When most people think about lasers, all sorts of ideas pop up into their heads. The public has an image of a laser being a large, cumbersome machine that gobbles up power. One of the most popular images of the laser is from the movie Goldfinger (1964) with a large ceiling-mounted emitter steadily firing a cutting beam closer and closer to a strapped-down James Bond. Of course, people are aware that lasers are used in a wide variety of industrial and medical applications, and they know about laser pointers used in classroom lectures. But when it comes to thinking of a useful laser, it’s usually the image of the big machine that people immediately think of. Only that’s not quite the case anymore.
Hobby laser cutters are now becoming about as common as ordinary tools used in the home woodworking shop, and they do much the same job as a number of fine-detail cutting and engraving tools. As the technology has developed, and the inevitable decline in price has set in with the expanding market, buying a hobby laser might be a good investment. Hobbyists and small businessmen are finding a laser to be a very useful tool. The initial up-front expense might give one a moment’s pause, but the laser replaces a number of tools filling the workbench. Lasers also perform cutting and engraving work with a far greater degree of precision than any mechanical blade- or bit-based instrument can deliver. Furthermore, most domestic lasers now run off any PC in much the same way as a printer. The laser cuts the pattern from the design on the control application, with micrometer accuracy and a cleaner cut.
Hobby lasers are finding their way into woodworking classes and shops, parts fabrication shops, engravers, home hobby craftwork shops and custom fabrication shops producing prototypes for machine part and tool fabrication. The range of materials a laser can successfully process runs from several grades and thicknesses of metal, to wood, plastic, acrylic, rubber and cardboard. And the laser can cut curved as well as flat surfaces with the use of certain rotary attachments on the emitter head. This makes the laser a very versatile tool providing a much greater degree of flexibility in application. With all that in mind, it makes sense to consider investing in a good laser for the workshop after all.