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.

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Kill the Exhaust, Not Your Lungs with the Fume Coffin

As if slinging around 40 watts of potentially tattoo-removing or retina-singeing laser beams wasn’t anxiety-inducing enough, now comes a new, scary acronym – LCAGs, or “laser-generated airborne contaminants.” With something that scary floating around your shop, it might be a good idea to build a souped-up laser cutter exhaust fan to save your lungs.

We jest, but taking care of yourself is the responsible way to have a long and fruitful hacking career, and while [patternmusic]’s “Fume Coffin” might seem like overkill, can you go too far to protect your lungs? Plywood and acrylic, the most common materials that come across a laser cutter’s bed, both release quite a witch’s brew of toxins when vaporized by a laser beam. The Fume Coffin clears the air in your shop by venting it to the outdoors after giving it a good scrubbing through an activated charcoal pre-filter and a HEPA polishing element. Both filters are commercially available so replacements won’t be an issue, and the entire thing is housed in a wooden box that gives the device its name.

Since it’s ejecting 200 cubic feet per minute, you’ll have to provide at least that much make-up air, but other than that the Fume Coffin should be a welcome addition to the shop. We’ve seen a few other attempts to handle LCAGs effectively before, including a DIY charcoal and automotive air filter design.

Drop-in Controller for eBay K40 Laser Engraver Gets Results

[Paul de Groot] wrote in to let us know about a drop-in controller replacement he designed for those economical K40 laser engravers that are everywhere on eBay. With the replacement controller, greatly improved engraving results are possible along with a simplified toolchain. Trade in the proprietary software and that clunky security dongle for Inkscape and a couple of plugins! [Paul] felt that the work he accomplished was too good to keep to himself, and is considering a small production run.

Laser engravers are in many ways not particularly complex devices; a motion controller moves the head in x and y, and the laser is turned on or off when needed. But of course, the devil is in the details and there can be a surprising amount of stuff between having a design on your screen and getting it cut or engraved in the machine. Designing in Inkscape, exporting to DXF, importing the DXF to proprietary software (which requires a USB security dongle to run), cleaning up any DXF import glitches, then finally cutting the job isn’t unusual. And engraving an image with varying shades and complex dithering? The hardware may be capable, but the stock software and controller? Not so much. It’s easy to see why projects to replace the proprietary controllers and software with open-source solutions have grown.

Cheap laser engravers may come with proprietary controllers and software, but they don’t need to stay that way. Other efforts we have seen in this area include LaserWeb, which provides a browser-based interface to a variety of open-source motion controllers like Grbl or Smoothieware. And if you’re considering a laser engraver, take a few minutes to learn from the mistakes of other people.

Ad Hoc MIDI to Music Box Project Shows Power of Hacker Community

Fair warning: when you post a video of you doing an incredibly tedious process like manually punching holes in a paper tape to transfer a MIDI file to a music box, don’t be surprised when a bunch of hackers automates the process in less than a week.

The back story on this should be familiar to even casual Hackaday readers. [Martin] from the Swedish group “Wintergatan” is a prolific maker of unusual musical instruments. You’ll no doubt recall his magnificent marble music machine, a second version of which is currently in the works. But he’s also got a thing for music boxes that are programmed by paper tape, and recently posted a video showing his time-consuming and totally manual process for punching the holes in the tape. Since his source material was already in a MIDI file, a bunch of his fans independently came up with ways to automate the process.

The video below shows what he learned from his fans about automating his programming, but also what he learned about the community we all work and play in. Without specifically asking for help, random strangers brought together by common interests identified the problems, came up with solutions, sorted through the good and the bad ideas, and made the work publically available. Not bad for less than a week’s work.

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Laser Surgery: Expanding the Bed of a Cheap Chinese Laser Cutter

Don’t you just hate it when you spend less than $400 on a 40-watt laser cutter and it turns out to have a work area the size of a sheet of copy paper? [Kostas Filosofou] sure did, but rather than stick with that limited work envelope, he modified his cheap K40 laser cutter so it has almost five times the original space.

The K40 doesn’t make any pretenses — it’s a cheap laser cutter and engraver from China. But with new units going for $344 on eBay now, it’s almost a no-brainer. Even with its limitations, you’re still getting a 40-watt CO2 laser and decent motion control hardware to play with. [Kostas] began the embiggening by removing the high-voltage power supply from its original space-hogging home to the right of the work area. With that living in a new outboard enclosure, a new X-Y gantry of extruded aluminum rails and 3D-printed parts was built, and a better exhaust fan was installed. Custom mirror assemblies were turned, better fans were added to the radiator, and oh yeah — he added a Z-axis to the bed too.

We’re sure [Kostas] ran the tab up a little on this build, but when you’re spending so little to start with, it’s easy to get carried away. Speaking of which, if you feel the need for an even bigger cutter, an enormous 100-watt unit might be more your style.

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Two-Piece Boxes Thanks to Laser-Cut Flex Hinges

It sounds like a challenge from a [Martin Gardner] math puzzle from the Scientific American of days gone by: is it possible to build a three-dimensional wooden box with only two surfaces? It turns out it is, if you bend the rules and bend the wood to make living hinge boxes with a laser cutter.

[Martin Raynsford] clearly wasn’t setting out to probe the limits of topology with these boxes, but they’re a pretty neat trick nonetheless. The key to these boxes is the narrow to non-existent kerf left by a laser cutter that makes interference fits with wood a reality. [Martin]’s design leverages the slot and tab connection we’re used to seeing in laser-cut boxes, but adds a living flex-hinge to curve each piece of plywood into a U-shape. The two pieces are then nested together like those old aluminum hobby enclosures from Radio Shack. His GitHub has OpenSCAD scripts to parametrically create two different styles of two-piece boxes so you can scale it up or (somewhat) down according to your needs. There’s also a more traditional three-piece box, and any of them might be a great choice for a control panel or small Arduino enclosure. And as a bonus, the flex-hinge provides ventilation.

Need slots and tabs for boxes but you’re more familiar with FreeCAD? These parametric scripts will get you started, and we’ll bet you can port the flex-hinge bit easily, too.

Burn Music On To Anything!

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, and try again. This is especially true when your efforts involve a salvaged record player, a laser cutter, and He-Man. Taking that advice to heart, maniac maker extraordinaire [William Osman] managed to literally burn music onto a CD.

Considering the viability of laser-cut records is dubious — especially when jerry-built — it took a couple frustrating tests to finally see results, all the while risking his laser’s lens. Eventually, [Osman]’s perseverance paid off. The lens is loosely held by a piece of delrin, which is itself touching a speaker blaring music. The vibrations of the speaker cause the lens to oscillate the focal point of the laser into a wavelength that is able to be played on a record player. You don’t get much of the high-end on the audio and the static almost drowns out the music, but it is most definitely a really shoddy record of a song!

Vinyl aficionados are certainly pulling their hair out at this point. For the rest of us, if you read [Jenny’s] primer on record players you’ll recognize that a preamplifier (the ‘phono’ input on your amp) is what’s missing from this setup and would surely yield more audible results.

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