A laser cutter works by following a predefined path to cut the material underneath. Industrial grade CO2 lasers use the “traditional method” shown below because they have sufficient power range (20-100 Watts) to cut through steel like butter. But, of course, they’re expensive so when you need a laser cutter that’s within a DIY-ers budget, you learn to innovate:
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The ‘reciprocating laser’ idea uses a low power, 1W IR diode (less than $5 on eBay) to create which moves the focal point of the laser along the Z-axis according to the depth of the material. The focus of the beam is manually adjusted (for this version of the build) so that the laser steadily bores through the depth of the material. The up and down motion makes the whole laser cutting process much slower, but hey, you can’t argue with the price.
The result is an inexpensive, 3-axis laser cutter. Check out full details on the experimental reciprocating laser cutter.