Using an air assist significantly improves the cutting abilities of your laser cutter, and you can easily make one if you have an air compressor in your shop.
So how do you make an air assist for your laser?
To make an air assist for your laser you need an air pump, air tube, pressure regulator, and a few fittings. It is an affordable DIY project if you have an air compressor in your shop and can greatly improve the quality of your laser cuts.
This article provides a detailed guide for making an air assist for your laser.
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You can also watch our video guide where we made an air assist for our xTool D1 pro laser cutter.
Things You Need to Make a DIY Air Assist for Your Laser
|Air assist compatible Nozzle||Amazon|
|Air Pressure Regulator||Amazon|
|Push-to-connect with ¼” NPT male||Amazon|
|Ball valve ¼” male to female||Amazon|
|Pneumatic Quick Connector Plug Male to Male ¼” NPT||Amazon|
|Pneumatic Quick Connector Plug Female||Amazon|
Depending on your requirements and application, purchase and ready the pre-requisite material.
A compressor with a power rating of 0.5 to 1.5 HP and a pressure rating of up to 150 PSI is recommended for making an air assist.
Moreover, buy air tubing long enough to allow free movement of the laser module.
I used 6 mm outer diameter tubing 16 feet in length, but you should purchase tubing according to the system size and end port sizes on your setup.
You will also need appropriate NPT connectors, a ball valve, an air assist nozzle, and a pressure regulator.
If required, purchase Teflon tape to improve the sealing of your NPT connectors' threaded ports.
How to Build the Air Assist: Step-by-Step
Making a DIY air assist involves a series of steps, and performing each step with care is crucial to avoid leaks or other issues in the setup.
Step 1: Install an Air Assist Nozzle
To install a DIY air assist, it is always advised to start from the laser module and work your way back to the air compressor.
If your laser cutter has a standard nozzle with no inlet port for air assist, you will have to replace it with an air-assist compatible nozzle.
For this, you will have to dismount the laser module from the machine and remove any laser shield provided on the laser head to access the nozzle.
Install the air assist nozzle onto the laser lens, fasten it back on, and connect the air tubing.
My xTool D1 pro came with an air assist compatible nozzle, so I did not have to replace the nozzle for my project.
The air tubing should be sufficiently long to allow the laser module to freely move around the work area while being connected to the air assist system.
Step 2: Connect the NPT Coupling to the Air Pressure Regulator
In order to connect the air tubing to the air pressure regulator, you will require an NPT coupling.
For my Xtool D1 Pro Laser Engraver, I used a push to connect a 6 mm outer diameter NPT male coupling with a thread size of 0.25 inches, but you can use a male coupling that best fits the air pressure regulator you have.
If your NPT couplings do not come with a Teflon coating, then use Teflon tape and wrap it around the coupling threads in a clockwise direction.
Adding Teflon tape over the treads improves the sealing between the coupling and the air pressure regulator, eliminating the risk of leakage.
Ensure that the tape has sufficient width for the total thread length.
Step 3: Connect the Air Pressure Regulator
An air pressure regulator is essential for regulating the output pressure of the air assist.
Preferably, buy an air pressure regulator with a filter to prevent any moisture, dirt, or oil from getting on the lens of the laser module.
The regulator will have an input and output port, both of which will be female NPT ports.
I used a 1/4" (0.25 mm) NPT air pressure regulator with a working pressure of 0 to 145 PSI, and a regulation of flow rate of up to 500 L/minutes.
The required pressure for air assist typically varies up to 150 PSI, and the flow rate varies around 500 L/minutes.
Generally, these regulators include a pressure gauge incorporated with the unit, but if they don't, buy a separate pressure gauge and the required fittings to attach it to the regulator.
The pressure gauge helps you observe and set the right pressure during the operation of the air assist.
Connect the air tubing to the output port of the regulator, via the NPT Coupling attached in the previous step.
Step 4: Connect the Male-to-Female Ball Valve
At the input side of the air pressure regulator, attach a male-to-female end ball valve, whose male end fits onto the air pressure regulator.
This ball valve provides the ability to immediately turn the air assist on/off during laser operation, without having to turn the air compressor on/off for quick maneuvers.
I used a chrome-plated brass male-to-female end ball valve with 0.25 inches NPT male and female ends and a thread size of 13.5 mm.
You can use a ball valve with NPT ends that best fit your regulator opening and a male NPT connector.
Step 5: Attach a Quick Coupling at the Female End of the Ball Valve
At the female side of the ball valve, you can use a quick coupling to connect the air tubing from the air compressor.
The quick coupling facilitates easy connection, making it convenient to switch the compressor tubing between multiple tools.
I used a male high-pressure quick-connect coupling that is compatible with my other pneumatic tools, allowing me to use the same compressor for all the equipment.
Now, with the help of quick connect coupling, connect the air compressor output to the input side of the regulator via ball valve.
It is advised to use the same connectors throughout, as it enables you to use the same-sized air tubings for the complete air assist system, eliminating the need for purchasing different size tubings for different parts.
Ensure the tubing is sealed correctly and clamped, especially from the air compressor outlet.
Additionally, ensure that the pressure gauge of the regulator is calibrated and in proper working condition.
Before using the system, dry run the system at low pressures to check for any leakages from connections.
Testing Your DIY Air Assist System
Finally, to test run the equipment, run a test cut on your laser module and turn on the air assist.
Check for any leaks along the length of the tubing and around the connecting points.
Use the air assist at different pressures to check its efficiency and functionality.
An ideal test run is to perform through cuts on a wooden plank and check the effectiveness of the air assist in reducing the amount of charr produced along the cut.
The surface with the air-assisted laser will be smoother and less distorted, proving the air-assist's efficacy and functionality.
Why Should you Use an Air Assist for your Laser?
An air assist is essential in laser cutting as it improves the cutting quality and efficiency by blowing the molten material and debris away.
This aspect, in turn, increases the laser cutting speed and keeps fumes and debris away from the focusing lens, thus extending its life.
However, it is not recommended to use an air assist during laser engraving, as it can cause the blown molten material to sputter over the engraved workpiece, ruining its accuracy, visual appearance, and quality.
Moreover, air assist plays an essential role in preventing overheating of the workpiece surface and the laser head, which can cause damage and loss of time and money.
By blowing away the fumes and smoke, an air assist improves the visibility of the workspace and creates a safer environment for the operator to work in.
Making a DIY air assist will save cost and provide you with a better understanding of the equipment, making repairs and maintenance easy.
However, it can be time-consuming and requires a good understanding of plumbing equipment.
The compressor power is selected based on your workpiece's material, thickness, and volume.
Generally, thicker and tougher materials demand higher air pressure, while laser-cutting thin materials do not require high air pressure.
As a result, making an air assist for metal laser cutting applications will require a powerful air compressor, thereby increasing the overall cost of the project.
Therefore, it is important to consider your requirements before starting to make the air assist for your laser cutter.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What safety precautions should be taken before using a laser-based machine?
The safety precautions that should be taken before using a laser-based machine include wearing a face shield, eye goggles, safety gloves, safety boots, and a protective coat.
Is it necessary to use a ball valve to connect the regulator to the compressor?
No, it is not necessary to use a ball valve to connect the regulator to the compressor. The ball valve provides easy access to turn the airflow on/off to the regulator. This can also be done by turning the compressor off.
What type of air compressor is usually used for air assists in lasers?
The air compressor usually used for air assists in lasers are scroll and rotary vane compressors.