DIY Laser Cutter

[Jens] decided he wanted to try building his own laser cutter to see just how much you can actually cut with a fairly low power 300mW laser diode.

He was inspired by a similar project from earlier this year, and chose to use the same LPC-826 laser diode, which you can find online for about $10-30. The cutter itself is has a wooden frame and uses drawer slides on both axes. Threaded M6 rods and NEMA17 stepper motors provide the actuation, and the whole thing is controlled by an Arduino Nano with Easy Driver stepper motor drivers.

So what can it cut? In his experiments he was able to cut through adhesive plastics (sticker paper), EVA foam, and black paper. He was also able to engrave wood and ABS plastic, although the plastic didn’t play too nicely with the laser. He also found it useful for laser cutting stencils, which he then used to create rusty art using hydrochloric acid and hydrogen peroxide.

Considering how cheap you could make one of these, it’s not a bad tool to have. Stick around after the break to see it laser cut a shark!

39 thoughts on “DIY Laser Cutter

  1. I wish the authors of these supersimple laser engraver articles would spend the extra three minutes giving us an intro to laser goggles and provide a link to an inexpensive pair on ebay or amazon.

    1. Are you a professional in the laser-cutting world? If so (or if anyone out there is), why not make a quick explanation of the important safety concerns and some gear, and we’ll give it a write-up and start linking to it in our laser cutting articles? It’d be great to have an expert chime in.

      1. I am not. Concern for my retinas keeps me from building one of these, and I’m sure lots of others are in the same boat. Such an article would be much appreciated.

      2. Ill chime in, I work with lasers as a hobby from 500mw argons up to 400W avg ND:YAGs and at work I service up to 4400W CO2’s that can cut through 1″ steel.

        First off the specular reflection from a laser like this is enough to cause permanent eye damage. There are a couple options for a laser like this. Put it in an interlocked room where the laser is disabled when it someone opens the door or put this thing in an enclosed, light leak proof box. Never rely on people needing safety glasses.

        Glasses are wavelength specific and need to be chosen for the specific laser you are working with. They are marked OD, Optical Density. This is a logrithmic scale that represents the amount of the blocked wavelength that is let through.

        As for the laser used (diodes), yeah, they are cheap. But they suck for this kind of application. Their terrible beam characteristics mean the beam cannot be focused to a very small spot, among other things. Spend a little more and get one of the 10-20w chinese tubes and power supplies, you will end up with a much more usefull laser.

        A huge advantage of CO2s it they are very easy to deal with, the beam is at 10,600nm which is baciscally a beam of heat. Most organic materials absorb this completely. This means that you can use normal acrylic for windows on your laser cutter, safety glases are generic polycarbonate face shields, and even if the beam gets by that the light will not penetrate your cornea and cause retinal damage like lasers in the visible region. The TEM00 beam will allow you to focus it to a smaller spot which means higher power densities and better cutting performance.

          1. Yes, and don’t trust the uncertified goggles from china – they may or may not come down the same chute as certified ones and may be listed by the seller as adequare, but getting it wrong once can mean you’ll be hacking with a white cane and a dog. We use 2W 808 nm lasers in the lab and spend more for the goggles than the lasers themselves. Worth every penny.

          2. Yes, if they were good for all wavelengths you would be basically trying to look though a piece of aluminum. I have a bunch of glasses, a set for UV and 808nm (OD 5), A set for argon (OD 11) and a couple different sets for YAG. They are the most difficult to see out of all of them.

          3. Can’t you use something like welding glass(es)? Sure block much light, but does is block enough?

          1. You can get a 12 watt tube for $11o on ebay, that will let you cut about 1/8″ acrylic, for another $30 you can get a 30 watt. Yeah, it is more than a “little more”, but if you want a useful machine it is cheap in the long run.

            These tubes do not have a long shelf life. So buy one when you need it, dont buy one in anticipation of building something.

      1. We got one of those “laser protective goggles” from China off of eBay and actually tested their behaviour (gasp!) on their rated laser frequency.

        Reduces the intensity to about 1/3, based on the numerical output of the light meter.

        We haven’t started playing with lasers yet – still looking for good protective goggles.

  2. Fairly easy. Cool. Relying on reflecting properties of different types of mattherials the CO2 laser has advantage because it is infrared and most materials are opaque for it. But apparently the diode lasers also can be infrared – ebay(dot)com(slash)bhp(slash)ir-laser-diode (just found this link)

    Yes, the safety should be provided for all these stuff – ebay(dot)com(slash)bhp(slash)laser-safety-goggles

        1. Yes, it’s not very safe. I’m also feel some danger when working with these lasers. But they are cheap and easy in maintenance. I working with CO2 laser cutter, it’s a bit complicated in service.

  3. I have a lame question here.
    I salvaged a laser from a cheaper survey device that was maybe $100USD or so.
    The laser is in a metal case that’s about .5″ long or so.
    Part of me thinks it’s 5MW but it appears awfully bright and why would it be in such a heavy duty case/heatsink?

    1. What colour is it? If its green it will appear much brighter than other colours at the same power. The casing can quite often not be that great a judge of power, I have 50mW lasers in tiny casings and 5mW lasers in huge things with dedicated fans.
      No markings on the casing? There should at least be some form of laser class sticker on it which will give you a vague idea.
      Anyway the same safety precautions apply for lasers until you get to the point where the beam can burn you/other objects.

  4. Macona,

    Regarding “… get one of the 10-20w chinese tubes and power supplies, you will end up with a much more useful laser” – please suggest a specific one via a source link – your suggestion sounds like it would be a worthwhile investment.

    1. Regarding CO2 laser tubes, I heard that glass laser tubes don’t tolerate vibration or acceleration very well, which is why the Epilog system keeps the tube fixed and moves mirrors instead of moving the tube around.

      Can anyone comment on this? To make a cutter with a CO2 tube, can we mount the tube to the cutter head or do we need to worry about shock and vibration?

          1. Shock and vibration WOULD be a problem. The tubes are GLASS. They are indeed ~1m in length. They are internally cooled with water. Water adds mass to the assembly. The inertia of the tube filled with water would require more energy to accelerate/decelerate and the rates of acc/dec would be far lower than moving optics instead.

            Seriously, fill a 1m tube with a 2cm diameter jacket with water. Now, wave it around like a magic wand. Then, take a 10gm lens and mount, wave it around. Which seems easier and safer?

            I own a 50 watt CO2 LASER. There’s a reason they don’t mount the tube on the gantry.

          2. I still don’t have an answer, but at least I’ve learned not to ask questions on this board. That’s something.

            (Is the tube easily damaged by shock and vibration? Vic says it’s got mass and inertia, and he owns one so he should know.)

          3. No, the tube will be fine as long as it is mounted securely. The tubes are made out of pyrex and are pretty tough. Now you wouldn’t want to use the tube like they are doing it there where you are moving the laser itself. You really need to use fold mirrors to direct the beam. It works this way since you have less mass on the cutting head which means you could potentially use raster engraving.

            One thing I have thought about doing is taking one of the cheap chinese laser tubes I have and mount it vertically above an X-Y stage I have. They dont care what position they operate in.

          4. @Okian

            A follow up reply to you. You say you still don’t have an answer. Your original question specifically asked about mounting the tube directly to a moving head.

            My previous reply was worded with your original question used for context.

            The answer is that you can, but it is a bad idea. A fast moving head would damage the tube. A slow moving head would be fine for the tube, But when I say slow, I mean uselessly slow. It becomes impractical. You could mount the tube vertically but stationary and move your work using an X-Y table, and have no issue of shock or vibration to the tube.

            When you later say you still don’t have an answer, you ask a slightly different question. You ask if shock and vibration will damage the tube, but offer no context for how the question is framed and you use words that have a relative meaning.

            How much shock? What kind of vibration? Will the force be applied across the diameter or along the length from end to end? You use those terms in a relative and general manner.

            A pencil tap on the tube is no problem. A hammer strike would be a problem.

            Vibration equivalent to a personal massager (ask the ladies), a phone in quiet mode, or a vibrating console game controller would not be a problem. Vibration from a concrete “floater” would be instantly destructive. Putting a tube (without padding) on the floor in the trunk of a car with a bad suspension and driving 10 miles along Detroit freeways would likely but not certainly be enough vibration to cause problems with any wires attached to electrodes and possibly the electrodes themselves. The vibration experienced during a rocket or shuttle launch would likely be a problem.

      1. Epilog uses a Coherent ceramic tube RF excited CO2 laser. They mount it in back for a couple reasons. One, it is easy to service in that location. Two, when you mount the laser tube, which has an integral power supply, to the gantry you start needing a much bigger gantry. That means slower operation.

        I think there are some chinese flatbed co2 laser cutters that use a tube mounted on the gantry. This eliminate a couple fold mirrors as well as you no longer need to deal beam divergence over a distance as well as creating a bellows guard to keep the beam “contained” so you can make the FDA/CDRH happy. To keep it a Class I device you can’t have the beam exposed.

    2. Light Object has pretty good prices on tubes and you dont have to order from china and get a broken tube. There are several places in china that sell direct too. I mentioned above and I will again. These tubes have a short shelf life. Do not buy one anticipating a project. Buy it when you are ready to use it.

      http://www.lightobject.com/Laser-CNC-C11.aspx

  5. for the larger tube idea…would it not be fairly simple to move the cutting table rather than the laser? I know its silly to ask questions here but google is so hard

    1. Yes, you can do that. Our Mitsubishi HC laser at work moves the table in the long axis and moves the cutting head in the short axis on the gantry. The bad thing about this design is it takes a whole lot more room. You basically need 2 times the floor space for each axis you move like this.

  6. The fragility, shelf life, and size of the tube-source laser (e.g., as referenced in the comments above) are suggesting to this writer that a high powered solid state laser may be worth the extra cost. Are there any USA manufacturers of high power solid state lasers (e.g., 20-50 Watts) that could be used in a do-it-yourself laser cutter?

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