Laser Engraver Uses All Of The DVD Drive

For the last ten to fifteen years, optical drives have been fading out of existence. There’s little reason to have them around anymore unless you are serious about archiving data or unconvinced that streaming platforms will always be around. While there are some niche uses for them still, we’re seeing more and more get repurposed for parts and other projects like this tabletop laser engraver.

The build starts with a couple optical drives, both of which are dismantled. One of the shells is saved to use as a base for the engraver, and two support structures are made out of particle board and acrylic to hold the laser and the Y axis mechanism. Both axes are made from the carriages of the disassembled hard drives, with the X axis set into the base to move the work piece. A high-output laser module is fitted to the Y axis with a heat sink, and an Arduino and a pair of A4988 motor controllers are added to the mix to turn incoming G-code into two-dimensional movement.

We’ve actually seen a commercial laser engraver built around the same concept, but the DIY approach is certainly appealing if you’ve got some optical drives collecting dust. Otherwise you could use them to build a scanning laser microscope.

18 thoughts on “Laser Engraver Uses All Of The DVD Drive

    1. I seem to remember reading tutorials about using DVD or BlueRay lasers where they didn’t just use the naked laser diode. It would burn up. The original heatsink it is set in is kind of specifically shaped to it’s life as a disc drive. So they were buying heatsink enclosures that they jammed the diode into. In the end it looked like a bought laser, not salvage.

      I just assumed that was what this was.

  1. Neat! Someone is always ‘thinking’ outside the box so to speak. Cool!

    I do have several for in a computer case… Not broken either. A couple years ago, I bought an external USB 3.0 CD/DVD/Blu-ray to read/write disks. I could see the writing on the wall as most newer case designs had no external bays for drives, hence the USB external RW optical drive just so I could pull it out if ever needed. Also have a couple of those cheap external USB 3.5″ floppy RW drives — just in case. And as for usage…. Not much at all any more with portable disk drives (HDD and SSD) taking the place of all optical media. Cheap with lots of disk space. Take for example, for fun, when I got the Blu-ray drive, I backed our home pictures… Took like 12 Blu-Ray disks…. But all pictures easily fit on ‘one’ external USB drive with room to spare…. That was the last time I used any optical media. Boot disks are all written to USB thumb drives instead of DVDs. So while I got hundreds of DVD, CD, Blu-Ray media stashed away… Probably won’t be using them in the future (other than show the grand-kids how it worked back in ‘my’ day! :D

    1. I keep a stash of external optical drives around as well, mostly thinking I’ll eventually rip everything to my NAS for in-house streaming. I also still keep a Blu-ray player hooked up to the main TV, because some things aren’t streamable (or the plethora of streamers I pay for don’t have it), and no one can remove my physical copies for tax reasons.

      I was still burning DVDs & CDs as recently as last year at my last job, but that was what we’d call a degenerate case, as it was moving data from one air-gapped network to another air-gapped network in a “media roach motel”, if you get my drift…

      And for as long as it runs, my daily (well, weekly these days) driver has a 6 disc CD changer and no USB, but can play MP3/WMA files (apparently poorly), so having my music collection on discs at an appropriate for driving bitrate is something I like to have an option to do.

      For booting, I’m on the flash drive bandwagon as well. But when I got to 3-4 unmarked and mostly unused drives, I discovered Ventoy. A small special partition for a bootloader, and then the remainder of the space to store disc images, and it boots into a selection menu. I’ve only really used it for Linux & BSD installers, and firmware update images, but it’s cut my random flash drives down to just 1, and it has a label…

  2. 3.5W laser without an enclosure and with the possibility of reflections?

    How many mW will instantly damage the retina of someone else nearby? (I don’t care about his retina; that’s evolution in action). Looks (ho ho) like there is a factor of >100 difference.

    Remember the old poster hung in laser labs: “do not look into beam with remaining eye”

    N.B. I didn’t waste 10mins of my remaining life watching a video which probably contained 60s of material.

    1. Why bother with a shroud, when you can have color changing leds instead. I’m sure those retinas with grow back. It’s amazing that even many engravers being sold have put zero thought into the most basic of safety measures. If you are lucky they may give brief mention of laser goggles, with no discussion of which goggles block which wavelengths. They should name all engravers like this, Keller class laser engravers, after Helen Keller.

    2. He did at least show for a moment on camera that he has some sort of glasses. Hopefully they are good quality and made for the right wavelength. As to the people nearby issue, he could live alone. Or he could do this in a closed room, locked, with a sign on the door, etc…

      I do wonder if the RGB effects even look good through laser blocking glasses. I suppose they make it look good in the videos if nothing else.

      Personally, I wouldn’t use such a thing without an enclosure. But those concerns can be addressed as above.

    1. Maybe put it in a box. Perhaps also place a webcam you can afford to lose inside if you want to be able to see what is happening. Just be careful that there are no cracks!

  3. Its surprising no one has made a DVD laser into a direct exposure/write tool.

    Wafers are circular (and can be obtained without the primary flat in case you don’t care about epitaxy or other crystallographic details).

    It would seem to me that a wafer with resist should almost be 1:1 into DVD device geometries (the diameter is a simple parameter to change if you are already DIY’ing).

    Indeed: a DVD-r upside down with a hinge becomes a spin coater/writer device almost “out of the box”

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