Specs: Wazer desktop waterjet cutter

  • Cutting area: 12″ x 18″ (30.5 x 46 cm)
  • Max cutting thickness: 1″ (2.5 cm)
  • Kerf (cut width): 1/16″ (1.5 mm)
  • Platforms supported: Apple Mac/Microsoft Windows/USB/SD card
  • File formats allowed: SVG, DXF
  • Power: 110/120V, 250W, 60Hz, 12.5 amps (pump), 2 amps (cutter) (220V, 50Hz or 110V, 60Hz)–you need two 15-amp circuits or one 20-amp circuit
  • Abrasive type: 80-mesh garnet
  • Abrasive flow rate: 0.33 lbs/minute
  • Waterjet pressure: Wazer will not reveal this, although waterjets typically cut at 30,000-90,000 PSI. Our guess is Wazer is at the low end of this range.
  • Abrasive bin capacity: 40 lbs.
  • Water type: Standard tap water, with a minimum flow of 1gpm and 30 psi
  • Estimated operating costs: 16-51 cents per minute, depending on whether you buy consumables in bulk
  • Consumables: Abrasive ($0.25-$1.44/lb), cutting bed ($50), nozzle kit ($249, 300hr life), orifice ($49, 300hr life)
  • Supported materials and cut rates: See the Wazer website
  • Price: $7,495 plus shipping (I paid the Kickstarter price ($3,999) plus $350 shipping from New York to Portland, OR)
  • User support: Wazer customer service is the first stop, but I know of two community support forums on Facebook, Wazer Users Support Group, and the Wazer User Group, in addition to Wazer’s own FB page.

Welcome, Bob Heath! Since Wayland the Wazer is currently living at Bob’s studio, and he’s doing all the hard work of setting it up and testing, I’ve invited him to co-author this post.

The word “Kickstarter” originates from the Latin calcitrare stultus, meaning “one who makes a stupid mistake,” or more succinctly, “Howdy, sucker!”

Learned that the hard way, backing 41 different Kickstarter projects including the nonexistent miracle mini-drones, the world’s first wearable cooling device (a very loud fan stuck down your britches), and what has to be the worst-tasting batch of caramels in the history of candymaking.*

Fortunately, the Wazer desktop waterjet cutter is mostly an exception.

What’s a waterjet cutter?

From Wikipedia, an example of a very large waterjet cutter

Waterjet cutters are marvelous devices, sort of the aqueous analog of a CNC machine or laser cutter. They precisely slice shapes in stone, metal, glass and other waterproof materials.

My local waterjet cutter, John Groth, can easily accommodate a 4×8 foot panel on one of his two cutters. He’s trimmed very thick glass pieces and created lots of copies of pieces with tricky inside curves and angles for me in the past.

Waterjets are most cost-effective when you need a fair number of copies, since a lot of the work of a waterjet is in setting up the cutting file and mounting the media into the machine correctly. They make vertical (well, mostly vertical; more on that later) cuts all the way through the material, but the cuts can be as intricate as the diameter of the water stream will support.

The cut they make is relatively smooth with a frosted edge, about what you’d get if you sandblasted glass with 80-grit abrasive (which is essentially what you’ve done). It’s extremely precise, with minimal chipout (although it’s happened a couple of times). They only cut through the material–you can’t stop the depth of the cut to engrave or sculpt.

All you really need to do is wash the cut pieces, add whatever decoration you want, and slam ’em into the kiln.

Unfortunately, these machines are also huge, costly, and not cheap to run. Wazer promises to make waterjet cutting as easy as using an inkjet printer, only with water and abrasive. How cool is that?

In reality, it’s a bit more complicated, but not THAT much more. You set up a simple SVG or DXF file (typically used for 3D print and CNC machines), load it to the Wazer cutting application, and download the resulting process file onto a standard flash card.

Shove the flash card into the Wazer’s card slot, punch a couple of buttons, and you can cut up to 12×18 inches and an inch thick. Wazer has calibrated cutting profiles for steel, glass, polycarbonate, granite, ceramic, acrylic, carbon fiber, and more, using garnet abrasive and a hookup from your water supply.

How do glass artists use waterjets?

Cutting repeatable, intricate glass shapes, especially inside curves, is something of a holy grail for glass artists, especially if they’re interested in scaling up production work for jewelry sales and such. Typically, you cut an inside curve by hand in very short, shallow cuts, until you achieve the radius you want. Or, if you’ve got something like a Taurus ringsaw, you just simply cut the curve, but it’s relatively slow-going with a huge kerf (the material eaten by the saw), so not particularly practical for large quantities.

Waterjets take away most of the fuss of cutting inside curves and they do it exactly, so that you can make, literally, hundreds of the same thing. This becomes especially crucial where you’re nesting a bunch of glass pieces into each other. Although you must still account for the kerf when nesting, you know that all your pieces will nest together in exactly the same way.

Waterjet capabilities are pretty unique when it comes to glass, and typically out of reach of the home studio. Current laser cutters, such as the Glowforge, can etch glass but not cut it. Affordable CNC machines can’t even do that much. There ARE 3D glass printers on the market, but they’re mostly experimental so far, not particularly precise and require a lot of equipment, time, money, and space.

Is a personal desktop waterjet cutter possible?

So when I saw the Wazer, a desktop WATERJET cutter, I would pretty much have mortgaged my firstborn child to get it. (Fortunately, I don’t have kids) I not only could cut glass shapes precisely, I could also cut metal and other media to incorporate into my glass. And I could do something that’s too expensive to do with a commercial waterjet cutter you hire: Experiment.

I’ve been futzing around with what I call “self-casting,” an offshoot of recasting to correct a flawed cast. Rather than sculpt a model from another material, make a mold of it, pour a wax, and then build a refractory mold around it, I’m playing around with the idea of carving up sheet glass in precise shapes and stacking it up to the desired 3D shape. Then I use wax bondo to fill in the seams and build the final desired shape.

What I get is a stacked-together preview of what the glass will look like post-firing; I completely cover the assemblage with refractory plaster, using the stack to create a perfect mold that doesn’t even need a reservoir. Then I fire the mold just to sinter (solidify) the glass.

Eventually, I want to take a kind of CAT scan approach: Design a sculpture in 3D, cut it into slices like a CAT scan, and create cut files for each slice and each color within the slide. I’ve so far been pretty successful with it manually, but the flaw is always in cutting that much glass so precisely and repeatably across the entire object…without spending the rest of my life doing it.

The Wazer looked like a great way to push the limits on that idea, and a nice way to cut metal for stands and useful implements. So, gulping at the price, I backed it.

The Kickstarter price for my unit was $3,999 plus $350 in shipping costs. (Post-Kickstarter price nearly doubled, to $7,499 plus shipping, for “pre-orders.” At some point, apparently, they’re thinking of raising the price to $9,995.)

If I think about that price, I scream painfully–aside from kilns it’s the biggest chunk o’ change I’ve ever spent on my glassjones–so instead I’m focusing on saving almost six thousand bucks by buying early. At this point I can’t imagine ever spending nearly $10K on a glasscutter, even if it is less than 10 percent of the starting price of commercial waterjets.

Gambling on KickStarter

The Wazer company cheerfully grabbed my Kickstarter money…and disappeared. Every so often they’d notify us of yet another hitch in production; Kickstarters are notorious for underestimating the prototype-to-product lifecycle, especially when the product is REALLY successful. It’s hard to find a factory that can churn out a hundred thousand complicated whatnots on demand, so these guys usually discover that there are only two companies in China even willing to talk to them.

Wazer spent the next two-plus years explaining why they were pushing out the delivery dates again. And again.

Fortunately (well, maybe not FORTUNATELY), I wound up in a wheelchair, which provided plenty of distraction from “well, that’s the last I’ve seen of THAT money.” Instead, The Leg and I discovered the delights of post-fall disability, amputation-loving insurance companies, and wheelchairs, so I stopped worrying about when my Wazer would arrive and concentrated on relearning to walk.

I was walking again by the time (November) I received a FedEx email saying, “Your waterjet arrives on Friday.”

Really? You mean the Wazer is ACTUALLY real? Are you kidding?

Nope. They weren’t. By now, however, I’d written it out of my home renovation plans and no longer had a place to put it…for now, at least.

When you have your very own Resident Carpenter you tend to dream up new remodeling projects every hour or so. If he ever finishes my list, our home will resemble upscale Taj Mahal marries The New Yankee Workshop but keeps The Studio at the Corning Museum of Glass for a mistress. Right now even Dennis the Denver kiln, bigger than a Chevy Suburban, is (probably) hiding under all the construction mess.

The Wazer arrives in a great big 500-lb box…

So Bob graciously agreed to host the Wazer in HIS fabulous studio. I had an ulterior motive: He’s one of the most methodical and innovative engineering types I’ve ever met. (Bob’s comment on this: “You forgot to mention OCD.”)

Bob here: Cynthia has asked me to insert my thoughts into this post. I’ll do so in offset green comments like this so you’ll know who’s talking.

I figured that, by the time my studio was ready for the Wazer, Bob would have absorbed the Wazer ethos into his psyche, refined the heck out of it, and taken desktop waterjets to a whole new level.

So far, that’s right on the mark.

Finally! The Wazer has landed

Wayland-the-Wazer arrived in a 500-lb palletized box containing the actual cutting unit (127 lbs), the all-important water pump, lots of accessories, some garnet abrasive sand, tubing, and a nicely constructed, well-illustrated instruction manual.

Bob and the Resident Carpenter took the box apart and stuffed Wayland into Bob’s van. Bob set it up in his coldworking room, and patiently waited for me to show up for the Wazer shakedown cruise.

Getting started with the Wazer

Our Wazer sits on this sturdy table from Global Industries, roughly a $900 savings over the one Wazer sells.

The Wazer needs a (very) sturdy stand with room underneath or nearby for the pump unit. If you backed it on Kickstarter, you could spend another $250 for a custom stand to support the unit, pump, and some supplies; if you buy it now, it’s a whole $1,000 and absolutely not worth it.

Bob found a very nice, sturdy stand that just fits the Wazer for $118 including shipping from Global Industries.

Wayland has three main components: His cutting unit, the water pump box that pushes very high-pressure water into the cutting unit, and WAM, software to convert your SVG or DXF files into Wazer cut files (more about the software later). He doesn’t connect directly to your computer; instead, you download cut files onto an SD card and insert them into the machine.

Wazer also has some pretty specific installation requirements: You only need a tap water source, but your location must also have either an outlet on a 20-amp circuit reserved exclusively for Wazer, or two 15-amp plugs on different circuits, one for the pump and one for the cutting unit.

Bob: You also need a drain to handle the waste water while cutting. Since some of the garnet, and probably some of the material being cut, winds up in the waste water, it’s also a very good idea to have some kind of sediment trap to keep from clogging your drain pipes. Fortunately, my coldwork room was designed with just such a drain system, so all I had to do was stick the drain line into the grate of the existing floor drain.

You’ll also need plenty of room to store abrasive–the Wazer goes through a fair amount of it during a 16-minute cut–preferably close by so you don’t have to haul heavy bins of sand. And it’s not a bad idea to put the Wazer somewhere you are NOT working, because it’s loud.

Wazer stores abrasive in two bins on the side of the unit.

Wazer’s setup instructions are fairly complete, but the rest of them are under “Cut Preparation” and shouldn’t be skipped–leveling the cut bed, filling the holding bins with abrasive, turning on the valve to open the water flow, adding the water sensor alarm under the unit in case something goes wrong while you’re not there, ensuring that the high-pressure hose and assorted accessories are correctly installed and working, etc.

The Cut Preparation part, with the exception of leveling the cut bed, needs to be repeated prior to every cut. The user manual is very adamant about that and warns you that bad things will happen if you run out of garnet abrasive or, heaven forbid, don’t turn on the water supply during a cut.

Fortunately, the control panel leads you through a step-by-step checklist to remind you to do each of those steps before it will actually start cutting.
One other thing that needs to be done prior to a cut is to top off the water bath that surrounds the cut bed. Ideally, you want the top of the water to be within 1/4″ of the top of the cut bed, but some of that water gets lost during a cut, so you need to add more before the next cut.
For that reason, it’s very handy to have nearby, an additional water source, other than the one that is plumbed into the Wazer pump.)

Wayland’s first cuts

Wazer included the files needed to create your very own aluminum bottle opener, complete with hanging hole and logo.

Wazer ships with a preconfigured file for your first test cut along with a sheet of aluminum; the file makes a simple bottle opener with the Wazer logo down the handle.

Since Wazer had done all the prep we didn’t have to do more than download to an SD card, and plug it into Wayland. A few taps on the console buttons initiated the cut.

Bob: We weren’t actually sure what the provided sample cut file was going to cut because Wazer provided only the cut file and not the SVG or DXF image source. From pictures on the Wazer website, we thought it was probably a bottle opener, which turned out to be correct, but it’s a different style bottle opener than what we guessed it would be.
Wayland shipped with an already secured 3″ x 5″ piece of aluminum on the cut bed in the correct location to go with the cut file, so once we went through the checklist and started the cut, we just watched and waited to see what it was.

Wazer’s web app, WAM, creates the actual cutfiles. You log in, upload your SVG or DXF file(s), and then select the material and thickness you’re cutting. The app will set the required Wazer parameters for that material, and create a final cut file that you download to an SD card, then insert into the card slot in the Wazer.

Rather than make this post even longer, you can just watch the Wazer in action on these first two cuts (this video takes about 9 minutes, and the sound of a waterjet cutter can be annoying. You’ve been warned…):

Bob: In the WAM app, you specify the type and thickness of material you’re going to be cutting, and also the quality of cut you want; Coarse, Medium or Fine.
As you might have guessed, selecting Coarse will give you a rougher cut, in less time, using less abrasive than either Medium or Fine. Since Wazer had already done that part for us, we don’t know what grade of cut they specified for the sample.

The file is set for cutting the aluminum test sheet; Bob fiddled awhile to figure out how to cut its equivalent (3mm sheet) in glass. It wasn’t obvious.

Bob: We wanted to do a side by side comparison to see how quickly Wayland could cut glass as opposed to the aluminum sample. Unfortunately, without the source image, we didn’t have an easy way to create a new cut file for glass.
We wound up taking a photo of the aluminum bottle opener, then used Inkscape to digitize that and save it as an SVG file that could be uploaded to WAM to create a new cut file.
Our digitized image wasn’t as clean as the original, but we figured it would be close enough for our purposes. After cutting out the bottle opener in glass, I noticed that the hole in the end was missing. At the time, I wrote it off to operator error when digitizing the image, but later discovered that it actually was present in the SVG file that I uploaded to WAM, but for some reason, WAM hadn’t included it in the cut file.
I went through the steps several more times and found that sometimes it got included and sometimes it didn’t. I’m not sure what’s going on there. After I’ve spent more time working with the WAM software, I will have more to say about it in a future post. The end result of our test, other than a relatively useless glass bottle opener, was that cutting cutting glass took 5 minutes, 41 seconds which was about 3 times faster than cutting aluminum, at 16 min, 24 seconds.
Bear in mind though that while we chose “Fine” for the glass cut, we don’t know what cut quality was used for the aluminum and the glass cut didn’t include the hole in the end.

In fact, there’s a fair amount of not-obvious stuff in this first iteration of WAM. The app offers some fairly powerful features, such as scaling and rotating components and accurately positioning them on the cut bed, but is missing a few standard web interface features.

For example, the app doesn’t let you zoom in on your cut file image while you’re working. Trying to edit any part of the image, such as eliminating unnecessary vector drawing points that might slow things down, becomes really really difficult. WAM is also–not surprising for a web app–kinda slow.

Like CNC machines, your design must include some way to keep the material stable while it’s being cut. You screw the entire blank of material down to the cut bed, but once a piece is completely severed from the blank, it’s going to dance around and likely get in the way of a successful cut.

To avoid that, you build tabs into the design, small interruptions to the cutline that will leave the cut piece firmly attached the blank. Once everything’s cut out, you either break or saw through the tabs to free the piece(s), then smooth down the nubs to finish the piece. If you look closely at my image of the bottle opener, you can see the nub of the tab on the left end.

Maintenance and consumables

The 80-mesh garnet abrasive bin that came with the Wazer.

Wazer publishes recommended maintenance schedules for 100, 300, and 800 hours of operation. At 100, you’re mostly cleaning and inspecting; at 300 you make about $300 worth of replacements to nozzles and orifices. The 800-hour maintenance is a rather mysterious “Pump Box Rebuild,” with instructions to call Wazer for help.

Lemme guess: That 800-hour pump box rebuild is NOT gonna be cheap.

One small headache: So far we haven’t found where Wayland actually tracks his hours of operation, so unless it’s there and we just haven’t found it yet, we’ll be logging the Wazer cutting hours manually.

Abrasive. The Wazer uses sandblast-standard 80-mesh garnet abrasive, which is pretty readily available, and they caution you not to use any other size or type of grit. Depending on where you buy it, the stuff can be pretty expensive, but a lot of the cost is taken up with shipping.

Wazer will sell you either a 55lb bucket of the stuff for $79 (about $1.44/lb) with free shipping, or a 2,200lb batch on a pallet for $682 plus $299 shipping from New York (about 45 cents/lb).

Shipping what is essentially dirt all the way from New York to Portland seems a bit idiotic, frankly, and if you’re shipping it to your home/home studio they’ll simply drop it on your driveway and leave you to figure out how to get 40 55-lb bags to whatever dry spot will store it.

Tractor Supply sells 50-lb tubs for $26.99 (about 54 cents/lb), less than half the Wazer price for single buckets, which so far is the cheapest I’ve found in I-can-lift-it quantities. They don’t ship, however, so you’d better hope you have a Tractor Supply nearby.

Cut bed. Our unit came with two cut beds, the 4-inch thick honeycombed plastic blocks the Wazer uses as a cutting support surface. The surface accepts machine screws, so you carefully screw down whatever material you want to cut, to ensure it stays put while the Wazer is operating. When the surface will no longer hold the screws, it’s time to get a new one (for $79, and as far as I know they’re only available from Wazer).

Wayland the Wazer, arrived from the factory set up for his very first cut. The plaid-looking surface is the until-then-pristine cut bed, a 4-inch block of honeycombed plastic that accepts machine screws to hold down the piece you’re cutting. That’s a piece of 2mm aluminum sheet.

After our first two test cuts, the cutting area beneath was pretty badly chopped. Commercial waterjet cutters put a piece of sacrificial board underneath the material to be cut and rotate material around the entire bed, just to slow down the rate of damage, but I suspect we’ll be buying a lot of these things. I’m tempted to figure out how to print my own on a 3D printer.

Nozzles and orifices. Like sandblasters, the Wazer shoots its water+abrasive mixture through a special nozzle. After 300 hours of operation, the nozzle assembly must be replaced, at about $300, and as far as I know only Wazer carries them. If Wazer goes out of business, that could be a problem, because the machine won’t work without them.

Results and next steps

So the first two cuts were successful (or mostly so). As Bob mentioned, we’re not sure what resolution Wazer selected for the aluminum bottle opener, but you could see and feel a little stair-stepping (like tiny, almost invisible ridges) around either curved end.

I was surprised to find that, although a waterjet is famous for vertically slicing through the material, the finished cut (on the Wazer, at least) isn’t strictly vertical, i.e., it’s not at a 90 degree angle to the surface. Instead, it angles out slightly, giving a positive draft to the piece; the bottom is just a tiny, tiny bit wider than the top.

It makes sense when you think about it: The abrasive jet of water+garnet hits the top edge of the material and disperses a bit, fanning the jet out as it travels down the edge. It’s not terribly noticeable unless you’re looking for it, but it does make it a bit more difficult to fit pieces exactly together without grinding.

On the other hand, it’s an exploitable feature; if I pay attention to which side I’m working, I should be able to alternate face-up/face-down cuts of whatever I’m working on, so that pieces could even lock together. Most of the time, though, I’ll need to either grind my glass surfaces to 90-degree angles, or–given the 16th of an inch kerf–let the pieces flow together in the kiln.

Speaking of glass, cutting glass on the Wazer turned out to be faster, but more problematic (aside from a glass bottle opener being a tad impractical). The aluminum accepted close-together cuts to make letters handily; on the more brittle glass the cuts seemed to spread. The cut edge had a tendency to chip or crack a bit.

I’d show you pictures of the glass we cut, too, but SOMEbody accidentally left the aluminum and glass test cuts in her jeans pocket when chucking laundry into the washing machine. A small piece of glass with a lot of holes in it simply can’t stand up to bouncing around in a dryer for an hour; I’m still cleaning bits of glass out of the lint catcher.

Overall, though, we’re pretty happy with the Wazer’s performance. I’ve picked up a bunch of sample material to make test cuts–mild steel, bronze, copper, aluminum, acrylic, all in different thicknesses–and am designing a 4×4 inch test pattern to figure out cutting times and quality. There are probably 20 different pieces, so this is going to take awhile.

More about the Wazer when we’ve gone through all those samples…and then we get to making stuff.

*Yeah, I’m gullible.