Now that we live in a golden age of DIY projects and tutorials, it’s never been easier for me to make the products I want rather than buy them from the store. I love 3D printing, but I also like to work with other materials, such as epoxy resin.
When cutting and shaping these materials, I often use a laser cutter. So, I wondered, can you laser cut epoxy resin?
I wanted to verify the answer before I started, and this is what I discovered.
Can You Laser Cut Epoxy Resin?
No, you cannot laser cut epoxy resin. The danger of laser cutting is that it generates toxic fumes, which are a health and safety hazard. Even with proper ventilation, these fumes can be dangerous. So, you should never cut epoxy resin with a laser.
Specifically, epoxy is an aliphatic resin which can thermally decompose and emit HCN (hydrogen cynanide) gas when burned with a laser cutter. It will also make a mess. For this reason, you should avoid trying to cut or engrave certain composites, like fiberglass, which are composed of a thermoset polymer and epoxy resin.
That said, you can cut and shape this material using other methods, which I’ll discuss below. However, since epoxy resin is easy to use with molds, the best option is to shape the material before it hardens instead of cutting it afterward.
What is Epoxy Resin?
Epoxy resin is a material that goes from liquid to solid, thanks to some complicated chemistry. I won’t dive into too many details here, but basically, you need to mix the resin with a hardening chemical. As they mix, the resin cures, making it hard. This process can last a couple of hours, and once it’s done, the resin will be durable and impact-resistant.
The primary benefit of epoxy resin is that it’s very easy to use with molds. Since it starts as a liquid, you can pour it into any shape and let it harden. This process also enables you to get an excellent layering effect, which you can utilize to make more appealing products.
Epoxy resin isn’t just designed for DIY projects, either. This material is used in many industrial and commercial applications, such as flooring, insulation, and protective coatings.
How to Cut and Shape Epoxy Resin
While you can’t use a laser to cut epoxy resin, you can use mechanical devices instead. Examples include circular saws, drills, jigsaws, and other power-cutting tools. Fortunately, since epoxy resin is so durable, you can cut it cleanly without warping or cracking the rest of the piece.
That said, thin layers may experience some warping and slight melting from cutting friction. However, epoxy resin doesn’t really melt, so this issue is not very common.
Constant friction for extended periods can start to melt the surface of epoxy resin. So, if you are cutting or drilling into your piece, you should work in short spurts. Also, keep in mind that you’ll generate lots of shavings and debris, so plan accordingly. For example, it helps to have a vacuum system in place and safety goggles on while you work. If necessary, be sure to let the material cool between cuttings.
Related: Do you have a 3D printer? Check out this article about filling your 3D prints with epoxy.
Tips and Tricks for Working With Epoxy Resin
Epoxy resin is a durable and versatile material that works well for many DIY projects. However, there are some factors to consider when working with epoxy, such as:
- Research Each Resin Type – The term epoxy resin covers a wide array of specific chemicals and hardeners. Each one has a slightly different curing process. For example, some mixtures may produce harmful vapors while curing. So, you’ll need to work in a space with sufficient ventilation. In other cases, the resin may harden quickly, so you have to work fast to ensure you get the shape you want.
- Shape Before, Not After – Just because you can cut epoxy resin with a saw or drill doesn’t mean you should. As a rule, it’s much better to shape your piece with molds. It’s easier to cut and shape wood and other materials than epoxy. Best of all, you can use a laser cutter to create your molds. Then, you just need to pour the epoxy and let it harden.
- Practice Makes Perfect – If you haven’t worked with epoxy before, I recommend making a few practice pieces before starting your DIY project. Since the hardening process can take a while, you have to worry about the liquid shifting before it cures. Also, it might take some practice to get the right colors or layering effects you want.
- Wear Safety Gear at All Times – Epoxy tends to bond with other materials. So, if you get some on your skin, you need to clean it off before it hardens. If you don’t, you might have to use a chemical process to remove it. Overall, you should wear safety goggles, gloves, and protective clothing. If the epoxy generates harmful fumes, you should also wear a mask and vent your workspace thoroughly.
A Summary of Laser Cutting Epoxy Resin
Epoxy resin is a versatile material for DIY projects, but you cannot laser cut it. Laser cutting epoxy emits toxic fumes, so you should never do it. Instead, you can cut epoxy with power tools, such as circular saws or drills. When doing a DIY project, safety is always a priority, but epoxy requires extra vigilance to avoid potential health problems.