It has been lovely to see the tabletop role-playing and war gaming communities embrace all the nerdy stuff that I love to play with. The problem is some folks are not taking safety precautions.
First was 3D printing, which has gone from being a weird fringe fascination to almost at the point of saying it is approaching becoming mainstream.
At my local game club, there are starting to be conversations about playing 3D printed proxies, no longer just terrain pieces and objective markers, etc. Zero to almost commonplace in a couple of years.
Certainly, digital fabrication feels “popular” now, if you judge by Kickstarter and Patreon alone. For perpetually online folks like me, it often feels commonplace.
But now it is laser cutters and engravers.
Which is exciting!
The problem is, people seem much more careful about handling 3D printer resin than the dangers of laser engravers. I guess resin looks and smells toxic, but huffing laser fumes can feel like no worse than sitting around a camp fire and that … that could be a problem.
Laser Cutters in Tabletop Gaming
Most of us will have at least seen MDF terrain and other laser-cut accessories in our gaming hobby.
MDF terrain is super popular, especially at organized events where a lot of tables to fill in a short space of time. It looks good, is excellent value for money, and takes paint well.
You will probably have also seen laser-cut tokens, dice holders/trays, and measuring tools. Even some popular (and expensive) gaming brand accessories are made this way. Laser cutters, along with CNC routers, are how hobby storage solutions and gaming tables are made.
For myself, I use a combination of 3D printing and lasers (plus my CNC machines eventually when my workshop is back fully in working operation).
Here is my advertising billboard for Gaslands first as a 3D print and then in wood, interpreted by Piotr for mass production on his 80W laser.
The Problem with Lasers in Tabletop
Unfortunately, a lot of people who are getting into laser cutters via the hobby are doing so on the basis of YouTubers who are new to it themselves. This wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem, the situation is different here because the manufacturers are not being entirely honest.
To laser engrave or laser cut your laser needs to be enclosed. Period.
YouTubers are being mostly sent diode lasers that are wide open. Sometimes they are sent protective eyewear.
This is a problem for two reasons:
- Lasers burn – It is amazing how blase a lot of YouTubers are about setting a laser burning flammable material and then walking away. At the intensity of a laser, a lot of stuff you wouldn’t think could set fire can do. Our maker space in Calgary got donated a laser because the previous owner set a cut going that burned down his factory.
- Lasers burn you – Laser light can blind, and light bounces off surfaces. Your eyewear might protect you, but what about pets, family, etc? OK so you rush everyone out of the room and lock the door … which leads us to …
- Adequate ventilation – When lasers burn to mark or cut they let fly all the little burned particles and chemicals that are released. This is nasty stuff to inhale. Your body will tell you with coughing and stinging eyes that it is not good. That shit needs to be either heavily filtered or put outside. Even things that don’t give off noxious chemicals or carcinogens might be at a tiny particulate scale that is still nasty to get into your lungs. Just avoid.
Safe is Fun
I don’t want anyone to be put off. Diode lasers can be amazing, I love my XTool D1 Pro and they are a great value entry into the world of lasering.