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Why the xTOOLM1 Hybrid Laser Cutter and Blade Cutter is Great for Home Crafters / The Beading Gem

Why the xTOOLM1 Hybrid Laser Cutter and Blade Cutter is Great for Home Crafters / The Beading Gem

When I first started laser cutting several years ago, I had visions about teaching this technique. But back then, laser cutters were very expensive. So I was content to make wood cuts, and still do, for other jewelry makers here

In the last year or so, laser cutters literally exploded in popularity with the arrival of much more affordable and versatile machines. So when xTool contacted me and asked if I would like to review their new hybrid machine, the xToolM1, the answer was a resounding yes!

xTool was founded by Jasen Wang, an enthusiastic creator himself. He found turning a creative idea into reality was not easy.  His first project back in 2012 was MakeBlock which included robotic modules and coding software for educational purposes. His company made their first laser cutter in 2019 and now produce a number of different kinds of laser cutters. 

Their truly innovative xToolM1 was launched in 2021 and was successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter.

I will share why I think the xToolM1 laser cutter/blade cutter is great for the home crafter and also for some professionals.  Also check out my companion review video on the xToolM1 below, which includes clips of the laser cutter in action and other demos.  This blog post though, goes into greater depth.


I am focusing on laser cutting wood initially to keep this review manageable. This is the first of a blog tutorial series on laser cutting for beginners. I will be covering engraving, other materials and projects in the future.

COST
“How much” is the first thing most people ask! This hybrid machine has a list price tag of $2,010. It currently costs $1399 on sale.  It can laser cut as well as blade cut. The latter is for materials such as PVC or other materials which cannot be laser cut. 

So you are getting both a laser cutter and something like a Cricut or Silhouette all in one.  A Cricut Maker 3 now costs $429 and while good, this kind of die cutter cannot cut wood (except the very very thin sheets) and other thicker materials like acrylic, nor can it engrave. The xToolM1 is indeed a sweet deal when you consider its two-in-one functionality and versatility.

QUALITY & SAFETY
I found this a well designed and built machine. It is a FDA certified Class 1 device – such devices “present minimal potential for harm to the user and are often simpler in design than Class II or Class III devices.” The blue light filtering orange colored lid has to remain down when laser cutting as that will protect the eyes. Another golden rule is never leave a laser cutter unattended while in operation. 


SIZE & LOCATION
The next issue most home crafters are concerned about is space and where to locate it.  It is a truly compact model, just a little larger than a home printer. It measures about 22 x 19 x 9 inches. The workspace inside means you can cut something as large as 15″ by 12″ – that is plenty for most home crafters.

I have placed my Cricut on top for comparison:  

As you can see, I have it on a desk on the main floor of my house. Many people also have these machines in their basements. Wherever you have an available desk in a spare room.  Note, it’s not something you can frequently move around.  

The other important consideration is the venting process. The fumes generated by cutting materials like wood have to exit via an exhaust tube.  The easiest way is to vent directly outside. So a nearby window is best. 

If you do not have a window nearby, then consider xTool’s smoke purifier accessory which is basically a filter. 

All filters need changing and as that is an additional expense, I prefer to vent directly outside. But having the window opened during winter lets out the heat and in the summer, the air con air. Not to mention wily cats who might escape. Or unwanted birds and other creatures coming in.

So what we did (a joint project with my husband) was to install a clear polycarbonate window “pane” to the casement window.  I can now open and close the window when I need to but  I can still see out.This “pane” is not permanent as caulking was used to keep it in place and can be removed in the future should it become necessary. Please see my video tutorial on how to do this

EASY TO INSTALL 

This cutter is virtually plug and play. Minimal assembly. The provided ducting has to be attached to the machine.  One of the provided blades is quickly loaded in its housing – super easy as is with the Cricut blade. The housing simply attaches magnetically to the laser and blade unit.

Once the venting is set up, connect the power cord to the machine and use the USB cord to connect to your computer. 

Then download the software called the xTool Creative Space , turn on the machine and click on the CONNECT DEVICE. You can then switch from USB to Wifi so you don’t have to have the computer next to the xToolM1. From then on, every time you turn on the cutter, open Creative Space, all you do is click on REFRESH and the cutter and the computer will be connected. REFRESH also brings up a camera view of the workspace. Having a camera view makes things easy as you can see the project on the computer. Easy peasy.

EASY TO USE
The clean design and simple layout of the software is impressive, both of which makes this cutter easy to use, even if you have never used a laser cutter before. I am reminded of the layout of Cricut’s software. 

I used one of my lotus vector shapes for this example. Cricut users will be familiar with the use of SVG files. See my video on how to place the 3 mm basswood sheet on the prism rods. The latter protects the base plate from laser damage as well as allows more air flow below the wood sheet.

There are two important groups of settings which will govern the machine’s operation. I added my chosen SVG via IMAGE. Clicking on the element allows me to drag it to where I want it to be on the sheet. It also brings up the first group of settings. On the right column, the software knows it is a vector. You then tell the machine that you definitely want it to cut rather than engrave or score.  

The 3 things the laser cutter needs set is the % power, the speed in mm/s at which to cut and how many passes to make. All these will depend on the material being used. You can set your own but xTool has a reference list of common materials. So I selected the one for 3 mm basswood (in the second group of settings) which should be 100% power, 5 speed and 1 pass.

When the element is deselected, a different group of settings appears on the right column.  This machine is capable of cutting and engraving in the round for e.g. tumblers and rings. The rotary tool is an additional accessory. So start with the basic flat setting and select 3 mm basswood from the reference list. You can also use an approximate reference material for something similar. 3mm birch wood also works with the basswood setting.

If engraving, you don’t need to have the sheet raised on the prism rods. You can place the wood sheet or whatever right on the base plate. But as I am cutting, I had it raised.  (If you do not know the thickness of the material, click on the ruler).  Before pressing on PROCESS, always run FRAMING – a dummy run to double check where the laser is going to cut. Then press PROCESS and the button in front of the machine and let it do its thing – make sure the vent is out the window or the smoke purifier is on first!


PERFORMANCE & LIMITATIONS
Having the camera is so useful as you can place elements precisely where you want it to be for e.g. avoiding areas which have already been cut. The auto focus function of the laser (you see it as a red dot on the material being cut) saves a sometimes fiddly step. All lasers have to be focused every time you use it in order to get optimal performance. 

This laser cutter works very well but it is not a fast one due to its 10W diode laser. Diode lasers are not as fast as CO2 lasers – the other popular type of laser in the market today. In my tests, the same lotus design I cut out on the xToolM1 took approximately 109 seconds vs 11 seconds on the 40W CO2 laser cutter in the local MakerSpace studio. But this should not be an issue for small production runs. A small run of 6 large wood rings with two holes took me under 15 minutes. I sometimes do small custom orders so I don’t need to have a large inventory.

But the diode laser lasts a long, long time – 25,000-50,000 hours compared to that of a CO2 laser at 5,000-8,000 hours of use before it needs to be changed. 

The exhaust fan was efficient which together with the slower cutting speed resulted in much less scorching than that caused by the large laser cutter (a Trotec 360 Speedy) I use in my local MakerSpace studio. You can see the difference between the xToolM1 cut on the right to the group cut with the Trotec on the left.

Laser cut wood often have scorch marks caused by the hot fumes and debris being dragged across the wood when the exhaust fan works during venting. This scorching is easily removed with some sanding which is necessary anyway, to prepare the wood for painting or staining. 

The xToolM1 can cut opaque acrylic sheets but not the clear or translucent ones. But there are easy workarounds which I will test out in the future.

Neither diode or CO2 lasers are powerful enough to cut metal. Only fibre lasers can do that and the price tag is way, way higher. So don’t even think about those types of lasers. But you can engrave on metal!! This laser cutter can engrave stainless steel and coated metal like anodized aluminum but it’s not powerful enough to engrave precious metals. 

AVAILABLE RESOURCES
Using this laser/blade cutter is actually the easy part. What is harder is designing the elements you wish to cut or engrave. You may also need help to jumpstart your creativity.  Fortunately, there are so many resources you can use to get inspiration.

There are tons of SVG vector files you can get if digital drawing is not your forte. I have a small but growing collection but there are other designers on Etsy and on Creative Fabrica

Examples from xTool

xTool has a useful beginner guide, several free projects for wood etc,  as well as three Facebook groups. Make sure you join the OFFICIAL xTool ones because I have spotted some pretty spammy groups. The official xToolM1 group is this one – an excellent group!

I have joined those groups as well as other general laser cutting groups as the community is quite helpful in sharing tips and tricks. And Youtube itself is filled with many other tutorials and so on.

A useful community site is Thingiverse (they also share 3D printed files etc).

MAINTENANCE
I think it’s important to understand what sort of maintenance is required for any instrument. Any tricky maintenance steps might be a deal breaker for some. Fortunately, the xToolM1 is very easy to maintain.  

Use a mini vacuum with a small nozzle to suck out left over bits of cut wood and dust after every use. Any tar like substance (from leftover from wood sap, veneer glue) on the base plate and prism rods can be removed with rubbing alcohol – 90% isopropanol is better than 70%. I actually found using 50% vinegar much more effective but be careful –  DO NOT spray directly into the machine as it can cause damage. I added the cleaner to a paper towel first. Then go over with rubbing alcohol also on a paper towel to remove all residues.

The shafts where the laser housing moves on, will need greasing from time to time. You also need to clean the laser itself periodically – an error message will come up to let you know when it is time. And if you use this machine for tens of thousands of hours of use, eventually, the diode laser itself will need to be changed.

ACCESSORIES
There are accessories which can be useful, depending on what you want to do. Here are some worth considering to expand the usefulness of this machine. I will demonstrate the use of some of these in the future. I’ve already mentioned the smoke purifier for those who require venting assistance.  

The Air Assist is the one I highly recommend as the additional push of air means there is absolutely no scorching.  

The Riser Base and Honeycomb panel is also useful for several reasons. You can have the whole cutter raised and still be enclosed for engraving say, a wooden jewelry box. The honeycomb panel also allows better air flow and reduces scorching. The honeycomb gives more support to light materials fabric or paper, or slight warped wood sheets which can be held down with the provided magnetic clips to keep the work in place. 

I haven’t yet tried the xTool’s Rotary tool but it is possible to engrave not just large tumblers, glasses, ceramic mugs but small rings too!  It’s best to use it inside the riser base because everything is enclosed.  If not, the rotary tool comes with 4 wood blocks to raise the machine, Watch this promotional video :


Another truly innovative accessory is xTool’s screen printing accessory for their various laser cutters including the xToolM1. This allows you to laser engrave your own designs onto the silk screens. (The engrave areas allows the ink to go through). 

While we think of screen printing for fabrics, t-shirts and other artworks, screen printing can also be used for jewelry – usually polymer clay work. See my past tutorial on how I used silk screens and acrylic paint to print on stiff plastic which is then made into resin jewelry. You can also use custom silk screens to apply artwork to larger sections of wood sheets which can then be laser cut into shapes – rather like slab polymer clay work. 

                                                           

CONCLUSIONS
Highly recommended, especially for laser cutting newbies and those on a budget.

This versatile, innovative and easy to use hybrid cutter is definitely perfect for home crafters who want start laser cutting and create a very wide range of craft projects, not just jewelry making. It can cut and/or engrave so much more than what I have already mentioned. Make your own custom rubber stamps, cork or slate coaster engraves, glass engraving, screen printing, cut mylar sheets for custom stencils and so on. The creative possibilities are endless! 

It will also suit professionals who do not need a large cutter or a very fast one – these will cost a lot more.  The lower price of the xToolM1 means the investment cost can be recouped quicker.  

If a higher speed or a larger bed size is needed for a small business, take a look at their other machines. The xToolF1 (dual laser – infrared and diode) is particularly impressive – it’s very small (small enough to take to a craft show for custom engraving), very fast and you can engrave gold etc. It is, however, a bit more expensive than the xToolM1. Something to consider if you already have a die cutter like the Cricut.




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Disclosure 

This blog may contain affiliate links. I do receive a small fee for any products purchased through affiliate links. This goes towards the support of this blog and to provide resource information to readers. The opinions expressed are solely my own. They would be the same whether or not I receive any compensation. 

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