You're probably familiar with laser cutters, if only because of indelible images like Sean Connery strapped to a table as a red beam slowly makes its way toward his crotch. But in practical use, the fire hazard and intense power draw can keep reliable laser cutting out of the hands of most non-supervillains. The same can also be said for water jet cutting, which uses a focused stream of water to slice things up. It's extremely effective and relatively safer -- for starters, there's no chance of setting the thing you're cutting aflame. Unfortunately, it's also pretty big and expensive. That is, until today, with the launch of the Wazer desktop water jet cutter. It's small but still powerful enough to cut through a Rolex, and it hits Kickstarter today for a (relatively) affordable $3,599. Now, both makers and wannabe supervillains alike can enjoy the benefits of waterjet cutting from the convenience of their garages.
Gallery: Wazer desktop water jet cutter | 16 Photos
Gallery: Wazer desktop water jet cutter | 16 Photos
Wazer is a project from Nisan Lerea and Matthew Nowicki, two UPenn and Biolite alumni currently working out of the HAX accelerator in Shenzhen, China. They love building things but noticed that cost and size keep a lot of useful equipment out of reach of small businesses and hobbyists. Water jet machines have an advantage over other cutters because they don't need ventilation and result in a smooth surface finish. But they usually cost more than $10,000, with larger models going for as much as $100,000. And then there's the size: They're usually standalone units that can measure 10 feet long. So it's unlikely that someone working out of their residence is going to buy one, much less even get it through the door. The team at Wazer worked to create something that could be built cheaper and be a lot more portable: At two feet deep and three feet wide, the Wazer cutter fits on a standard workbench or even a desk.
There is a pump that needs to be placed nearby as well, but it's still fairly compact -- about the size of a small ottoman. Obviously, you need water, so the Wazer will require access to a water source and a place to dump the liquid once it's been spent. An industrial sink will do nicely. But overall, the Wazer is fairly easy to set up. It's been built with some durability in mind: You still won't want to drop it on the floor, but you can move it around a bit without putting all the parts out of whack.
On the outside the Wazer is a large, rounded gray box with a clear lid -- the better to see what you're cutting. The Wazer won't actually start unless the lid is closed, and should stop cutting if the lid is opened, so accidents are unlikely. (While shooting our video this failsafe was turned off so the camera could get a better shot at the cutting process, but everyone was wearing goggles because safety is important, people.)
Inside the box you'll find the nozzle for the water, connected via a hose, as well as a small vacuum tube to mix in the abrasive material. Many water jet cutters don't just use water to cut, but rather a mixture of H2O and a sand-like material called garnet that you can buy at any industrial supplier. The mixture is forced through the nozzle, where it wears away at whatever you're trying to cut. The cutting time varies by object; something soft like steak is no match for the Wazer, and even carbon fiber is pretty quick. Items like stone and metal will take longer: The piece of tile they cut for us took about 10 minutes, while metal items like a knife required almost two hours for all the parts.
However, it's not just the material that affects cutting time. There's also the shape to consider -- something you design using any software that generates .svg or .dxf files, like AutoCAD, SketchUp or Adobe Illustrator. (The Wazer does not have its own custom design software.) Those designs can be some fairly simple, like a blade, or they can be something more complex, like a bicycle gear. While we there, the team cut us a Geodude out of ceramic tile (Pokémon outlines are pretty distinctive so I was able to recognize it once the nozzle started working on the right arm). The machine is also capable of fine, detailed work -- on display were a series of pennies with the space around Lincoln's head cut out.
The Wazer doesn't draw as much power as traditional water jet cutters and definitely less than laser cutters -- you can plug it into standard 110V outlets, with the pump unit drawing 1500W and the machine itself going at 250W. Two-hundred and fifty watts is about what a grow light consumes, and 1500W is equivalent to many space heaters. The circuit breaker blew a few times during our demo, but we were working with a prototype unit in a workshop with a few other machines running next to a whole office full of computers -- a scenario you're unlikely to duplicate.
Just like the impact 3D printing has had on industries like aerospace, medicine and fashion, a desktop water jet cutter like the Wazer could make a difference for hobbyists and small businesses. At $3,599 on Kickstarter it's a reasonable investment for something that lets you cut your own replacement parts, craft custom blades or even make jewelry to sell on Etsy.