From the time I started making Xronos Clocks, my dream has been to get my own laser cutter machine.
The idea of not having have to rely on 3rd party to make my enclosures, to be able to design something and almost immediately have it made without huge expense driven me to finally purchase my own laser cutter.
Surprisingly there’s not much information out there on getting and setting up laser cutter, so I plan to have series of articles describing my learning experience in hopes to help someone who’s thinking about getting one of their own.
This is first post in the series, where I’ll talk about choosing right machine for my needs and acquiring it.
I must admit, I have absolutely zero experience with these machines, and from what I’ve read, there won’t be much help figuring out how to use one. This is mainly because I decided to get a cheaper laser cutter from China.
There are several big companies who sell laser machines in USA, such as Epilogue or Full Spectrum Laser. These are probably very well supported and end user can expect to have almost no trouble in learning and using them. However they costs a lot, and that it something I could not afford.
But there are many sub $2000 laser machines on eBay, which have very similar if not better specs than lasers from big US companies. There are even cheapo $400 40Watt cutters out there, but I feel very uneasy about them.
When looking for a laser cutter or engraver, there are 2 main criteria to look at. First is laser tube wattage. Depending on what you plan to do with it, you will need a specific power laser. 50 Watt seems like a good compromise, as it can do all the engraving as well as cutting of material such as 1/4″ (6mm) acrylic and wood. More powerful lasers, will have longer tube lifespan, as well as faster cutting speeds, but they cost much more. In fact it seems that after 60 Watts prices begin to skyrocket.
Second criteria is cutting area size. Here you’ll have to look at the size of your work piece. If you cutting acrylic there are common sheet sizes that save you money when you order them online (such as 12×12″, 12×24″, 24×24″ and so on).
300x500mm size cutting area is very common with inexpensive laser cutters, so I decided to go with that one. Usually you can place material that is bigger than cutting area into those machines. I’m hoping I can fit 12×24″ piece of acrylic inside easily.
Once you determine what you need, next step will be acutally purchasing a laser cutter. Obvious place to look for is eBay. You have two choices. Import it from directly from China or buy locally if you can find someone who already imported it.
Most eBay sellers will ship machine for free to a major port in USA (such as New York or LA). But you’ll have to pay custom fees, import duties and deal with all the paperwork. I’ve read horror stories about importing laser cutters online. But you do save a lot of money if you have time and patience.
If you do decided to import, next decision to make is are you willing to do all the paper work, phone calls, etc. or just hire a customs broker to do most of the hard work for you?
I absolutely hate paperwork, and have no clue what forms need to be filled out so I contacted eBay seller directly and they recommended me a customs broker in US who works with them, so there should be no issues or misunderstandings.
Here’s a quote that I got for broker service (just add up items):
ISF submission: $45.00
ISF bond: $45.00
Destination Terminal Handling fees: At cost (estimated as $150.00)
Customs Entry: $125.00
Courier Fee: $25.00
Outport Fee: $85.00
Single Entry Bond: $65.00 (or $6.50 per $1000 if over the minimum)
FDA Prior Notice: $35.00
FDA Processing: $25.00
Duties: At cost (expected duty rate: 2.4% of entered value)
Taxes: At cost (expected tax amount: $25.00)
Delivery: You will pick up (this basically means that you either come with your own truck or rent U-haul or something similar).
If laser cutter costs $2K, you will pay $48 for duty. Broker fees are $690, so we are talking about $738 minimum. Sometimes customers select crates for random X-ray which will add couple of hundred to the bill… This is not too terrible all things considered. But keep in mind since it’s literally “shipped on a slow boat from China” be prepared to wait 2-3 months.
Now for the second option, getting it from someone who already imported one.
Few years ago it was impossible to find someone who sold one locally and didn’t charge absurd amount of money. But it seems times has changed.
I was able to find a few sellers who had just what I needed. In fact there were several auctions for nice looking 50W laser machine for just a little over $2K! And if they have “make an offer” option, you can negotiate price down a little more.
That’s what I wound up doing eventually. No paper work, no worrying about damage (after all returning 300 lb package to California is not same as returning to Beijing), and everything was delivered to my front door.
Before buying, I asked seller for a laser model (as they usually don’t provide that information in the description) and did some research online. Mine was SH-G350D made by Shenhui Laser. Sever people online reported good things about it, which made me even more sure in my decision to buy it. Was I wrong? You will find out soon enough! 🙂
See my next post about receiving and unboxing my laser cutter machine!