My laser cutter setup: equipment, parts, and cost

Desktop laser cutter setup: machine, water chiller, air compressor, exhaust, and computer

If you want to create your own in-home laser cutter setup, you need to buy more than just the machine itself: you need water cooling for the laser tube, compressed air to blow away debris from the cut, and an exhaust system to pull debris out of the machine. Machine manufacturers will sell you these “accessories”, but your options are limited and typically you can get the equipment cheaper if you shop around. In this post I’ll share what equipment I ended up buying, and how it’s working out so far. Keep in mind that I’ve only been using this setup for a few months, and that it’s a hobby setup, not a full-scale professional machine. If you have any questions or tips please share them in the comments and I’ll update this post as my equipment changes.

Laser Cutter Machine

I went with the Hobby Series 20×12 CO2 Laser from Full Spectrum Laser, which was $3,499. It comes with a 40W tube and I got the 45W tube upgrade for $250, putting the total cost at $3,749 plus shipping (which isn’t cheap to Alaska!).

Water Cooling

I purchased a CW-3000DG Industrial Chiller on ebay for $199 plus shipping, from a seller that was shipping directly from China. I’ve also seen this machine on Amazon and other places. I believe this is the same exact machine that FS Laser will sell you for $600. It’s been working great so far, and I highly recommend going with a chiller instead of the “bucket of water” setup. It’s much simpler and cleaner, and you don’t have to clean out the water so often.

Example of a barbed connector

Both the water cooler and the laser cutter have inlet and outlet ports, which are barbed connectors. The cooling unit has 10mm plastic barbed connectors, and I couldn’t find specs for the laser cutter side, but I believe they are 3/8″ (roughly 9mm) barbed connectors. So 1/4″ ID flexible silicone or latex tubing works great, especially with hose clamps on the laser cutterside. 

Water and exhaust ports on the laser cutter

Compressed air

For compressed air, if I were building a shared setup — for example in a school, makerspace, or shop — I would definitely go with a continuous-flow air pump like an aquarium air pump. These are simple and foolproof, which is a big plus when it comes to choosing a piece of equipment that’s basically a fire suppressant!

That said, I’m the only one using my setup and a) I wanted to be able to vary the amount of air flow depending on material and type of cut, and b) I didn’t already have an air compressor and wanted to have one for house projects. So I ended up going with the California Air Tools 5510A 5.5 gallon air compressor. This machine is definitely overkill since I usually use about 5 psi for compressed air during a cut. It’s advertised as being unusually quiet at 60dB, and it isn’t bad for an air compressor, but when I have the compressor, exhaust, and water pump running it’s about as loud as a vacuum cleaner so I’ll use earplugs if working for more than a few minutes.

The air inlet port on the cutter is an 1/8″ barbed connector, so I’m using .170″ ID / .25 OD silicone tubing. On the air compressor side, I have air compressor –> male industrial coupler / pipe thread –> pipe thread / 3/16″ hose barb connector –> tubing.

Exhaust

I already had a fan and some ductwork lying around from previous projects, so I didn’t have to buy anything new and I don’t have part numbers. I’m using a 4″ inline exhaust duct fan that’s rated at 200 CFM. You can buy this kind of fan at a gardening store, since they’re popular for indoor grow projects. I think you could get a fan plus ductwork for about $100 new — but you can easily find them used. 200 CFM is sufficient, but I wouldn’t mind having a bit more. For a larger laser cutter I would definitely need a higher air flow for the exhaust.

I’m venting my exhaust out a nearby window. I opened the window about 6″ and in the gap I placed a “sandwich” with plywood and rigid foam insulation. I cut a 4″ hole in the sandwich and ran the ductwork through. I used a shrink-wrap window insulation kit across the whole window to eliminate any leaks.

I don’t have a filter on the exhaust, but I’m mostly cutting wood so the fumes aren’t terrible. If I start cutting a lot of acrylic or other smelly materials I’ll definitely consider putting an air filter in line with the exhaust fan.

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