Take Control Of Your Cheap Laser Cutter

The relatively inexpensive K40 laser cutter/engraver machines from China have brought laser cutting to the masses, but they are not without their faults. Sure, they’re only powerful enough for the lightest cutting tasks, but on top of that, their bundled software is inflexible and disappointing. If your workshop or hackspace has one of these machines languishing in the corner, then the release of a new piece of software, K40 Whisperer from [Scorch], is an interesting and welcome development.

He tells us that the reverse engineering process required to understand the K40’s protocol was non-trivial, given that it does not use handy decimal numbers to issue commands. A spreadsheet was used to collate data packets and spot repeating patterns to analyse the inner workings. Feature-wise, the software reads SVG and DXF files, and can split SVGs by colour. It has a halftone algorithm for rendering grey scales, and cuts from the inside of each shape first to avoid pieces of work dropping out of the piece of material. Currently it works with the stock M2 Nano controller board and is available as a Windows download, though it can also be compiled for Linux distributions, or MacOS, and he is asking owners to test it with as many machines as possible to ensure compatibility with other boards.

He has posted a video of K40 Whisperer in action, which you can see below the break.

This isn’t the only way to improve your K40, you can drop in a new controller, or even increase the size of its bed.

21 thoughts on “Take Control Of Your Cheap Laser Cutter

    1. This makes zero sense. He clearly states it works with the M2 Nano board. Which is a specific board that comes with a lot of these machines. I have no idea how that could possibly be misleading.

  1. there doesn’t seem to be any extractor fan on these…

    was it only last year there was a post about people suffocating because what they were cutting released large amounts of CO2….

    1. Most likely CO (Carbon Monoxide) is what would kill you. CO will kill you at 1000PPM (0.1%) after an hour while CO2 needs to be about 5% or more. In dangerous concentrations the CO2 should have a smell like inhaling the gas from opening a carbonated drink. The “smell” is actually from CO2 dissolving in water forming carbonic acid.

    2. > there was a post about people suffocating because what they were cutting released large amounts of CO2….

      If you’re referring to the Berkeley couple that was killed by CO poisoning from a 3D printer, then no there was no hackaday post on that. That was an editorial decision on our part. We chose (or rather, were unable to) publish anything on this because a popular 3D printing YouTuber had decided “a 3D printer didn’t kill anybody”. He made this decision before the autopsy reports were out, before the fire marshall made a statement, and before anything was really known about a couple dying, reportedly because of a 3D printer.

      This guy is really great at printing things off of thingiverse, but he should really keep his head out of matters that require a bit more diligence and delicacy.

      1. Based on news articles they died from carbon monoxide poisoning but no source has been identified. There is some suspicion that the laser cutter they owned may have been of the source (if it was used without proper venting), but nothing conclusive.
        http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Berkeley-couple-s-mysterious-deaths-raise-11077092.php
        http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/04/20/still-mystery-inspection-finds-no-answers-deaths-berkeley-couple/

        1. Oh, I don’t have a problem with fuzzy things like ‘not knowing’ something or even weird things like ‘speculation’. My problem with the “reporting” mentioned above is that it was incredible — that is to say, a statement that could not be taken as truthful — that a 3D printer *could* kill someone.

          If you watch the video I’m referring to, the basis of the argument is, “This article in a Berkeley newspaper said a ‘3D laser cutter’ produced CO, and this killed two people and two cats. Since there’s no such thing as a ‘3D laser cutter’, this obviously did not happen, and the evil press is out to kill 3D printing

          Basically, it’s an argument from nomenclature. Since the type of machine was reported inaccurately, the machine obviously didn’t cause any damage, didn’t produce carbon monoxide, and didn’t kill anyone.

          Here’s a really great example of what I’m talking about. A Piper PA-28 crashes after takeoff from a local airfield, killing two. This is reported as, ‘a Cessna crash’ in the local paper. Reporters, if you’re not aware, are terrible at aviation, and I’m sure this exact situation has happened before. The argument from nomenclature from the YouTuber would say there was no plane crash. That is idiotic logic, and that’s exactly what was presented in that unnamed YouTube video.

          So, this YouTuber completely killed this story. We can not report on the CO’d Berkeley couple because jackasses in the comments would point to this other trusted news source and say, ‘no, a 3D laser cutter didn’t kill anyone. This dude got this video out fast, which I must respect, but you can’t do that when it’s backed up by terrible logic and zero information.

          Additionally, this YouTuber is laying the groundwork for a culture of misinformation where it’s impossible for a 3D printer to cause a death. Eventually, something will happen. Someone is going to die in a 3D printer fire (which has already happened, but there’s another video about that), or someone’s fingers are going to be crushed, or someone will otherwise die because of a 3D printer. By implicitly saying it’s impossible for a 3D printer to cause a death, this YouTuber is doing a disservice to an entire industry and is actually making 3D printers more dangerous.

  2. Thanks for this, I shall certainly give this a try, the stock software is usable but far from ideal, this may make using the K40 more pleasurable without installing another controller.

  3. I’m sick of all the little fakers with their disingenuous kickstarter scams.

    So it is such a pleasure to see good work like this, well-documented, and offered up open -source to the community. Bravo Scorch!

  4. Y Knot,
    please try it out before you start hating on others. I tried the Whisperer with not much success so far. Besides that it won’t overcome the restrictions of the board itself, what is the real bottleneck.

      1. @Ken N, Don’t pull that “If you think you can do better then SHOW US!” crap on me. I didn’t CLAIM anything at all in my post. And no, I do NOT consider the likes of K40 clones/hacks to be “Affordable” in any way. They’re underpowered and of dubious quality given the sources that are out there (mostly China stuff, some OK, most not OK).

  5. Fabulous and what a great way of thinking outside the box! The more choice, the better. People with a very low budget can try this out first before deciding to spend more on the K40. As pointed out, Scott deciphered the stream of messages and reversed engineered his way back. The biggest trick in getting good results is managing the PWM steering the power supply output. The tube needs to be energised all times for grayscale engraving. It would be great if we could reflash the M2Nano controller so we can change that part of the solution.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s