Home > Laser Cutters > Can You Laser Cut Kydex?

Can You Laser Cut Kydex?

If you’re a weapon enthusiast, you know the value of a good sheath or holster. Whether you’re carrying a blade or a firearm, the material you use can make a world of difference.

As I’ve grown my collection, I’ve started to dabble in making my own sheaths and holsters. One of the best options for these pieces is Kydex.

Since I also use a laser cutter in my work, I wanted to know, can you laser cut Kydex?

Unfortunately, because of the chemical composition of Kydex, laser cutting presents health and safety issues. That said, if you have a professional setup with proper ventilation, you can laser cut this material.

However, I don’t recommend this option for hobbyists or DIYers since they likely don’t have the right tools, equipment, and safety gear available.

Can You Laser Cut Kydex?

According to the Kydex manufacturer, “laser cutting and hot gas welding of Kydex sheet are two techniques that are potentially hazardous due to the emission of fumes.” However, the company also states that laser cutting works well but must only be done under proper conditions. The main issue is that cutting Kydex this way emits hydrogen chloride fumes. Even if you’re using an air filter, it likely won’t capture the toxic vapors created by this plastic.

Overall, you need to wear a respirator and use a ventilation system with a capture velocity of 100 feet per minute if you want to laser cut Kydex.

If you don’t have this equipment handy already, it’s not worth the trouble.

Realistically, the only reason to laser cut Kydex is to put some kind of logo or engraving on your finished piece, and there are other ways to do that.

What is Kydex?

Kydex is a thermoplastic acrylic-polyvinyl chloride created in 1965. The primary purpose of Kydex was to work in thermoforming manufacturing. There are a couple of advantages of Kydex, including:

  • Relatively Easy Molding – Although the finished product is quite durable, it’s pretty easy to shape. All you have to do is heat the plastic and then use a vacuum mold or press to put it in a new shape. This process is often much simpler and more effective than injection molding.
  • Durability – Kydex rates 90 on the Rockwell R Hardness Scale, which is higher than most metals, including steel. So, once you’ve molded your piece, you don’t have to worry about cracking, breaking, or normal wear and tear. Kydex products are built to last.
  • Affordability – Compared to other thermoplastics, Kydex is pretty affordable and easy to come by. You can get sheets of it on Amazon for extra convenience.

Overall, Kydex is used for gun holsters and knife sheaths. Industrially speaking, the material works well as a protective coating for machinery and vehicles. Its original purpose was to create aircraft interiors. As far as DIY projects, though, Kydex is a bit too hard to work for other products. However, don’t let that stop you from getting creative with it.

Other Ways to Cut and Shape Kydex

As I mentioned, the primary reason to laser cut Kydex would be to add an engraving or insignia to your holster. Theoretically, you could also use a laser to shape your Kydex so that it fits snugly around your knife or firearm. However, there are other, safer ways to do this, such as:

  • Branding – Since you can mold Kydex relatively easily, you can use that to your advantage. Simply heat the material and use a brand to imprint your design. You can either create your own brand or buy a custom one from a third-party manufacturer. Since you don’t have to heat Kydex too much, you may be able to use wood. However, metal is ideal if possible.
  • Scoring – While you can try to cut Kydex with a power saw, I don’t recommend it. Since Kydex is so tough, you’ll wear down your blades pretty fast. Also, it’s hard to keep the Kydex in place while cutting, so you risk warping the material or creating an uneven edge. Instead, you want to use a utility knife and score the plastic as needed. Once you’ve made a sufficient cut, you can simply snap the piece off.
  • Molding – If you’re creating a unique mold for your knife or firearm, you can simply add your symbol to the mold. This option only works for embossed molds, so plan accordingly.

Tips and Tricks for Working With Kydex

Although Kydex is durable and relatively easy to work with, you need to keep these tips in mind before getting started.

  • Don’t Overheat Your Material – As a rule, 250 degrees Fahrenheit should be hot enough to make your Kydex moldable. If you heat it too much, it’ll burn and create toxic fumes. Overheating can also warp the edges.
  • Don’t Heat Your Kydex in the Oven – Although it’s more convenient to use your home oven, you risk contaminating any food you cook in there. If nothing else, the chemical smell may infect your next dish. Instead, it’s better to buy a toaster oven specifically for this purpose.
  • Don’t Work in Small Spaces – I always recommend ventilation whenever working on anything involving plastic. It’s easy for the fumes to go to your head, and safety should always be prioritized.

The Bottom Line

Although you can’t laser cut Kydex, the material is still versatile and easy to use. Now that you know more about it see what kind of products you can create!

About Maker Industry

Joshua Garcia, Founder

Hi, I'm Joshua. I created Maker Industry to share my passion for maker tools and help others learn about 3D printing, CNC systems, laser cutting and more. Learn More