Laser So Easy To Build Anyone Can Burn Their Eyes Out

The boys over at North Street Labs built a handheld burning laser and made it look super simple. Well it’s not. We don’t think it’s hard either, but the only reason it looks so easy is because they really know what they’re doing.

The first step was to source the best parts for the application. They’re using a handheld flashlight body which is small but still leaves plenty of room for the components. Next they ordered a quality lens made for the wavelength of the diode, as well as a prefab driver board.

Now the real build starts. They hit the metal lathe and machined a housing for the diode out of some aluminum stock. To marry the parts together they applied some thermal paste, and used a wrench socket to protect the diode from the pressure the vice jaws exert. It slid into place and the whole thing fits perfectly in the flashlight housing. The project wouldn’t be complete without video proof of it burning stuff. You’ll find that after the break.

62 thoughts on “Laser So Easy To Build Anyone Can Burn Their Eyes Out

  1. My favorite laser was the 150W CO2 laser that was part of an engraving system.

    One day the guy responsible for engraving forgot to turn the chiller on for the system and the RF cavity ate itself.

    That’s how I got to learn how to repair a 150W CO2 laser.

    And yes, that could burn holes in things very easily with an invisible beam.

    1. The laser didn’t have an interlock to ensure the chiller was on before turning on the laser?

      That’s as stupid as those soft ice cream freezer dispensers that allow the refrigeration to be turned on without turning on the stirrer. Freeze it up then turn on the stir = broken expensive machine.

      It’s a bloody simple series-parallel switch wiring circuit yet manufacturers of multi-thousand dollar equipment can’t seem to figure it out.

      When one function *must always* be turned on before another, you design the gizmo so it cannot be turned on incorrectly.

      1. Yes indeed, no interlocks with the chiller. It wouldn’t have cost all that much to put in a simple thermistor that could tell if the chiller was down to the correct range of temp. But they knew they could sell a $4,500 lasing cavity when someone forgot to turn on the chiller so they went with that.

  2. What are they trying to burn a hole thru?

    And after 30 seconds what happened?

    Worst demo video ever (ok not even close, at least they didn’t have crappy background music blaring on).

    I have a cheap cordless screwdriver that could make a bigger hole faster if they want to borrow it.

    1. I am going to agree with you on this demo…
      Burn a hole? what hole? Did anyone else see a hole? *pfffft* let down!
      but I will acknowledge the kudos for no blaring crappy music ;)

    2. Come on now… You know the video had to be cut short…. It burned through the case, then set his bed sheets on fire.

      He is currently being charged with arson for burning down his girlfriend’s house.

    3. I also agree, I am from North Street Labs; I will force him to make a better video as soon as he gets back from his night shift doing trauma at the hospital.

      Also, I will make him use one of the many variations of the Popcorn song I have as the background music to further annoy you. :P

  3. Why did they choose a violet-ish laser? Wouldn’t red (being closer to infrared) have more burning power? I know red lasers are a bit cliche, but that would seem more effective to me.

    1. Actually, blue and violet (blu-ray) have more energy due to the higher frequency (and shorter wavelength). Also, there are only specific wavelengths that you can make. This one is a 445nm, which you can get for pretty cheap. Those diodes can put out up to around 2W. Reds in that power range are harder to find, and most of them are a different style of diode that isn’t compatible with the commonly used optics housings available for hobbyists.

      1. No! More energy per photon is not equal to more energy or more power for the beam. But, yes the point is that 445 nm is a wavelength at which it appears to be easy to make high-powered diode lasers for a modest cost, that is why they use that color.

      2. Shorter wavelength means you can focus to a small point.

        Therefore a blue laser can put all of its power into a smaller area than an equivalent red one, like the difference between sewing with a sharp needle & a blunt one.

        Then there’s how materials respond to different wavelengths, but that’s another story.

  4. How many times does it need to be said?

    These are EXTREMELY dangerous. If it’s actually 1.5W, that is well over the level of power at which diffuse reflection will cause eye injury. Ie, you don’t have to aim it at a mirror – a white wall could be enough.

    People who don’t understand laser safety (see the video where the builder aims it out the window near other houses!) have NO BUSINESS making these builds. Using a laser like this is like walking into a safe with a handgun and firing off a couple rounds.

    1. This thing is extremely dangerous. Instant irrecoverable eye damage, not to mention that it is considered a prohibited weapon in many countries.
      Seriously hackaday, you should be above this.

      1. Because this could possibly be extremely useful as a cnc engraving/cutting tool. Just because there is potential for harm doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to exploit it. This was a cheap build to see if a solid mount cnc engraving laser was worth pursuing.

    2. Having gotten a degree in optics and worked with many non-eyesafe lasers, I find this very stupid. If you saw the precautions taken in lab laser bays for lasers well under this power, you’d recognize the dangers too.

      Case in point, a friend of mine was at Lawrence Livermore labs as an intern several years ago where a fellow intern burned out her vision in a laser bay since she was not wearing the filtered safety glasses. You go blind for life in just a second.

      1. Without fail, whenever a laser build gets posted somewhere, an expert comes in to say how dangerous they are and offers anecdotes of someone not wearing protection and getting hurt. The common theme is almost always a lack of protection or care. Wear the right goggles when there is any possibility of dangerous reflection / refraction. It’s pretty simple.

      1. legalistic party pooper?
        if you aim that think outside a window, you’re just dumb & dangerous.
        use it in the basement and burn your own eye out, you’re just dumb, and i’m fine with that.

      2. Actually, if you would do some research, then you would find out that eye damage is very real, and a very difficult problem. Because your brain compensates for damage before you even know it. When you notice you have eye damage because of a laser you are WAY to late.

        If I would ever see someone play with a laser like that in this way I would knock them out cold.

        I have a 500mW laser, with proper glasses, and I only use it indoor. With the curtains closed. Because looking at a defuse dot of a 500mW laser could already cause eye damage.

    3. I have to agree. Do not be a jackass!

      When you pop your or neighbour eye out then these kind of anectotes add more pressure to the public opinion to make these kind of builds less legitimate.

      I hope you understand.

      1. Justin… You should’ve put expert in quotes, because ‘everyone’ thinks they’re an expert. We all know it goes without saying that some of these lasers can be harmful and to use them properly. We don’t need the constant reminder from ‘experts’!!!

    4. Good point.

      I would go further as to say we should all take heed and stop using cars, lighters, fire, drills, kettles, toasters and OMG tools!

      I can’t stand comments that go overboard about safety, do you think Tesla would have ever invented anything if he wore goggles, steel toe cap boots and didn’t ever do anything risky!

      Get back to your bubble wrap room and slippers, living your yellow brick life!

      Did anyone stop and wonder if the guy in the video had goggles on? Perhaps he did already, perhaps he didn’t need morons telling him about safety.

      Agh, I’m going back to my thermonuclear waste and vodka cocktail.

      1. Yeah, but for every Tesla there’s about 100 million Steve-O’s, a lot of them are 12 years old, and a good bunch of those are reading this.

        So, while they don’t need any help figuring out how to order a laser from ebay with mommy’s amex card, or open up daddy’s bluray player with a screwdriver they DO need to be educated about the risk involved…over and over and over again

  5. Lasers are safe, IF you are careful and respect them for what they are capable of.
    This includes the use of proper OD6+ rated goggles that have been tested in a lab to block a direct beam hit at the wavelength used.
    An auto beam shutoff if this happens would also be useful especially for experimental setups.

  6. In the head pic it is being aimed up into a distant tree. Any aircraft nearby? Morons here pointing much lower power green lasers at passing aircraft have already caused outrage leading directly to new laws and restrictions, not to mention making life much more difficult for responsible hackers who would like to employ tech like this in projects.

    +1 for the hack, and -10^25 for being careless with it.

  7. People always get up in arms about the laser safety crowd, and I’m not sure why.

    Another common device that’s incredibly dangerous and should be treated with the utmost respect is the firearm, yet just yesterday I read yet another story (with pictures attached, this time) of someone doing something stupid (Attempting to demonstrate that a particular handgun would go out of battery and fail to fire in a contact-shot situation) and shooting himself, because the gun did not go out of battery and happened to be loaded.

    His forearm is destroyed (and I mean -destroyed-), because he was trying to make a point.

    People can’t be safe with items they -know- could end their lives in a heartbeat, why would they be safe with something they threw together in an afternoon?

    1. Because:
      a) People doing stupid shit with firearms usually end up hurting themselfs, instead of everyone around them.
      b) The effects of hurting yourself with a firearm are instant. While slowly blinding yourself with a laser might take a while before you notice, as your brain compensates for damage.

    2. Well, there are some people wanting to use semiconductor lasers as firearms. Good thing it’s not practical to convert a 4D Maglight into a 5W laser with low beam divergence (meaning still able to burn at 100+ yards). Some idiot would end up trying to use this as a gun and finding out that it will behave more like a flamethrower. Although it WOULD be cool to be able to make it in the first place, even if incredibly reckless to use.

      In theory, you don’t really need a laser for this. If you had a bright enough lamp and the correct reflector, you could easily blind yourself. In fact, powerful enough floodlights are considered portable fire hazards by most cities. Just aim at a window and wait for the curtains to heat up… Gee, guess what happens.

    3. There is a difference, every single person from the age of 5 or so understands that a bullet from a gun can easily kill a person.

      The majority of people, even adults, would probably not understand, however, that a laser taken from a common Bluray player kan make a person blind. A lot of people are likely to believe this requires “much stronger” lasers. So when some gifted 12 year olds see an instruction video on youtube on how to do this, it’s not a good thing. People are people, and they’re going to do it anyway, but at least we who understand the dangers involved should keep on nagging about it until this knowledge is more widespread…imho.

  8. This is why some hackers never post their projects, There is always some mouth breathers out there that do not grasp the concept of “DON’T try this at home.”

  9. >Just because there is potential for harm doesn’t
    >mean you are guaranteed to exploit it.

    No, but anything that can go wrong, will eventually go wrong.

    Like AussieTech says, that guy shining that burning laser into the trees isn’t thinking about aircraft that he can’t see behind the tree, and the tree is not a completely opaque object. He failed at safety, and illustrated it for everyone to see.

    People arguing here that there is minimal danger didn’t and wouldn’t recognize laser danger if they were looking right at it (with their remaining eye, as the joke goes).

    I was out on the playa one night, and one of the big lasers at a rave camp had a boo-boo, and suddenly there was a green road on the desert, shimmering, leading from beyond the drift fence and back to the rave camp. I was about a mile away from the rave camp.

    This was probably a multi-watt laser, that didn’t have a mechanical barrier to prevent ground-plane illumination, and I couldn’t tell what was going to happen next, so I kept my gaze away from the rave camp until about ten minutes later the green road disappeared.

    The manifestations of “stupid with lasers” very rapidly overtakes and surpasses “pretty with lasers” as you add more and more people to any open area.

    1. Ok, guy.
      You better never fucking drive a car again! You could hurt yourself, or someone else. Don’t you know how dangerous they are?! I sure hope someone looks at the automotive fatality statistics and bans all cars.

      What’s the statistics on lasers?

      1. Cars are not by it self dangerous. They become dangerous when halt at high speeds.

        Also people are required a licence to drive a car. To get a licence you are obliged to pass the training and exams.

        There are hundreds of millions cars in the wild.

        I do not think that people should be banned from using a laser but I believe that they should follow a common sense.

      2. Problem is, everyone knows that a car can be dangerous, and you need a license to drive them.

        Seems a lot of people that don’t have a clue are handling powerful lasers. I’ve seen it too, at raves.

        So, we all need to try and make it common knowledge what risks are involved, so that people know what they’re dealing with, then they can decide for themselves what to do or not. We shouldn’t post or spread youtube videos with “laser jackass” content unless they very clearly explain the dangers involved.

  10. Once, back in the 70s, we rode bikes without helmets.

    Now kids get arrested for not having them.

    Yeah, let’s go safety nazi to the max with lasers, and then watch it take 50 years for the kinds of developments we will see in 5.

    License and permits for EVERYTHING complete with OSHA inspections, site inspections, and background checks. I am sure the fees will be affordable seeing that the tax feeders sent to do those inspections and handle that paperwork on average now make more money than the average private-sector worker (plus full benefits too).

    Safety should be simple and it’s always good to point it out, but let’s not go overboard with it either. The ONLY reason we license drivers and register cars is because almost everybody has one (look up the history of licensing and registration). That “sold on safety” crap is for dumb sheeple who follow the comic book version of history.

    Keep it off the skin.
    Don’t look into it.
    Don’t point it into the sky.
    AND WATCH YOUR REFLECTIVE SURFACES. Fool with an “eye safe” laser for a little while and see how often you get “hit” and you will see what I mean.

    Beyond that, let’s leave the money grubbing tax feeding tick (gov) out of this.

  11. OK! all the morons who are crying about people stating about laser safety should go to stare at a laser for a few hours. Then come back and tell us your fine with one eye.;( I personal would be vary VARY mad if those morons lived next to me. I do not think it is ok to be careless with this kind of stuff. You should work with the mentality that something can go wrong. It is not ok to hurt someone else or your self because you want to be COOL and say safety is for the wimps. Guess what this wimp has both eyes and now has a good advantage over you.
    If you clam yore self to be smart in any field you would understand safety first. Nicola Tesla did not die from electricity. That is because he was cautious about it and understood it enough to be safe with it. He is died because of old age. So stop your b***Hing about how there is always someone trying rain on your Little kid mentality that you and everyone around you are invincibly and cant DIE or get HURT. I have had a few close calls because people like (all the ones crying about a few people posting about safety) and now have scars to show for it. It is NOT ok to hurt someone els because you think you are above safety. I am ashamed of how many kids think it is funny to poke fun at the safety crew ;). they are professionals for a reason and you are (the ones crying about safety post) the one trying to blind your neighbors and possibly making it harder for real hobbyist to make cool hacks and mods because your dumb about safety and hurt someone.

    HAD can you pleas post a generic safety advice before hacks and mods in any dangers project.
    I’m tired of the kids thinking there invincible and cant get hurt or are to smart for safety.

      1. Just because you or i know how to use them safely dose not mean some one coming to this site for info dose. Safety is always a good thing to repeat. It is not responsible to show a picture of some one aiming a high power laser out a window at there neighbors house or in the sky. With grate information comes great responsibility. If you give some one a firework and a lighter with out safety information first, he has a higher chance of hurting him self or others. but if you give him the safety speech first you lower the chance of him or some other getting hurt. If you don’t like the safety advice skip it. Its the internet and it dose not revolve around your ultimate knowledge of safety and thing of any sorts. There is a lot of new people to this kind of stuff and do not understand the dangers that may lie before them.

        So if you think Safety should not be mentioned at all then go burn your eyes out. But if a kid comes on this site and burns his eyes out because he learned how to make a burning laser out of a DVD burner then i will be extremely mad that there was no Safety mentioned. I would also be ashamed that it happened and he mentioned this site for a source of info.

        To be frank i have just about HaD it with this site if the writers and all the anti safety crew want it to have as many dangers as it can have. Then im done coming here and would implore others to do the same. I am sorry HaD but the likes of these trolls and ANTI safety pushed be to the edge. I have seen a fairly decent improvement of this site over the years and i HaD actually stopped coming here for a bit. because some of the comments. Its all starting again. It is now becoming a site of irresponsibility. I implore you HaD to be the responsible ones and do what is wright. It really is not that big of a deal to inform your readers and your future readers about safety. Rely is not

  12. Unlike the offensiveness of the resistor color code mnemonic, laser hazards do not go away if you change your mind about them. They’re also more subtle than the dangers of firearms. With firearms Colonel Cooper’s four rules will keep you covered in a fail-safe manner: almost any way you could inadvertently injure someone with a firearm involves breaking at least two of his rules. There’s no such simple set of rules for lasers, so firearm safety is not at all analogous to laser safety.

    Here’s a link to the Livermore story:

    The wikipedia article on laser safety is not a bad place to start but it doesn’t stress some important concepts like not *relying* on safety goggles to prevent eye strikes. They’re secondary safety devices, not primary ones.

    1. Here’s a draft.

      1) All high-powered lasers are capable of causing damage to vision and property
      2) Don’t point the laser, or any possible reflections, at anything you aren’t willing to burn
      3) Keep your finger off the power switch until you’re ready to burn
      4) Be aware of what is in the distance while using a laser

      1. One major problem is that knowing the whole beam path is full of subtleties that “know your target and what’s behind it” isn’t.

        “All lasers are always lasing”.

  13. Wow this whole flame war makes me want to go build my own laser project, post a few videos, and watch everyone go nuts in the comments section….

    I figure if we do that enough times, several people will get so stressed out they’ll have heart attacks and stop bothering us. Yes folks, heart attacks are dangerous too.

    1. Most of the flaming is from the little kids that do not like safety.

      No heart attack here or missing limbs,eyes,teeth,toes,fingers,origins,mind.

      I will find a more professorial and organized site to read my daily hacks and mods.

      I bid you adieu HaD and have a nice non safe life.

      Ignorance is the biggest tool for morons.

  14. Question (unrelated to the severely overbeaten dead horse thread of “you’ll put yer eye out!”, above):

    Maybe I’m blind today (sorry), but — I couldn’t seem to find what the actual diode they used was. Any (ahem) pointers?


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