Written by Nick Biederman
Diode lasers have been around for a while now, but that doesn’t mean they’re not constantly innovating. Last year we took a look at TwoTrees’ Totem S. The Totem S uses an open frame design, which tend to be inexpensive and easy to produce but lack some important safety features. They also tend to use low power laser sources, resulting in long processing times. CO2 lasers resolve many of the safety issues present with open frame diode lasers and provide much more power but are bulky, expensive, and difficult to set up. The xTool S1 aims to bridge the gap between the two.
The xTool S1 provides a big power upgrade over many other diode lasers. It’s available with a 20- or 40-watt laser head. The 40-watt head uses six eight-watt diodes compressed into a single beam to provide more power than a single diode. This allows it to cut through wood up to 15mm (⅝”) thick. There’s also an IR laser head available for marking metal. It’s worth noting that the power can’t be directly compared to CO2 lasers, as diode lasers are rated based on the power they consume, while CO2 lasers are rated based on their output power.
Multiple laser source options give the S1 a wide range of capabilities
The S1 is equipped with an effective autofocus system. You initiate the autofocus process with the head positioned over the material. A probe on the head measures the distance to the surface of the material. The head then moves to the rear right corner where it measures its home position and resets the probe.
After probing the material, the head moves to the upper right corner to reset the probe and set the Z height.
The probe doesn’t apply much force to the material. I was concerned it would push too hard to work well on soft materials like felt and paper (we’ll get into testing in a bit), but that wasn’t an issue. It’s held on with two magnets, so it will come off instead of being damaged if it crashes into something.
Thanks to the probe’s magnetic attachment system it won’t be damaged if it crashes.
The S1 is able to probe curved objects to create a map of the surface and engrave it. While I was not able to test this feature, it should work well on objects like plates that have subtle curves.
The S1 is fully enclosed, similar to a CO2 laser. It has interlocks on the lid that prevent the laser from firing if the lid is open. These features combine to make the S1 a class 1 laser product. Class 1 laser products are safe to use without any additional PPE, like laser safety glasses. Unless you purposely circumvent the interlocks on the lid, it’s impossible for dangerous levels of laser radiation to leak out of the laser.
Thanks to its fully enclosed design and interlock system, the xTool S1 is classified as a Class 1 laser product even though it uses a Class 4 laser source.
The enclosed design makes fume extraction trivial too. There’s no need for a tent style enclosure or enough ventilation to clear an entire room. Some simple duct work can be used to vent fumes outside, or an air purifier like xTool’s Smoke Purifier can be used to eliminate the need for outside ventilation. It comes with a built-in fan for fume extraction.
If venting fumes outside isn’t an option, a smoke purifier can be a great way to manage fumes.
The S1 has a built-in flame detection tool. If it detects fire, it will sound an alarm. It also has an emergency stop button, which provides a quick, easily accessed way to cut power to the machine if something goes wrong.
The large, easily accessible emergency stop makes it easy to cut power to the S1 if needed.
There are several accessories available, including an air assist system and a honeycomb bed. The air assist is a small air pump that’s connected to the laser cutter with a USB C cable and an air hose. You can manually set the air flow or leave it on auto. When set to auto, it will automatically turn on and adjust the airflow when the laser starts.
The honeycomb bed is great for cutting. It reduces the surface area in contact with the material and improves fume extraction by allowing smoke to clear from the top and bottom of the material. If you’re only planning on using it for engraving, there’s not much reason to use the honeycomb.
While not necessary for engraving, a honeycomb bed is a fantastic accessory for cutting.
There are some accessories I wasn’t able to test. They include an automatic pass-through system, a rotary tool, and a riser. The pass-through system allows you to process parts that are 20” wide and infinitely long. It automatically feeds the material through the machine after processing each 12” section. The rotary tool lets you engrave round objects like rings, glasses, or mugs. The riser creates more internal space, allowing you to engrave on tall objects like boxes. It’s also necessary if you intend to use the pass-through system or rotary tool.
xTool’s rotary tool makes it possible to engrave round objects.
The S1 looks great on paper, but I wanted to see how it performed with common materials. I used xTools’ proprietary xTool Creative Suite to run the laser, though it is also compatible with Lightroom. xTool Creative Suite was intuitive and easy to use, and xTool has a series of articles and videos on setting up and using the software. It’s available for Windows, macOS, Android, and iPadOS.
I started with 3mm (⅛”) plywood. xTool Creative Suite has some predefined material settings built in, but I found their settings for 3mm plywood didn’t quite cut all the way through. This isn’t too surprising, as there can be major variations in the necessary settings with plywood from different suppliers. I turned the speed down, and was able to cut in 1 pass at 100% power and 20 mm/sec. I engraved at 30% power and 100mm/sec. The result is a crisp engraving and cleanly cut sides. There’s a little charring on the front that could easily be removed with some light sanding.
Next, I tried 6mm (¼”) birch plywood. The results were similar to the 3mm plywood. I cut at 100% power and 5mm/sec, and engraved at 30% power and 100mm/sec.
I then moved on to some thinner materials. Both paper and felt cut well at 100% power and 40 mm/sec. I was able to engrave both at 15% power and 200 mm/sec. The engravings nearly went all the way through. I thought these materials might pose an issue for the autofocus system, but it handles them without any problems.
Following paper and felt, I moved on to acrylic. I tried both solid white cast acrylic and bicolor acrylic with a dark blue top and white bottom. As expected from a diode laser, it was unable to cut the white acrylic. It was able to cut and engrave through the dark blue top layer of the bicolor acrylic but couldn’t cut the white layer. Due to the laser wavelength diode lasers operate on, they're unable to process light or transparent acrylic but work well on dark acrylic.
Leather cut nicely at 100% power and 20 mm/sec and engraved cleanly at 30% power and 100 mm/sec.
In general, the S1 cut at about 50-75% of the speed of my 50-watt CO2 laser for the same material. Both the S1 and my CO2 laser have 12x20 working areas, but the S1 takes up much less space. At 31”x23”x7”, it’s a true desktop machine. Weighing in at just over 40 pounds, I wouldn’t call it portable, but it could be moved if needed. My 40”x26”x23” CO2 laser needs a much larger area and takes 2 people to lift. The S1 doesn’t need any additional cooling, while CO2 lasers need a water pump or chiller to keep the tube cool. Additionally, you won’t need to carefully align and clean a series of mirrors and lenses for optimal performance.
The S1 is a great fit for most hobbyists. With an introductory price of just under $2000 for the 40-watt version, it comes in under the price of a comparable CO2 laser while taking up less space and needing fewer ancillary systems. It’s more powerful and capable than open frame diode lasers, and brings a number of valuable safety improvements to the diode laser market. It does have some material limitations, like the issue with light acrylic described above, but there’s no single “do all” laser on the market as different materials absorb or reflect specific wavelengths differently.
The S1 is well positioned between low power diode lasers that are inadequate for many users’ needs and CO2 lasers that are less user friendly and provide capabilities many users don’t need. If you’ve been looking for something that can do more than an open frame diode laser but don’t want to jump to a CO2 laser, this is the machine for you.
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