Upgrade That Cheap-o Laser Cutter!

Upgrading a Laser Cutter with RAMPS

Laser cutters are perhaps one of the most useful tools in a hackerspace’s arsenal of tools, rivaled only by 3D printers and CNC mills. The problem is they’re quite expensive — unless you get one of the cheap little ones from China that is! Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. Lucky for us though they aren’t that hard to upgrade!

[Dan Beaven] just finished upgrading his 40W CO2 laser to use an Arduino Mega 2560 and RAMPS 1.4 — wanting to share his knowledge he’s posted a guide to help others do the same. The upgrade itself isn’t that difficult, although can be a bit messy for wiring. In the future [Dan] hopes to design a PCB with all the connectors so it’s as simple as plugging it into the RAMPS board.

To control the laser he’s using firmware from the Lansing Makers Network (GitHub) designed for use with marlin electronics. He’s modified it a bit for his own purposes (Google Drive) including a low output LASAR activation signal.The cool thing with setting up your laser with this hardware is that you can use a laser output plugin right in Inkscape!

44 thoughts on “Upgrade That Cheap-o Laser Cutter!

  1. A great drop-in replacement for the indescribably awful Moshiboard is one from ChrisCircuits. In this case it gives you control from Mach3/LinuxCNC.

    I know these lasers get a lot of bad press but for the average HaD reader I’d recommend them. They’re into that much more expensive than the laser tube and PSU alone. I got one intending to play around and then use it as a donor to make my own, but stalled after just tweaking and improving it a bit.

      1. There is always the option of using a pata port like I did with the avr programmer…
        Parallel and pata ports have the nice advantage of being a real, hardware, unbuffered port to the processor, I think a lot of people dont hold any value to that.
        Then again, programs dont run in linear time on new pc’s anyhow….

        1. “being a real, hardware, unbuffered port to the processor, I think a lot of people dont hold any value to that.”

          unless you have discarded your operating system and are running bare metal, you gave up on “real hardware” a LONG time ago

    1. This firmware offers rastering (G07). However, I’m sure there’s speed limitations due to the buffer size. It’ll fill the buffer, have the laser do the line, then fill the buffer again. I’ll post some video of rastering once I get a chance to try it.

    2. I wonder why people still bother with AVRs for something like this where performance and memory is an issue, you can get a cortex ARM with 10x memory and 10x speed and once you have an assembled board the price difference is negligible

      1. Software / Firmware. Large base of existing code for the AVRs to work from vs not as much for the ARMs. The PICnc project uses a Pi for the heavy lifting running linuxcnc but currently there is no drop in raster support (+ firmware is still in development / testing for normal Gcode operation).

  2. They are now on their V5 of the replacement board. we’ve converted two china lasers with that board and together with the inkscape – plugin the laser works as a charm … we’re currently cutting wooden frames for our quadcopters with it :-)

  3. If I decided to jump into the laser cutting world and assuming I started off with one of these $500-600 chinese 40W laser cutters, what could I expect? Obviously, you do get what you pay for and upgrades and even some defects would be dealt with. I guess I am just wondering “how bad is it?” because $500-600 is pretty attractive to start for someone that is a noob and for a tinkerer, voiding warranties is a given.

    I realize some will come back and just slam these, but when you are a noob, it is VERY easy to get burnt (heh) spending more money. I usually prefer to get my foot in the door cheap and start so I can understand the technology well enough to know what I like or do not like. Will these at least work as advertised? Is the tube going to blow out on me within a month?

    My concern is will I have an at least decent base to start with or will I be upgrading/replacing every single part in the thing right away, or the thing end up cast aside because it is hopeless?

    Any links to some good newbie reviews?

    1. I love mine. I am now needing a new laser tube for it I believe. It’s copped quite a hammering after using it multiple times a week for the past year. I’ve used it to build a huge amount of stuff. If I was to choose one hack, it would be to add compressed air at the cutting head. I made mine with some silicone tubing (2mm ID I believe) and two basketball pump needles. I shoved the tubing over one needle, cable tied it, then hooked that up to the air compressor. the other I snapped the thread off the needle so it was just the tube , shoved it in the other end and cable tied it so it shot air at the cutting area.

      The benefit is it stops flare ups, clears smoke instantly, and allows it to cut better. In my (unscientific) tests, I went from being able to cut 3mm mdf without air to 6mm mdf no problem with air.

      Is highly recommend better fume extraction too. The stock one is poor at best.

    2. Well the $500 machines only have a 200x300mm engrave area and NO Z depth adjustment. So they are set up to cut / engrave 7-10mm thick stock and that is it. (no way to drop the table to engrave a 2″ thick block of wood.) The 300x500mm machines have ~10″ of Z travel but start around ~$2200 on ebay.

      The second draw back mechanically was they typically don’t have air assist. The air assist option is available for the 200x300mm machines but does not show up until you hit the ~$800 packages.

      As for the parallel port comment just about every machine now on ebay has a USB interface on it. Downside to this is it makes upgrades like above way more difficult since you need to interface into the internal ribbon cables vs just plug into the spot the parallel port cable would go.

      1. The size is not too much of an issue as I think most things I would use it for would fit within that. Also, most of the ones I looked at have the air assist. They are also claiming 70mm of Z travel. But not very clear on what that entails in this unit.

        But they do say they will not work on metal, which is something I would have an ocassional use for (just thin sheet metal, really). Need to go up to 100W for that?

        1. 130 or 150 might do it. You need oxygen assist and it might not be a smooth edge. Most lasers for cutting steel start at 1kW for CO2, I think. YAG can do thin metal with less wattage, but that is very expensive too.

      2. i added z table to my moshi 40w , its just a metal frame with a stepper and belt, and a i made a little control board for it. lightobject sells a premade one.

        i’ve been thinking of changing out the moshi, but the last couple revs of the software are getting it to be where it is pretty useable, haven’t had it start cutting for no reason in a few months now.

        lo also sells the head with the air assist nozzle.

  4. Anyone happen to know can a RAMPs board support raster engraving? Currently going down the path of EMC2 (linuxCNC) and I will need to play some tricks with it to get raster engraving working. Just wondering if the RAMPs method would be more strait forward or not. (cutting / vector engraving it sounds like either will work out of the box)

    1. This firmware supports RAMPS and G07 raster commands. It has a PWM output to the Laser supply for raster engraving. Haven’t done it yet – but that was one of the motivating factors using the Lansing firmware as a base.

      1. Hmm that makes things more interesting. Was going down the linuxCNC->raspberry pi->PICnc path but may switch horses :) Driving 4A steppers so had to go with bigger drivers than what Pololu currently offers.

        Thanks for the info time to go do some more reading :)

  5. Hey quick question with the LCD and SD card interface. Is there a way to “jog” the machine to set where you want the cutting / etching to start via just the LCD? Or do you need to connect a PC / edit the gcode to start the print at some location other than 0,0,0?

  6. I bought a Chinese cheapie off eBay for 500AUD and it had air assist and USB interface.
    Bought it on a whim when ebay had 10% off everything code and sort of regretted it after bitting the buy it now button. Pretty impressed with it really, the stock fume extraction sucks though. Worked fine right out of the box but I forgot the take the bubble wrap off the tube so the first run caused a bit of a fire in the tube bay….

  7. I’d recommend using a mesa FPGA 5i25 (mesanet.com) $100 with linuxcnc on an old or new PC. Some of the breakout boards can drive many steppers. Don’t have to worry about a parallel port and it’s all open source and relatively well documented.

  8. If I buy longer rails can I expand the bed size of this machine. I mean of course I have get rid of enclosure and put everything inside bigger one. But will the laser be focused at further distance say 24-30″ ?

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