CO2 lasers optimise ancient Tibetan stone carving

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CO2 lasers can be used to improve the carving of Tibetan mani stones, which depict Buddhist mantras, sutras, Buddha images or symbols. (Image: CKLaser)

In recent years laser manufacturer Luxinar has seen an increase in demand for its high-power CO2 laser sources for performing an ancient Tibetan tradition: mani stone carving.

Mani stone carving refers to the engraving of pebbles, stones and slabs with Buddhist mantras, sutras, Buddha images or symbols. 

Carvings of different shapes are found in various locations throughout Tibet, where Buddhist faith groups have used them as a ‘spiritual stone’ for sacrifices and blessings for over a thousand years. They are often piled high to form mounds or walls, are used as a place of worship, to mourn the dead, and even as road signs. According to Tibetan traditions, once the stones are engraved, their significance will remain with nature forever and bring happiness and protection to all living beings. 

While the carvings were traditionally carried out using a chisel and hammer, over the years the process has been modernised. Since 2008 for example, mechanical tools such as small electric drills and grinders have been used to speed up the process. In 2012 however, the process advanced even further, with several mani stone carving firms adopting laser engraving, which has proven to be fast, efficient and flexible – well-suited to large-scale production.

‘Our long-standing customer CKLaser approached us in 2012 about this unusual stone engraving application as they were aware of the many benefits of our CO2 laser sources compared with mechanical processing,’ commented Baldwin Ding, managing director of Luxinar’s China office. ‘Initial demand was for our SR 25i and SCX 35 sealed CO2 lasers but now we are also receiving requests for our higher power OEM 45iX laser source.’

The laser engraving process itself is simple: convert the format of the digital symbol or text, send them to the operating system of the laser, set the speed and power, and then the laser system starts to work. Compared with hand or mechanical carving, the process offers numerous benefits, including: no tool wear; no need to pre-line or outline the slabs; precise designs and complicated patterns being possible; consistent and high-quality results even during high-volume production; and being suitable for different kinds of stones with different thicknesses or shapes. 

Laser engraving has therefore not only allowed Tibetan mani stone carvers to carry on an important tradition, but has also introduced new possibilities to this ancient art.

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