Okay, Norm may have his laser-guided saw, but Ken Trott uses lasers for serious woodworking. While there’s been a lot of press lately about the new Craftsman compound miter saw, Ken bypasses the saw altogether.
His company specializes in laser engraving of wood projects, but he also uses the laser to do some of his cutting for him. The two lasers he’s got in his shop can cut up 1/2″ thick ash, but he admits that edges get a little crispy at that thickness. The laser doesn’t so much cut the wood as vaporize it. So we imagine that relieves a lot of the strain on his dust collection system.
Mostly, however, Ken uses the lasers for engraving. He can take a picture, scan it into his computer, render it in black and white, and the laser system he uses will engrave it into wood. The engravings are between 1/16″ and 1/32″ deep and can be created on surfaces as large as a table and as small as a bottle cap. Last year, in fact, Ken did 50,000 bottle tops for a wine company with the logo burned into the wood. He’s even done small tags for gourmet cooking oils with pictures of the herb on the front and all the ingredients engraved on the back.
Ken has always been a woodworker, at least as long as he can remember. He started his business in 1982 but didn’t get the lasers until 1995. At that point in his business, he was doing custom signs and furniture for a chain of retail stores. He was doing about 50 stores a year and the chain had 300 stores around the country. “We just figured we better have something out of the ordinary. Otherwise we would be just a run of the mill woodworking shop with not much to do,” says Ken. So he started doing the laser engraving.
He’s got a 125 Watt and 43 Watt laser and both work on a CNC system. One has a stationary table and the laser moves around, guided by the computer. The other uses a stationary laser and moving table.
All of his work is now with companies like Lacoste and Izod. He makes signs and display tables for businesses all over the world. He’s also working on tables of his own, hoping to find the right market for them. He just won an award from the Northern New England Trade Association for a checker table he’s designed. It has a checkerboard pattern in the middle and is bordered with the names and paw prints of different hunting dogs (a Walker Coon Hound, an Irish Setter, etc.). Ken himself has three hunting dogs.
In terms of woods, he prefers basswood. That seems to take the engraving best. He also works with a lot of cherry and maple and built a series of display cases for Mercedes dealership in cherry. In terms of finishing, he can do the engraving either before the finish goes on or after. He likes lacquer best because it dries so fast (remember those 50,000 bottle caps).
– Bob Filipczak