DIY laser cutter built to make stencils

It was time for some new T-shirts so [Andreas Hölldorfer] built a laser cutter. Wait, what? That’s the excuse he’s going with, and in the end this scratch built laser cutter did come in handy by cutting stencils to use when decorating his garments.

The first thing we thought when looking at the cutter is where’s the tube? [Andreas] didn’t use a CO2 laser, so this ends up being rather low-powered. The cutting head is a 1W blue laser diode which manages to slice the three-ring binder separator pages he’s using for the stencils. The two-axis machine is mounted inside a wooden box to protect his eyes while it’s cutting. He plans to add a drawer later on so that the cutting bed will slide in and out to swap out material for the next project. He already does a lot of 3D printing work and had an old RepRap driver board on hand to use for this projects. He designed and printed the red mounting brackets which make all of the junk-bin components work together. Not bad!

If you’d like to try this out on a smaller scale try using optical drive parts for the axes.

35 thoughts on “DIY laser cutter built to make stencils

  1. ” A 1 Watts blue laser diode will be enough to cut through a thin plastic sheet, that’s all I need. Everything else is routine.”

    rofl

    this dude rules

  2. This is pretty darn cool.
    I like that he even thought about laser safety, and enclosed it.

    Now haw many “Lasers are dangerous” replies will we get?

      1. Do not look into laser with remaining eye.

        I think HAD needs a category for “Safety hacks” hacks to make things safer.
        It will be a sure cure for insomnia.

    1. That was my first thought too ;)
      Would it be possible to mount a camera inside (and a led if neccesary) ?
      Or does the laser damage the camera chip like it does with a human eye ?

      1. As long as it’s not a sustained direct hit, a camera would probably not be damaged. Most CCD chips that I’ve worked with can handle momentary blasts of laser light, even short wavelengths. YMMV.

        1. Photonicinduction played around with a powerful laser, seeing what it does to a camera’s CCD, and inadvertantly made holes in his curtains & furniture…

    2. Without fume extraction…. I know it seems paranoid, but you are not moving the air, the heat will stay in the WOOD BOX….

      1. You don’t think the box can handle a 1-2 Watt load indefinitely?

        Maybe if the focused laser were concentrated on a single point for a long period it’d be a problem, but I’m pretty sure the box will survive the distributed heat load.

        Fume extraction is still probably a good idea when ablating and melting plastics, but it could potentially be safe if the volume of material removed is small and the area is well ventilated.

        An interlock would be easy to implement and is critical to safety in this build, but it’s otherwise one of the few laser hacks I actually find tempting!

  3. We use lasers far more powerful than that in clubs and at concerts every day. I don’t think the knee-jerk safety responses are necessary.

      1. I think they guarantee the laser scanning speed is always high enough to avoid damages if an eye gets in the beam.

      2. The lasers are likely not focused the way a cutting laser needs to be in order to cut. A diffused laser is not likely to damage the eye. Just as the 100 watt bulb does not damage the eye due to it’s diffusion.

        But then again, I may be wrong.

  4. Just out of curiosity, if it was an actual medium powered laser that could cut through things like wood and acrylic, would this be enough shielding, or would the case need to be made of metal and/or special glass?

    1. Wood / acrylic would not be suitable for the base of the containment, but would be fine for the sides of the containment (providing you are not cutting / rastering on glass or reflective surfaces). All that would be needed (theoretically) is a few layers of aluminium foil that are sandwiched between layers of 3mm ply.

    2. Generally, lasers used for cutting are absorbed by almost anything – a laser that simply passes through the workpiece is worthless. A CO2 tube is perfectly safe behind regular glass or acrylic/polycarbonate. The thickness of the enclosure is up to you but they rarely take prolonged laser hits.

      The most common mode of catastrophic failure is the workpiece catching fire. Since the boxes are well ventilated it can become spectacular pretty fast which is why most cases are non-flammable sheet metal.

  5. Neat, but not the way to do T-shirts. you can do screen printing very easy and dirt cheap by simply printing onto a transparancy and exposing a screen treated with the emulsion to sunlight.

    Still a laser cutter is cool, Even cooler it should be able to laser engrave wood causing you to be able to make epic cool stuff.

    1. Because it goes nicely with the flammable paper he’s cutting. Gasoline evaporates nicely, maybe it would be a good coolant for the paper?

      On a more serious note, anyone ever tried a laser like this on styrofoam?

  6. Just me that read the title and assumed SMD solder stencils then?

    Nice build though. I won’t make any comments on safety as I have a (small) permanent scar on the back of my hand from a 40W CO2 laser.

    1. I was thinking solder stencil too–though this would be a good method to basic DIY solder stencils and doctor blade the solder in.

    1. The 40W Chinese lasers you see on eBay are great value – if you consider them to be a kit if parts and you’re happy replacing the bits that fell off in transit and ditching the awful controller board. You can buy just the 40W CO2 tube and PSU but it’s not that much cheaper.

  7. Could this be used to make PCB stencils maybe? With ball bearings this thing could be pretty precise…

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