I finally did it. I embraced technology in the shop and added a Shapeoko CNC with a Jtech laser attachment.
Over the last three years, my Etsy shop has brought in a steady income while allowing me to work a very limited number of hours. I haven’t added any significant new tools to the shop during that time. My last major purchase was my Laguna 14bx bandsaw, which was over four years ago.
As my kids are getting older and ready to start school, I’ve been looking to add a few new tools to my shop and start ramping up my workflow now that I will have more time on my hands.
The two tools I’ve had my eyes on for the last year are a drum sander and a CNC and/or laser engraver.
The drum sander is a matter of purely improving my existing workflow. The CNC/laser engraver is a way to expand my current product lineup as I receive a lot of requests for personalizations on items I currently sell.
Over the previous six months, I had been eyeing Facebook and Craigslist for these items but hadn’t pulled the trigger on anything. One problem is that these tools are expensive, and the second is that I don’t have any way to pick them up other than renting a truck.
For tools that I was already on the fence about buying, these kept me from pulling the trigger.
Well, the Facebook Marketplace gods smiled down on me last month!
On a Saturday in March, everything came together…for the moment.
A local woodworker was selling a Shapeoko CNC with a Jtech laser attachment (CNC – Check, Laser Engraver – Check) AND a Permformax 22-44 drum sander. And he was willing to deliver them to my shop for free!
This was too good of an opportunity to pass up, so we agreed on a price, and the next day I had two new tools sitting in my shop.
*Long story short – there was an issue with the drum sander, so ultimately I didn’t end up with it. Getting that close to finally having one motivated me to purchase a new drum sander, so my shop is now the proud owner of a Supermax 25-50. I’ll write up a review here in another month or two, but it has been a fantastic tool so far.
After a day of tinkering with the Shapeoko, I had it up and running along with the laser attachment and was ready to start offering customized products in my shop.
Why Add a Laser Engraver to the Woodshop?
As I mentioned earlier, I get a lot of personalization requests on some of my most popular products in my Etsy shop.
I also had been toying with the idea of expanding outside of Etsy by offering personalized products to corporate clients. Etsy tends to really ramp up in the fall and winter and then slow down in the summer, so this would be a way to bring in more income during the slower months on Etsy.
Adding a laser engraver was, in my opinion, the best way forward to meet both of these needs.
What Laser Engraver Did I Go With?
When I saw the listing for the Shapeoko with the Jtech laser attachment, I was literally a day or two away from purchasing an Omtech laser.
I had done a lot of research on which laser engraver to go with, and ultimately Omtech seemed to check all the boxes.
- It was large enough to handle my bigger orders. I had looked at the Glowforge, but its narrow passthrough slot wouldn’t have worked for me. It was also pretty dang expensive for what you’re getting.
- The price was right. It wasn’t going to be cheap >$3k, but that was still relatively affordable given the money I believed I could make with it.
- The machines were available. This is early 2022, and finding some tools right now can be an absolute nightmare.
That plan went out the window!
Once I saw the Shapeoko XXL with the laser attachment, I knew this would be the perfect fit for now. I had always wanted a CNC but didn’t feel like it was necessary—especially given the space limitations in my shop.
The ability to buy one tool for far less than I would spend on just the laser engraver was too good to pass up.
Sure there are limitations to going this route:
- It is far slower than what I’d get with a dedicated laser engraver
- The laser is only 4.2w, so using it to cut materials is pretty much out of the question.
- It is a dual-use tool, so I have I can’t use both the CNC and laser simultaneously.
But so far, these haven’t been an issue with my workflow, and I figure if the engraving side of the business really takes off, then I can flip the Shapeoko for a dedicated laser engraver.
Now to the good part
How I made over $1,000 in my first month with the laser engraver
After the first few days of playing with the engraver and CNC and going through that “new toy” phase, I got down to work.
So far, I have only added a CNC’d item to my shop, which is an add-on to an existing item. The urge is undoubtedly there to start making items like signs, but that is outside of my current niche, and so far, I have resisted the urge.
The laser engraver is where I have put most of my attention and have added the most revenue. Here are the ways I was able to bring in over $1,000 in revenues in my first month with the laser.
Upgrades to Existing Products
This brought in the bulk of my laser engraving income in the first month – $1,080, to be exact.
I added a customization option on some products, added a few new photos showing the customized product, and edited the listing title and description to capture shoppers looking for customizable products.
On others, I created a separate listing for the customizable option. These listings brought in some nice custom orders, which have been a good sign for things to come.
Any time you can personalize a product that is a bit outside of the norm of whatever everyone else is doing, it can set you up for a good supply of orders.
Adding New Products
This category brought in a big fat ZERO in the revenue column during my first month with the Jtech laser.
*sad trombone noise*
Fear not, though. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t using the laser to lay the groundwork for future growth.
Remember how I said earlier that I wanted to supplement my Etsy income by building up more corporate clients?
I used the past month to make a set of cutting boards, engrave them, and send them out to some realtor friends and a stack of business cards.
I also built out a brand new Shopify storefront to sell these boards and hopefully start selling some of my core products as well.
Side note – If you’re an Etsy seller, you’re probably familiar with some of the recent changes pushed through by Etsy. Namely the increase in fees. I figure now is as good of a time as any to start diversifying my sales.
So far, I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on the cutting boards, so I hope that we’ll start to see some sales roll in this next month.
I did add one new engraved product to my Etsy shop but I’ll admit that it was something outside my niche and more of a fun project than something I thought would sell all that well.
Final Thoughts on Making Money with a Laser Engraver
This first month has really solidified my belief that there is a lot of money to be made by offering personalized products. I have a lot of ideas bouncing around my head to expand my current product lineup and keep it within my niche over the next few months.
So far this year my shop has been averaging around $3k per month in sales and, by the end of the year, ignoring the holiday rush, I’d love to push that number north of $5k per month. And I think adding the laser engraver is just the tool I needed to make that push.
If you’ve been thinking about adding a laser engraver to your shop then I’d highly recommend it so long as it fits within your current nice. Or maybe you’re a bit bolder than me and willing to branch out into a whole new niche with your engraved products!
Derek grew up woodworking in his father’s shop and has since gone on to start up a successful woodworking business on Etsy. In his spare time, you can find him mountain biking, skiing, or writing.