Big  Blue Saw


Using your favorite design software

Most graphic design and CAD software allows you to export your design into a DXF format compatible with most waterjet cutting services.
Note that DXF format is a vector file format, as opposed to a raster or pixel based file format. Vector formats allow precise creation of curves, lines and other shapes. Examples of vector based desgin software include Inkscape, Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw.

Exporting from design software that supports vector drawing to DXF is typically a matter of choosing File | Export from the menu or File | Save As..., and then picking the DXF format.



Illustration : Exporting in DXF format

If you don't yet have design software

If you are just getting started and don't yet have CAD or graphics design software, don't worry. There are many great software packages out there, all of which are free to use and are of professional quality.

1. Free vector based drawing software for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux:


2. Free Computer Aided Design (CAD) software for Windows:

Solid Edge 2D

3. Open source Computer Aided Design (CAD) software for Windows, Linux, and Macintosh:

QCad or Librecad

4. Freec Computer Aided Design (CAD) software for Windows, Linux, and Macintosh:


5. The Big Blue Saw Designer, an online tool for Java-enabled web browsers.



Sunday, 21 September 2014 19:08


Many waterjet cut parts are designed to be fastened together using bolts or pins. This comes up when using the using the stacking or t-nut construction techniques, as well as when using a waterjet cut part as a custom flange, bracket, bearing block, or control panel. When making a part which must accept a bolt or pin, you should modify your design to deal with the accuracy limitations of the waterjet process.
In short, you should plan to enlarge the hole with the right size twist drill or reamer. Since most of the material has already been removed from the hole, this is easy to do. The existing waterjet cut hole will guide the drill or reamer down through the material. It is easiest to do on a drill press, but it can even be done with a handheld power drill.

For instance, you might need a hole for a bolt with a 0.25" (1/4") diameter. Because the width of the waterjet stream can vary, you might end up with a hole 0.26" or 0.24" in diameter. If you have a 0.25" post or bolt, the best thing to do is to specify a size of 0.24" in diameter, then finish the hole with the appropriate drill or reamer. The exact size drill or reamer will depend upon how close of a fit you need: whether it's an interference, close running, or free running fit. For most ordinary fastening applications, an ordinary twist drill will work.

If you don't want to enlarge the hole with a drill, you're going to have to specify a hole 0.262" in diameter, and be prepared to accept that the bolt may wiggle around a bit in the hole. This is OK for many applications.

If you are unsure of the size of the bolt, pin, or post, you should double-check the diameter of the posts with a precision caliper or a micrometer.
Also, you should consider the effect of taper on your holes. For metal material that's 3/16” (5 mm) or thicker in diameter, taper will be significant enough to interfere with most through bolts, as hole diameter on the bottom face will be smaller than the hole diameter on the top face. Again, it is probably best to undersize the original hole and finish it with a drill. If you are using low-taper waterjet cutting, this is less of a problem.


Tapped/threaded holes

For tapped holes where the amount of thread engagement is not critical, I similarly recommend undersizing the hole to just below the minor diamter of the thread, then enlarging the hole with a handheld power drill before tapping. When you're not concerned about the exact amount of thread engagement, you can usually get away with making the hole in your drawing exactly minor diameter of the thread, then tapping directly into the waterjet cut hole.



Sunday, 21 September 2014 12:29


For many kinds of parts, the surface appearance of the part is of no great importance. For example, parts used deep inside a machine can be scratched or scuffed, and still work perfectly well. However, for many applications, having a regular, smooth appearance is important. In this category are things like car dashboard panels, musical instruments, and signs.

Several things can contribute to a blemished or uneven appearance in a waterjet cut part. To begin with, the stock material from which the part is cut may have surface scratches or marks. This is particularly true of aluminum and carbon steel plate, as these are often not considered as being for decorative use by their manufacturers. The waterjet cutting process itself can also cause irregularities. As mentioned above, parts cut on the waterjet will usually have frosting on them from stray particles from the cutting stream hitting the part.

Additionally, most parts waterjet cut from metal will have a small burr around the cut line on the bottom face. This is very undesirable in parts that must be touched or held, such as tools or handles.



Illustration : Parts after waterjet cutting: Stainless steel which
began with a 2B finish on the left, aluminum on the right


In the photo above, you can see the "frosted" areas around the part's cut line, and the typical, slightly rough surface on the cut edge of a waterjet cut part. Parts with no finish may also have scuff marks due to handling and easily removed printed lettering from the mill that produced the raw material.
In the unfinished state, parts will typically have a small burr where the waterjet exits the part. Softer metals, such as aluminum, are more likely to have this burr. The burr can be easily removed with a sharp implement like a knife, or sandpaper. You can see an example of a burr in the photo below if you look very closely at the edge.



Illustration : Closeup of the burr on 6061 aluminum



Illustration : A waterjet cut part made from soft aluminum
showing burrs and frosting on the bottom face.

There are several techniques for cleaning up a waterjet cut part. The simplest is sanding with medium to fine grit sandpaper. This works well on most metals, including steel and aluminum. To get the most even surface, sand in only one direction, following the grain of the metal.



Illustration : A waterjet cut aluminum part hand finished with sandpaper

You can remove burrs by hand using a sharp knife or deburring tool. The photos below show the process of removing the burrs from around the large circular hole in an aluminum part.



Illustration : The bottom face of a part waterjet cut from soft aluminum.
Note the burrs around the cut lines.


Illustration : Removing burrs from the part with a utility knife.


Illustration : The large hole on the right is now free of burrs.


A faster way clean up the face of the parts and to deburr at the same time is to use a power rotary buffing or sanding tool loaded with a ScotchBrite or similar wheel. At Big Blue Saw, we call this “Basic Finish”.

This produces an even, fairly shiny finish as shown below on stainless steel (left) and aluminum (right). Like sandpaper, this process can remove all mill identification writing. It also removes any machining marks from the face of the part, including the waterjet "frosting". Some of the deeper marks which were present in the original raw material may be deeper than can be removed with this process.
With this treatment, burrs on the outside convex corners of your part are removed, and most other burrs are reduced somewhat. Burrs can still be left in small holes and in deep inside (convex) corners.




Illustration : Parts cleaned up with a buffing wheel (Basic Finish).
A stainless steel part is on the left, an aluminum part on the right.


Illustration : Aluminum finished with Basic Finish


Illustration : Stainless steel finished with Basic Finish


One of the best looking ways to clean up small to medium quantities of parts is through the use of sandblasting or bead blasting. In this process, the parts are placed in a sealed cabinet and sprayed with a high pressure stream of sand or tiny glass beads. Finishing through bead blasting produces a more consistent surface finish the the Basic Finish, at the expense of some shininess. All machining and handling marks will either be eliminated, or made very hard to see. It is produced by spraying the parts with a high pressure, dry stream of tiny beads. The photo below compares the Bead Blast Finish on stainless steel (left) and aluminum (right).

With this process, burrs are reduced across the entire part, but may remain if there are large burrs in hard-to-reach places.
The Bead Blast finish also gives the face of the part an appearance consistent with the edges which were produced by waterjet cutting.



Illustration : Bead blast finished parts with stainles steel on the left and aluminum on the right.


Illustration : Closeup of Bead Blast on an aluminum part


Illustration : Closeup of Bead Blast on a stainless steel part


Rotary tumblers or vibrators loaded with polishing media are a good hands-off way to clean up parts. Some thinner parts may be too delicate for this process, however. Larger parts will require an especially large tumbler.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014 00:00

Deciding on a material thickness

If you don't have a set of calipers or a micrometer with which to gauge the thickness of the material you would like to use, you can use common household objects instead. Use chart below to get a feel for various thicknesses. You could also use any of these objects to measure existing parts.

For thicker measurements, stack several parts together. For example, 3 CDs are 3 X 1.2 mm = 3.6 mm or 0.142 inches thick.



We are experts in laser cutting and waterjet cutting services with the capability to cut intricate parts from many different types of materials including metal, aluminum, steel, plastic, acrylic and wood.  Whether you’re an entrepreneur with a great new idea that requires mass production or a manufacturer who needs a single prototype part, our machining specialists will convert your concept into real usable parts and products.

Our laser cutting and waterjet cutting services are streamlined and customized for you, whether you need one simple part or a thousand complex parts.  We serve individuals and all industries, from robotics and electronics to education and R&D. We are committed to providing each customer, regardless of size, with outstanding service and fast turnaround times. Our ordering process is simple and user-friendly. To get started, create your design using the Big Blue Saw Designer, your favorite software, or other free CAD software. Then, upload your design to get an instant quote.

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  Inches Millimeters

Dollar bill



#9 Standard Razor Blade



#12 Heavy Duty Razor Blade



Credit Card



CD, DVD, or Blu-Ray Disc



US Dime



US Penny (Cent)



US Quarter



US Nickel



Canadian Polymer Banknote



Canadian 10 Cents



Canadian Cent



Canadian 25 Cents



Canadian Dollar



Canadian 5 Cents




Table : Thicknesses of common objects

Wednesday, 17 September 2014 13:53


If you're trying to find a material for your project, the options can be overwhelming. Waterjet cutting offers so many choices that it can be difficult to pick the material that fits both your design and budget.

The truth is most projects can be done with 6061 aluminum, 304 stainless, cold roll steel, or clear polycarbonate. Our customers have found that each of these four fills a unique niche.
Here's a chart that ranks the three materials against each other in terms of cost, appearance, and specific strength (also known as strength-to-weight ratio). 4 is best, 1 is worst.

  Cost Appearance Specific Strength
Aluminum 6061 2 2 4
Stainless Steel 304 1 4 2
Cold Roll Steel 3 1 3
Polycarbonate 2 3 1


It's worth noting that though we've ranked them against each other in terms of appearance, none of these materials look particularly bad. Stainless steel is more durable than aluminum, and thus holds its finish better. If you need a transparent material, then, of course, a metal won't work at all and you need a plastic like polycarbonate.
Cold roll steel doesn't come out on top of any of the above categories, but it's still useful. Why? It is harder (good for sliding or wearing parts), denser, and can be welded more easily than the other materials. It's also magnetic.


If you're considering But Need Try
Aluminum 6061 Better formability (ability to bend the material into shape) Aluminum 5052
Aluminum 6061 Better electrical conductivity Copper 110
Carbon Steel Higher strength Prehardened steel alloy 4130 or similar
Polycarbonate Lower cost PETG, Acetal, UHMW-PE or Laser cut acrylic
Stainless Steel 304 Maximum corrosion resistance (like in salt water environments) Stainless Steel 316
Stainless Steel 304 Lower cost Aluminum or one of the laser cut metallic appearance acrylics (Brushed Bright Nickel, for example)


Of course, there are quite a few materials which can be cut on a waterjet that don't appear on any of these charts: various kinds of wood, stone, metals, and plastics. If you're considering these, you probably already have a good idea of what you need.

One of the great advantages of waterjet cutting is that prehardened metals can be cut quite easily. Certain metals can be purchased in bulk as bar or sheet, and then cut on the waterjet. This saves the extra step of having the material heat treated for hardening after machining.


Cutting glass on the waterjet

Most ordinary glass will shatter when cut on the waterjet. Certain types of untempered glass can work, but will typically need to have a test cut performed on them first in order to make sure that they can be cut without breaking.


Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) and plywood on the waterjet

Unfortunately, Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) is quite sensitive to moisture. This means that when the waterjet stream starts to cut into MDF, it immediately swells up and makes a big mess.
Most quality plywood will cut on the waterjet and can be a good substitute for MDF in some projects.



Wednesday, 17 September 2014 11:50


Traditionally, spur gears are made using specialized tooling and setups. This means that small runs of custom gears can be expensive; much more expensive than most other types of machined parts.

However, the flexibility of a waterjet cutting machine means that gears are no more difficult to waterjet cut than any other part. At Big Blue Saw, we have made many gears for customers who needed unusual sizes of gears or gears with custom mounting holes. Other customers have wanted, for example, polycarbonate plastic or titanium alloy gears which were impossible to find off-the-shelf.




Illustration : Steampunk costume by Chris Lee with waterjet cut aluminum gears which
actuate a set of wings



Illustration : Steel (left) and aluminum (right) waterjet cut gears

Waterjet cutting works best with gears of 12 diametral pitch (DP) or larger (this is roughly equivalent to module 2.25 in metric gears). As you can see in the diagrams below, the waterjet cutting stream is small enough to easily machine the features of this size gear. Additionally, a geartrain of this size or larger can tolerate the roughness of the cut edge on a waterjet cut gear. With a waterjet stream diameter of 0.04 inches, however, you can make gears down to about 20 DP (module 1.25). I would only recommend this size for thinner gears in applications where there is some “slop” in the geartrain due to the surface roughness of the cut edge as well as other irregularities which can arise from waterjet cutting.

Waterjet stream of  0.04 diameter shown with a 12 DP gear

Waterjet stream of 0.04" diameter shown with a 12 DP gear


Waterjet stream of  0.04 diameter shown with a 16 DP gear

Waterjet stream of 0.04" diameter shown with a 16 DP gear


Waterjet stream of  0.04 diameter shown with a 20 DP gear

Waterjet stream of 0.04" diameter shown with a 20 DP gear


Waterjet stream of  0.04 diameter shown with a 24 DP gear

Waterjet stream of 0.04" diameter shown with a 24 DP gear


Waterjet cut gears are rough along the cut edge where the gears mesh together. This can cause a shorter gear lifetime due to wear than you might expect from a traditionally cut gear. So for applications where this might be a problem, you should consider making the gear larger, either by making it from thicker material, or decreasing the DP so that the teeth are larger.

When first using new waterjet cut gears, it is a good idea to let the gear train run continuously for a few hours without load and with a light lubricant. Then clean the gears and re-lubricate before placing the gear in service. This will even out the rough cut edges of the gears and allow the geartrain to run smoothly.

Gears above 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick should usually be cut using low-taper cutting. This allows waterjet cut gear to mesh as accurately as possible.

Some people have reported success with regular (non-low-taper) waterjet cut gears by placing two waterjet cut gears so that their tapers face the opposite directions. In other words, the top face of one gear will be on the same side as the bottom face of its matching gear.

When building or customizing robots, motorcycles, go-karts, electric vehicles, conveyor belt systems, or just about anything that moves, you will eventually run into the problem of having to tie all of the motion components together into a single system. If off the shelf components don't meet your needs, you can waterjet cut custom frames, motor mounts, and bearing blocks.

Let me show you an example from my fighting robot “Jaws”. I needed a bearing block which would give maximum support to the wheels, but would occupy a minimum amount of space and weight. The solution I came up up with was a ¾ inch thick 6061 aluminum bearing block with a bronze bushing inserted into it. Using a bronze bushing kept the size down compared to using ball bearings.

After the bearing blocks were waterjet cut, I drilled holes in the edge of the bearing blocks in order to base mount to mount them. The bearing blocks rest on their cut edge and are held in place with bolts and nuts. Below you can see a rendering of the part, and a photo showing it installed inside the robot.



Illustration : Rendering of the 3/4 inch thick aluminum bearing block from Jaws.


Illustration : The bearing block installed inside Jaws.


Note that if you are base mounting this type of bearing block (mounting along the cut edge),  you will want to use low-taper waterjet cutting in order to keep your driveline straight. For face mounting, you might be able to get away with using regular cutting if you can drill or ream the hole where the shaft passes through in order to give it an even diameter all the way through the material.

Now let's take a look at a different bearing block system, this one from MattyCiii of the Endless Sphere Technology forums. He needed a special bearing block for a custom electric bicycle he was building for himself. He designed a bearing block to be made in two pieces, each 0.625 inches thick. When stacked together, they are exactly the width of the 1.25 inch thick tube that they mount to. An aluminum tube fits in the large hole in the blocks, and a ball bearing fits inside that, which supports the shaft. You may notice that there is a small gap at the bottom of the bearing blocks. According to MattyCiii, this allows the bearing block to grip the aluminum tube tightly when the bearing block is clamped in place. Here is how he describes how it works:

The gripping capability is actually a combination of two things: First the gap, and second, the flat plane you see on either side of the gap is not fully flat – it’s angled in slightly. So take for example that last picture: imagine only one of the hose clamps is clamped down tight. There would be about about a 1 degree angle between the other flat part of the mount and the square tube it’s mounted on. As you tighten the second hose clamp, it pulls the piece tight against the flat and slightly shrinks the diameter of the hole. I’m not an engineer by trade, I didn’t do any calculations to find a ‘best’ angle for this purpose – but it works as designed (miraculously!)



Illustration : A stacked bearing block before mounting. Photo courtesy of
MattyCiii from .



Illustration : The bearing block from the previous photo mounted in
place on the electric bike. Photo courtesy of MattyCiii from .



When building things that move using a waterjet, you're not limited to just bearing blocks. One common problem faced when building an electric vehicle is mounting the motor to an existing frame. Waterjet cutting allows you to easily make custom motor mount plates that match the bolt pattern on the motor, as well as the mounting points on the frame.

Here is a great example from Roberto Melendez of MIT. In building the Cholocycle electric motorcycle, they needed a way to mount their 25 horsepower electric motor to a Kawasaki motorcycle frame. With waterjet cutting, they were able to construct mounting plates which fit both the motor and the frame perfectly.




Illustration : The waterjet cut motor mount attached to the front of the electric motor
for the Cholocycle. Note the rear mount disassembled in the background.
Photo courtesy of Robert Melendez .




Illustration : The motor installed on the Cholocycle motorcycle frame.
Photo courtesy of Robert Melendez .

Now let's take a look at an assembly of waterjet cut parts that combines a motor mount with bearing blocks. For the LOLrioKart project, Charles Guan wanted to add a powerful electric motor to a shopping cart (yes, really). In order to do this, he needed a way to attach the motor to the frame, as well as a way to hold it in line with the driven axle. His solution was to use the waterjet to make a combination motor mount and bearing block out of ½ inch thick aluminum 6061. He used the stacking technique to make the plates thicker and thus provide a more stable attachment where the assembly rests on the cross member tube. You can see the separate pieces as well as the assembled drivetrain below.



Illustration : 1/2″ 6061 aluminum plates and motor for the LOLrioKart drive
train. Photo courtesy of Charles Guan



Illustration : The assembled LOLrioKart drive train.
Photo courtesy of Charles Guan



When making signs with lettering, it can be tedious work to generate all the necessary bridges. This is true both when the letters are positive space (solid material) or negative space (holes). Fortunately, by using the correct font, you can save time and get a result that looks good.
When the letters form positive space, one good choice is to use a script font.

In the example below from David Kaufman, the Santa Fe script font was used to design two nameplates. The right hand side of the “f” had to be modified to connect with the “m”, but the rest of the letters naturally run together with this font.


Illustration : Nameplate signs from David Kaufman



Illustration : The font used in the examples above: Santa Fe LET

When the letters are negative space, you can use a stencil font. Below are a few examples of the varieties of stencil fonts which might be useful for your project.


Illustration : AG Stencil



Illustration : Bodoni Becker Stencil Bold



Illustration : Stencilia



Illustration : Tomorrow People. Note: some numbers and symbols may not
have appropriate bridges in this font.


Friday, 05 September 2014 12:56

Turning a Logo Into a Sign

Below is an example logo for “thegymnasium”.


Illustration : The original logo to be turned into a sign.

Now let's take a look at four different approaches to turning this logo into a sign. Below you will see renderings of two variations with the logo as positive space and two variations with the logo as negative space.



Illustration : A rendering of the sign with the logo as negative space.
Note that the centers of the letters "e", "g", and "a" are disconnected
parts and must be mounted separately.



Illustration : A sign with the logo as negative space. In this design, the centers
of the letters "e", "g", and "a" have been bridged. This makes mounting and alignment easier,
but produces a logo that is less faithful to the original.



Illustration : The logo with the letters as positive space in the sign. In this variation,
the letters have been bridged with a baseline. Also note the bridge connecting
the dot above the "i". Since it is one piece, it is relatively easy to install.


Illustration : The logo as a sign in positive space with separate pieces for each letter.
This would be the most accurate rendition of the logo when installed on a wall or other
background of contrasting color. However, it is the most difficult configuration
to install, as each letter must be aligned and mounted separately.

Corner braces

Waterjet cut parts can also be used in brackets that are aligned so that the cut edge, rather than the face, connects to the part. This is accomplished using the t-nut technique. The low cost of waterjet cutting allows you to make corner braces at custom angles and with mounting points in the positions you choose. Since the cut edge is in contact with other parts, you might consider low-taper cutting for this application.



Illustration : Angled inside corner brace

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