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.


  1. macona says:

    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:

  2. macona says:

    Correct video:

  3. Chris C. says:

    That is top notch throughout! How much did that amazing laser and associated optics cost?

    • macona says:

      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.

    • macona says:

      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.

  4. garym53 says:

    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?

    • gmcurrie says:


      Haha – tooo funny : )

      (Props to builder tho – amazing)

    • macona says:

      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.

  5. paul wheeler says:

    I often think with this kind of build “what is it built for?” What ıs he going to create with his new laser cutter or is the laser cutter the creation in itself?

    • macona says:

      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.

  6. uminded says:

    @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!

  7. Montaray Jack says:

    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!

  8. pcf11 says:

    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.

    • macona says:

      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.

  9. 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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