Arduino Revives Junkyard Laser Cutter

Some people have all the luck. [MakerMan] writes in to gloat tell us about a recent trip to the junkyard where he scored a rather serious looking laser cutter. This is no desktop-sized K40 we’re talking about here; it weighs in at just under 800 pounds (350 Kg), and took a crane to deliver the beast to his house. But his luck only took him so far, as closer inspection of the machine revealed it was missing nearly all of its internal components. Still, he had the frame, working motors, and laser optics, which is a lot more than we’ve ever found in the garbage.

After a whirlwind session with his wire cutters, [MakerMan] stripped away most of the existing wiring and the original control board inside the electronics bay. Replacing the original controller is an Arduino Nano running Grbl, likely giving this revived laser cutter better compatibility with popular open source tools than it had originally. Even though the laser cutter was missing a significant amount of hardware, he did luck out that both the motor drivers were still there (and working) as well as the dual power supplies to run everything.

After a successful motion test, [MakerMan] then goes on to install a new 90W laser tube. Supporting the tube is a rigged up water cooling system using a plastic jug and a cheap bilge pump. He also added an air assist system, complete with side mounted compressor. This pushes air over the laser aperture, helping to keep smoke and debris away from the beam. Finally, a blower was installed in the bottom of the machine with flexible ducting leading outside to vent out the smoke and fumes that are produced when the laser is in operation.

This machine is a considerable upgrade from the previous laser [MakerMan] built, and as impressive as this rebuild is so far, we’re interested in seeing where it goes from here. If you ask us, this thing is begging for an embedded LaserWeb server.

30 thoughts on “Arduino Revives Junkyard Laser Cutter

      1. Insufficient capacity. An oxygen assist runs through gas pretty quickly, although not nearly as fast as nitrogen (used for getting a good clean edge on stainless steel, but you’re not going to be doing anything that calls for a nitrogen assist with 90 watts).

  1. Ok, since I was a kid reading dead-tree electronics magazines I have heard about these glorious places known as junkyards, trash dumps, etc.. People go to these places and find all sorts of awesome goodies that they hack into cool projects.

    What are these places?

    I have found landfills where you can drop stuff off and they bury it into a big future golf course / ski resort. I have found automotive junkyards where you can rid yourself of an old lemon or buy some inexpensive parts for your ride.

    But where do I find these places where one can find awesome stuff like this? And when you do find it do you just take it cause it’s someone else’s trash? Or buy it at scrap prices from the yard?

    I live in the midwestern US. Do we have these places here? If so how do I find them? Google? Yellow Pages? Are they called junkyards here or since the ‘auto recyclers’ use that name are they something different in our local dialect?

    Help! I’m tired of feeling so left out!

    1. “Or buy it at scrap prices from the yard?”
      If they are willing to sell to an individual, yes.
      Also find out when the local college/university has their property auction(s).
      And yes, if you are not living in Shenzhen, or Silicon Valley, or Boston, or Research Triangle…
      the pickin’s are slim.
      Some scrap recyclers that used to be in the Yellow Pages (remember those?) were under the “Hide and Fur” category.
      I’ve seen some neat stuff at the County Hazardous Waste facility, but they won’t let an individual take anything,
      (unless you get to know the guys, and know when their boss isn’t around, they might have something set aside that they felt was “too valuable to get crushed”, and you have brought donuts on occasion.)

      1. Where I live(Calvert County Maryland) the dump/transfer station is a freakin goldmine. I’m astounded at the stuff people throw away that is either working or just needs a simple fix. Problem is your not allowed to take any of it. I will admit to sneaking some laptop batteries to harvest the 18650’s.

        1. Same thing in Anne Arundel county. A couple of times the guys got picky at the electronics bin…other times they’re like “I’ll be up there for a few minutes…koff.”

          1. I too live in Anne Arundel county. I’ve been to the Northern Recycling Center at Dover Road and have, on occasion, seen interesting items over by the electronics recycling area. I’ve never asked about re-claiming any equipment since there are signs stating that everything becomes the property of the county.

          2. DH, Millersville guys are occasionally cool. Sometimes they can be jerks though. If I really want something out of there I act like I’m putting in something,..then act like I’m reconsidering and take the item I want out.

          3. Yeah, real name, if I knew your name then maybe Id know;) If it helps I’m 44, live in Huntingtown, I’m an electrician. I’m the only Chris Barth I know of in MD.

            Got me LMAO right now. I’ve done the old ” act like I’m putting in something,..then act like I’m reconsidering and take the item I want out” thing as well.

    2. Where I live(Calvert County Maryland) the dump/transfer station is a freakin goldmine. I’m astounded at the stuff people throw away that is either working or just needs a simple fix. Problem is your not allowed to take any of it. I will admit to sneaking some laptop batteries to harvest the 18650’s.

    3. Look for scrap metal recyclers (not car junkyards), the biggest one in my area just happens to be the largest metal dealer in the area also so they sometimes end up with some nice finds coming from the factories they sell metal to, If you cant find one listed then check with nearby factories or welding supply shops and they may point you in right direction.

    1. Don’t know why the hate. All the Arduino is doing is commanding the existing motor controllers, and the Grbl firmware is very good at what it does.

      I’d say the “engine” for a laser cutter is the laser itself, and he replaced that with a proper 90W tube as would have been installed originally.

    2. Grbl works great since it has a pwm laser mode to control laser power levels. I do find grbl running on a Uno/328 to be a little slow for raster images. Your are limited to about 30khz step output pulse rate. Depending on your microstep driver settings/pulley gear ratio, that can seriously limit raster speed.

      Instead I use grbl-lpc, port of grbl running on a ARM processor. The board I’m using is a Cohesion3d mini. 500mm/sec raster engravings take about 50k steps/sec. The ARM board can do close to 200k steps/sec, plenty of headroom. With LightBurn laser software and grbl-lpc, it works wonderfully.

    1. Yeah, Used to operate 6KW laser cutters at an engineering company and the machines had nothing in the way of interlocks that stopped the machine when the cutting area was opened, because the cutting area was not enclosed at all!

      I operated those machines 5 days a week for about 5 years and never got hit by a beam once. At 6KW even the backscatter would be immediately apparent if you got hit by it. But at 90W your skin would possibly get slightly warm.

      The optics in those focus the beam to a tight point but the moment you go beyond that focal point the laser scatters and you start spreading those watts over a larger and larger area as you move away.

      So long as you wear appropriate eye protection, don’t look into the beam directly, and keep the lid closed, the fact there is no interlock isn’t an end-of-the-world scenario.

      1. Thank you for the info about focusing. That would help a lot.

        I still think a door switch is necessary on the main chamber and the laser chamber, ’cause it doesn’t take much laser light to wreck an eye.

  2. Most if not all the good stuff at the recycle yards comes from local colleges and schools,my first week at Uof M ,College Park,physics dept,I scored a ION inplanter and it worked…that was back in the 80’s as you say the stuff you can find in dumpsters is fantastic.

    1. Ha! I know the exact dumpster you’re talking about!!! Gotta check it out next time Im driving down Rt1. Another good place for scores is the local hospital. Get in good with the maintenance dept and you got access to lots of good stuff. I fly RC with the hospital guy, recently he brought me into a room said take what you want. OMG, it was a mad scientists dream. Got a medical laser pulsed 3W 532nm DPSS with a fiber wand, haven’t had time to even plug it in yet(yes, I know the danger and precautions required) . DPSS lasers have great beam profiles! There were also centrifuges, pumps, etc. Wife would have killed me if I brought home more crap!

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.