Laser technology has significantly evolved since its inception in 1960. Early laser enthusiasts were excited at the prospect of incorporating this new, but unproven, technology into their ongoing workflows, yet uncertain about the lasting impact lasers would have on their overall methods. Today, laser technology and machines are nearly ubiquitous. We use lasers in a wide variety of applications, such as medical procedures, data processing, communication transmissions, and, of course, material fabrication.
Laser engraving has proven to be a fantastic way to permanently etch markings on a variety of materials with rarely matched precision. One of the most popular materials to work with using a laser machine is wood and its many varieties. It's generally easy to work with, available in abundance, and able to produce a dark, rich etching that helps designs stand out. Small business owners and home hobbyists can customize items like signs, cutting boards, decorations, ornaments, and more using wood laser engravers.
Wood Laser Engraving Equipment Essentials
Regardless of the projects you tackle with your wood engraving machine, you will need some essential equipment. It is crucial to consider these items so you can work to incorporate them into your workspace and budget as well as adjust to the scope of your project.
A CO2 Laser Engraving Machine
First and foremost, you need the right laser etching machine. These units are complex, with lots of moving parts, but there are a few features you should look for when considering the best one for your needs and maximizing its versatility.
One of the primary components of a laser engraving machine for wood and other materials is the laser beam itself. During the laser engraving process, focused light travels out of the laser head onto the workpiece, forging the material into the desired pattern. As the energy source's wattage increases, so does the laser power. OMTech has a variety of CO2 laser cutters with wattages ranging from 40W to 150W.
Another factor to consider when looking for a laser machine is the product's overall dimensions. You want to ensure that the device will comfortably fit in your workspace with room to spare in order to accommodate accessories or exhaust apparatus. Consider its size, where your outlets and power supply are, and your access to appropriate ventilation to determine the best location for your woodworking engraving machine.
A Wide Range of Materials That Work With Your Machine
For wood-cutting projects, you can choose from many types of timber. Your application will dictate which kind of wood you select. Specific properties of the different wood types will influence your project's outcome.
For instance, the color of the wood is vital to evaluate. A lighter wood typically produces a starker contrast, meaning your etching will appear darker and more defined. The wood grain, called streaking, will also affect an image's appearance. Prominent streaking can obscure certain patterns, making the final product look cluttered. It's also important to note that harder or thicker materials require a higher power level.
However, a darker wood or a workpiece with a pronounced grain pattern may be exactly what you want. For this reason, keeping a diverse selection of wood on hand is a good practice to guarantee you will always have what you need when you need it. Lastly, remember to save your wood scraps. They may seem insignificant, but your wood scraps help you test your settings before beginning a new project. Improperly adjusted machine settings can create an undesirable burn mark on the wood.
A Water Cooling System
To maximize the performance of your CO2 laser etching machine and extend its lifespan, you need an adequate water cooling system. Laser machines generate a substantial amount of heat — the consequences can be adverse if that heat builds up excessively. Without an effective chilling process, your machine's components could become damaged, which may result in an extensive repair or premature need to replace your unit.
For CO2 wood laser engravers with wattages up to 150W, a 6-liter industrial water chiller will provide adequate cooling to prevent heat buildup. Water chillers help control the generator's temperature by executing a water circulation technique. By consistently regulating your machine's temperature, you will keep it in prime shape while increasing its long-term efficiency.
Proper Ventilation, Including Fume Extractors and Inline Fans
When you operate a laser engraver, you're essentially burning away layers of a material to create a design or pattern. This process produces fumes that may pose a risk to your health and your machine's health if not adequately ventilated, so it is critical to have sufficient ventilation to direct those fumes away from your body and your workspace.
Fume extractors are integral to keeping your air free of harmful particulates while also purifying your environment of any foul odors that can develop when lasers interact with workpieces. Another benefit of fume extractors is that you can replace their filters to ensure your air is always safe.
Another way to facilitate better air quality is with an inline fan. Inline fans are critical in removing the smoke and fumes generated by laser engraving, so look for an inline fan with minimal noise, energy efficiency, and accessible mounting features.
Compatible Laser Software
You cannot use your wood engraver machine without the correct software. Laser engraving software programs work to provide a pathway of communication between your machine and your computer, which is an essential step when turning your ideas into actionable projects.
In your research for laser software, you may run into the terms CAD, CAM, and control software. CAD, or computer-aided design software, is a program that helps you create and design the look of your project digitally. On the other hand, computer-aided manufacturing software (CAM) helps encode your layout. Finally, control software lets you transmit the information to your machine. A program that can manage all three functions is ideal for eliminating the need for additional downloads or purchases. Lightburn is the leading laser engraver software for a good reason and is compatible with every OMTech machine. Lightburn allows for the uploading of existing design files, the creation of entirely new designs within the program, and the programming of your laser machine to precisely control the final product.
Efficient, Additional Accessories
Rotary attachments are necessary for engraving cylindrical items like bottles or vases, or similarly uniformly round objects. These attachments securely clamp your object to provide a stable, level surface for the laser to work with.
Caster wheels are a good, affordable investment, even if you don't plan on moving your laser machine around. The last thing you want to happen is to injure yourself or damage your engraver by attempting to move it without using high-quality rollers. The PiBurn brand of rotary attachments are a proven and reliable brand, with new attachments being released regularly to work with the latest laser machines and designs. OMTech has also partnered with PiBurn to release a new line of rotary accessories that work seamlessly with select OMTech models.
Make Your Next Project Perfect With the Right Laser Engraver
Woodworking with a laser wood engraver machine can be a rewarding hobby or business venture. Choosing the best laser engraving machine for your projects is an essential first step in this exciting journey. Check out OMTech's line of quality-made machines to get started today!