About four years ago, my life changed in that I first got access to a laser cutter that I could use. Up until this point I’d been aware that they were a thing, but they were out there with basically all other industrial tooling as “something for other people”. It was also about this time that I got my first real-world exposure to consumer 3D printers, although that was more of an experience of expectation management as filament-based 3D printers are still pretty naff at fine detail.
Access to a laser cutter suddenly exposed me to a whole gamut of new creative opportunities and for the first time, I could create something in CAD and very quickly have it in front of me as a physical object. Almost overnight my creative output exploded.
Pretty quickly after this, I realised that people wanted the things that I was making and I started selling various designs in small quantities. This was the sea-change moment for me, the realisation that other people could value my creative output enough to pay me for it.
Of course the major problem with the laser cutter was that it was one of the communal tools at London Hackspace, and as such I was expected to share it with other people. This wasn’t a problem with the tool, or even how the tool was run, but it limited what I could do with it. On several occasions I’d show up and not get to use it because other people had gotten onto it first. But it helped that the hackspace was also a social destination.
If I was to extend my creative (and commercial) practice with the laser cutter, I needed guaranteed access. Without it, I could’t get the number of orders I needed to justify the expense of buying my own laser cutter. It was a self fulfilling prophesy. I slowly backed off from making laser cut model kits as the bottom of the market fell out, with groups like TTCombat and Wargames Tournaments cornering the market with cheap kits. I still kept doing stuff with the laser, and broadened my creative practice as well as working on stuff just for me.
Fast forward to 2019 after I’d moved to Nottingham and I’d suddenly got the space run large pieces of machinery in my house. The opportunity presented itself to purchase a second hand unit off of a friend of a friend for a very reasonable price. Fast forward about a week and it was there in my workshop and my bank account was considerably lighter.
It was like a second renaissance in the impact it had on my creative output. Whilst even after I’d moved to Nottingham, I’d still had access to a laser cutter at Nottingham Hackspace (and I am still a member although now more for philosophical than practical reasons) having 24/7 access to one made a world of difference.
It has allowed me to reignite both my creative and commercial practices, given me the tools to kickstart my business and presented me with opportunities I’d previously never dreamed of. Even five years ago, the idea that I might be able to own a machine like this was science fiction. It makes me wonder, what will be normal to me in five years time that seems impossible today?