Laser Cutter - Dangerous Materials

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WARNING: Because many plastics are dangerous to cut, it is important to know what kind you are planning to use.

Material DANGER! Cause/Consequence
PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride)/vinyl/pleather/artificial leather Emits chlorine gas when cut! Don’t ever cut this material as it will ruin the optics, causes the metal of the machine to corrode as chlorine is released and ruins the motion control system.
Thick ( >1mm ) Polycarbonate/Lexan Cuts very poorly, discolors, catches fire Polycarbonate is often found as flat, sheet material. The window of the laser cutter is made of Polycarbonate because polycarbonate strongly absorbs infrared radiation! This is the frequency of light the laser cutter uses to cut materials, so it is very ineffective at cutting polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is a poor choice for laser cutting. It creates long stringy clouds of soot that float up, ruin the optics and mess up the machine.
ABS Melts / Cyanide ABS does not cut well in a laser cutter. It tends to melt rather than vaporize, and has a higher chance of catching on fire and leaving behind melted gooey deposits on the vector cutting grid. It also does not engrave well (again, tends to melt). Cutting ABS plastic emits hydrogen cyanide, which is unsafe at any concentration.
HDPE/milk bottle plastic Catches fire and melts It melts. It gets gooey. It catches fire. Don’t use it.
PolyStyrene Foam Catches fire It catches fire quickly, burns rapidly, it melts, and only thin pieces cut. This is the #1 material that causes laser fires!!!
PolyPropylene Foam Catches fire Like PolyStyrene, it melts, catches fire, and the melted drops continue to burn and turn into rock-hard drips and pebbles.
Epoxy burn / smoke Epoxy is an aliphatic resin, strongly cross-linked carbon chains. A CO2 laser can’t cut it, and the resulting burned mess creates toxic fumes ( like cyanide! ). Items coated in Epoxy, or cast Epoxy resins must not be used in the laser cutter. ( see Fiberglass )
Fiberglass Emits fumes It’s a mix of two materials that cant’ be cut. Glass (etch, no cut) and epoxy resin (fumes)
Coated Carbon Fiber Emits noxious fumes A mix of two materials. Thin carbon fiber mat can be cut, with some fraying – but not when coated.
Any foodstuff ( such as meat, seaweed ‘nori’ sheets, cookie dough, bread, tortillas… ) The laser is not designed to cut food, and people cut things that create poisonous/noxious substances such as wood smoke and acrylic smoke. If you want to cut foodstuffs, consider sponsoring a food-only laser cutter for the space that is kept as clean as a commercial kitchen would require.