Must-know safety precautions when using a laser engraver

Laser engravers cut or engrave material by the power of laser beams. These laser beams can be quite disastrous if caution is thrown to the wind. Some of the hazards include fires, combustion of hazardous items, burns, and fumes. Once you have bought your laser engraver and are ready to start making your engraved items, take a moment to consider the safety procedures first.

  • Know how the laser works

Before you start using the laser engraver, make sure you understand exactly how it works. At laserengravingtips.com, we endeavor to provide as many useful tips as possible. However, the information you read on blogs should never be a substitute for the user manual from the manufacturer. Go through the manual and follow the assembly instructions provided. Every laser engraver is created different and that is why you should meticulously read through the documentation of your laser engraver before you start using it. As boring as this step may sound, it might help to prevent mishaps and incidents once you start your laser engraving business.

  • Beware of fumes

Air from your laser cutter is typically purified by the air filter. However, the air filter doesn’t have the capability of removing toxic fumes that might be caused by cutting some materials. Such toxic fumes can not only damage the laser machine but they could also affect your health and wellbeing. This is the main reason why you shouldn’t attempt to cut or engrave PVC with the laser machine. Also, take note of any other material that the manufacturer of the laser cutter may have prohibited. Refer to this article for a full list of the best materials for laser engraving.

  • Avoid unnecessary fires

When laser engraving or cutting approved materials in the right environment, you do not have to worry about fires. However, it is recommended to have a fire extinguisher as well as a fire blanket just in case a fire starts.  On some rare occasions, a very small flame may start in the process of laser engraving your material. If the flame is less than 2 inches, it will most likely fizzle out in a matter of seconds. But if you get a fire that is less than two inches and yet it doesn’t go out, it will be best to extinguish it using the fire blanket before it spreads. Remember to switch off the laser engraver before attempting to put out the fire. Once the laser machine is off and the nozzle has been pushed out of the way, throw your blanket over the flame. Any flame that is bigger than 2 inches should be extinguished with the fire extinguisher.

  • Keep a log of use

Make sure to keep a log that fully details the important details of how the laser engraver is used. The log should indicate who used the engraver, for how they used it, what materials were engraved, any noteworthy incident, and the cutting time for the materials. This log will come in handy when anyone is preparing to use the laser engraver. For instance, you can conveniently use the settings that have been tried and tested instead of messing around with the system.

  • Clean the laser engraver regularly

After engraving some items, debris from the material will most likely get lodged in the engraver. It is, therefore, a good idea to vacuum clean the cutting deck as well as the internal cavity of the laser engraver after every laser engraving project. If you do not do this, the debris could cause fires, damage the laser machine or compromise the quality of the item being engraved.

  • Protect your eyes

Exposure to a laser beam can harm your eyes. If the laser beam goes directly into your eyes, it will go through the pupil and focus on the retina. Even a milliwatt laser engraver dissipates light energy that is three times stronger than the sun’s rays. Exposure to such extreme light by even a fraction of a second can injure the retina, cornea or the lens in your eyes. The actual damage depends on the focus setting of the eye, the exact place the beam hits and the amount of energy absorbed, the wavelength of the beam, the time of exposure, and the distance from the laser source.  The best way to avoid this is by using safety goggles like the LP-Laser Pair glasses (Amazon link)

Caution: do not laser engrave/cut these materials!

There are some materials that are just not meant to be used with a laser engraver. Here is a list of materials to avoid with the reasons why

Material Reason to avoid engraving / cutting it
PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride) PVC will emit Chlorine gas when laser cut or laser engraved. This toxic gas can ruin the optics and motion control system of the laser engraver, In fact, engraving or cutting PVC is a sure way of voiding the warranty of your laser engraver
Lexan / Thick Polycarbonate Lexan not only cuts poorly but it also catches on fire very easily. The window of the laser engraving machine is usually made from polycarbonate because it does a very good job of attracting infrared radiation., which is the frequency of light the engraver uses when cutting and engraving materials. This makes the laser cutter quite inefective in cutting polycarbonate materials
ABS ABS melts upon exposure to a laser beam as opposed to vaporizing which would be the ideal reaction needed for laser engraving. Instead of leaving a crisp image, ABS will melt and leave a gooey deposit on the surface.
HDPE HDPE melts and catches on fire pretty easily upon exposure to a laser beam.
Polystyrene Foam Only very thin pieces can be laser cut but for the most part, polystyrene catches on fire and melts when exposed to a laser beam
Fiberglass fiberglass is made from two materials; glass and epoxy resin. The best method of marking glass is etching while epoxy resin can emit toxic fumes upon laser engraving. These two reasons make fiberglass a bad choice for a laser engraving material
Polypropylene polypropylene melts and catches on fire easily and then the melted material continues to burn thereby forming pebble-like drips that harden on the surface
Coated Carbon Fiber Coated carbon fiber emits noxious fumes. Additionally, carbon fiber can be cut albeit with some fraying but this is not the case when it is coated.

A laser engraver is a powerful tool. When used properly, it will make your life a lot easier. But the laser beams from the laser machine are very powerful and can be dangerous too. That is why you should handle it with care and follow all the safety precautions discussed above.

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