Have a Laser Cutter? Here’s a Cool Combination Lock Box You Can Build!

Laser-cut plywood boxes are cool. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the free projects out there for people to get started with when they get a laser cutter – it’s obviously a popular genre of project. Laser cut plywood boxes with combination locks are even cooler, especially when the combination is entered on four separate number selectors, on four sides of the very same box.

That’s exactly what [Sande24] has done, and the final result is mesmerizing. 30-40 parts are cut from plywood with a laser cutter, and assembled to construct the lockbox. The design could easily be reused to make the box out of acrylic, or even aluminum or steel if you were so inclined. Check it out in the video below.
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Open-Source Laser Cutter Software gets Major Update, New Features

The LaserWeb project recently released version 3, with many new features and improvements ready to give your laser cutter or engraver a serious boost in capabilities! On top of that, new 3-axis CNC support means that the door is open to having LaserWeb do for other CNC tools what it has already done for laser cutting and engraving.

LaserWeb BurnsLaserWeb3 supports different controllers and the machines they might be connected to – whether they are home-made systems, CNC frames equipped with laser diode emitters (such as retrofitted 3D printers), or one of those affordable blue-box 40W Chinese lasers with the proprietary controller replaced by something like a SmoothieBoard.

We’ve covered the LaserWeb project in the past but since then a whole lot of new development has been contributed, resulting in better performance with new features (like CNC mode) and a new UI. The newest version includes not only an improved ability to import multiple files and formats into single multi-layered jobs, but also Smoothieware Ethernet support and a job cost estimator. Performance in LaserWeb3 is currently best with Smoothieware, but you can still save and export GCODE to use it with Grbl, Marlin, EMC2, or Mach3.

The project is open to contributions from CNC / Javascript / UX developers to bring it to the next level. If you’re interested in helping bring the project even further, and helping it do for 3-axis CNC what it did for Laser Cutting, project coordinator [Peter van der Walt] would like you to head to the github repository!

We recently shared a lot of great information on safe homebrew laser cutter design. Are you making your own laser cutting machine, or retrofitting an existing one? Let us know about it in the comments!

Add Slots and Tabs to Your Boxes in FreeCAD

FreeCAD is a fairly sophisticated, open-source, parametric 3D modeler. The open-source part means that you can bend it to your will. [Alexandre] is working on a module that lets him easily add tabs, finger joints, and t-slots to models (YouTube link, embedded down under).

Right now the plugin is still experimental, but it looks usable. In the video demo, [Alexandre] builds up a simple box, and then adds all manner of physical connective pieces to it. You’ll note that the tabs look like they’re pieces added on to the main face — that’s because they are! He then exports the outlines to SVG and erases the lines that separate the tabs from the sides, and hands these files off to his laser cutter. Voilà! A perfect tab-and-t-slot box, with only a little bit of hand-work. ([Alexandre] mentions that it’s all still very experimental and that you should check out your design before sending it to the laser.)

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200W Laser Bazooka Is Just Silly

We weren’t going to run this one, because, well, it’s just ridiculous. But enough of you have browbeat us by sending in tips to the tipline that we’re going to capitulate. We’re not going to name you all by name, because really, you should be ashamed of yourselves. But you know who you are!

[Styropyro] does a lot of crazy things on YouTube. We really liked his “stuff in a microwave oven” series. He’s also obsessed with lasers and popping black balloons. So he took the laser heads out of four DLP computer projectors (the ones with 24 of those 1.5W Nichia diodes) and combined them. Yup, 200W of 405 445nm blue.

Then he just straps them together and passes them through a lens. It’s not a tight beam, but this thing is really bright. Even though the beam is very loosely focused, it burns stuff. That’s about all you can say. Lots of laser. Boy Howdy!

OK, there, we ran it. Don’t do this at home. It doesn’t require much finesse, and it’s going to get someone blind. Much better to expend your efforts on something more civilized like a projector. At least then you can play vector games on the wall. And stay off my lawn!!! (Kids these days…)

For those that do want to burn stuff, [Joshua Vasquez] published an article yesterday about building a safe laser cutter… much more worth your energy than anything billed as a laser bazooka.

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Taming the Beast: Pro-Tips for Designing a Safe Homebrew Laser Cutter

Homebrew laser cutters are nifty devices, but scorching your pals, burning the house down, or smelling up the neighborhood isn’t anyone’s idea of a great time. Lets face it. A 60-watt laser that can cut plastics offers far more trouble than even the crankiest 3D-printers (unless, of course, our 3D printed spaghetti comes to life and decides to terrorize the neighborhood). Sure, a laser’s focused beam is usually pointed in the right direction while cutting, but even an unfocused beam that reflects off a shiny material can start fires. What’s more, since most materials burn, rather than simply melt, a host of awful fumes spew from every cut.

Despite the danger, the temptation to build one is irresistible. With tubes, power supplies, and water coolers now in abundance from overseas re-sellers, the parts are just a PayPal-push away from landing on our doorsteps. We’ve also seen a host of exciting builds come together on the dining room table. Our table could be riddled with laser parts too! After combing through countless laser build logs, I’ve yet to encounter the definitive guide that tells us how to take the proper first steps forward in keeping ourselves safe while building our own laser cutter. Perhaps that knowledge is implicit to the community, scattered on forums; or perhaps it’s learned by each brave designer on their own from one-too-many close calls. Neither of these options seems fair to the laser newb, so I decided to lay down the law here.

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How Lasers Actually Work

Lasers are optical amplifiers, optical oscillators, and in a way, the most sophisticated light source ever invented. Not only are lasers extremely useful, but they are also champions of magnitude: While different laser types cover the electromagnetic spectrum from radiation (<10 nm) over the visible spectrum to far infrared light (699 μm), their individual output band can be as narrow as a few µHz. Their high temporal and spatial coherence lets them cover hundreds of meters in a tight beam of lowest divergence as a perfectly sinusoidal, electromagnetic wave. Some lasers reach peak power outputs of several exawatts, while their beams can be focused down to the smallest spot sizes in the hundreds and even tens of nanometers. Laser is the acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission Of Radiation, which suggests that it makes use of a phenomenon called stimulated emission, but well, how exactly do they do that? It’s time to look the laser in the eye (Disclaimer: don’t!).

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Mouse Brains Plus Line Laser Equals Rangefinder

[Neumi] wrote in with a sweet robotics hack. It’s a 2D laser distance sensor (YouTube) made with a cheap line laser and an optical mouse’s flow-sensor chip used as a low-resolution camera. In one sense, it’s a standard laser-distance-sensor project. But it is clever for a whole bunch of reasons.

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For one, using a mouse sensor as a low-res camera is awesome. It’s designed to read from a standard red LED, so the sensitivity is in just the right ballpark for use with a line laser. It returns a 30×30 pixel greyscale image, which is just about the right amount of data for a low-end microcontroller to handle and keep up with the framerate without resorting to coding tricks.

It’s also no coincidence that these sensors are available with lenses built in, for relatively cheap, on eBay. Apparently the quadcopter gurus use them as if they were mice to visually track their quad’s motion. Hacker spillover!

Detecting the laser line as it reflects off of whatever objects are lying on [Neumi]’s floor could also possibly prove difficult, and might produce false readings in the presence of background illumination. So [Neumi] takes two readings with the camera — one with the laser on and one with it off — and differences them. Done fast enough, this should reduce any non-laser sources down to the sensor’s noise floor. Finally, there’s some thresholding and averaging going on behind the scenes that help make everything work out right. The code is up on GitHub.

Not a bad build for a 2D laser distance system on a budget. If you want to shell out a bit more money, and are into a seriously involved build, this is probably the slickest we’ve seen in a long time. And if you’re thinking that you’ve heard of [Neumi] before, you’re right: we featured this 405mm laser PCB exposer / burner CNC machine just a few months ago.

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