DIY laser cutter from non-DIY parts

[Jerry] missed the laser cutters he had been using at the local TechShop. It closed down and after seeing some hardware in a surplus store he decided to build a laser cutter to call his own. You won’t be disappointed by his build log. It’s got a ton of hi-res images and plenty of explanation.

Often, cost is the key consideration in these types of builds. [Jerry] spent a little more than average, but look what he got back out of it. This started as a CNC machine aimed at loading silicon wafers for a company making electron microscopes. It’s barely been used, and the light-duty specs will work just fine with a laser cutter as the gantry won’t be moving much weight or fighting the rotational force of a mill motor. He tore out the stock controllers and built his own, adding a q-switched 355nm Frequency Tripled DPSS laser along the way. We’re not quite sure what that means… but in laymen’s terms it’s an ultraviolet laser source. See the finished unit cutting out some Kapton in the clip after the break.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HA4cvwn1U_A

18 thoughts on “DIY laser cutter from non-DIY parts

  1. Q-Switching is a process where the internal beam path of the laser is interrupted causing the laser crystal (Nd:YVO4) to store the energy and then release it in one big pulse. Kind of like putting your finger over a garden hose. When you let go you get a more intense pulse for a short period.

    In the case of the laser I used in this machine you get about 15kw pulses 30ns long. Maximum average power is about 6 watts at a 10khz rep rate.

    Video of it etching stainless steel here:

    1. I do a lot of horse-trading with my friend who owns the surplus store so it is hard to put a dollar amount on how much I spent. Some of the same model lasers were sold for $2k. The optics I scrounged from here and there. The base unit I started out from was about $750. I ended up working on it off and on for the last two years but I hardly touched it while I was working a real job.

    2. I have been told the new price on one of the lasers was somewhere in the $40k to $60k range. The machine I hacked to put it in was about $35k to $45k new.

  2. This is an impressive build but not as impressive as my almost from scratch Roll Royce Ghost build. I was lucky to come across a working tail light bulb and was thinking “what can I do with this?” – then inspiration struck! I simply went out and bought a Rolls Royce Ghost that was missing a tail light – and voilà! – total cost only $347,855! Do you think I should write it up for Hack-a-day?

    1. No, if you started out with a rolls-royce truck light and turned it into a fusion powered Ghost, then I think you could submit it as a hack.

      My build was the essence of a hack. Take a piece of equipment that was intoned to move fluid samples around in a laboratory for automated testing and turn it into something it was never designed to do.

      1. Oh it’s definitely a hack, and a brilliant one at that, just not one I am every likely to be able to replicate, and I’m jealous.

    1. I have no specific plans for the laser but there have been many times where I needed to cut thin metal without distortion for shims and had no other way than an xacto knife. No fun and leaves razor edges.

      It is just one more tool in my arsenal.

  3. @macona Can we get some more info on that YAG? Its about 4x the size of any YAG I have seen on eBay and would love to know where I can get my very own!

    1. The laser is a Lightwave M210-HD-V03. Diode pumpe solid state Nd:YVO4 laser. It uses about 120watts worth of diodes to pump the vandanate crystal which is frequency doubled to 532. The resulting mix of 532 and 1064 us summed together for 355nm.

      Lightwave was bought by JDSU and the current version is the Q-Series:

      http://www.jdsu.com/en-us/Lasers/Products/A-Z-Product-List/Pages/laser-solid-state-q-switched-355-532-q-series.aspx

      The lightwave lasers are much more stable than the spectra physics and coherent versions.

      They are big, but this laser is putting out about 6w average and the beam is TEM00 with rather low divergence. Many smaller and more powerful YAGs are multimode.

      Some pics of the laser on my flickr page:

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/67292116@N00/sets/72157630308769936/

      And some pics of the green version I have:

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/67292116@N00/sets/72157630262276700/

  4. 2 days ago I was just reading maccona’s servo retofit into the 10EE thread, and ended up watching these vids on youtube too.

    Great stuff Jerry!

  5. I wonder how many tech shops open up, tool up, then close down and someone ends up with a nice private workshop out of the deal. People used to do that with construction companies. Found a business with the express purpose of ripping it off. When places go out of business assets have a funny way of disappearing in all of the confusion.

    1. Well, a friend of mine did buy the laser cutter that was down at the Portland TechShop and another friend is getting it from him.

      Most of the stuff at TechShop was either mine or a coworkers that ran the wood side of things. When techshop went under there were very little assets.

      But if you look at other techshops and places like them they are mostly a gathering of whatever was on sale at harbor freight or enco. Nothing to write home about.

  6. Many times it’s easier to recoup your lost wages in assets than it is to employ a lawyer…Especially if the creditors would pay someone to sell the assets off like an auction house or liquidator.

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