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Laser cutting your own Flite test aircraft.

LONG post......... I will be adding to this, may take a day or two to complete.
For starters, if you want to laser out foam board, and have the money, get a Co2 laser. That is what Flite test uses, but they are expensive when you get into a size that can handle a full sheet of foam board.

That being said. I wanted to be able to cut my own FT aircraft. While Flite test graciously provides FREE plans for all their kits, it can be time consuming and costly to go that route.
1) Download the plans.
2) Print out the TILED plans on your own printer, tape and glue them to the foam board. Hope your knife does not slip while you try to follow the lines.
3) Alternatively you could take the PDF plans to a printing place that has the ability to print them full size for you. I am sure this could be a few dollars per print, plus you will ruin the prints in the process of cutting them out.

Requirements for my needs:
1) Could handle a full sheet of foam board.
2) Could be repeated quickly and with no cost other than the foam board.
3) could be used with a older laptop computer.
4) Could be used for other things.

The gantry or CNC machine:
This is the part that will move the laser around and control the laser power.
I went with the Openbuilds Acro 1010 Acro 1010.
I pretty much came with everything needed minus the controller board. For that I also used the Openbuilds controller: Controller
The kit came with all the wiring, I added two additional limit switches for end stops. I had a few issues, but openbuilds support was excellent and had me running in no time. Took me about 6 hours total to assemble, mainly from trying to figure out how I wanted to run all the wiring and getting the wires inside the drag chains
For the Diode laser:
This part took some research. Many of the Chinese companies out there seriously inflate the power output of their laser system. Buyer beware.
Good reliable source on Laser Diode info

I went with an Endurance 10 watt 455nm laser kit :Laser Kit
I paid less that what he shows on his web page. He is from Russia, the actual Laser comes from the USA. His assembly instructions are a bit lacking, but I have electronic experience and got everything put together.

The Laser unit consist of a laser diode module mounted in a large heat sink, that is placed into a rectangular can. This is cooled by a top mounted fan. The laser os powered by a DC-DC converter that converts the 12VDC in to a regulated 4.9 VDC @4.8 amps, and is also fan cooled. (Front facing fan)
To prevent burn throughs from burning up the wood table top, I used spray adhesive to mount a sheet of aluminum to the table top. I then painted this flat black and etched a 10mm x 10mm grid into it the size of a sheet of foam board.
Yes I had to give tribute to Flitetest while I was at it.

For controlling the laser:
I went with Lightburn software, https://lightburnsoftware.com/
It was very easy to learn, has terrific support, via Email, and Forum. This is a screenshot of lightburn with a plan ready to laser.
20190303_195506.jpg 20190303_195522.jpg

I went through 5 sheets of foam board just learning the controls and figuring out the correct power/speed combinations.
I can now accurately reproduce 3 different types of cuts.
1) Etch: Just mark the top surface of the paper. This is good for fold types (A, B, C) or part identification.
2) Surface cut: Just cut the top layer of paper. This is good for cutting the lines along where foam will later be removed, or scored such as those used to fold a wing over and produce a leading edge, or where a hinge will be placed.
3) Deep cut: Although I can only cut 1.5mm deep, it leaves a nice easy to trace with a knife line. Very easy to complete the cut and remove the parts from the sheet of foam board. I learned tons about knife control and using a cutting mat.

NO I can not cut 100% all the way through white core foam board. Black core is no problem, can do 100% cuts all day.
Dollar Tree (White paper) and Flite test (Brown paper) require different power and speed settings. Black paper black core requires even different settings.

Why the difference???
It all boils down to wavelength or the color of the laser. At 455 nm (blue in color) white reflects much of the laser light, the white core acts more like clear acrylic to the laser so it melts more than cuts. I could triple the power and pretty much have the same result.
I am looking at trying out a 405 nm laser (purple in color), although the best I can find is only 1.5 watts, the wavelength is better absorbed by the white foam core, and should cut better.

Am I happy with the out come?
Oh hell yes. In about 10 minutes I can take one of Sponz's plans, and have it laid out ready to laser. No more printing plans. No more taping, gluing them in place. No more Opppsss my knife slipped. (still possible much less likely). Crashed and broke a part, no problem, can just laser out the required part. Want to scale it up or down? On every plan sheet is a scale/ruler. Just figure out how much larger, re-arrange a few things and go for it.

In Conclusion:

I am very happy. I have yet another new facet to this hobby. My DR1 is not 100% perfect. few things I did not mark or have cut that I should have. ( have fixed it on my lay out for next time) Not sure what I want to try next, still have my FT A-10 kit to finish.

20190303_154813.jpg View attachment 126473 View attachment 126473 DR1.jpg
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Should also mention that you can use the laser for other things.
This took 3 passes at about 600mm/min.
I think I could do it in 2, but the laser focus was set for foam board, which is a few mm thicker, or closer to the laser
I am also working on etching graphics into slate and other materials.
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Well-known member
Great post, thanks for sharing. I was pondering a needle cutter, but now I need to consider your setup.
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Well-known member
Nice work. Really like the idea of the "deep cut" followed by finishing with a blade as a good (read cheaper) option to CO2. Been sitting on the fence on this forever and I'll probably keep the fence warm for another while but this is great info.
I've been having pretty good success marking out plans using a second hand vinyl cutter I had lying around.

It obviously won't cut all the way through the board, but it makes a nice clean cut through the paper, giving something for your knife to follow. It makes cutting out plans a breeze.

I made a couple of posts about it in this thread, and have planned to make a separate submission next time I do some cutting out (with a video of the process).
Nice bit of work on your part. Only thing I would add is not to forget the eye protection.

Class 1/2 lasers may also require some additional safeguards for local or national agencies.
Nice bit of work on your part. Only thing I would add is not to forget the eye protection.

Class 1/2 lasers may also require some additional safeguards for local or national agencies.
Oh yes totally agree. Notice in the first picture 2 pairs of +5 laser googles and the +5 shield.
My next step is to build an enclosure.

UNREPAIRABLE BLINDNESS. 20190303_195616.jpg
What would you estimate was the total cost for this laser cutting rig?
i I am just over $600.
The cheapest Co2 laser I found that could handle a full sheet of FB was $5220.00 That price did not include delivery or set up, and was used.
The other thing is I can also engrave on wood, leather, and a host of other materials. I am currently engraving this into a hunk of sandstone.
thanks for sharing.
Just a question, I have never tried to cut foam board with laser.
Now I have the opportunity to cut some Poliplat (Carton Plume) (poliurethanic foam with white paper on both faces) similar to dollartree foam.

The laser cutting machine is a CO2 80W one.

I saw many videos and discussion where is said that there are many problems with the foam part of the panel, that evaporates.

look here for example

Did you encounter such problems?


Not easy to give an easy answer that isn’t a bit long winded, but I will take a stab at a very general suggestion.

It starts by what kind of 80w laser do you have... if a Chinese built version (& some others) the laser will not fire till a minimum of 10-13/14%.... or my Chinese one does. This means you will start at a heat level that is maybe too high. I would recommend you do a test area.... do a straight line 1-2” long & then make a few of them with each using slightly different settings.....making sure you have your air turned on....start low... see what will cut through at what settings...l then move the speed up with the same power setting to see what will still cut. This should at least give you an idea. And yes you can adjust to add multiple passes. Remember each machine & laser tube will work a bit differently.

So play around with your machine using the material (foam board) you want to use.
I can add my 2¢ to the CO2 lasers. "Chinese" lasers use a glass tube. They uses high voltage to excite the CO2 gas to produce a beam. Below 15% power setting the power fluctuates and does not give consistent results. The other C02 type is a metal tube laser that uses radio frequencies to produce the beam. Very stable and can run as low as 1% of power. Odds are at 80 watts it is chinese, an 80 watt RF tube is crazy expensive and would only be seen in industrial shops. My 40 watt RF was $14,000 and prices shoot up exponentially as wattage increases. . I would cut circles for test cuts. The nature of the x/y movement of motors "slow" down in curves. If you can cut threw a material in a circle shape you will have no problem with straight lines. I would start lower and keep increasing setting until you cut all the way threw. Unless you know the machine, starting with high power you may get a flair up and catch the material on fire. Set the power at 20% and speed 100%. Either bring power up in 10% increments or slow down in 10% increments until you cut threw.

I watched the video, I assume the biggest "problem" you have read about is the melt back you get with foam. The adams ready board has such thin paper that the melt back is minimal. The thicker type like elmers brand has a lot more melt back because of the power it takes to get there the paper. There are ways to lessen that. Two passes instead of 1 more powerful may help. Using a 4" lens can help too because if cuts better than the standard 2" lens.
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You need to run a power/speed test.
I made a grid of 10 mm squares. 10 x10
Each square was a different power setting and speed setting.
From this you can figure out the settings required for the different type cuts. You will need different settings for the white paper, and the brown paper Flite test foam board.
Sample below:

The Acro 1010 itself is $606 for the full kit, not including the laser. Wouldn't it be closer to the 8-900 range?
Yes I see they have raised their prices some. You can go cheaper, I did not have to get such a large machine. I probably could have gotten parts, ( now that I understand how everything works) I have also figured out how to cut other things besides just foam board. For me, this is a hobby, admittedly a bit of an expensive one. I learned how to assemble and operate a CNC machine. I learned a ton on lasers and wavelength. And now when someone post plans for a cool looking plane, or Flite test comes out with a new one, I can have my own kit in a few hours for $1.00 a sheet.
Should also mention that you can use the laser for other things.
View attachment 126471
This took 3 passes at about 600mm/min.
I think I could do it in 2, but the laser focus was set for foam board, which is a few mm thicker, or closer to the laser
I am also working on etching graphics into slate and other materials.
Wait, you had to focus it? So this isn't a real laser, just a focused beam?
All lasers require optics to focus the beam.
If you think about an hour glass, the point that is the smallest is the focal point of the laser beam. As you cut into the material, the focal point changes, so you must lower the laser closer to the target to maintain a tight focus.