Homebuilt Laser Cutter Ideas


[Wuzabear] wrote in to tell us about this “DIY Laser Cutter for PCB Stencils.” While a full BOM and step-by-step build instructions aren’t provided for the frame, pictures of the build are available, and some different options for construction are discussed. One other option that was especially interesting would be to use a ready-built RepRap or other 3D printer to act as the laser motion controller. Apparently this has been experimented with, and we’d love to see any versions that or readers have come up with!

Besides some different ideas and resources for the moving parts of the cutter, there is some information on how to hook up a laser for this purpose, as well as  for the software and calibration required. It should be noted that you should always wear the appropriate safety goggles if you’re working with a high-powered laser. Although any machine-tool can be dangerous, lasers provide some safety issues that should be treated with extreme caution.


  1. lwatcdr says:

    I wonder if it would be good enough to create a mask for etching boards?

  2. john says:

    Erm. The second link in the piece is to a RepRap made _with_ a laser cutter, not a RepRap modded to _be_ a laser cutter. Does such a thing actually exist? It would be interesting to see.

  3. daid303 says:

    A HaD post about lasers, with a laser-safety warning! Finally.

    Lasers are no joke people, when you play with lasers and get eye damage, you will notice it WAY to late. Lasers are cool, eye damage is not.

  4. Route it, you route it good says:

    I have been doing a vast amount of CNC routing lately… and having a blast doing it. The learning curve has been great fun.

    I am using a friend’s machine, but eventually will lose that access and will need to build my own. It is something I really look forward to. Though I don’t want to get too caught up in the build vs. making parts with the machine. The machine I am using is good, but has a lot of compromises that could really improve the stiffness and cutting speed.

    There are so many options there. Aluminum, plastic, plywood… Having the local big CNC machine shop machine the parts for the machine at $55/hour.. A big cnc machine can chew through 1/2″ 6061 like nothing. With the mad skills I am developing, spec’ing the job will be easy, and I’ll have a good ability to lower the costs.

    And.. Plywood. I’ve been building jigs out of plywood and running production parts. There is no question that you can build a machine out of plywood, and then incrementally upgrade the stiffness and capability to suit your growing needs.

    The funny thing is, I was shaping sail boards out of foam by hand in 1985. I had the idea then to attach a router to some threaded rod and drive it with my Apple II. I shoulda done it. Ultimately I decided it was all too toxic to keep messing with, so there is also that.

    • Route it, you route it good says:

      Oh – so missed point here… Whether you have a router or a laser attached to the end of the motors, the machines aren’t otherwise *that* different.

  5. Jason says:

    I strapped a laser to my Reprap while I was waiting on extruder parts (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqKpn5XERDY). I had ambitious plans for printing a carriage for both printing and cutting but once I got the extruder back on-line I got distracted just printing more stuff :)

  6. Wizzard says:

    Doesn’t anybody spell check any more?
    …us about this “DIY Laser Cutter for PCB **Stencils.**” While a full…

  7. NJC says:

    The most important part of the post (in my opinion) is the Python script to convert gerber files generated in Eagle to G-code which the RepRap (and this later cutter) can directly use.

  8. becky says:

    WHY IS IT MADE OUT OF WOOD?! There’s no benefit to the cheap construction when it can so easily catch on fire.

  9. Arlet says:

    Cool hack, but wouldn’t it be easier and quicker to solder those little one-off boards by hand ?

    • NJC says:

      My purpose is more for those boards that you simply cannot solder by hand. The board in the collage I actually prefer to solder by hand, but the CC430 dongle is almost impossible to solder due to the SON package with the thermal pad. Plus, 0402 resistors are not all that pleasant to solder by hand.

  10. donnie darko says:

    I’ve seen pen plotters used as laser cutters/etchers.

  11. donnie darko says:

    Take a look at this small DIY etcher http://www.instructables.com/id/Pocket-laser-engraver/

  12. Whatnot says:

    Safety goggles? aren’t lasercutters in a completely closed box normally? Apart from the light there is also the fumes after all that should be vented away from you.
    Seems smarter to just put it in a box, perhaps put in a camera to verify correct working procedures.

  13. syntroniks says:

    “Lasers with smaller wavelengths are better at cutting” No, that is terribly misguided. Longer wavelengths put you into infrared which is much more suitable to laser cutters. 1 watt at 10,000nm is going to be a hell of a lot more effective than 1 watt at 350nm.

    • SimplEEngineering says:

      Not completely misguided. Cutting efficiency depends on a lot of variables. Material absorption, beam focus, energy, and lot more that a hack like me wouldn’t know. I’ve heard IR “is better” just because more materials readily absorb IR. A UV laser can be focused into a smaller burning area which means higher irradiance. In the end, it all depends on what material you’re trying to cut.

      • lwatcdr says:

        Ummm a UV laser… Could you use that to make boards? Expose everything that is not a trace? Probably too much reflected light.

        • It has been done and it works though not so well. See the other article on cutting PCB’s with lasers and the comments: http://hackaday.com/2013/01/22/laser-cut-pcbs/#comment-944839

          Also, there is no “better” in laser machining tools. Of course, the wavelength is important, but also are polarization, transversal/longitudinal excitement of the molecules, distance to the target, focussing lenses, coherency (phase and wavelength), luminosity and approx a thousand more parameters not directly coupled to the laser like the medium to cut, the nozzles operating pressure, the atmosphere in which you cut (O2 cuts deeper and more agressively than N2), pulsetime, nozzlespeed over the material and sooo much more!

      • questofages says:

        IR light has less energy then UV light beams. You need considerably more power with a IR laser then with an UV laser. IR will be reflected by almost all materials. Forget about white/shiny materials. Even 1 W IR’s are not good for cutting stuff. A 100mw BluRay laser cuts is better in cutting materials then a 1 W IR. Focusin IRs is more difficult as well. 808nm light is barely visible. And with that much more dangerous for your eyes.

        • Tony says:

          Depends on what you’re cutting. Generally speaking UV for metals, IR for everything else. YMMV depending on other variables such as power, gas assist etc.

          • questofages says:

            I think, relaying on the topic, we speak about non-tube/gas lasers. Rangeing from 100mw-1W. Be it salvaged or ebayed. Solely 5,6 mm diodes. Of course a glass lense could improve the output over a plastic one. Maybe around 10-20 % but cutting metals ? PCBs with 35-70 µm. 1mm plywood is beeing cut by an 1W blu-ray (445nm) or 4 mm foam. Just forget about metals (look up WHY it shines).

      • syntroniks says:

        You’re right, I was just thinking about one particular material. I can completely understand how potentially unsuitable IR is for cutting metals. I have a Firestar v30 solid state IR laser from next to me now, so I can verify that focusing it isn’t that bad …on a breadboard that is. I’d be concerned about UV ozone production to be honest :<

  14. 0xfred says:

    I’m definitely not the safety police (and have a laser burn on the back of my hand to prove it) but cutting vinyl… without any fume extraction… NoooOOOooo!

    Chlorine gas was bad for soldiers in WW1, it’s bad for your laser and it’s bad for you.

  15. questofages says:

    I just have finished my Frankenstein last week. At least the mechanical and motor part. Will post some pics

  16. alammurfee says:

    Well, I totally agree with you that when working with a high-powered laser, it is important to put on safety goggles. Most workers neglect this and this can lead to serious accidents. Safety in the workplace is something that needs to be given prime importance and this can be done by creating awareness among workers.

  17. Jim McC says:

    I can confirm, putting a laser in a MakerBot CupCake works: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=722YzYM8xuY – that’s my design for the LaserUnicorn and that’s my Cupcake CNC and here’s the mount I use – adds blanking to a laser pointer that doesn’t have TTL blanking:


  18. 1337 says:

    why not skip the stencil, and make it dispense the paste?

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