Save boatloads of cash by building your own laser cutter

diy_laser_build

Have a bunch of time on your hands, and about $2,500 sitting around? Why not settle in and build yourself a laser cutter?

That’s exactly what Buildlog forum member [r691175002] did, and he told us about it in our comments just a few moments ago. Laser cutters can be pretty cost prohibitive depending on what you are thinking of picking up. The cheapest Epilog laser we could find costs $8,000, and you know what can happen when you try buying a cheap laser online.

Instead of going for a ready-made cutter, he purchased an open-source kit from Buildlog, documenting the highlights of the build process online. The build log walks through a good portion of the construction starting with the frame and motor mounts, continuing through wiring up the electronics as well as some of the finishing touches. If you happen to head over to take a look around, you will find that there are plenty of pictures from various stages of the construction process to keep you busy for awhile.

With everything said and done, [Ryan] is quite happy with his laser. After going through the build process, he offers up some useful construction advice, as well as tips on sourcing cheaper hardware. He estimates that if he built the laser today, he could probably cut the costs nearly in half.

There’s no doubt about it – a $1300 laser cutter sounds pretty darn good to us.

Comments

  1. DocDawning says:

    Very rad. Looks really really nice. Great looking cable management too. I hope to follow in these footsteps.

  2. naPS says:

    Wow. Story is all wrong. The original commenter built an open source laser designed by bdring at buildlog.net, and used the FSE controller. Give Bart (bdring) some credit here, he’s designed a great product and has just given it away to the community.

  3. rizla says:

    I like most people have been really itching to get a laser cutter, but cant get myself to part with that much cash. I was looking at the cheap chinese cutters as well, but i was always a little worried about it. Given some of the comments in the last article, it seems hit or miss.

    I’ve wanted to go the DIY route, but making your own laser cutter seems like a pretty tough mountain to climb.

    Given that, what are some prerequisites someone that wants to take on the challenge should have prior to attempting this?

    Peronsal info:
    Started electronics about 2 years ago with the ‘duino. Have a decent grasp of things.

    Created my own boards (UV exposer, etching). Designed my own circuit boards that I got fabbed over seas.

    Coding, im decent with scripting. Not much of a C/java/phython.

    Tools, i dont have an extensive shop. Good drill, dremel, and some bits.

    What are some tools that would be needed? Good drill press? Clamps?

  4. Spork says:

    Very very cool. I wish I could do this right now, on the bright side (no pun intended) I’ve been working with lasers lately and it’s lots of fun.

    @rizla
    Looks like you could get away with minimal tools on this build. He used 80/20 extrusion and sent out the acrylic parts to be fabbed. Then it’s just a matter of assembly.

    Bottom line, if you have the time and are willing to give it the effort, it will be much cooler to do your own than buy a cheap one.

  5. salsaman says:

    EDITOR: Read comment 2 by naPS: this post is factually incorrect.

  6. AP says:

    I love the fact that Caleb’s comment about making sure correct credit is given is done as a reply to someone pointing out that a different commenter has noticed a problem.

  7. bdring says:

    …bdring here

    Don’t worry about the credit. Ryan did a fantastic job and did add a lot of skill, knowledge and design to the project. He deserves some credit on this. BTW: his looks better than mine ever did.

    This is my original laser design, which takes a lot more effort on the part of the builder. The new 2.x laser learned a lot from the one and is a lot easier to build. It is about half the cost too.

    Great Job Ryan!

  8. fotoflojoe says:

    All this talk of DIY lasers will keep me up at night for a while.

  9. Ryan says:

    Hey everyone,
    The hardest part of building a laser cutter is just going for it. In the end, a laser cutter is only two stepper motors and some mirrors. Unlike a mill or router, you don’t even have to worry about keeping it rigid.

    I’ve always wanted a laser cutter but the cost was prohibitive. Doing it myself had a few advantages – it was fun, it spread the costs out over a few months and I learned a lot in the process.

    It isn’t a simple project but it isn’t particularly difficult either and there are tonnes of people on buildlog.net willing to help if you run into trouble.

    If you do the 2.x build from the plans all you need is a hex set, screwdrivers and some electrical tape.

  10. JR says:

    It’s great to see such a cool DYI project. However, as it has already happened with 3D printers, price is becoming a less and less important factor. As a matter of fact, you can buy a small desktop 40W laser cutter/engraver for less than 1500US shipped. I saw one on ebay just today. Check seller’s strong_signstech store if interested.

  11. CutThroughStuffGuy says:

    In the end, a laser cutter is only two stepper motors and some mirrors.

    Hahahahaha. Just like how a car is only 4 tires and an engine, right?

    In order to do this right, you can get away doing it for a fairly low out of pocket cost. But even if you can skip the engineering (by using an existing design) then you still have to do a HUGE amount of work. I don’t know about you but opportunity costs aside, my time is still worth something.

    All I am saying is, don’t underestimate how long this project is going to take to pull off adequately and although this isn’t a terribly unsafe build, I still want to throw in safely as well.

  12. Renee says:

    I’d really love to build one but I just don’t see the point. It looks like these can cut wood and acrylic but not metal.

    However a DIY CNC can and it can be done for much less that $ 1,300.

    I’m not trying to troll or anything. It just seems like from what I’ve read there seems to be a limitation to the materials that can be cut with a 20-40 W laser.

  13. Ryan says:

    There is a small amount of overlap between lasers and routers but there are enough differences that I plan on having both.

    Lasers can do paper which was pretty much the big reason for me. They can also do rubber, fabric and soft plastics as well as sharp corners and don’t make a mess when they cut. Edge finish on acrylic is also exceptional since it fire polishes as it cuts.

    You also get engraving which can be very useful. I’m experimenting with DIY solder mask and silkscreens for PCBs using vitera glass paint.

    Overall I’d say a laser is a little more user-friendly as well. I can literally open up word, press print and have perfectly cut letters (down to 2pt) within 30 seconds. On a router you need to generate the toolpaths and clamp your material down on top of something sacrificial which is a pain.

  14. JR says:

    It’s great to see such a cool DYI project. However, as it has already happened with 3D printers, price is becoming a less and less important factor. As a matter of fact, you can buy a small desktop 40W laser cutter/engraver for less than 1500US shipped.

  15. CutThroughStuffGuy says:

    “It just seems like from what I’ve read there seems to be a limitation to the materials that can be cut with a 20-40 W laser.”

    There are. To go to the extremes, to cut 1/4″ aluminum with a laser, you need 2000+ watts to even really cut through it. Real production work pushes a need for 4000 watts or more. Now, aluminum and copper aren’t exactly laser friendly materials though and high powered lasers eat through steels like butter. But in all honesty, you need at least 400 watts or more to even begin to think about doing metals.

    Pretty much every tool has its niche. Pretty much every tool is good at some things and bad at some things. Some things can’t be done without a specific tool. CNC and laser have their place and I would say they are complimentary.

    Just don’t expect to DIY 1000+ watt lasers. I am sure somebody has done it – but none of the cheap Chinese laser tubes are going to do anything except cut plastics, rubber and paper and possibly thin wood and the like as well as engrave most things. That’s quite a bit of course but that’s about the maximum you can expect from laser etchers/cutters of this type.

  16. Renee says:

    Yeah, I can see how that makes sense.

    It just seemed like there are all these DIY laser cutters that people document and then they turn around and just cut platonic shapes out of wood or something.

    Perhaps it’s because the more engineering types build these things but the more artist people would find more detailed uses for a laser cutter.

  17. vp930bwith says:

    I always wanted to build one of these.
    Only i have no clew as how to figure out power on/off on laser, go with mach3 or a set like Cutting Motion Control System from ebay.
    (which is better ?)
    And im scared of Optics.
    Also now come to think of it looking at this guys post some motors may not be compatible? Also best would be to go with belt drive ??

    I soon i hope to purchase a Milling machine so i can make stuff to build other machines eg: Laser :) (Any one in Ontario selling one cheap?)

  18. vp930bwith says:

    Or would it be easy’er to buy small Chinese laser rip out the guts and build a bigger model ??

    What would be cost effective ?

  19. Brian.Holiday says:

    With proper ventilation and smoke control, the laser can be used in an apartment. The CNC router is loud and dusty. I have a shop, so the CNC is first on my list.

  20. GuruBuckaroo says:

    Man, I hate seeing articles about “How to build a laser cutter!” that start off with “Go buy yourself a laser.” One of these days I want to build a high-power laser of my own from scratch. (after I pay off the car, and the credit cards, and the kid’s school, etc)

  21. Ryan says:

    Laser control can be done through mach 3. The laser is attached to one of the output pins and can be turned on/off. There are a few posts on the buildlog.net blog showing the electrical and software side of things.

    Building a CO2 laser is impractical. It is impossible for a hobbiest to make a sealed tube so you are stuck with flowing gas designs which require a vacuum system and tank of gas. The equipment alone is going to cost more than an entire working tube from china.

    Buying a super cheap Chinese machine and using its guts is an idea that I’ve considered but I’ve never even seen one of those machines so I can’t give an opinion.

  22. greg says:

    There is a pretty good review about the full spectrum engineering 40W laser cutter here… http://youtu.be/M9kZXma0CxI

  23. grovenstien says:

    this looks identical to the nort’d Lasaur!

  24. Is that a kinda-sorta hackaday logo he is laser-cutting?

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