Lessons of the day: I am an idiot, and ADX Portland's laser cutting services are... disappointing.
So it's been a while now since the last time I lasercut some puzzles, (at Portland TechShop, before it folded) and I've had a few good ideas in that time, and now I'm done with grad school and have a little time to get back to that hobby. Last week I put together some drawings for puzzles and queried ADX (a newish local makerspace) about having them cut, and I sent in the file and made an appointment to bring in some sheet acrylic and have it cut.
The laser cutting appointment started out well. ADX was using Linux with CUPS printer drivers for the Epilog laser cutter, with the result that the guy there could just fire up my SVG file in Inkscape, select all of the lines and make a quick change to the line properties to make them how the setup wanted so that they would be recognized as vectors for cutting, and hit print. This was rather nicer than the bad old setup that TechShop had of requiring a step to export from Inkscape and then import into an ancient version of Corel Draw. Since my file was so clean, and needed no more fixing up than that, laser guy waived my setup fee, which was kind of him. It did not occur to me that I should have wondered what the setup fee would have been before I got it waived, but then, I am an idiot.
So the drawing was all ready to go at that point. Well, not quite. I was using 3/16" thick acrylic, and that wasn't one of the default settings. Laser guy made a new setting for that, interpolating between the 1/8" and the 1/4" settings. The power level he picked jibed with what I recalled using at TechShop, (and this was in fact, the selfsame 45W Epilog laser cutter that TechShop used to have before it folded) so I figured it would be okay. And there I was an idiot. I had thought ahead of time that they might not have experience with 3/16" acrylic, and thought about bringing some scrap pieces from my old projects to test the setting on, and forgot to actually do so. So we loaded up a pristine sheet into the machine, and laser guy hit print, and the laser started doing its thing, quite properly to all appearances.
Twenty-five minutes later, the laser stopped doing its thing, quite properly to all appearances.
Then laser guy took out the sheet of acrylic. That indicated that something was not entirely proper. The purpose of a laser cutter is to cut things into pieces. This was not pieces. This was piece. And here is where I was really an idiot, because I could not say the thing I was desperately wanting to say which was that he should just put the sheet back and run it again at a lower power and faster speed to finish off the cut. Instead, laser guy started bending and prodding at the pieces to try to get them to come apart, and only succeeded in breaking one, which I knew would happen, because I made the same mistake with one of the TechShop projects. And even then, the rest of the puzzles could have been salvaged if I had managed to say something, but I still couldn't get the words out of my mouth, and laser guy broke apart the sheet and broke some more pieces, and by then the entire sheet was a loss.
Still, I was ready to go on with the rest of the sheets I brought, with the cutter running at a slightly higher power and slower speed.
At this point, laser guy imparted a very important piece of information. "You do know that we charge $2.50 a minute for laser time?"
Well, I did then. I didn't ask earlier, because I just assumed that it would be some amount I would find reasonable, because I was an idiot. I think I might have thought $1 a minute reasonable. I don't know if it actually is. I do know that the cost of lasercutting things at TechShop had been utterly ridiculous in my favor, on account of me getting the super cheap pre-opening promotional rate for a month of membership, and then coming in and using the cutter for hours on end. But $2.50 a minute, for maybe a half hour per sheet once the extra time to cut through properly was added, with six puzzles per sheet, works out to $12.50 per puzzle just for the cutting, which doesn't leave much room for margin at the prices I was hoping to sell the puzzles.
So at that point I bailed, and laser guy quite reasonably nullified the cost of the cutting time already spent, and I was out only one sheet of acrylic and some gas money for the day. Laser guy referred me to another place that had the power to handle thicker materials, but I looked at their website and it was all "2000W laser" and "we can cut through 1" of solid steel," so I suspect they might be overkill for my purposes.
I still want to get these puzzles done, but I don't really know whether it can be done for what I would have considered a reasonable price. A quick search of local places that might be able to do it didn't reveal much in the way of promising options, so I don't know if it will happen.
On the plus side, a couple of chunks of puzzle pieces came out in a form that might make attractive coasters. I'm thinking of donating them to the InterFilk auction at Conflikt.