Local Laser! Waterloo Engraving fieldtrip

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Last Tuesday, a half dozen of us from kwartzlab took a (short) fieldtrip over to Waterloo Engraving to meet up with owner, Bill Jermyn.  Bill had dropped by Tuesday Open Night at the lab a few weeks back and we got into a good discussion around some of the CNC work Karl and I have been doing.  I asked Bill if we could visit his shop to get a sense of some of the work he could do with his Epilog 75W laser.  Above is a test etch of the kwartzlab logo on some scrap cardboard.  I love the scorched look.  Wait ‘til you see Matt’s video of this job and you’ll have a much better sense of the laser action.


I first heard of Waterloo Engraving through our friend-of-kwartzlab Jeff Schmidt, who had Bill etch some anodized aluminum for a project.  Then last summer, kwartzlabber Paul Walker had Bill cut some stencils for him for painting.  The shop is a short hop and skip from our lab, over at the corner of Victoria and Weber streets in Kitchener.  In addition to making friends in the community, my intention with this trip was, again, to show makers how easy it is to get your digital design realized locally.  Another tool in the (extended) toolbox!

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So when I asked Bill at TON “so, what do you make?” he told me he owns Waterloo Engraving and it all clicked: “you’re that Bill!”

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And, what a guy!  We rolled in at 5pm on a Tuesday, with a big night of events queued up, and Bill had this awesome spread of sandwiches and snacks for us!  Thanks Bill!

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Here’s what we came to see…

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An Epilog Legend 32EX 75 Watt laser.  This baby has a 32” x 20” working area, with 9” of vertical clearance for thicker items.

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Bill had pulled the laser out from the wall and popped the back off, so we could get a look at the guts.  Nice!  Note the big gold-coloured heat sinks, the silver exhaust vent and the red air hose connected to…

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this compressor for air-assist, which blows cut material out of your piece on the fly and keeps smoke and slag from gumming up the mirror on the gantry.

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Great, but what can you do with this rig?  Well, you can “etch” anodized aluminum.  The laser changes the colour of the dye on the aluminum leaving any pattern you can think up.  This small case had a really sharp image “etched” on it.

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You can also cut thin MDF…

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and, of course, acrylic plastic.  Bill has lots of different thicknesses and colours in stock, or you can bring your own, but it’s important to also bring a material data sheet (MDS) with your own material or at least have a really confident understanding of what type of plastic you’re bringing in.   Some plastics generate toxic gas when laser cut and may damage you and/or the cutter.

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Afflicted by my I-see-art-everywhere mental lens, the bed of the laser looked like cave paintings from Lascaux or the bones of a Kandinsky piece.

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Nevelson installation in progress?  Nope.  Standoffs for a honeycomb grill for the laser bed.

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Matt shot some great video some great video (post that, Matt!).  Here, Cedric, Steph, Doug, Pawel, Matt, and I are a riveted audience.

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The actual laser beam is reflected through a series of mirrors from the back right of the machine, to the gantry that spans across the bed, and then reflected down by the mirror Bill is pointing to.  The coiled hose there is the air-assist I mentioned.  So, the gantry moves forward and backward, and the final optics fly left and right on the gantry allowing the cutter to address the 32” x 20” bed.  The table is raised and lowered to focus the laser.

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Here’s another example of marking metal with the laser.

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Never considered this application before: Bill is working on an official seal that can emboss documents.  A work in progress.  Sweet.

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Of course all designs start here, on a computer.  The preferred file format in this shop is CorelDRAW, but other software that produces scalable vector graphics can work too.  I use a mix of Adobe Illustrator and the free Inkscape.  For toolpaths intended to cut clean through the material, use the thinnest possible red (correction from Bill, see comments below) lines.  Anything in black larger than the thinnest line will be etched/marked which simply the laser running at lower power.  For rastering images, bitmaps are preferred over JPEG’s which often include all sorts of non-obvious artifacts that you don’t see in the image, but which get marked by the laser.

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Lots of materials can be cut and marked by the laser.  Marking on these anodized aluminum tags produces a really sharp-looking result.  You can also cut/mark: wood, paper, corrugated cardboard, foam, foamcore board, the aforementioned acrylic, and rubber (for making stamps).  Call Bill if you have questions about what else can be cut/marked.  Check out some of my results cutting paper and foamcore on a different laser last year for a project.

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Here Bill fastens down a scrap of cardboard for a demo etching the kwartzlab logo.  Ah green tape, is there anything you can’t do?

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Blurry motion as the cutting head flies back and forth across the cardboard revealing our logo.  The visible red beam is just for aligning the toolpath and setting focus, not cutting.  The CO2 laser is invisible, but you see its effect here as the bright white light where the cardboard is being vaporized.  This job rendered in about 2 minutes, which at $1.25/min laser time would put this job < $3.  Bill doesn’t charge a setup fee if the job can get rolling in 5 minutes or so.

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We’re mesmerized by the laser in action.

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The danger makes it good.

Keep this tool in mind for your next project.  And check out some stuff the rest of the world is making using a laser cutter.  If you go see Bill at Waterloo Engraving, please tell him Darin’s blog posting led you to his door: it’s a small thanks to him for so generously opening up his shop to our questions and cameras.

If you have a shop and would be willing to tour me and my maker posse through in exchange for some publicity and my undying thanks, I would love to hear from you.  You get the idea: I want to demystify a contractible toolset for local makers.  My tour wishlist includes and is not limited to:

  • plasma cutter
  • welding shop
  • machine shop
  • injection moulding
  • vacuum forming
  • CNC everything
  • water jet cutter
  • paint and powdered coatings shop
  • supra-retail materials suppliers: like Metal Supermarket, Plastic World, and Fastenal

Happy making!


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2 Responses to Local Laser! Waterloo Engraving fieldtrip

  1. Bill Jermyn says:

    Thanks for the great writeup, Darin! Just a couple points for clarification:

    1. I’m better looking in person

    2. It’s not the colour that determines whether the laser cuts or marks, it’s the line width. Any outline drawn in CorelDraw as a hairline will cut, anything with a thicker outline will mark. For other software just draw any cut lines at the thinnest possible width. I draw the hairlines in red just to remind myself what’s going to cut and what will mark.

    And thanks everyone for showing up. It was great to hear all the weird and wonderful things you guys & gals are doing. Feel free to call me about your project no matter how small, I’d be glad to help if I can.

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