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How to be Safe when Laser Cutting or Engraving

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Unni
Hey I'm Unni. I am a laser and CNC expert at Mellowpine. You can also find me on Mellowpine Lasers YouTube channel. If you have any questions related to CNCs or Lasers, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at mail@mellowpine.com

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Working with a laser machine

Weak lasers like pointers or the ones seen in music festival lights are usually harmless.

However, laser cutters and engravers use strong, focused laser beams that can go right through materials.

Such powerful beams come with risks. So, safety is crucial when working with such machines.

I’m Unni, and I’m a laser engraving expert.

I’ve worked with many different types of lasers over the years and have seen almost everything that could go wrong with a laser.

Unni from Mellowpine

In this guide, I’ll tell you what you need to do be safe around your laser.

Wear a Laser Safety Glass to Shield your Eyes

Laser cutters and engravers produce intense beams of light that can permanently damage your eyes.

Laser safety glasses are specially designed to filter out the harmful wavelengths of laser light and protect your eyes.

Laser safety goggles
Laser safety goggles

Choose safety glasses fit for your laser’s wavelength, and always wear them when you are near a laser cutter or engraver.

With the right glass, you can look at the laser beam but don’t point the laser directly at the glass.

Always wear approved laser safety glasses with the proper optical density for your laser’s wavelength and power output.

Read our article on the best laser safety glasses to find out different glasses suitable for various lasers and learn more about what to look for when choosing a glass.

Enclosed Laser Setups Reduce Risk Versus Open Configurations

Open-frame laser cutter and engraver setups have higher risks than enclosed systems, as stray beams or reflections are more likely with open designs.

Comgrow Z1 is an open-frame laser engraver
Comgrow Z1 is an open-frame laser engraver

Enclosed systems contain laser light and reduce exposure.

Enclosures are also useful when working with materials like plastic that produce harmful fumes, as they help contain fumes and debris generated during operation.

xTool P2 is an enclosed laser machine
xTool P2 is an enclosed laser machine

Most CO2 laser systems, like the xTool P2, Glowforge, etc., have an enclosed setup.

Generally, diode and fiber lasers have an open design. If you are getting such a machine, you can retrofit them with a compatible enclosure.

Make sure the enclosure you choose has good ventilation to properly extract and remove the fumes.

Otherwise, the fumes can build up over time and cloud the laser lens, making the laser beam ineffective.

Exhaust tube connected to the port on the rear end of xTool S1
Exhaust tube connected to the port on the rear end of xTool S1

If your workspace has good air circulation or if you are using the laser in a big, open space, you don’t really need an enclosure.

But make sure that everyone near the laser is wearing safety glasses. If you can’t be sure of that, then putting the laser in an enclosure is the safest option.

Know what Safety Features your Machine has

Different laser cutters have varying safety designs. Most lasers have safety features like an emergency switch, tilt detection, fire detection, laser shield, etc.

Power, safety key, and E-stop switch on Ortur Laser Master 3
Power, safety key, and E-stop switch on Ortur Laser Master 3

Some machines even come with a physical key that you can use to lock and unlock the device.

This is a great addition if you want to restrict someone, like kids, from accessing the laser without supervision.

Make sure you understand how to use the safety mechanisms on your machine and check if they are functioning properly.

Run routine checks of whether safety mechanisms, like indicator lights, emergency stop buttons, fire detection, etc., are working.

Be aware of the Materials you are Cutting or Engraving

The acrylic shield on a laser module burned due to the heat developed by stray reflections
The acrylic shield on a laser module burned due to the heat developed by stray reflections

Each material has differences in its composition, and this can influence how it reacts to a laser beam.

Learn about the material to understand potential hazards like toxic fumes or accidental fires.

For example, metal surfaces increase the chances of stray reflections, plastics can release hazardous fumes, and wood produces flammable gases and debris.

If you are working with a new material, test and find out its optimal settings before cutting or engraving the actual design.

Power test run on clear acrylic
Power test run on clear acrylic

As a safety measure, use proper fire prevention tools, ventilate the work area properly, and consider wearing a respirator for hazardous fumes.

Never leave flammable materials near the laser cutter. They can catch fire anytime.

MaterialRisks
WoodSome are flammable and emit toxic fumes
AcrylicToxic fumes, flammable, melts, and clouds lenses
PVC and Other PlasticsReleases toxic chlorine gas, high flammability, inhalation of fumes
LeatherSome are flammable, emit toxic fumes, need good ventilation
GlassBreaks when engraved too deeply or with a high DPI setting, can reflect the laser beam
MetalsCan reflect laser beams, release metal oxides that can damage the focus lens
Some materials and the risk they possess when laser cut or engraved

Never Leave the Laser Cutter or Engraver Unattended

The intense heat lasers generate can quickly burn through materials, posing a significant fire risk.

These fires can ignite even after the laser stops operating, making constant vigilance crucial.

Never leave your laser unattended while it’s running. If you need to step away, turn it off and unplug it immediately.

An unsupervised laser presents unnecessary fire hazards, so maintain constant supervision throughout your project.

When tackling large projects or overnight jobs, consider using additional safety measures like using a laser camera or fire suppression system.

Installing a laser camera allows you to monitor the process remotely, while automated fire suppression systems can intervene quickly in case of an unexpected fire.

Mintion Lasercam
Mintion Lasercam camera

Keep the Space around Lasers Clean

A clean and organized workspace is essential for safely operating lasers.

Stray laser beams can easily ignite debris, scraps, or unused materials left lying around, creating fire hazards.

Imagine a stray beam bouncing off a metal surface, landing on a pile of wood shavings, or an unused piece of fabric.

In a matter of seconds, a small fire could erupt, quickly spreading to your laser equipment and potentially ruining your entire workspace.

So make sure flammable items like wood shavings, fabrics, and solvents are taken care of.

But it’s not just fire hazards that make a clean workspace essential.

The buildup of debris and clutter can also obstruct proper ventilation, leading to overheating of your laser equipment.

This can cause damage to the machine and increase the presence of harmful fumes.

From the image, you can see my laser engraver has plenty of space around it. This way, it’s not crowded or blocked by other objects, and I don’t accidentally pile things up inside the laser working area.

Laser placed on a large table
Laser placed on a large table

An organized space allows you to react quickly if fires or other issues occur. Treat clutter control and cleanliness around lasers with the same priority as wearing safety glasses.

Have Response Plans Ready for Rapid Fire Suppression

In the unlikely event of a fire during laser operation, it’s important to have a plan in place and act swiftly to prevent the situation from escalating.

Equip your workspace with the appropriate class of fire extinguishers based on the materials you typically work with.

Ensure you also receive thorough training on using any firefighting gear you have.

Remember, the key to managing a fire is to act promptly to prevent its spread.

A fire detection sensor on xTool S1
A fire detection sensor on xTool S1

Avoid Operating Faulty Laser Systems

Laser cutters and engravers are powerful tools. Tampering with or bypassing safety features is strictly off-limits.

Any problems, like malfunctioning door interlocks, non-responsive sensors, sudden output power variation, etc., demand immediate attention.

Don’t delay addressing these issues, as they directly impact your safety.

Schedule routine maintenance and replace parts as recommended by the manufacturer.

This preventive approach keeps your machine in peak condition and minimizes potential safety hazards.

If your laser cutter or engraver starts behaving abnormally, shut it down and unplug it immediately.

If you don’t know what you are doing, never attempt to operate or fix a damaged machine yourself.

Remember, complex repairs are best left to qualified technicians.

Putting your safety at risk by using a faulty laser is simply not worth it.

Electrical wiring inside the frame of a laser cutter
Electrical wiring inside the frame of a laser cutter

Read Instructions on use from The Manufacturer

The manufacturer’s instructions are your essential guide, packed with critical details on safe and proper operation.

To ensure optimal results and avoid any mishaps, follow the specific guidance they provide.

Review the manuals thoroughly to understand potential hazards associated with the equipment and materials you’ll be working with.

Don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturers to clarify any aspect of the instructions or safety protocols.

Remember, taking the time to understand your laser and its safe operation lays the foundation for a rewarding and productive journey.

Unni
Hey I'm Unni. I am a laser and CNC expert at Mellowpine. You can also find me on Mellowpine Lasers YouTube channel. If you have any questions related to CNCs or Lasers, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at mail@mellowpine.com

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