Lasers are not quite the technological wonders that science fiction movies make them out to be, but they do have plenty of highly practical applications. In addition to being useful for purely visual purposes, as with compact pointing devices, lasers can be powered up enough that they can cut or engrave a wide variety of materials.
In fact, highly capable laser cutting machines have become affordable enough that even small-business owners and hobbyists can often justify purchasing them. There are many ways to put an entry-level laser cutter to interesting, productive use.
Energetic packets of Light Can Cut Like a Knife or Saw
A laser beam consists of photons that have been aligned with regard to their direction of travel and focused on a small area. How much power is contained within a laser beam will influence how it interacts with the materials it comes in contact with.
A beam that contains relatively little power will simply reflect off most surfaces or can even be largely absorbed by them. Every such collision, though, results in the generation of heat, as with almost any kind of energetic phenomenon.
When a laser beam is powerful enough, its impact with a surface can produce enough heat to start burning away molecules of the targeted material. This process of ablation can be accelerated to the point that a sufficiently powerful laser beam can cut right through even a thick sheet of metal.
An Especially Versatile Way to Cut or Engrave
Compared to entirely physical, less technologically advanced alternatives, cutting or engraving using a laser tends to be quite a bit more precise. While tools like saws and knives interact with materials at an essentially macroscopic level, the heat produced by a laser beam works molecule by molecule.
This helps make lasers especially versatile when they are configured to function as cutting and engraving tools. Whereas physical implements used to cut stock will often be designed and selected to work best with particular materials, a single laser device can normally be used with a variety of materials.
Combined with the fact that laser cutting machines have become so affordable, this has helped make them well suited to many small businesses and even individual buyers. Although lasers are not as magical as movies sometimes make them seem, they can be highly practical and functional.