Session 19 – How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management

The Concise RDWorks Learning Lab Series

Welcome to Module 3 of the new Concise RDWorks Learning Lab Series with Russ Sadler. Module 3 will build on the information learned in the previous modules and will be targeted on the differing types of laser engraving methods and the techniques needed to consistently achieve great engraving results. So Let’s learn How To Do Incised Engraving with a CO2 Laser!

In this Session, Russ will go into detail the process of how to do Incised engraving (deep engraving) for a variety of materials and the pitfalls to watch out for. He also explains the importance of ensuring good air flow management across the job surface.

Release Date: 19th November 2021

Over the last 6 years, Russ has built up a formidable YouTube following for his RDWorks Learning Lab series which currently has over 200 videos.

The original RDWorks Learning Lab series on his “Sarbar Multimedia” YouTube Channel, follows Russ as he tries to make sense of his new Chinese laser machine and to sort out the truths, half truths and outright misleading information that is available on the web.

Six years later with over 3 million YouTube Views under his belt, Russ has become the go to resource for everything related to the Chinese CO2 laser machine user or wannabe user.

Various stages of achieving incised text
Stages in the process of perfecting Incised Engraving

In this new series, Russ has condensed his knowledge and experience of the last 6 years to provide valuable information and insights into the purchasing, understanding, use, repair and maintenance of the Chinese CO2 laser machines and their key component parts.

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Podcast Session 19 – Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management

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Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management

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Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management

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The Concise RDWorks Learning Lab with Russ Sadler. Session 19: Incised Engraving and Airflow Management.

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Well.

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Although today’s session is another venture into the world of engraving. We’re going to spread it out a little bit and we’re not just going to be talking about engraving,

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but some of the conditions that need to exist for successful engraving.

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You will remember that last time we found that it was very easy to produce barbecued wood. We could do deep engraving,

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that wasn’t really deep and black engraving at all. It was like a toothed comb.

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And all we had to do is scrape it. And the black surface disappeared.

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But it was deep. But today, we’re going to try and get to that deep

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engraving without doing that. Now deep engraving, carries the description of incised engraving. Most of you guys really want to do incised

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engraving. You want to burn into the surface of your wood, and you want to be able to feel it.

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That’s a completely separate technique to the one I showed you last time about surface engraving.

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To most people, incised engraving is very easy. You just throw some numbers into your machine and you get deep black barbecued sinkholes.

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So we’re going to use your two inch lens, that you were supplied with your machine and carry on with this engraving. Now I mentioned that

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you need to understand what your beam is capable of before you can really do engraving.

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You may well have a very, very powerful beam, that’s possibly a hundred, a hundred and twenty watts.

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And if you turn the power up, it will become a very sharp instrument that’s capable of cutting your way to Australia and getting in without a visa.

Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management (cont…)

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But if you want to do less damage, you’ve got to turn the power of your tube down.

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And as you turn the power of your tube down, here’s the intensity distribution of your beam as it gets weaker and weaker and weaker.

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And when we get down to, say, maybe 10 percent power, look, we change the shape of the beam from a very sharp beam to a blunt beam.

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Now a blunt beam is still pretty sharp in the middle there, as we demonstrated last time, and it very easily produces a very deep V,

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into your cut. It’s not that which, unless you’ve got a really abysmal beam like this, for surface engraving

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last time we had to find a way of filtering out this high power in the centre here,

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even though it’s low power, because we want ultra low power to just scorch the surface of our material.

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So we had to find a way of filtering the power, so that we were only using this very small amount of intensity at the bottom here.

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And we managed to filter it out by not only reducing the power of the beam, but by also reducing the intensity in the beam itself,

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by defocusing the beam, We dropped the material down or we raised the focal point above the material.

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So what we were doing, we were spreading the power out or the intensity out over a much larger area to make it much gentler,

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much more uniform, much less aggressive, because here it’s very aggressive and that’s where we would do cutting.

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So today we want to dig into the material. But do we want to dig into the material with cutting?

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Remember I said to you, there are no engraving lenses, there are only cutting lenses, lenses that do a lot of damage to your material.

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So you have to find other ways to manage the power to engrave.

Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management (cont…)

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We’re going to see what other techniques we can use to bring some depth back into the cut.

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Now, the natural reaction would be, OK, just let’s increase the power.

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OK, so I’ve little prepared, a little sample here on RDWorks and we will just set the parameters.

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So in the last session we set the reverse scanning offset to 100 millimeters a second.

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So we’ll use that same speed again here.

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And what we’re going to do now, we’re going to change this to a scan rather than a cut, but we want to cut deeper this time.

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So why don’t we change it to, say, 50 percent power and 50 percent power and see what happens?

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And everybody says that point one is a pretty good universal interval for your lines.

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One of the things that will have accompanied your machine will be an air assist pump.

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If you read the Chinese information that came along with your machine,

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they would boast that this air assist pump was great for engraving because it blows the smoke

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away from your work so that you can see what you’re doing. Errrr, well I’ve heard some crap in my time.

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But that’s just about as bad as it gets. Let me just show you what this

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air assist will do to your engraving. We’ve got the focus set up to 20 mm.

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Yes, we’ve got lots of smoke. Let me turn the extract system on.

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Now you’ll note where the smoke is going.

Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management (cont…)

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Did any stage the smoke cover your work so you couldn’t see what you were doing? Just in case you can’t see what’s happening in there, lets add a little bit of light in there?

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So that you can see, look that’s really nicely incised.

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Yes, it’s deep, it’s probably about three millimetres deep.

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Now, the biggest problem we have there is all that brown haze that’s on the surface.

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Here’s where we go back to our material science. We’ve exposed that wood to light.

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The light has vibrated the molecules so fast that they have changed their chemical structure from wood to several other products.

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One of those or several of those products, are horrible gaseous fumes, full of resin, tars and all the sorts of things you get

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when you normally burn wood. You’ve got this damn air assist, which is supposed to keep the product clean so you can see what’s going on. No, what it’s done,

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it’s finished up, blowing your fumes back down and painting your job a horrible

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brown. Please don’t misunderstand me. We need air assist.

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We need the air assist in this instance to keep a positive pressure inside this

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nozzle, so that these fumes do not go back and coat the surface of your lens.

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Look what it does to the wood. That’s the last thing you want on the surface of your lens.

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Now, I’ve turn my extractor off for a minute so we can hear what’s going on.

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And what we’ve got coming out of here is the air from the little pump that’s supplied.

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There’s quite a lot of air coming out of there.

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And what I have here is a ball valve. It’s a great little device where I can regulate the flow by closing the ball.

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Now, there is another sort of valve that you can get which looks like this.

Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management (cont…)

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Yeah, it sort of does the same thing, but it is nowhere near as adjustable and flexible as a proper ball valve.

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And here’s a good way of looking at the flow from your valve. I’ve connected just a piece of pipe to it.

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Look at the damage that I’m doing to the surface of that water. It’s not in the water.

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It’s just blowing the surface of the water out of the way. So I can regulate my flow quite nicely

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now. There’s what full flow looks like, and if I reduce it to a point where I’m just beginning to damage the surface there, can you see that?

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That’s a very small amount of airflow, but that’s enough to keep a positive pressure inside the nozzle.

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There’s not enough airflow there to blow the smoke back down onto the work.

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I’ll turn my extractor on and we’ll run the same job again.

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Something I hope you’ll immediately notice now, is the way in which the smoke is going upwards, it’s sitting on top of the job.

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It’s in the air. It’s not being blown back down onto the work.

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So you’re going to look at those two and you’re going to say, Russ, you’re full of crap.

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Look at them. There is zero difference between them, the air assist has made no difference.

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Why? Perhaps it’s not the air system that’s blowing crap onto the surface of your product.

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Let’s have a look to see what other possibilities exist. We’re currently running this at 100 millimetres a second, we could reduce the power, but for the moment

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I’m not going to reduce the power. I’m going to increase the speed from 100 to 400 millimetres a second.

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What can I say? I mean, yes, there’s still a little bit of browning there, but

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we’re no longer producing black sinkholes. Increasing the speed.

Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management (cont…)

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has completely changed the nature of our engraving. Why? That’s probably three millimetres deep, and this is one millimetre deep.

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Now, this is still very nicely incised text, we increased the speed,

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so therefore we have decreased the exposure time, because we haven’t changed the power.

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And by decreasing the exposure time, we are not cutting as deep.

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We are not doing as much material damage. We’re not converting as much solid wood into gas or vapor.

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I’m absolutely sure you can imagine what happens to that small amount of coffee that I’ve got in that cup.

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If I was to leave it in a saucepan, boiling on the stove and close the doors of my kitchen.

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I would say within 10 minutes, apart from the fact the saucepan will have a burnt hole in the bottom. The place will be full of steam.

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The point I’m making is that gaseous material takes up hundreds of times more volume than solid material. We are

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instantly converting solid material here into gas. Lets

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just examine, the mechanics of that process. Let me just do one more test.

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So what we’ll do, we’ll raise the focus by 10 millimetres. Before I turn the extraction on,

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look at the smoke. If you look carefully at things like the thickness of the lines on the E and the gap between the curly bits of the S here and

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here. You’ll see that there’s definitely a change in the overall dimension

Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management (cont…)

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of the text. Let’s go back to our original settings, which were the stupidly deep and black 100 millimetres a second.

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Now, I do just want to point out to you that this is a hundred millimetres a second, but look at the gap between the nozzle and the work.

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We’ve still got that set at 30 millimetres rather than 20 millmetres.

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So we’re out of focus. Which means that power is less.

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Let’s drop it back to 20 millimetres just for comparison. There’s our two pieces of text.

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Still not exactly brilliant are they? So that’s what some people try to do to overcome that problem.

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So let’s try and make some sense of what we’ve seen. This is just a beam of energy.

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It’s not physically anything in the way.

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So when I convert that little teeny weeny piece of material there into fumes, what’ll happen is these, like a little volcano will go like that and fly up in the air.

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If we can keep them in the air once they get up here like that, we can get them to drift away,

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in the extraction system, without ever going anywhere near the surface of the product, and that’s approximately what we managed to do here.

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We’ve got no marking around the outside of this because we had a gentle approach to the problem. Here,

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we put in a huge amount of power and we were converting a lot of material extremely quickly.

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Remember, this was 100 millimetres a second. So the beam was almost standing still as it was doing this.

Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management (cont…)

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And what happens is then, you get a different situation because

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the stuff that’s down here, wants to get up in the air like that, but it can’t because there’s too much smoke up there already.

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So what it does, it explodes sideways like this.

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And in exploding sideways, hang on, it’s going to settle on your job.

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So the more material you try and convert quickly, the more explosive this sideways expansion is.

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There’s going to be some coming up this way as well. But if you do it gently, you’re only going to get the green fumes. So,

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the point I’m making there, is the painting is not done by the air assist blowing it back down,

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although if you put too much air assist on, it definitely will help that, it’ll turn this green stuff into brown paint as well.

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It’s just the explosive nature of the way in which the fumes are trying to escape.

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Now, we can begin to see that in the way in which this text is damaged along the back page, we’re engraving this from this point onwards.

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And as we engrave back down here like this, there’s only one way for those fumes to explode and expand. Sideways,

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maybe over this way, but mainly backwards, because, hey, there’s nothing in the way of it going backwards.

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We’ve already got a damn great big hole there for it to disappear into.

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So all the fumes as we go this way, are going to go to the top of the product.

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RDWorks is configured to start it’s cutting from this top corner here and so it will cut backwards and forwards and it’ll go down to work.

Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management (cont…)

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If I come across to config / systems setting and I change this to any one of these,

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I can start here, here, here, any one of these six positions at the bottom.

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And let me change it to this bottom left hand corner instead of the top corner.

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What’ll happen is the engraving will take place the opposite way round.

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And then what we should see is all this brown crud on the bottom of the letters, not the top of the letters.

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And that will demonstrate the point that I’ve just made to you. Can you see how explosively that gas is expanding by

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the cut face. Now I hope my point is now proven. We’ve got to find a way of managing this explosive change from solid to gas. Now I’ve

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just modified one of those barbecue parameters, just one of them.

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I’m still running at a100 millimetres a second. I’m still running at 50 percent power.

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What’s happened? The answer is I’ve changed

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the line spacing. You may have noticed it was much quicker that time to produce the text.

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I changed it from point one, to point three.

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Lets just just see how much wider we can make the line spacing before we lose

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the quality of the text. The spacing between the burn lines is such that they don’t join up anymore.

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0.3, 0.5, 0.4.

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Let’s try 0.2, and as soon as we get space for the fumes to expand into.

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They start going out of control, and in fact,

Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management (cont…)

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well I can probably anticipate is that if we look in the bottom of this text here, we shall find we’ve got our favourite

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moosh. Look, we’ve got the comb effect in the bottom there, so that’s rubbish.

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This looks nice again. Look. So,

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That’s not incised text. I’m demonstrating every possible way that you can fail at this job.

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The only way that we’ve become anywhere half successful, is by adjusting the focus again.

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So let’s look at this slightly more logically rather than the random way in which I’ve been dragging you along.

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All engraving requires very little power. And I’ve currently got the power set to 50 per cent, but we’re still running at 100 mm a second.

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But we’ve reduced the power and we’re still at 20mm

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correct focus. I’m going to put the spacing back to 0.1mm.

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So 15 percent is going to do a lot less damage. Also notice how the smoke is not exploding sideways.

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We’re not converting as much material into gases, then it will explode vertically. We’re cutting this from the bottom to the top.

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So we would expect to see a lot of debris along the bottom of the text.

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Well, what’s not bad is it? There’s hardly any browning around that at all.

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Those are the original parameters, but we’re doing significantly less damage.

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I mean, there is a hint of browning around there as you can see. The depth of engraving, 0.83mm, same depth of engraving as our out of focus engraving.

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But look, we’ve got, we’ve got a nice crisp engraving now.

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We’ve still got this little halo, that we really are trying to get rid of.

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I’m very fortunate with this machine.

Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management (cont…)

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It came with a removable honeycomb table, which is great, because I’ve told you many times before, I’m not in love with this stuff.

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It may seem illogical.

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But look, I’ve completely covered the table now. You may have noticed on this machine, I’ve got a couple of blocks of wood tucked in the corner here.

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They serve a very good purpose. They prevent the door from closing.

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Yes, I had some grilled holes along the front here, but, hey, look at them, there’s just a few of them.

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How much air is going to get into the machine through those? The answer is virtually nothing.

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What I’ve got here is a sheet of air that’s being drawn into the machine through this slot here.

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The extraction system is basically at the back of the machine here.

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So this is sucking air into this set of holes at the back of the machine and the only way into the machine is here.

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So consequently, I’m going to get a flow of air, a fairly high flow of air velocity across this table.

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I’m going to use this very simple candle flame to demonstrate the basic principle of air flow management.

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I can just gently do that and affect the candle flame. But if I’m 6 or 9 inches away and go (sucks in air)

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Nothing, but from that same distance away, if I just gently breathe on the candle flame, almost.

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Blowing is directed velocity, sucking is totally non directional.

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It just pulls in air from the closest and easiest path that it can possibly find.

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So there in the back of my machine is a grill through which air is being sucked to the extract duct underneath this table.

Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management (cont…)

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The only way the extract air can be drawn into those ducts there. Is

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from here. Air will be drawn into this part of the machine, go across the table and down those extract ducts.

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It’s this flow here that although it’s being sucked into the machine, is actually, effectively, a blow that’s blowing across the table.

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It’s a directed airflow. Now, when we had the honeycomb here.

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The air was very, very lazy and it was very happy to come through this gap and say, ah yeah,

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why go all the way to the back of the machine and round the corner when it could just go straight through the honeycomb and out the air duct?

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It wasn’t really worried about what was on the table here.

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Yes, there was a very small amount of low pressure around the job, which was causing a sort of a drift of smoke away from the job.

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It wasn’t conducting the smoke away in a managed way.

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OK, so I’ve got the machine cover down. I’ll turn the extract on and we’ll run that same program again.

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We’re looking through the gap in the door now, so you can see how the fumes are being extracted.

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And there’s the difference that air flow management makes to the job. I’ve

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changed nothing. It’s made it darker and cleaner.

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It’s still not perfect. But there is a quantum change because of the air flow management.

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It’s no longer just drifting through the honeycomb as it wants. In this session,

Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management (cont…)

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I’ve taken you through some rather stupid steps.

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These are the sort of silly things that I went through when I was naively struggling to solve this problem in the early days of my laser journey.

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I hope that showing you these stupid things that I did, will shortcut your steps to be slightly cleverer

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and more experienced about the way in which you tackle this and other problems in the future.

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Every one of these features that I’m showing you has some sort of learning associated with it gives you an understanding of how light, damage

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to material, interplay.

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You have to manage very carefully the power that you put into the job, and this machine has got so many different ways of being able to manage that.

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And I’ve tried to demonstrate that today with all these things, just a few changes and we can make a huge difference to the end result.

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Now, what we’ve got here is a nearly result. So how do we get from this nearly result to something that is pretty damn good?

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We’ve already established here that if we play with the focus, we’ve got an element of control of power,

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that we can use. Look fume production and we’ve been making fumes like there’s no tomorrow, is all to do with the management of the power,

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the rate at which you apply power to the job and you convert solid material into gas.

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If you do it gently, you can see we get a beautiful clean result. Here, we’ve got precision, but we haven’t quite got the clean result.

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So what we’ve got to do now is back off the power a little bit, make it softer, make it gentler, and we may get the result that we’re looking for.

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Let’s give it a try. We know that this gap here is 20 millimetres.

Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management (cont…)

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So let’s add 10 and go up to 14 millimetres.

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So we’ll make it 24 millimetres, 21, 22, 23, 24 millimetres. We will take the focus up by just four millimetres and try and soften the intensity of the beam.

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And there we go. It’s all about fume management.

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Not too much fumes and manage them. That’s the secret of

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cutting deep into the material. So you say well, yeah I’d like to go deeper than that,

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Lets go deeper than should we? You might be able to find some slightly better parameters than I’ve got here, to get you a slightly darker text.

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But it’s the principles that I’m worried about more than anything else.

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You cannot rush the process. Too many fumes and you’ve got a problem.

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So if you want deeper text, there’s only one way to achieve the text, and that’s to do this.

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Run it twice. There we go.

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Nice, clean text. One millimetre deep and no browning.

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Different materials will mark differently.

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Let’s try those settings on a piece of MDF. Now MDF is particularly bad for making smoke and fumes because this is not wood.

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This is wood and plastic.

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Look, those fumes go, it’s not dark, but it’s just as clean and in fact, because we’re not taking as much material out there.

Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management (cont…)

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I’ll leave you to think about what you could do to improve that.

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How could we get a little bit more colour, a little bit more depth into it?

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Could it be reducing the focus, putting the focus back to something closer to reality?

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Maybe putting a little more power into it. Remember, fumes, too many of them, and you’re in the brown stuff. Literally!

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I’ll leave you with those thoughts and catch you in another session.

Transcript for How to Do Incised Engraving and Air Flow Management (cont…)

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Last updated August 26, 2021

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