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How to Use the Laser Cutters

Note: You must be trained before handling them alone.
Please contact James Pittman to set up training.

Laser Cutter Handout

Training Slides

Informative video series by Russ of Sabar Multimedia

Laser Cutter Software


  • Effective cutting space on the small laser is 24“x12.5”, or 18“x19.5”, depending on how you orient things.
  • The small laser is capable of cutting up to 1/4“ thickness, big laser can cut up to 1/2” in some materials.
  • The small laser is controlled by an RDLC320G made by Ruida Technology
  • The software has gone by many names: RDCAM, LaserWorks, and RDWorks.
  • Machine home is typically upper left-hand corner for the small laser, upper right for big laser.
Accepted Materials Banned Materials
Wood (solid + ply)
Coated Metals*
Ceramics and Tile*
Polycarbonate (Lexan)
Printed Circuit boards
Carbon fiber
high-density polyethylene
Treated Lumber
Depron Foam
Metal (except coated metals, i.e. anodized aluminum or using Thermark)

*: These materials can only be etched, not cut.

Using banned materials can result in damaged machines or exposure to toxic gasses. If you're not sure, ask! If your material isn't listed, ask!

Before your session / File Formats

Ultimately, the laser cutter reads files in rdworks native format (.rds). If you want to lay out your job outside of RDworks (which is recommended, as RDworks is pretty basic), it can import these file formats:

  • .dxf
  • If using Adobe Illustrator, save as “Illustrator 8” and the file will direct import.

As covered in the training, we usually recommend preparing a vector image in a program like Inkscape, saving as dxf, importing to rdworks, and then adjusting settings before loading your file on to the cutter.


  1. Turn on the conduit fan by powering up the big laser cutter (just the green switch, not the red laser switch) - you have to do this no matter which cutter you're using.
  2. Small cutter only: Make sure the sheet metal lever on the air conduit leading to the fan is set to 'open'
  3. Small cutter only: Check the water pump is submerged.
  4. Small cutter only: Check the water level is to the line (Distilled water only!)
  5. Open the cutter and make sure there is nothing on the bed.
  6. Turn on the cutter.
    • Small cutter: turn the Green Control Switch ON
    • Big cutter: turn the key switch ON.
  7. Small cutter only: Water Pump should be ON
  8. Small cutter only: Air Pump should be on ON

Starting a job

  1. From rdworks (either on the shop pc or your own, plugged in to the cutter 'PC' port with a usb cable), press download to download your design.
  2. Press 'file' on the cutter control panel and select your design
  3. Put your piece on the cutting bed
  4. Focus - There should be an orange plate attached to the cutter with a magnet. Place the focus plate perpendicular to your piece with the shorter axis up. You want to adjust the cutting head until it just touches the focus plate.
    • On the small laser:Use the z axis knob in the bottom right of the interior of the machine to adjust the height of the head
    • On the big laser: carefully move pointy lens cover up and down on the head.
  5. Remove the focus plate ().
  6. Set Start Position with arrows
  7. Press Origin to set 0 point
  8. Press 'frame' to make sure the cut doesn't go past the edges of your piece.
  9. Turn the 'Laser' switch ON (or keep off for test runs)
  10. Press 'start'
  11. After the cut finishes, wait a moment for the smoke to clear before you open it up.
  12. Turn off the laser switch.
  13. Open the cutter and remove your piece.
  14. Write down how long the cut took (it's listed on the control panel in the top left)


  1. Add up your times and pay in the box at $10/hour
  2. Laser - OFF
  3. Control Switch - OFF
  4. Clean out interior
  5. Conduit Fan - OFF
  6. Small cutter only: Conduit valve closed.
  7. Focusing plate back above the cutter control panel.


Settings that have worked for others are listed in a print out above the scrap area (along with some test pieces). These are also good examples if you are working with new materials of the sorts of tests you might want to do.

Cutting power should never be set above 80.

Here are suggested settings for different materials on the small laser:

Material Etch/Cut Power % Speed (mm/s)
Corregated Cardboard Cut 80% 25
Plywood (3/16“ thick) Cut 80% 12
Glass (clear, rotary) Etch 80% 500
Acrylic (0.093” thick) Cut 80% 17

Tips and Tricks

  • The harder the wood, the more power/less speed it will take to cut.
  • Plywood takes more power/less speed than solid wood of the same thickness.
  • The kerf of the laser is often around .5mm (or around .3mm on the big cutter). Keep this in mind if cutting pieces that are designed to fit together. (Kerf is the amount of material that is removed by the cutting element. With saws, it is the thickness of the saw blade.)
  • The kerf will also be variable from the top to the bottom of the laser-cut piece, being wider on the top and thinner near the bottom. The variation will be more pronounced in thicker materials.
  • Always test settings on your material before cutting your whole piece.

If you're looking for something to cut, here are some websites we've found helpful in the past.

  • is an Open Source box generator written in Python. It features both finished parametrized generators as well as a Python API for writing your own. It features finger and (flat) dovetail joints, flex cuts, holes and slots for screws, hinges, gears, pulleys and much more
  • Makercase generates simple laser cut box designs

Want to test whether a material is safe to cut?

  1. Consult the list above.
  2. Perform this test.
equipment/laser_cutter_50w_tutorial.txt · Last modified: 2022/05/29 16:01 by