes (not pictured)
- Soft Brushes
- A Paint Scraper
You're going to need some soaps and whatnot:
- Simple Green
- Gojo - (it's mildly abrasive and it's great at scouring.)
You also need a brush and dustpan.
You should also probably get a friend. This is going to get pretty messy.
Step 2: Inspect the Damage.
Despite only having this laser cutter for 6 months, we've put it through so much work. Between users being unfamiliar with good cut settings and our formidably high use traffic, our laser cutter accumulated significant amounts of soot, smoke, particulate, and shame.
Aside from normal dust, we had a lot of caked on smoke that was essentially baked onto all of the surfaces.
Step 3: Disassemble for Access.
It turns out that the Speedy 400 bed is really easy to remove - just click down the push pins, and then take the tray out.
We also unscrewed the two covers underneath that tray, so that we could better clean the covers and the surrounding area.
Step 4: Sweep Out Particulate.
Step 5: Clean Out Clogs.
Bend the pipe cleaners in half, and then twist them. They do a great job of cleaning out hard to reach spaces that have attracted a lot of extra grime. I used this method to clean out the insides of the grates at the rear of the laser cutter..
Step 6: Soap It Up.
Douse everything in a layer of your preferred cleaner. I liked to use Gojo for the particularly stubborn grime, and Simple Green for the less persistent dirt.
Step 7: Scrub in Many Different Ways.
It's going to be gnarly.
I would particularly advise using the stiff bristle brush for cleaning up the grates at the back, as they won't be shredded like napkins or paper towels will.
Make sure that you are careful with the moving parts of the laser. When I got up to the gantry, I took special care not to apply too much force scrubbing, so that I definitely wouldn't damage it.
Step 8: Scrape Up the Stubborn Dirt.
Some of the patches of caked on smoke and soot will actually start shredding the napkins when you try to clean them. If you find this happening, simply break out a paint scraper and chip away at the dirt.
Once you've broken up the resilient chunks, you can go back to cleaning with the napkins and the stiff bristle brushes.
Step 9: Take Out the Trash.
Look at all the garbage that you just cleaned out of your laser, and feel accomplished and slightly nauseated.
Then throw it away!
Step 10: Enjoy Your Hard Work by Making a New Mess.
Once you've cleaned your laser, it's time to set up a new job and start making a mess again!