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  1. #1

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    Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    I was, and still am, interested in laser cutting balsa and ply parts to support my scratch building addiction. But when I researched online laser cutting services I was intimidated by the expensive and very complex software they used and the unfamiliar terms and requirements they posted on their websites. Plus I had no idea how much it would cost to cut my project and if it would turn out the way I envisioned.

    I decided to buy my own laser cutter and now cutting balsa has sort of morphed into another facet of this incredible hobby. The problem is that I don't really use it enough to justify keeping it. I can cut WAY faster than I can glue.

    I was wondering if any of my fellow RCU builders would enjoy learning with me about laser cutting through this message thread. I propose to post pictures and examples as we learn laser cutting together. I am a hobbyist not a professional so I am prone to make errors or mistakes so feel free to politely suggest or correct as we go along.

    Best of all I will need cutting projects to work on so I intend to invite you to submit projects for cutting. I ask only for balsa to cut and a donation for the laser time involved so I can keep the machine up and running and build a reserve for the laser tube that must be replaced every few years. I'm a believer in the barter system so perhaps we can trade some hobby stuff or services instead.

    Limitations:

    1. My laser cutter bed is 16 inches by 12 inches so it is best suited to smaller projects like ribs and formers or larger pieces that can be joined together.
    2. The software I use is VERY simple, inexpensive (about $40) and is free for 30 days and comes with a good tutorial. It does not have 3D capabilities and has very few whiz bang features which makes it especially useful to those of us that don't draw on professional CAD programs for a living. The software comes in both Macintosh and PC versions so almost anyone can join in the fun. You can download it today and try it out.
    3. Remember that this IS NOT a business, it is part of my hobby so if you need it tomorrow don't ask me to cut it.
    4. I will cut only for those that participate in the thread and have a true interest in learning along with the rest of us.
    5. If you want it to be PERFECT call a professional. I'm happy with my cutting but others may not be.
    6. You may submit projects drawn with other programs but they must be in a format compatible with my software.
    7. This thread is subject to RCU restrictions. Hopefully they will allow this to proceed.

    Bottom Line: Imagine your flying buddy bought a laser cutter and asked if you wanted to participate in learning how to use it. Would you do it?

    Anyone interested or am I just Whistling Dixie in the wind? Do I keep the cutter or not?
    I fly aircraft at the leading edge of trailing edge technology!

  2. #2
    FlyerInOKC's Avatar
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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    Sounds like fun! Count me in!
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  3. #3
    FlyerInOKC's Avatar
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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter


    ORIGINAL: FlyerInOKC

    Sounds like fun! Count me in!
    I should of included: What do we need to participate? Is the software you are using creating a standard file or a propriartary file type? I for one build at a snall's pace so delivery time isn't an issue. I can think of several projets I would like to try and cut. What does the tube cost and what is the estimated lifespan? I could see myself contributing to the tube fund to keep the process going.

    Mike
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  4. #4

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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    Welcome FlyerinOKC. I hope we get some interest in this little project. I will try to post some more info about the cutter itself in a day or so.

    All you really need to participate is a desire to design your own planes with a CAD program and cut the parts on a laser cutter. I hope through this project that more people will feel comfortable using CAD software and professional laser cutting services. Kits are getting hard to find. Some of us have plans from other sources and would like to know how to turn these plans into buildable parts. I hope to provide a forum for everyone to learn how to get this done.

    I searched high and low for software simple enough to learn in an afternoon but still powerful enough to actually draw 2D plans useful to model building. A big plus for me was that a Macintosh version was also available. I own both versions because the laser cutter talks only to Windows based machines. The software WILL export and Import a couple of standard file types like DXF so other programs can be used as long as my software will read it. The software I use is called Delta Cad. There are a few video tutorials on youtube but the tutorial included with the documentation is more useful at first. I was drawing a plane from the first day.

    You may see others bad mouthing Delta Cad because of it's simplicity but that is exactly what attracted me to it. I wanted SIMPLE. Fortunately I got the laser cutter to work with the software so it works very well for my purposes.

    The tube lasts about 3 to 4 years or so I've been told, and costs about $1200.00.
    I fly aircraft at the leading edge of trailing edge technology!

  5. #5

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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    Awfully generous. Tell us about the machine. Any pictures? A friend just got a 3D printer. It is fun watching it run.

  6. #6
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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    049... I am interested in this topic so I hope it takes off. I've been looking for an easy-to-use CAD program for RC designs and just checked out Delta CAD. You're right in that the customer reviews are not very positive, so tell us more about it before I spend 40 bucks. Is it easy to draw airfoils and complex curves? Also, can it take a given airfoil object and reduce its size for tapered wings? What types of files does it output?
    Tiger Flyer #49

  7. #7

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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    Welcome TFF and Thailazer! The laser is a Universal VL 200 and if you want to know a little about how it works you can download the manual here: http://engraversnetwork.com/support/...s_manuals.html

    OK let's talk software. First I am not a professional CAD designer, engineer or laser operator. I'm just a regular type modeler who has an interest in this stuff. If you are a professional than this little experiment will probably bore you to tears! I'm just learning this stuff myself and although I have spent much time researching, I am by no means an authority.

    I use Delta Cad because it is very simple, easy to use and works with my laser which is my priority. You may use whatever software you wish and I will be happy to include you in everything we do here. You will just have to export in a format I can use if you want me to cut anythng for you. Most any program will be able to export in a usable format so don't get too wound up about this.

    There are lots of CAD options out there that will work and most graphics oriented software will work also, like Corel Draw. The problem with graphics programs like Corel Draw is that although they wll work they are not intended for CAD type work. They are designed for making artwork like brochures or etchings which the laser cutter WILL do nicely but is NOT what we want to do. I looked very hard at Corel Draw and even bought a copy but the problem is that it is not designed to do CAD and not many people use it for that. Although there are lots of tutorials out there for Corel Draw they are not targeted to CAD drawing but instead targeted toward drawing art. So you will spend ALOT of time learning Corel Draw but you will not learn much about doing what it is we want to do here.

    Alternatively you could consider AutoCad (big big bucks) or Turbo Cad ( not as much $$) but what you will find is that they are too powerful with too many features. You may become overwelmed with all of the tools, options and settings that you will never really learn how to use it. Most of the CAD software these days is 3D capable which increases the complexity even more. Let's face it, all we REALLY need to draw a model airplane is very simple tools. We need the ability to accurately draw straight lines, arcs, circles etc. Delta Cad while only having a small fraction of the capability of AutoCad, has everything we need to draw any model plane with incredible accuracy. Why spend time learning about tools or features you may never need? Everything you need and nothing you don't!

    Plus Delta Cad works very similar to other Cad Software so in the future if you really get into this aspect of the hobby and decide that you need more power you will already have a very good understanding of how CAD Software works.

    Here is my first challenge to any of you that are interested. Download a free copy of Delta Cad and spend a good uninterrupted 2 hours going through the tutorial in the manual. You will be drawing a calculator. If after you draw the calculator you don't believe that you could draw an airplane without too much more effort then just erase it from your computer. No harm done, no hard feelings.

    However if you believe that there may be some truth to what I say then just drop me a PM and I wll send you a Delta Cad file of the first airplane I drew and have already cut on the laser. I'm building it now and hope to fly it by November! The airplane is very small and you will be able to print many of the parts on your printer so you can see for yourself how it works. You will be able to modify the airplane as you see fit and see how even a beginner can draw with Delta Cad.
    I fly aircraft at the leading edge of trailing edge technology!

  8. #8

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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    OK. Someone asked about Delta Cad and airfoils.

    FIRST - you do not need to draw an entire plan to cut the parts you need. Perhaps you already have plans for a plane but just want to cut out the ribs or fuselage formers. In other words, a short kit. Much easier than drawing a complex plan of an entire airplane with all of the notations, measurements and other detail.

    You can easily use the tools in Delta Cad to trace airfoils, ribs and such from existing plans. But if you want to design your own wings and airfoils then the easiest way is by using software specifically designed for this task and then export to Delta Cad. Profili is one example as is Winfoil. Both contain databases of common airfoils and will draw individual ribs with spars, leading edges and trailing edges as you desire. You the can export these files to Delta Cad and use in your drawing.

    However this is pretty advanced stuff. How about if we start simple and just start by copying an existing plan from a magazine or something you already have. Better yet just draw yourself a short kit of some ribs and fuselage formers and then we can cut them out and you can see how it works. The best thing about doing it this way is that you can print the parts on your printer before you send them to me.

    Remember I'm just a beginner too and although I know a little bit about this stuff, I'm not really all that much ahead of you. Let's keep it simple so we can all follow along.
    I fly aircraft at the leading edge of trailing edge technology!

  9. #9
    FlyerInOKC's Avatar
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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    Have you checked out draftsight? it is a free 2D program I recently downloaded on the recommendation of another post to this site.
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  10. #10

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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    Yes I tried Draftsight and it looks like a very capable program and is no doubt much more capable than DC. But for me it was much more complex and more than what I figured I needed. I'm sure it will work fine for this application. Give it a try and let us know what you think.
    I fly aircraft at the leading edge of trailing edge technology!

  11. #11

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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    Picking software is a little like picking a radio. Do you think a beginner should start with an 8 channel computer radio or with a simple 4 channel radio? Should you buy what you need now and buy more later if you find you need it? Or should you buy all you'll need for a long time and then try to figure out how to make it work?

    I'm more of a KISS (keep it simple) type of person. I can always buy more later and it will be cheaper later too.
    I fly aircraft at the leading edge of trailing edge technology!

  12. #12
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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    I use to own a larger laser and sold it for these very same reasons, maintenance. I used Corel draw and exported the files as hp plotter files. Corel supports .dwg and a number of other files as well. Some of the older Corel versions are very cost effective. Just for your info. Hope this helps.
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  13. #13

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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    please count me in also. I would love to scratch build a plane and learn the ins and outs of laser cutting. What did the unit cost you?

  14. #14

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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    Interested in learning more about the process, but likely just a spectator due to a limited modeling budget.

  15. #15

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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    I am also very interested in this. I have been using Delta Cad for quite a few years now. Have never bought the newer versions. I also have Compufoil that I don't use enough to justify the cost. Using Delta Cad is much like the mechanical drawing that I had in high school many years ago.
    Cub brotherhood #214

  16. #16
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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    hi, everybody.
    This is a good thread, every builder will find it useful to learn how to get laser files cut.

    FYI, DeltaCad can only paste .bmp images, so if you have a plan you would like to use as a template, say in another format, you will have to convert it to a .bmp.
    This may take two iterations if it is a .PDF say.
    Once converted, open in a graphic program, I used "Paint", select and copy the area you want.
    Then paste into DeltaCad.
    limeybob
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  17. #17

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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    Here are a few pictures of the laser cutter:
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    I fly aircraft at the leading edge of trailing edge technology!

  18. #18

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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    Ok here is what you are looking at:

    Picture #1 - Shows the unit in my shop, it hooks up to my laptop with a USB printer cable which is running the PC version of Delta Cad to drive the laser. This laser cutter sold new for over $10,000 but this one is probably close to 10 years old and I paid $5,000 with a fresh tube from an authorized dealer. It was a trade in and he went through it to make sure everything was in good condition before I bought it.

    Picture #2 - OK the plastic cover is up so we can see the innards a little better. Notice the metal looking bar across the top, this houses the optics and the entire bar moves from front to back as needed to cut the work. Notice also the cutting surface. Although we call it a laser cutter, it is actually a laser engraver and is really designed to engrave stuff like name badges, signs, leather, even glass. However it just so happens that it will also cut certain materials very well in the cutting mode (more on that later). Laser engravers don't have enough power to cut or even etch metal unless the metal has a special coating. Therefore the cutting surface is a honeycomb made of metal, you can actually see right through it and small bits that are cut frequently fall through the metal grate which is no problem because the grate just lifts out for cleaning underneath. The entire grate or cutting surface moves up and down (z axis) so that you can focus the laser on different thicknesses of material.

    Picture #3 - In this photo the optics housing cover has been swung up so that you can see the optics, the red whatchamacallit thingy. The optics travel left and right very fast as the entire housing travels fore and aft but not nearly as fast.

    Picture #4 - You are probably wondering where the dang laser is. I've told you about the optics but haven't mentioned the laser itself. The laser itself is actually mounted in the back of the unit behind the cutting surface and can't be seen here. BUT notice the round black circle on the left side above the cutting surface. This is the window that the laser beam shoots through. The beam travels through this window and is then directed with special mirrors to the red optics unit which has more special mirrors and a lens to focus the beam onto the cutting surface.

    One thing to remember is that the computer thinks the laser cutter is a printer with different color ink cartridges sort of like an old style color plotter. The different laser features are controlled by the operator associating a color with a specific feature. When you draw in your CAD program you can control what the laser does by selecting the right color of line while drawing. The only problem is we have to make sure that you and I are on the same sheet of music here so that we both know what each color is supposed to do. This doesn't change much and is not a problem for either of us once we set the color scheme down.

    You may have noticed that different laser kit cutters require different colors to be used for cutting, marking or engraving. Now you know why!

    Pretty cool don't you think!
    I fly aircraft at the leading edge of trailing edge technology!

  19. #19
    limeybob's Avatar
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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    I use red for cut, green for writing, blue to detach a part when required.
    limeybob
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  20. #20

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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    A big welcome to all the new followers of this thread. Please read from the beginning so you will know a little about me and my experience level (not much).

    If anyone has specialized knowledge or experience with any of what we are talking about please feel free to chime in so we can all learn.

    I'm pretty sure that my version of Delta Cad will support importing jpeg photos, I'll have to check tonight to be sure. To those that don't know why this is important: You can import a drawing or plan into your CAD program and then simply trace over the drawing with the various tools in the software, then delete the jpeg drawing and you will be left with a CAD version of the original drawing. You can use this drawing to scale up or down in size or with just a bit more work you can send the appropriate parts of the drawing to your laser kit cutter for cutting.
    I fly aircraft at the leading edge of trailing edge technology!

  21. #21
    limeybob's Avatar
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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    correct, you can import jpg, or bmp
    I was reading from the demo web page where it sez .bmp
    Also, as it turns out if you can open a file in a graphics program, you can cut and paste
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  22. #22

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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    Thanks limeybob and welcome. It looks like you may know a lot more about all of this than I do so feel free to jump in and offer advice any time. Thanks for posting the drawing of the Aeronca. I assume it was an import into Delta Cad.

    This step would be the first thing to do in order to digitize a set of plans. If you have a set of plans you wish to build from with laser cut parts you should take the plans down to your local Kinkos along with a USB thumb drive and for about $5.00 they will scan them and put the resulting jpeg file on your thumb drive. Then take the drive home and import into the CAD program of your choice. Next use the tools in the CAD software to trace over the parts you wish to laser cut. You don't have to trace the entire plan, just the parts you wish to have cut. This is what is meant by digitizing, changing the image from a bit map to a vector based format.

    Of course there is a bit more to it than that but you get idea how it works. I will explain why you have to digitize in a bit, but know that you just can't send the plans to a kit cutter and expect him to cut your parts right away. He will need to digitize them first and will likely charge you for his time to do so as it can be time consuming. It's pretty easy to do it yourself and kind of fun once you get the hang of it. You will save LOTS of $$ digitizing the plans yourself.

    Remember that you only need to digitize (or trace) the parts you want to cut.
    I fly aircraft at the leading edge of trailing edge technology!

  23. #23

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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    Hello,

    Looking forward to this. I have Delta Cad already and look forward to the process. I've been wanting to buy a lazer cutter and have held off because of the confussion involved in the process.

    Thanks,
    Rick

  24. #24

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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    There are several programs on the net that will digitize a PDF file. I can't remember what they are called off top of my head but some years ago I tried several of them trying to get a set of ribs for a guy. They are not perfect by any means but will get you close and will take less time to trace. I think one was called paper to dxf

  25. #25
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    RE: Need a reason to keep my Laser Cutter

    GSview is what you need, converts PDF to lots of formats.
    limeybob
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