$60 Laser Makes The Cut With New Controller

If you are reading the Lightburn forums, you probably already have a laser cutter of some kind.  But, if you are like most of us, you can always be tempted into another “deal.” [Dkj4linux] has a post where he bought a $79 laser engraver  (now selling for between $59 and $65, we noticed). Like most of these cheap engravers, the machine takes a proprietary controller with Windows-only software. No surprise that [Dkj4linux] would want to use…um… Linux. The answer? Rip the board out and replace it with an old spare.

The machine looks well constructed, as you can see in the video below. For that price, you get a 3-watt laser head (that is likely way less than that in terms of optical power), and a build area of 220x290mm. The controller was in a small metal enclosure, and it was easy to simply unplug the two axis and the laser control cable.

This would be a great use for an old 3D printer controller you’ve had in your junk box since the last upgrade. It turns out, the board, a JL1, does have standard GRBL firmware available if you ask for it. It looks as though the firmware isn’t perfect, but there are workarounds. We’d probably just ditch the cheap controller and use one of our own, anyway.

Honestly, calling these cutters is a bit of a stretch since at this power level, you’ll have trouble cutting anything very thick. But it looks like it does a credible job of engraving and it probably can cut some materials with some patience.

Of course, you can also make your own frame, add a few stepper motors and just buy a laser module. Or do a more advanced build. But if you wanted to try a laser without a big investment, something like this could be just the ticket.

32 thoughts on “$60 Laser Makes The Cut With New Controller

      1. I’m allergic to wood smoke. I can sit next to a camp fire. It affects me but so long as I’m not doing it every day, I move if the wind blows the smoke towards me and I shower that night it isn’t so bad as to make it worth giving up camp fires and all the good stuff that can come with them.

        But to make smoke indoors? Where it is trapped in an enclosed area? And it gets into the upholstery? Forget it!

        Also, a stray reflection of the light of a campfire does not permanently damage your eye.

    1. All the cheap ones you can find on Amazon are like this, it is what it is. Nobody is motivated to buy one when you see the price of the enclosures, even if it has many benefits.

      Nonetheless, have you ever smelled the fresh scent of burnt plastic and medium ? Or seen the bright flash of the laser, without safety goggles ?

      It may be unwise for a beginner to buy this, but that’s probably what they will do, for price reasons, although I have personally never used unenclosed ones. Only regulations can change this.

      1. I have a 3018 that has a laser module upgrade attached and inside an enclosure. I tried two engravings indoors next to my open windows and it was BAD. Plus the lack of airflow over the laser caused terrible smudging and grease like oils to appear on the wood surface.

        And yeah the light going everywhere was a huge concern so I just closed the room off while I ran both 5 minute profiles.

        It took days for the smell to clear the room.

        I now have my 3018 in my garage using a USB extension so my PC is inside and I watch the engraving from a USB camera that has laser glasses Infront of the lense to protect the sensor.

      2. The regulations exist. These open frame, alongside the Glowforge and similar “Enclosed, except this one slot”, are absolutely violating them. These are legally non-compliant Class 4 lasers, and should be seized and destroyed at the border. Especially with the marketing towards arts and crafts for kids and schools.

        These are irresponsible, and the engineers and companies behind them deserve major penalties for willful negligence.

        1. Laser safety laws are a mess, so somebody correct me if I’m wrong, please. But my understanding is:

          FDA regulates the manufacture of laser products and laser systems. Systems have stricter requirements, but laser products are only subject to labelling requirements.

          (The FDA also regulates laser shows, b/c the viewers are potentially exposed.)

          OSHA makes rules on the use of lasers in the workplace. This is where the proper setup and use of a self-built laser system would come into place. All the good safety stuff.



          The laser head, which you screw on to the moving frame yourself, is probably a laser product rather than a system. And it’s a good chance that the 1.5 W laser heads on these things say 1.5 W on them. FDA’s regulatory boxes checked.

          Your garage is not a workplace. That’s the OSHA requirements sorted.

          So even though the device is dangerous and being put in the hands of people who do not understand how to mitigate the risk, it’s probably legal both to import and to use. IANAL.

          But should you go through the OSHA laser safety page linked above? Oh my, yes! Just like you should understand how to safely operate a table saw or a drill press.

          Making an enclosure is the best, but ironically, that would probably constitute a laser system in the eyes of the FDA, and then the manufacturer would need to provide interlocks and keyswitches and so on. Making it a ton safer, but adding to the price.

          DIY and save some money, IMO. And FFS, RTFM: https://www.osha.gov/otm/section-3-health-hazards/chapter-6

        2. The Safety Concern over a 3 watt Laser on this thread is amazingly overstated, and paranoid to say the least. I’ve operated commercial Laser cutting machines alot more powerful (dating back to 1996) as well as Commercial Engravers and its like any tool regarding safety. Do the wrong thing and you will get hurt with the main focus on (like every other tool in existence) not getting directly in the working path. Eye Protection is needed mostly if performing manual focusing (focal point/blue flame) in my experiences but during a run, isnt really useful. Proper ventilation is always needed again like for most things, ex. Sanding and Painting are similar in venting need but comes down to what you cut with examples like certain plastics that can outgas toxic fumes. Read the safety info on the material you plan to cut and take the proper precautions or dont do it.

    2. For sure. Every day I see kids riding bicycles without helmets, guys flying ultralights without parachutes, people driving without using their seatbelts, people going outside in the sun without sunscreen, and the list goes on and on. My entire being tingles in shear abject horror at the lack of safety precautions people refuse to employ. Excuse me while I go sit down and take a few deep breaths (through a respirator I might add.)

        1. You forgot “irony off”.
          The “worst pandemic” is little more than a cold with some coughing for most of the poeple. especially since we have a bunch of different vaccines against it.

          1. What percentage of 8-billion people have to die or be affected long-term before it’s a bad pandemic in your mind?

            Also, while realizing that we will never be rid of many viruses because even if you isolate all the sick people there are animal reservoirs that doesn’t mean we can’t do better than this. If people who have even a “mere cold” stayed the F* away from the rest of us until it passes we would have a lot less “mere colds”. You might argue that you can’t afford to do so. But people who are sick are generally less productive than the healthy. Even if it means paying a bit more sick-pay employers would benefit from having less illness in their workforce overall.

            We really need to grow up, kill this societal flaw that says toughing it out through a sickness is a virtue. It’s actually just selfish and short sighted.

          2. > If people who have even a “mere cold” stayed the F* away from the rest of us until it passes we would have a lot less “mere colds”.

            Or we would have worse outbreaks, since the population would have lower immunity levels, having not been exposed to the virus in a long time.

            A virus is like the Pandora’s box. Once you take the lid off, you can’t put the miseries back in. Staying totally isolated will not save you because it will eventually get to you anyways. Having similar and less deadly strains around to immunize people periodically does. Having the yearly sniffles is basically the same as getting a vaccination, except it comes for free.

          3. >What percentage of 8-billion people have to die or be affected long-term before it’s a bad pandemic in your mind?

            According to Johns Hopkins University data, the all-time case fatality ratio for COVID-19 was 1% and the most recent 28 day global average is 0.32% which puts it in the same territory as yearly influenza at between 0.1–0.5%.

          4. @Dude – Yeah.. right.

            So spreading your germs to around when you are sick is the way to fight disease. I can picture you arriving at your office now. Here’s some snot for you.. and you… and you…

            A momentary prick in the arm is no better than a couple weeks feeling like total shit.

            Vaccines are expensive (though I can’t remember ever paying for one).

            The 6.5 million people who died of Covid are no greater a number than died of the Flu during the same period.

            And long term long-covid sufferers who don’t outright die from it are not even worth mentioning.

            Sounds like a real winner!

      1. When I was a kid and learnt to ride a bicycle, nobody used a helmet, bike helmets were unknown. Of course on the motorbike many people used it although it was not yet mandatory in the 1970ies.
        Nothing gets better, if you want to pack the children in cotton wool :-)

        1. We didn’t use them in the 80s either. I never wore one until I had a kid and wanted to be a good example to her. I still don’t like it. But not for any rational reason. I imagine the people around me judging me the same way I would judged another kid with a helmet back when I was one. I know it’s irrational. Nobody around me could care less what is or isn’t on the head of the middle aged man riding by. And if they did it’s none of their business anyway. Asside from that the helmet does nothing to lessen my enjoyment of a bike ride. And that’s ok because I know I am not passing my irrationality on to the next generation. It can die with me. That’s how things keep getting better. Why would someone want to troll the internet passing that garbage on to others? What kind of insecurities motivate that? Compensate much?

          I went to high school with a kid who head planted into a pole while sledding. She went from the honor role to requiring home schooling due to the brain damage. Later I witnessed a helmeted friend collide with a sign while skiing. His helmet split in two his head did not, which was the point. I see people on the slopes with no helmet and think they are already dumb. They don’t need to lose more brain matter. That’s what the next generation will think about un-helmeted bikers.

          And here we are on HaD. It takes brains to hack! If this is your kind of place you might want to protect your own.

          1. >But not for any rational reason.

            I have looked at the injury statistics, and come to the conclusion that the risk of not wearing a helmet is personally insignificant for me. It is only a concern at the social level where people aggregate large numbers and come to the conclusion that insignificant odds add up to scary big numbers when you throw the dice enough.

            If I was the average person, I would need to be hospitalized about 12 times due to a cycling accident in order to have a 50% chance of a serious head injury. However, that would also assume that I were driving my bike face off drunk about 2/3rds of the time.

            Most serious road accidents are due to personal choices to drive unsafely in the first place. The helmet has nothing to do with that.

          2. On the point of statistics, I think I remember some that pointed out that walking has a higher probability of head injuries from fall than cycling, so it should be pedestrians who use helmets instead of cyclists.

          3. >the helmet does nothing to lessen my enjoyment of a bike ride

            If so, wear a helmet. It doesn’t hurt you. However, I hardly think it is a question of rationality or irrationality directly, but proportionality of acceptable risk. I think it’s all about the sense or illusion of control rather than a rational assessment of reality.

          4. The thing with a helmet on a bike (on the roads at least) is that your safety is rather more reliant on the other road users and the quality of road maintance than your own choices in almost all cases. It is only if you wish to earn a Darwin award cycling with no lights, in dark clothing at night all while intoxicated that your own choices really increase your risk.

            On your own when you fall off your bike the worst you are likely to do is crack a wrist/rib/arm in the fall, even on motorbikes on your own the worst injuries while nastier for the increased momentums at play are still generally very minor and survivable (assuming riding in a road legal and sensible way, not playing TT rider in traffic)..

            So its rather rational to wear a helmet in this case – it DOES lower your risks of injury rather substantially, and as the serious accidents with a two wheeler are generally caused or at least heavily influenced by other road users…

            Seems like a pretty rational assessment of reality to me, do I trust everyone on the road and the road condition so fully that I don’t need to worry about added protection – hell no! Its playing Russian roulette every time if you assume the road users around you are paying attention, competent, and in fit condition to drive. With the quality of driver and number of drinkers reported in many parts of the world I’d say Russian roulette may well be safer than riding a few miles…

          5. I face planted into the road at speed as a 13 yo kid on a bicycle when a bearing failed in the front wheel and locked it solid, and fractured my skull. I got lucky because it didn’t leave lasting damage (I think…) But its just how people were then.

            Now in my 50’s I’ve taken up EUC (electric unicycles) to improve my balance and co-ordination to combat age related decline, and I wear a helmet and wrist guards because its sensible and breaking a wrist/damaging my head would put supporting my family at risk because I program for a living. But I too get that feeling a idiot donning it because of social conditioning as I grew up.
            And it is irrational, I’ve fell and hit my head and fell hard on concrete on my hands a couple of times already. I should probably also wear shin guards for when the wheel shaves my shins when it goes wrong but that’s a bridge too far.
            I’ve spent my entire adult life riding (fast) motorcycles, and wouldn’t dream of riding even gently off road without helmet and jacket/gloves/boots, and I’ve fractured a metacarpal putting my hands out by instinct in higher speed accidents as the front end went away hard.

            On the subject, I have a laser cutter, just a k40 with enclosure, but the usual mods to extend, improve air extraction, air nozzle etc. I was going to put a module on my bridgeport cnc as a tool in the carousel to pick up automatically, and I have a 3w blue laser module and a iso30 shank and have a way to drive it, but thought better of it (I might revisit for my bigger Arrow VMC as its fully enclosed with safeties on the doors). When I’m cutting with the K40 and checking laser alignment with the door open, I wear quality laser glasses that I paid a significant sum for after researching wavelengths. Its not wrapping myself in cotton wool, its experience, and experience is a hard mistress…

  1. There is a CNC controller kit that you can buy as well. It’s the one I’m using for the router that I’m upgrading. TeensyGRBL. It is a standalone controller using a teensy 4 module and then it basically just accepts g code from a computer like a 3D printer. My software is running on a raspberry pi.

  2. Laser cutters and engravers operate by VAPORISING THE MATERIAL INTO GAS! using one without a case and ventilation system is dangerous and highly toxic, you will always end up trying to cut some material with somewhat unknown properties, you end up breathing in all the unknown toxins. Not to mention the eye safety issues. Just don’t. It may seem like a “cool way to save some money” but the results are so unpleasant you will probably avoid using it, it smells absolutely horrible.

  3. Get the proper GRBL interface to an Arduino Uno board and implement dual zeroing on both Y arms (plus the X gantry of course). This will let you set up the two Y motors so you don’t get “crabbing” offsets from a less than square setup. Use auto homing on Lightburn for regular consistent homing of the laser head.
    Build your own cabinet and extraction system. Even though it doesn’t with the kit it is essential it is just that they can’t make profit from it, but it is essential, even you are only burning pure wood.
    Use the GRBL shield’s interlocks for triggering safety features, eg auto off and on when the inspection port is opened.
    Cheers ,Rob.

  4. Does anyone know if there’s something like this that can accurately do this on metal, creating sharp images? Or can this machine be upgraded with a stronger laser to burn into metal? I see this stuff used on tiles and wood used all the time, but never on metal. It’s a nice cheap machine and with a strong laser with a small enclosure that prevents the light from coming out, it could be something I can use to engrave knives.

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