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What precautions need to be taken when using a laser cutter inside a house versus in a garage, shed, or workshop?

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Here are some safety concerns that should be considered no matter where you are using your machine.

  1. Ventilation - You should make sure that you are properly venting the fumes away from the machine and the user.  Generally this is done by a ventilation system that exhausts outdoors using a quality fan but if that's not an option, you can buy a fume extractor unit, or even build your own.
  2. Exposure - It is easy to become complacent but do not let your guard down regarding the danger the laser poses to your eyes and skin.  This is especially true for the diode lasers due to their frequency and any lasers that are not enclosed.  You only get one pair of eyes, so do not take chances.  Always wear eye protection around the laser.  See this related question.  Also, always be sure the machine is off before you open the lid and never bypass the safety switches.
  3. Electrical Fires - Some of the laser cutters on the market are built with cheaper components or are designed for a different voltage than what's used in your country.  Make sure the wiring in the system is properly rated.  Also, make sure your fire extinguisher is rated for electrical fires.
  4. Material Fires - The material that you're engraving or especially cutting can catch on fire.  When you're cutting or engraving a material you are often burning it.  If and when it catches on fire you want to be prepared.  A CO2 fire extinguisher will allow you to fight a fire while not destroying your machine with foam, water, or otherwise.
  5. Material Hazards - Not all materials are safe to use in a laser cutter.  A common example is vinyl, which is a chlorinated material and therefore releases chlorine gas when burned.  This is toxic for humans and will destroy your machine.  For any material, read the Manufacturer's Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) before using it with your laser cutter.
  6. Never leave the machine - You should never leave the machine operating without someone nearby.  You never know when a fire or other hazard will occur and when it happens every second counts.
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