Big  Blue Saw


Starting April 18, 2022, quoting and ordering will begin moving from Big Blue Saw to the Xometry website. You'll continue to be able to get fast service and instant quotes, in addition addition to a whole host of new materials and manufacturing processes!

General Updates

Our online quoting and ordering system works best with files in the DXF or DWG format. That's because these two file formats have nearly universal support in CAD software as well as in the waterjet and laser cutting world.

Significantly, these file formats are vector formats. As a quick recap: image files generally fall into one of two types -- vector files and raster (AKA bitmap) files.

Raster files consist of a regular grid of pixels, each of which has its own color. Think of a mosaic picture made using only square tiles of the same size. Or coloring in the squares on a sheet of graph paper.

Popular formats for raster files are JPG, GIF, and PNG. These files are typically created by digital cameras, scanners, and software like Windows Paint, Gimp and Photoshop.


A raster image is made up of pixels filled in with colors. In this image, the area in the red rectangle on the left has been zoomed in on the right so that you can see each pixel.

Vector files, on the other hand, create an image from a set of precisely defined lines and curves. Vector files are produced with CAD software like AutoCAD, DraftSight, etc. as well as by drawing programs like Inkscape and Adobe Illustrator.

A vector image is made of curves and straight lines. In this picture, you can see the end points of the lines as well as the control points that make up the curves.

One nice thing about vector files is that they can be zoomed or scaled and the lines look just as smooth. When you zoom in on a bitmap embedded within a vector file, this is not the case.

Unlike a raster image, a vector image can be resized or zoomed without losing any detail. The letters on the left look round even when made much bigger, as shown on the right.

When it comes time to make parts using waterjet cutting or laser cutting, we need a vector file because this gives the exact outline of the shape and a path for the cutting tool to follow. Astute users of our service will notice that uploaded GIF and PNG files are converted to DXF by a tracing process on our servers when the quoting process begins.

The Confusing Thing

Strangely, files can contain both bitmap AND vector data! This happens commonly when exporting to a vector format from a bitmap-oriented editor. When a vector file contains an embedded bitmap, the embedded bitmap does not have the exact outline of the shape and a path for the cutting tool. It's still a bitmap and shares the limitations of all bitmaps.

DXF, PDF, and SVG all support embedded bitmaps to coexist with vectors.

How to Tell If Your Vector File Has an Embedded Bitmap

Zooming In

One way to tell if a file has an embedded bitmap is by zooming in. You will be able to see the jagged edges of the pixels in the bitmap image once you zoom in far enough.

An overview of a CAD design in Inkscape. It looks just like a vector drawing at this zoom level.

Zoomed in, you can see the telltale jagged outline of an embedded bitmap.

Outline View

Another way to check for embedded bitmaps is to use the outline view mode of your editor. In Inkscape, that's done by choosing View > Display Mode > Outline from the menu. An embedded bitmap will then be shown as a plain rectangle with an X in the middle. In this view, true vectors will be shown with their original path, but with alll styling (colors, thickness, etc.) removed.

Outline view in Inkscape.

The same design as a vector, zoomed in.

If you need free or low cost software that will create vector files for your design, take a look at our list of recommended software. Then learn how to format your CAD files for our online quoting system to make custom parts from aluminum, steel, plastic, and more.

Our customer pemdas wrote to send us a photo of the keyboard he created with some help from Big Blue Saw.

The top plate was waterjet cut by Big Blue Saw from 0.063" thick aluminum 6061.

Here's what he had to say about our work:

Everything was perfect. Will definitely be using your services again for my future projects!

You guys made this so much easier than I thought it was going to be when I first started planning this project.

I keep thinking I should've ordered more than one just for the savings.

Pemdas also gave some details on the build:

I used vintage cherry blacks for the switches because I had a bunch of them laying around. They are linear switches and very smooth.

The outline was the easiest part! I used a tool made by a forum member named swill. I believe you guys worked with him as well for the water jet services.

My controller was the standard teensy 2.0 using the tmk firmware made by the another user named Hasu. That base plus a guide made by user matt3o made making the firmware super easy! No pcb meant handwiring which wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

As for the keycaps in the picture they are a key set called Retro DSAs. They were from a group buy held many years ago. Sadly the only way to get them now is to purchase or trade for them second hand.

Thanks! And if you're interested in making your own custom keyboard, check out the Swillkb Plate & Case Builder and our custom keyboard example parts.

The information below comes from Carl Olsen's website Whenever a customer comes to me with a very technical question about waterjets or waterjet cutting that I can't answer, I refer them to and Carl. If he doesn't know the answer, he knows who does.


With Carl's permission, I thought I'd post some of the great information he's written concerning the advantages of waterjet cutting.
- Simon Arthur

"If you need a machine and don't buy it, then you will ultimately find you have paid for it but don't have it" - Henry Ford.

There is a reason that waterjet machining has rapidly grown in popularity since the mid-1990's. Actually there are a number of reasons, listed below, but they mostly come down to "versatility." A waterjet is a versatile and flexible machining tool. You can cut a wide variety of material efficiently and cost-effectively and can create a wide variety of parts.

A two-dimensional shape

Machine any two-dimensional shape with one tool

Cut virtually any material

Because waterjets cut using water and abrasive, they can work with a wide variety of materials. These materials include:

  • Copper, brass, aluminum:
  • Pre-hardened steel
  • Mild steel
  • Exotic materialss such as titanium, Inconel and Hastalloy
  • 304 stainless steel
  • Brittle materials such as glass, ceramic, quartz, stone.
  • Laminated material
  • Flammable materials

One of the few materials that cannot be cut with a waterjet is tempered glass. Because tempered glass is under stress, as soon as you begin to cut it, it will shatter into small fragments—as it is designed to do.

[picture dragon artwork machined with an abrasive waterjet]

Pictured here is a dragon machined from 1" (2.5 cm) thick bulletproof glass, and inlay of marble and granite

Fast setup and programming

With waterjet machining, a flat piece of material is placed on a table and a cutting head moves across the material (although in some custom systems, the material moves past a fixed head). This simplicity means that it's fast and easy to change materials and that no tool changes are required. All materials use the same cutting head, so there is no need to program tool changes or physically qualify multiple tools.

The movement of the machining head is controlled by a computer, which greatly simplifies control of the waterjet. In most cases, "programming" a part means using a CAD program to draw the part. When you "push print," the part is made by the waterjet machine. This approach also means that customers can create their own drawings and bring them to a waterjet machine for creation.

Little fixturing for most parts

There are very low sideway forces with waterjet machining--cutting the material doesn't push it. The downward forces are also small, in the range of a few pounds. Typically, the largest force is from the water in the tank pushing back up against the material.

Fixturing is generally a matter of weighing down the material by placing weights on it. Small parts might require tabs to prevent them from falling into the tank.

The low side forces, means you can machine a part with walls as thin as 0.01" (0.25 mm). This is one of the factors that make fixturing is so easy. Also, low side forces allow for close nesting of parts, and maximum material usage.

Almost no heat generated on your part

What little heat is generated by the waterjet is absorbed by the water and carried into the catch tank. The material itself experiences almost no change in temperature during machining. During piercing 2" (5 cm) thick steel, temperatures may get as high as 120° F (50° C), but otherwise machining is done at room temperature.

The result is that there is no heat affected zone (HAZ) on the material. The absence of a HAZ means you can machine without hardening the material, generating poisonous fumes, recasting, or warping. You can also machine parts that have already been heat treated.

No mechanical stresses

Waterjet machining does not introduce any stresses into the material.

Machine thick material

While most money will probably be made in thicknesses under 1" (2.5 cm) for steel, it is common to machine up to 4" (10 cm). The thicker the material, the longer it will take to cut. A part made from material twice as thick will take more than twice as long. Some companies make low tolerance parts out of metal that is up to 5" to 10" thick (12.5 cm-25 cm), but it takes a long time and tends to be an occasional operation. Typically, most waterjet parts are made from metal that is  2" (5 cm) or thinner.

[picture of 2in ss304 machined with an abrasive waterjet]

Pictured here is a part made from 2" (5 cm) thick 304 stainless steel 

Are very safe

Obviously, you don't put any body parts in front of a waterjet machining head while it is on. Anything that can cut through 2" steel will make short work of flesh and bone. Aside from this, however, waterjets are very safe. A leak in a high-pressure water system tends to result in a rapid drop in pressure to safe levels. Water itself is safe and non-explosive and the garnet abrasive is also inert and non-toxic. One of the largest hazards is cuts from the sharp edges of material created by the waterjet.

Modern systems are now very easy to learn

Control of the waterjet head is complicated and requires careful calculation to get the proper speed that will give the best result. This means that the system needs to be controlled by a computer, which means that the user-interface for the system can be simplified and made friendlier. Modern systems are designed the same way as many other computerized CAD systems and are quickly learned.

Environmentally friendly

As long as you are not machining a material that is hazardous, the spent abrasive and waste material become suitable for land fill. The garnet abrasive is inert and can be disposed of with your other trash.

If you are machining lots of lead or other hazardous materials, you will still need to dispose of your waste appropriately, and recycle your water. Keep in mind, however, that very little metal is actually removed in the cutting process. This keeps the environmental impact relatively low, even if you do machine the occasional hazardous material.

In most areas, excess water is simply drained to the sewer. In some areas, water treatment may be necessary prior to draining to sewer. In a few areas, a "closed loop" system that recycles the water may be required.

The pumps do use a considerable amount of electricity, though, so there is some additional environmental (and cost) impact due to this.

No start hole required

Start holes are only required for materials that are difficult or impossible to pierce. A few poorly bonded laminates can fall into this category, in which case pre-drilling or other special methods may be used.

Narrow kerf removes only a small amount of material

The amount of material removed by the waterjet stream is typically about 0.02" (0.5 mm) wide, meaning that very little material is removed. When you are working with expensive material (such as titanium) or hazardous material (such as lead), this can be a significant benefit. It also means that you can get more parts from a given sheet of material.

When machining or roughing out expensive materials such as titanium, your scrap still has value. This is because you get chunks, not chips.

Sign up for Big Blue Saw's mailing list to get information about sales and discounts PLUS hints and tips to get the most out of our laser and waterjet cutting services.

Many of our customers' applications demand lightweight thin material such as the popular 1/8 inch (~3mm) thick aluminum 6061.

What do you do if you need to attach something with a screw to a plate of that thickness? You could just use a nut, but what do you do when the nut needs to be on the INSIDE of the thing you're screwing onto?

How about tapping threads? At 1/8 inch thickness, it can be difficult to tap threads: it yields only 3 threads when using a standard #10-24 machine screw. This isn't a lot of meat for screw to hold onto and could lead to the screw stripping the threads.and  assortment of thread sizes.Using nutstrip can solve this. Another possibility to use rivet nuts. Rivet nuts are threaded inserts designed to be crimped in place in thin material. Rivet nuts come in an assortment of thread sizesand variety of styles to work with a range of material thicknesses, from 0.02 inches to 0.3 inches.

Two plated steel rivet nuts. The left one has a 1/4-20 thread, and the right one a #10-24 thread.

I happened to get a good deal on a bunch of steel rivet nuts a few years ago. I keep them in a gallon container.

Rivet nuts do require a special tool to seat them properly. I bought one made by Marson that came with accessories for riveting several sizes of nuts in place.

Here's a rivet nut installed into the chassis of my fighting robot Jaws. You can see that on the inside, the thread starts a little way down inside the rivet nut.

Note that when correctly installed with the crimping tool, the ribbed section expands to bite into the sheet material and hold it to prevent it from falling out or rotating in place. When they're subjected to extreme loads or shock, as can happen in robot combat, rivet nuts do tend to come loose. That's why if I'm installing a rivet nut in that kind of situation, I'll put a little retaining compound around the head of the rivet nut before crimping it.

Note that the waterjet was used to make the hole in which the rivet nut sits. This is faster than drilling them by hand and allows  you to position the hole more accurately relative to the other holes and to the overall part. I would suggest making the hole 0.01" oversize in diameter to make sure that the rivet nut can fit.

Rivet nuts are available in a variety of thread sizes and materials from the major industrial suppliers: McMaster-Carr, MSC, Grainger, and the like.

Let us know: have you used rivet nuts with waterjet or laser cut parts?