I wrote a brief review of my experience with Thunder Laser and the Bolt last week. Since then, I received numerous follow up questions… so I thought writing this would help illustrate my experience in a more fulsome manner. I feel the need to write this because it’s often the case we’re compelled to take the time to document issues and displeasure products and companies but take a more measured approach when encountering something truly unique. This is not intended to be a critique of Xtool or the P2, which is a fine machine. More so, this is a brief outline of my own personal experience with both companies and both machines.
So begins my journey with Thunder Laser and my purchase of their Bolt Desktop Laser. Much like the rest of us, I did lots of research before I actually moved forward. Scouring Facebook groups, watching YouTube videos, and private messaging anyone who would indulge my questions. My research on actual, real-world experiences with both Thunder Laser and the Bolt ranged from the exuberant to very positive. Let me clear, it’s not like there were dozens and dozens of video reviews on the Bolt, not at all. In fact, when compared to similar, but not equal competition, the information was a bit sparse. Yet, the reviews and experiences that were available felt genuine, rather than paid promotions, or perhaps driven by the need to increase a person’s social media presence. I don’t take particular issue with those types of promotions, but it’s often difficult to separate the noise for the reality.
For some background, I’m not a laser pro, nor do I have a business that requires a laser. I am a creative hobbyist and tinkerer. However, as with a few of my other hobbies, quality in product, and sincerity in marketing and support after the sale are exceptionally important to me. I don’t necessarily need a product that claims to do everything, I want one that is true to its intended design and does what it claims in an exceptional manner. I’m a person who cares about what the plumbing looks like behind the wall. Partly because I’m obsessive that way, and party because I strongly believe that it’s indicative what I’m likely to encounter with the product or service in the future. Lastly, I do have prior experiences with Xtool’s P2, S1 and F1 lasers. I used them for a good amount of time and decided, for various reasons, they were just not for me. More on that later.
So, let’s fast-forward a bit… in late November 2023 I decided that the time was right to move forward with my purchase of the Bolt. The sales process required me to set up a session with a Thunder professional. At first, I thought to myself, “oh no, I really just want to order my laser, I don’t need a meeting.” I’m happy to admit I was wrong. The call was to discuss my purchase and the intended use of the laser. The person I spoke with was friendly, knowledgeable, and genuinely cared about my purchase. We discussed overall use, engraving and cutting capabilities. Essentially, all the items that I had spent time researching myself were covered in detail on this call. It lasted 15 or 20 minutes and I was truly grateful for the experience. Would I have just clicked a “buy-it-now” button…sure. But I’m glad this wasn’t my experience! Score 1 for Thunder Laser for being different. At the end of my call, I received and email with a quote and proceeded to place my order. Incidentally, I was given an end of January 2024 delivery date.
Like any new laser fan, my daily thought was “is it here yet?” My impatience getting the better of me, I reached out to my sales associate a few times received an almost immediate and polite polite status of my order. To my surprise, I received an email on Christmas day letting me know that my Bolt had been shipped was on the way. The email contained not only tracking information, but links to setting up, getting familiar with the Bolt and support and shipping contact information. Essentially, all the things you would look for right after receiving an email that your product had shipped. After that initial email and two exchanges with the shipping company for scheduling, my Bolt arrived on January 3, 2024…almost 1 month ahead of schedule! Take note competitors. Commit to reasonable and truthful delivery times, be responsive to the inevitable inquires and then over-deliver. Disappointment is usually not what you actually experience, it’s what you expected experience. Score another Thunder Laser. With such a large and heavy purchase, the actual delivery will always be an area of concern. It should be noted the crate was delivered in fantastic condition and both the freight company and the driver performed flawlessly.
Now the unboxing…Like my previous experience with Xtool, the packaging was not an afterthought. It was intentionally designed, made of top-quality material and built to properly protect its content. The wood pallets really sealed the deal for me. Totally appropriate for an item like this and affords stability and needed protections during transit. Unboxing was a snap. Clip the strapping, lift the box, remove the packing, and lift Bolt. This is a two-person lift, so get a friend. Items are clearly labeled, packaged, and organized. Everything you need is in plain view.
Before I get into setup, I must state that I’ve heard and seen videos of the Bolt’s clean design and build quality, but nothing really prepared me for what I actually experienced. This thing is amazing! Every part of this machine is so well built. The doors, access points, honeycomb tray, literally everything. As a bonus to my obsessiveness previously mentioned, all the cables of the unit (rails, gantry, camera) were all proper length and tied and almost disguised so much that you don’t even notice them. Amazing!
Aside from the inherently simple and obvious “setup”, there’s a video and tons of information in order to get you up and running. I must stress that you don’t need to configure lasers, align mirrors, run laser fire tests, or assemble anything. This frustrated me with the P2 setup. I also found myself realigning the P2 more than I should need to, With the Bolt, you unpack, clip some restrainer ties in the machine, plug it in and follow the directions for configuring in Lightburn, etc and connecting to your computer. I’m using a Mac, so I went with recommended ethernet option to connect the unit and then used the included USB cable to control the camera. As with any other laser, you will need to align the camera within Lightburn. The process was simple, well documented and all the files are included with the Bolt.
So how did it perform?
As I stated earlier, my past experiences have been with Xtool’s P2, S1 and F1 Lasers…and they have been mostly decent. Most comparable to the Bolt would by their C02 based P2 laser. So, for the purposes of comparison, I will refer to that unit. To be clear, the P2 is a good machine. But in my opinion, the Bolt is on another level. Let me cover a few points:
Built quality and features…
Again, the P2 is a good machine. It’s reasonably well built, but certainly the parts are not up to the quality of those used in the Bolt. I’ve owned and worked with both, and there is simply no comparison. Again, I’m a hobbyist, I’m not running a laser-based business. But I can imagine that the smart choices made by Thunder will serve that population equally as well. Every area of the Bolt that might need servicing has its own access panels and is easily accessible. I have not had to service the Bolt, but each component is clean, free of clutter and identifiable. I’ve seen videos on replacing components on the P2 and it’s not for the faint of heart. Quite frankly, I don’t see how this sustainable over the long run. By comparison, the P2, individual parts are not very accessible and the 12 or so screws inside and outside of the laser just to access the laser tube if very frustrating. Not to mention the not-so-easy to snap off plastic cover that houses the laser tube. To me, these are design failures. In practicality, the Bolt, which uses an RF based laser, and which is low maintenance, is designed to be easily accessible. Whereas the P2, which uses tube based C02 laser, (requires anti-freeze, etc) and which, in general, is likely to be accessed considerably more, is covered is plastic and secured by many poorly placed screws. I had to access the laser area of the P2 more than 5 times, and it was very frustrating. Sure, I can leave off half the screws, but why should I have to? I was told by Xtool, that it was designed that way for safety. I could not disagree more. More screws don’t equate better safety. The Bolt is all metal, has a secure key based entry system and the laser cover simply flips open. In my opinion, poor accessibility increases the likelihood that you’ll ignore standard maintenance and cleaning, thereby decreasing safety. I could cover a few more of the design decisions, but they fall under the same themes. Intentional design from a user and serviceability standpoint is critical. The Bolt hits all those points. Just a quick mention here. I don’t want to get into a feature list comparison because those things already exist. But…probe based focusing AND a camera are great choices. I realize that others may never use the camera. But I resent a company telling me I don’t “need” a camera (take note to the Xtool S1). Let me decide based on my experience and use case. (Excellent choices Thunder.
Again, hobbyist, not a professional here…
Engraving – in two words…absolutely stunning. Even to a hobbyist like me, the difference (at my own personal skill level) is striking. Cleaner, more detailed and WAY faster engraving is what’s in store for you. The P2 engraves well, but there is simply no comparison. I’ve seen Bolt work at the hands of artisans, and I’m flawed. But even to hobbyists like me, the difference cannot be overstated. The internal exhaust if efficient and work perfectly and I’m often left wondering…” where’s the smoke?” Not the case with my P2. The smoke and residual soot left behind by the P2 is considerably more. I know settings can be adjusted, but again, I’m comparing my base knowledge and applying that to my experience with using two products.
Cutting – this is the area that I researched most and surprisingly had the least amount of available information… pre-purchase. Most reviews focused on the Bolt’s engraving prowess….and rightfully so. It is a beast in that area. The opinions I saw on cutting were very positive, but more secondary in nature. So, prior to delivery, it remained a concern. So how does it cut? One word…fantastic! It slices through 3MM MDF and ply far better, cleaner, and faster than the P2. I also tried 6MM and it was just as good on slightly lower speeds of course. I was doing some engraving tests with standard food cutting boards and decided to slice and dice them before disposal. End results were exceptionally clean cuts and some carving boards that looked like jigsaw puzzles. Also, acrylic cut flawless with little regard to thickness. Again, I’m not a fan of testing the extremes and I’m not looking to use this is place of a table saw. But I’ve personally, and in real world use and testing, experience zero issue with cutting material. In both my standard use of the machine and in my workflows, I can see no issues with cutting. In comparison, the results are far better than the P2. The airflow and back flash on the Bolt are way less and cuts are just cleaner.
Software – I thoroughly enjoyed using Xtool’s Creative Space software and it has come a long way. But using that comparatively to Lightburn is like using a basic text editor compared to using Microsoft Word. Lightburn has a cost, and there is steeper learning curve no doubt. But you get out, what you put in. I used Lightburn on the Xtool S1. It’s severely hampered by its limited support of the S1’s features. Xtool Creative Space is great when you’re first learning and some truly wonderful things can be created there. Xtool shoud be given credit for this. But once you get even a medium comfort level in working with a laser, you start to feel its limits pretty quickly.
Support – Hands down, one of the best support infrastructures of any product I’ve purchased…not just lasers. Response times 95% of the time in minutes, not hours or days. Staff is helpful, knowledgeable and they focus not on just getting you past the problem but getting you educated on the topic. Thunder Laser, you stand far above the rest by far on this topic. Excellent experience! For further context, I contacted them twice about a question I had on the camera calibration.
Venting – Considerable discussion on how this should or can be vented comes up a lot of FB groups. I cannot vent outside, period. A fume extractor was my only option. Thunder worked with me and connected me with Filtrabox. I ended up purchasing a Filtrabox Micro and it works perfectly. No smoke and no smell. Results could vary based on usage and you may need the Filtrabox Compact or larger to suit your individual use cases. But for me, the Micro was a spot-on recommendation. Perfect combination.
Maintenance – As mentioned, the Bolt is easily accessible in all areas and the makes cleaning simple and effective. Some dusting, air blowing, and wipe downs are all that has been needed. Cleaning the lenses are a breeze.
Cost – What you get in the Bolt versus the competition cannot be overstated. Quality all around. You have to experience it to truly appreciate it. Machine build, design choices, advanced (useful) features and exceptional support make this a winner all around. No tax and no additional shipping costs. What you’re quoted it what you pay…who does that these days!?!
Areas for improvement – none on the machine. I’m sure I can ask for more things over time. Who doesn’t want more? I’d love to see more video reviews on cutting and an increased social media presence. Not to the Xtool level or Glowforge…which is oversaturated in my opinion. This will help answer (for example) one of the most asked question…how does it cut? Website…maybe a little more user friendly and less industrial. Thunder, your support is outstanding, don’t burry the knowledge center. Same for the accessories area. Make it clearly visible and have the easy ability to purchase parts. I do know it exists, but maybe organize it to a more consumer focused look and feel. Make it a little more inviting.
If you’re on the fence about buying the Bolt, don’t be. You will not be disappointed. My personal time with the Bolt and in dealing with Thunder Laser has been exceptional. In fact, I cannot think of a single thing I would change. What I expected was a really good product. What I got was a truly exceptional end-to-end experience that far exceeded my expectations. Bravo, I applaud you Thunder laser!