Aug 282008

Confirmed: Moleskine notebooks contain PVC or other chlorinated plastics. Do not laser cut them for your safety and the safety of your laser cutter.

Adam brought his laptop in to etch today. As we all know, laser cutting PVC is bad and releases chlorine gas (which is corrosive and bad for you and your machine.) Adam’s laptop was made of an unknown polymer, and we wanted to make sure we didn’t damage our new lazzzor. Luckily, there is an easy way to determine if a plastic is okay to etch. Watch the video below, and check out this guide to polymer identification for full details. There is actually a suite of tests you use to determine the type of plastic, but the burning one is the most fun, as well as the one that detects chlorine. Enjoy!

Polymer Identification by Burnination from Zach 'Iowa' Hoeken on Vimeo.

 Posted by at 12:23 am
  • phooky

    Oh god. That’s… that’s really what my voice sounds like, isn’t it.

    I’m going to laser-etch my trachea next.

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  • Oh yeah, I hear yah; it’s always disturbing to see/hear yourself (though I suppose you can get used to it with practice).

    I see myself in pics or video and I’m always, omg, what dork!

  • Oh yeah, Chlorine; for extra credit in junior high science class, I made a quart jar of chlorine. My teacher, clearly, was an idiot.

    When I aired it out after class, a huge mistake, I ended up with the most amazing headache.

  • Dave

    If Chlorine is bad, Fluorine should also be bad. Thus, you probably shouldn’t burn/laser-etch Teflon:

    But, the question is, what will the flame test response be for Fluorine?

  • winnie

    i love you, phooky. you are the awesome.

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  • phooky

    PTFE appears to be reasonably safe. Fluorine is so electronegative I doubt our puny laser can pry it from whatever it’s currently bound to.

    • Richard

      Never burn PTFE, it's fumes are cacinogenic, maybe fluorine?

      • osnos

        Fluorine is correct. Which, with the available hydrogen in the atmosphere (moisture), will form hydrofluoric acid. It will likely fog up your glass optics. Don't burn PTFE.

  • Seth Morabito

    Phooky, you’re famous! And to think I knew you when you were a NOBODY.

  • Arthur

    here’s the chemistry basis… the copper ions from the solid copper wire combines with the freed up chloride (in the burnt plastic) to form copper chloride… which burns green:

  • Arthur

    also remember that a propane torch releases CO (ie: carbon monoxide) which is poisonous. If you get a headache while burning “safe non-PVC’s”, it could be because of the CO.

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  • Darin

    thanks for putting this up, as a pipefitter/welder, I’m all the time put in positions where things around me get burned up, now I can at least test some of them to know what I should absolutely have removed before I get at what I’m working on directly. The air I breathe sometimes is bad enough, I certainly don’t need chlorine too.

  • GREAT info on keeping us from being dead! We’ll use this flame test here at TechShop to be sure no one kills us all in a cloud of Chlorine gas with one of our 2 laser cutters!


  • Ernie

    How much would it cost to perform a burn test of some heavy cardboard? I need to determine the degree of scorching it will suffer if I use it to laser cut a design.


  • shiiitt??

    whoa whoa whoa wait i got these lighters from beijing that are shaped like olympic torches that light green fire….shit? or is something else causing green fire?

    • RoganGunn

      No, don't worry – there are LOADS of different greens caused by various elements.

      In those lighters they use a metal compound to give off certain colours. Vibrant green is nickel and it's compounds/salts, or bluey-green may be a copper compound. All the harmful stuff would be too expensive to put on a cheapo lighter. (E.g. Barium or Boron compounds.)

      There's an admittedly incomplete list here:

      Hope this helps! Though you should have paid attention in chemistry at school… 😉

  • Jerry Rutherford

    Very nicely done. I have been looking up the data sheets, etc. This is a good quick test. Thanks! (I have a 35w Epilog laser) I wonder how SPECTAR plastic will react? It smells VERY sweet… and even a tiny amount will make you woozy… so it is likely VERY BAD to burn it. but you can heat form it very well.

  • Anonymous Coward

    Thanks for posting this! This video says that laser cutting ABS is “safe”.


    Laser cutting/etching of ABS produces hydrogen cyanide. Yes, the same stuff they use to execute people in a gas chamber.

    • Nathan

      ABS is safe to cut, and does not contain chlorine

      • anonymous coward

        I didn’t say ABS – > chlorine. I said ABS – > hydrogen cyanide which is much worse and easier to kill yourself with without knowing you’re hurting yourself. Its like CO but much more potent. Go look at the Wikipedia page for ABS. I have many years of experience in the laser industry. Please don’t give safety advice if you’re not qualified to do so. Just because you haven’t killed yourself yet doesn’t mean that someone else reading this can’t beat you to it.