HOLY COW, Let’s Burn Some Leather!

HOLY COW, Let’s Burn Some Leather!

Every time I start a new project, especially on a material I’ve never used, I have this moment of panic.  “I don’t want to screw this up!”  Regardless of the material, I always get a little extra for a test before I start the “official” project.

Today is all about leather.  I have found, leather has the potential to give you a little hiccup every once in a while. There are so many different types, styles, thicknesses, and colors.  Running tests will help you dial in your settings before going full production.

I am working on a project for my school’s track coach.  He asked me to etch and cut out patches.  He brought me some leather samples and asked me to try and make this happen with the cheapest leather possible.  Now, I’m all about the cheap… But in this situation, I know absolutely nothing about the leather samples he brought me.  I can only glean a few details from what is printed on the back of the samples.

What I know:

  1. They are vegetable-tanned leather samples.
  2. The pieces range between 2 to 8 oz.
  3. Coach wants it done on the cheap!

Disclaimer:  I’m not a leather expert!  (If you couldn’t tell by now.)  My philosophy is, if it can etch… I’ll give it a go!

My goal in most projects is to run the laser at the fastest speed and lowest power setting to; 1 - Extend the life of the laser, and 2 - Produce the most desirable outcome.  After all, Time is Money!

Equipment Setup:  Ortur Laser master 2 Pro with the LU2-10A Diode Laser.  Lightburn set to Inches/mm/min

I picked a middle-of-the-road setting for etching and cutting to start.  For the most part, I’m happy with where I’m at.

To test a sample, I like to use my own method of “etch and cut.”  This could be looked at as a modified Norton Tile Grid.  I have done the Norton Tile Grid for etching and then run it again for cutting.  I prefer to narrow down my settings and run this modified version.  If I like what I see, then I keep the sample for reference.  If I don’t, then I regroup and rerun.

Sample #1

Etching Leather with an Ortur 10W

This sample was labeled as 4 / 5 oz.  When measured for thickness, it’s about 1.5mm.

So, what did I learn from this sample?  The etching circles across the top, which I forgot to label when running the sample, were etched at 7000 mm/min.  I like how they turned out.  The settings are within my margins of acceptability.  

On the other hand, cutouts across the bottom are not!  Since this is a thin piece, I should have started a little more conservatively with these settings.  In hindsight, I should have started with 1 pass on each speed.  Then I could have seen how far into the sample the laser cut and then I could have adjusted from there.

Sample #2

Engraving on leather with Ortur Laser

This sample was labeled as 8 oz which was just over 4 mm in thickness.  The top circle etchings look good. While you can’t see all the details in the photos, the etchings on this sample were just slightly different than Sample 1.  But it brings to light, different types of leather will burn slightly differently.

Now for the cutouts on the bottom.  If this was the actual leather piece I am using, my next step would be to run another test on the cutout.  But it’s not all for a loss.  Here is what I learned from this test.

  1. Depth of cut for each setting.  Strangely enough, I found the magical settings that cut all the circles at the same depth with power, speed, and passes for this type of leather.
  2. This does show you what not to do when etching a line.  (Always try to see the positive in every project!)  Too many passes at 1K scorches the edge of the line.  

Sample #3

leather cutting with Ortur 10W laser

I originally ran my test on a thicker piece, but after acquiring a thinner sample of the same leather, I am very happy with my test.

Disclaimer on this sample:  I ran the settings on the bottom first.  I didn’t want to take it off the bed because I wanted to test it again without losing my spacing.  If I had taken it off the bed, I would have looked at the back and realized how close I was to cut all the way through on the bottom settings. (see picture below)

Ortur laser cutting Leather

What I learned from this final sample for my project:

  1.  I like the 10000 mm/min etching.  I think this will help with some parts of the design.  
  2. Cutout passes at this power setting will be fine for what I’m doing, with one major precaution.  I am running a countertop hobby laser.  When ramping the speed way up and trying to cut a shape, you might see some distortions.  I had a few.  Double-check your belts and make sure everything is properly tensioned before starting.  This will save you a lot of headaches later on down the road.

You can never be too sure of what you know.  After all these sample tests, there is one thing I am positive about…

I will always be on the hunt for the perfect settings!

Work Hard!  Do your best!  Have Fun!


This article was written by Josh the Dad. Make sure to follow and learn from his Instagram channel.


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