Big  Blue Saw


General Updates

Image © Steve Brown Photography CC-BY-SA-3.0

Note: Carl Olsen of was created this informative piece that we thought we'd pass along.

There are a variety of ways to calculate the cost of making parts with a waterjet. This is true of most businesses, and the calculation of "Cost of Goods" is the subject of many books and business classes. This page looks at some approaches to calculating the cost of goods for parts made with a waterjet, which will then help you determine how much to charge for a part.

A lot of people price the work on their machines on dollars per hour basis. This may make sense for some kinds of machines, but not for a waterjet. A job shop with a multi-head machine running two pumps or a high power pump might have a much higher cost of operation than a shop with a small machine with a low power pump. If these two shops compete against each other purely on dollars per hour, then the shop with the smaller cheaper machine will make a lot more money. This is because the parts will take longer to make, and they will be cheaper to make, so the customer pays more yet the part costs less to make. The shop with the faster machine must therefore charge more per hour to take advantage of their faster machine.

Another strategy is to price the work based on a dollars per square inch basis. This has the drawback that a part with a lot of geometry to it (curves and corners and pierces) will take a much longer time than a straight line cut, because the waterjet must slow down to avoid blow-out at the corners and turns. Likewise, material thickness and many other factors come into play, and cutting speed is not a linear function relating to thickness. So, while $/square inch may make sense for some machines, it does not for waterjets.

The best approach is to figure out how much it will cost you to make the part. Then estimate how much it would cost to make the part by competitive methods (either other kinds of machines, or your competitor with an waterjet). See if there are other savings such as being able to squeeze more parts from expensive material. Then, price from there. Your customer does not need to know if you are charging them $100per hour. They are not paying you for your time, they are paying your for the part.

Another option that can work, if you prefer a simpler, more objective formula, is to simply cost your work based on your true cost to make the part. Many machines have software built in to make this easy. Simply take the cost to make the part, and multiply by a factor, and there you have it.

The cost to make your part should include the following factors:

  • How much time will it take to program the path into a tool path? (And if the customer provides the toolpath in a compatible file format, any price break you might choose to give them.)
  • How much risk is there that you might break something (such as when cutting glass) and need to scrap it and start over?
  • Does the customer provide the material, or do you need to purchase the material?
  • How many times must you pierce the material? Each pierce is extra wear and tear on machine, and the associated risk of a nozzle plug or material cracking during piercing.
  • How much do your consumables cost you?
    • Electricity
    • Water
    • Abrasive
    • Spares and wear parts
  • Is there any special setup or risk to consider?
  • How much time will it take to actually do the cutting?
  • How much time will it take you to load and unload the parts and material, and clean up the machine afterwards?
  • Is the customer ordering a large quantity?
  • Is this taking your machine away from doing another possibly more profitable job?

Typical price ranges

Prices range up to $2000.00 per hour for some parts, but $100 to $135 per hour is more typical, and it can be as low as $80/hour. You should look at the part to machine, and think of what it would cost on a mill, or other competing equipment. Then price the part slightly under that, and make a good profit. However, pricing and pricing strategies are highly dependant on local market conditions.


If you are looking to have a part made, you should contact several job shops in your area. Each job shop has their own strengths and weaknesses. Some are better at long production runs of the same part over and over, while others are better at short runs, cheap prototyping, or high precision.

They may charge you quite a bit more money per hour for waterjet machine time, than they would for time on other machines. However, you will probably also get more parts per hour for an overall savings. If you don't like the dollars per hour that they charge, then consider getting your own machine so that you can start your own business.

Note that often you get what you pay for. The lowest bid is not necessarily the best part, on time, and with good service.

Chris Einerson of Postmark USA wrote in to tell us about how they use waterjet cut parts from Big Blue Saw to save time and money and deliver a finished custom project in less than 2 weeks.
We have developed an industrial turnkey solution for high speed inkjet printers used in the mailing industry. Our inkjet printer can print at speeds up to 100,000 pieces of mail per hour and are usually used for printing the address and barcode for direct mail applications. Other applications outside of mailing for our industrial print heads could be printing barcodes, lot numbers, or serialization. 
Postmark has developed a modular mounting system that allows our customers to order custom mounting solutions which can be tailored to any piece of equipment. The mounting system we developed uses a handful of waterjet parts to make an industrial linear slide with height adjustment that runs across a piece of aluminum profile. This slide allows for easy position adjustment of the single pass print head. The 1" thick waterjet brackets bolt down to a conveyor system and allow for the entire bridge mechanism to be hinged up for cleaning the bottom of the cartridges that are installed in the printhead.
The main reason for choosing waterjet on this project was the timeframe and cost. After looking online for quick turnaround vendors I found your website. After doing some cost analysis we determined that waterjet would be very fast and the online quoting tool was very helpful.
We designed the product around using water jet for the majority of the parts and we were able to make small adjustments in the design and get a quote on the fly. This helped us quickly design the system and we were able to have a system ready to ship to our customer within 2 weeks.

Recently you may have seen FarmBot mentioned on Hacker News, Smithsonian, Farm Forum,  or The Verge. We mentioned FarmBot here in October of last  year. 

Rory Aronson, founder of FarmBot says:

These waterjet cut plates are one of the main structural elements of FarmBot - humanity's open-source CNC farming machine. Combined with aluminum extrusions, these plates are used to mount motors, wheels, and 3D printed components of all sorts to form FarmBot's tracks, gantry, cross-slide, and z-axis sub-assemblies. If you're interested in building a FarmBot of your own, go to to download the latest .DXF file, then place an order from Big Blue Saw for a set of plates made from 0.1875" 6061 aluminum, and follow the build instructions available at the FarmBot website!

We've also put the June 2016 version of the DXF file on our examples page.

We recently improved on the zoolophone by creating a laser cut base to mount the pieces to and re-cutting the pieces to add features missed the first time. We also added 4 new pieces which play a chord when struck!

Watch the video below to see how it was done. and to hear this new Zoolophone. I especially love hearing the chord giraffes.

Special thanks to Steve Sparks for the assistance with recording and performance.


Save Monday, July 18 through Wednesday, July 20, 2016


From Monday, July 18 through Wednesday, July 20, Big Blue Saw is having a sale on custom parts made from YOUR designs. All parts waterjet cut from 1/4 inch thick aluminum 6061 and ordered online will automatically receive a quantity discount. If you've got designs you would like to turn into a real metal parts, now is the time.

Order Now

About Aluminum 6061

Aluminum 6061 is a strong, weldable, corrosion resistant alloy. It's commonly found in where high strength and light weight is needed, and was used to make the frame of the Space Shuttle  as well as the armor and frame of the BattleBot Bite Force, sponsored and waterjet cut by Big Blue Saw. For the technically minded, the aluminum used in the sale will be the typical T6 hardness, which provides a good strength without being too brittle.

Aluminum 6061-T6 and waterjet cutting go together well. The low temperatures used in waterjet cutting mean that the heat treatment of the metal will not be affected and it will maintain its strength even after it is cut.

How You Can Save

To take advantage of the sale, just place your order online July 18-20 through our online quoting system. Orders placed online will automatically receive the quantity discount.

Have a look at our butterfly example, for instance. Normally in quantity 1, this part will cost you $92.10. However, during the sale it will run you just $11.30 for quantity 1, a savings of 88%.

Or look at this multi-part keyboard case. Normally when cut from 1/4 inch thick aluminum 6061, we charge $103.40 per set. During the sale, it can be yours for just $56.20, a savings of $47.20.

This logo design normally runs $92.10 when made from 1/4 inch thick aluminum 6061.  During the sale, it's just $24.30, or 74% off!

Get started by uploading your design to our online quoting and ordering system now.