Building A Laser Cutter From A Weak Laser

We covet laser cutters and this diy model with a 1 Watt IR diode may be well within our price range. Most commercially available laser cutters, and some homemade ones, work in the 20-100 Watt ranges, using a CO2 laser. They have more than enough power to cut right through a lot of materials so how can a 1W diode compare? It seems that the weaker laser is still quite powerful right at its focal length, so moving that point along the Z axis will let you burn away a larger depth of material. The test rig seen above uses optical drive components for the three axes and managed to cut a rectangular piece out of the black plastic from a CD case.

This isn’t [Peter’s] first try with CNC lasers. He’s the one that’s be working on an open source selective laser sintering platform.

[Thanks Osgeld and Vesanies]

24 thoughts on “Building A Laser Cutter From A Weak Laser

  1. Hmm, would that mean that more powerful lasers are being used than are required? If this 1watt laser can cut thing that normally need a 20watt laser, then shouldn’t all lasers be able to scale roughly 20x using this method?

  2. I know laser are dangerous, but why does everyone keep spamming any laser project’s comment thread with ironic/safety sentences?

    Back to subject : nice, now how about some hybrid project : open-source laser cutter/3D Printer/pyrograph/plotter with interchangeable heads?

  3. Garrett B: They are overpowered in the same way as a chainsaw is overpowered compared to a nail file. Both will cut down a tree but only one will get you home in time for dinner.

    1. @don
      it’s a bipolar stepper so pins 1,2 are one coil 3,4 the other (from memory but you can check with a continuity tester). It’s just a case of then sending the pulses timed correctly to get it to fire.

      (wow well over a year of reading and my first post!)

  4. yeah, the Z-axis using cdrom mech should work just fine.

    interestingly enough you can then “fill” the cut grooves with low melt alloy from a syringe dispenser and make your own circuit boards.

  5. the main difference is the motion, the high powered lasers are just blasting right though the material

    this is using a smaller laser in a sawing motion which is why its able to cut on only thin black material (gosh RTFA)

    (which is not the cleanest cut I have seen, even from a saw but its still kewl)

  6. @people
    the laser threads are constantly filled with warnings about the danger of lasers because they are REALLY F’ING DANGEROUS.

    I honestly consider the 1W visible lasers to be more dangerous than a gun, because a gun fires in one direction and is not likely to ricochet very much, but a laser will go extremely long distances, reflect off of anything shiny, and then travel long distances in an unpredictable manner, where it will still be capable of blinding people. You shoot a spoon with a gun and you can predict the safety of it based on whats behind the spoon. Shoot a spoon with a 1W laser and you could blind anyone with a line of sight to the laser! Guns are also universally regarded as dangerous but regular people haven’t gotten that sense just yet with lasers, since regular laser pointers are harmless.

    So people like me go on about this because these things are so f’ing dangerous its unreal, and I personally will keep ranting like this until everyone has an appreciation for how dangerous these are! I just want to make sure everyone understands!


  7. 1) bullets reflect too
    2) unless its hitting a perfect mirrored surface a laser will distort and diffuse when reflected

    im not saying dont treat this as a toy, it IS a dangerous item, but god, do we all live in houses made of perfectly shiny surfaces, just looking around my workbench I see some tarnished brass and some dull chrome

    it makes me think more about brasso more than anything, and if I were to do it, I would have a pair of the pictured goggles on and that pets and children were not in the area (like you should be doing while welding but no one has a page long disclaimer about that)

  8. @Taylor Alexander
    Thanks for pointing that out. To be honest it was not on the top of my mind. My next question is where would I get a good pair of goggles that would protect my eyes from lasers? I have a pile of old IDE Cdroms and burners and would like to play with the lasers. But I don’t want to go blind.

    I see one in the picture? Also I hate to put a price on safety but where could I get a pair that are good but not to expensive?


  9. @Taylor Alexander how is it not predictable? Lasers bounce off of a reflective surface at and equal and opposite angle. Simple geometry and your can predict the angle.

    lol just kidding, i get what you’re saying it could hit a surface miles away and reflect and you would never know.

    And i know people are stupid about lasers, i remember kids in school would shine the library laser scanner into their eyes, It maybe low powered and it would probably take a year to blind somebody but its still stupid

  10. I’m working on a full size cnc project right now, but after i finish with that I was actually planning to build a cnc (probably with a sharpie instead of a cutting tool) with some old CD drives i had laying around. He beat me to it. I found 3 or 4 laying around in my junk pile and got the idea. I might have to buy a laser for it now

  11. Probably more sensible to enclose the laser and feeder in an IR opaque box, with a highly visible “LASER ON” white LED so it can be seen through the goggles to remind the user it is active.

    Not hard to do…

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