Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Laser Cutting and Depots

Farmington depot circa the 1890s. Note the privy behind the lattice fence at the right and the switch stand.
A few months ago, I bit the bullet and bought a laser cutting machine. It sat in my basement for 2-3 months simply because it was too cold in my shop to work comfortably. I finally started working with it a couple of weeks ago and just cut my first real project, the Farmington depot. The prototype was a board-and-batten structure and was relatively small as depots go. Being smaller in scale made it a good first project.
Farmington depot. The window and door openings were sized to accept Grandt Line windows and doors. In the foreground is .010" thick styrene with the gable trim cut out by the laser.
Depot with scallop trim.
Evergreen styrene was used for the basic siding. I always thought that styrene was really not suitable for laser cutting but that is not true. I managed to cut the siding very smoothly, especially the cutouts for the windows and doors. The ends of the depot had some interesting scallop trim that was perfect for the laser. I made a CAD drawing of the trim and the laser made a good job of it.
     The baggage doors were not the right size for either the Tichy or Grandt Line doors so I did another drawing. The doors using were cut from 3/32" acrylic and the trim from a manila file folder.
Acrylic baggage doors with trim pieces awaiting paint.
The building is not yet finished but is on its way and the laser has justified its expense (at least in my mind). One of the selling points on getting the machine was being able to cut special templates for my wife's quilting projects. Naturally, the very first project done was some holders on which to wind quilt binding.


  1. Thanks for a very informative post. I too thought that laser cutters would not be suitable for styrene. What machine did you buy?

    1. I bought a 50W Orion from, of all places, Walmart. It cost $1500 but I did not want to buy the 40W size for $300-400 as they seemed to take a lot to make them work right.

  2. Ditto on the informative post - thanks!

    What CAD program did you use to make the drawing?

    John Gibson

  3. I am using a CAD program called Draftit by Cadlogic (cadlogic.com). It's relatively inexpensive but considerably better than the program which comes with the machine. The machine can import a number of file formats including CorelDraw which can interface directly. I don't have that program so I produce the drawing in Draftit, save it as a dxf file and then import that into Adobe Illustrator, save that as an Illustrator (ai ) and then import that into RDdraw, the cutter's program. Doing it this way is awkward but it preserves the correct dimensions. I tried saving it as a dxf file and then importing the file in RDdraw but the drawing came out quite a bit larger.

    1. Just be aware that, while this cutter works on styrene, there is a small "bubbling" of the plastic along the cut line. It is so slight that it only take a quick sanding with sandpaper or running an X-acto knife along the edge to eliminate it. I prefer to use wood or acrylic but, to get clapboard or board-and-batten siding, it's easier to use standard Evergreen products.