Spell Out the Time with Frickin’ Laser Beams

Clocks are a never-ending source of fascination to hackers. We get all kinds around here, from Steampunk Nixie clocks to retro cool flip clocks to clocks that don’t even look like clocks. But this is something new — a glow-in-the-dark laser tracing clock.

What [tuckershannon]’s clock lacks in practicality it makes up for in the gee-whiz department. The idea is simple: trace the characters out on a phosphorescent screen using a laser. To accomplish this, [tuckershannon] adapted the design of this whiteboard marker robot clock, replacing the drawing surface with glow-in-the-dark stickers. A 405 nm laser diode module is traced over the surface by the two-servo pantograph plotter, charging up the phosphors. He offers no clue as to how long the ghostly image lingers, but from the look of it, we’d bet that it lasts for a good fraction of a minute, especially in a dark room. Then again, you’d want the image totally faded before the next write cycle comes up, to prevent overwriting the previous time.

All in all, it’s a nice design and a clever new clock display modality. And who knows — maybe this whole glowing phosphor display thing could really catch on.

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Boredom + Lasers = Projector!

[Krazer], a post-doctoral researcher at MIT, loves him some lasers. When out of boredom one afternoon he hatched an idea for a laser projector, it grew until a few years later he wound up with this RGB laser for a projector — Mark IV no less.

In addition to 3D-printing the parts, the major innovation with this version is the ability to re-align the lasers as needed; tweaking the vertical alignment is controlled by a screw on the laser mounts while the horizontal alignment is done the same way on the mirror mounts. This simplifies the design and reduces the possibility of part failure or warping over time. An additional aluminium base epoxied to the projector aims to keep the whole from deforming and adds stability. With the help of a mirror for the final alignment — sometimes you must use what you have— the projector is ready to put on a show.

True to the spirit of the art [Krazer] used all open source software for this iteration, and sharing his designs means you can build your own for around $200. As always with lasers take extra precautions to protect your eyes! This 200mW setup is no joke, but that doesn’t mean fun and games are out of the question.

Laser Etching PCBs

A while ago, [Marco] mounted a powerful laser diode to a CNC machine in an attempt to etch copper clad board and create a few PCBs. The results weren’t that great, but the technique was promising. In a new experiment, [Marco] purchased a very cheap laser engraver kit from China, and now this technique looks like it might be a winner.

[Marco] sourced his laser engraver from Banggood, and it’s pretty much exactly what you would expect for a CNC machine that costs under $200. The frame is aluminum extrusion, the motors are off-the-shelf steppers, the electronics are just Pololu-like drivers, and the software is somewhere between abysmal and terrible. Nevertheless, this machine can cut wood, leather, fabric, and can remove spray paint with a big blue laser diode.

To create his PCBs, [Marco] is first cleaning a piece of copper clad board, coating it with spray paint, then blasting it with a laser. The preferred software for this is LaserWeb, and the results are pretty good for a cheap machine.

There are a few extra steps to creating the PCB once the board has been coated with paint and blasted with a laser. This process still requires etching in either ferric chloride or some other mess of acid, but the results are good. So good, in fact, that [Marco] is experimenting with copper foil and Kapton to create flexible circuit boards. You can check out the video of these experiments below.

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Lasering Axonometric Fonts

I am something of an Inkscape fan. If you’re not familiar with the application, it’s like an Open Source version of Adobe Illustrator. Back when I was a production artist I’d been an Illustrator master ninja but it’s been four years and my skills are rusty. Plus, Inkscape is just enough different in terms of menus and capabilities that I had a hard time adapting.

So I created some wooden lettering with the help of Inkscape and a laser cutter, and I’m going to show you how I did it. If you’re interested in following along with this project, you can find it on Hackaday.io.

While playing around with Inkscape, I noticed you can create a variety of grids, including axonometric grids. This term refers to the horizon lines in an orthographic projection. In other words, it helps make things look 3D by providing perspective lines.

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Bringing A 50 Watt Laser Cutter to Life

This is the future and we live in a world of 3D printers and laser cutters. Have you ever pondered the question of getting yourself a laser cutter? Well [Erich Styger] just landed a 50 Watt Laser Cutter from AliExpress and has written up a detailed guide to his experience.

[Erich] had been wrestling with the idea of buying one for himself for some time but was put off by the difficulty in their operation. This changed when [Scorch] published the K40 Whisperer control software which allows for better control over these machines. With the hopes of an interesting weekend project, [Erich Styger] took a leap of faith and spent $900 on a model 4040 laser cutter.

In his blog, he goes through the steps in setting up the machine as well as calibrating the laser. With a plethora of images and a detailed look at each aspect of the leveling and testing, [Erich Styger] had a weekend well spent and a working K40 laser cutter for his workshop. But perhaps the more valuable part of the stories is the overall experience.

It was not a “what you see is what you get” order, but it did turn out to be a hacker’s “what you want is what you get” adventure. The machine didn’t look the same as the picture, it came with a burned CD-R with a box full of small parts (in addition to separate shipment of a USB thumb drive and silicone sealant), and there were some mechanical touchups plus a stuck switch requiring reassembly. He has done an excellent job of documenting from order to test-runs and the photos alone are worth taking a look.

Adding value to inexpensive laser cutters in an often-featured project around here. If you are looking for more details on these wonderful machines, be sure to check out more tales of Cheap Laser Cutters and our coverage of the K40 Whisperer software launch from last month.

Laser Cut Enclosures from Eagle Files

Once a project is finished, it might still need a decent enclosure. While it’s possible to throw a freshly soldered PCB in a standard enclosure, or piece of Tupperware, or cardboard box, these options don’t have the fit and finish of something custom-made. If you have a laser cutter sitting around, it’s a simple matter to cut your own enclosure, but now that process is much easier thanks to [Ray]’s latest project.

Since [Ray] was already using Eagle to design his PCBs, it seemed like a short step to using the Eagle files to design the enclosure as well. The script runs from those files and creates everything necessary to send to the laser cutter for manufacturing. Right now, [Ray] points out that the assembly time for each enclosure can be high, and this method might not be suited for large numbers of enclosures. Additionally, some of the calculations still need to be done by hand, but there are plans to automate everything in the future.

For single projects, though, this script could cut a lot of time off of designing an enclosure and building it from scratch, and could also help improve aesthetics over other options like 3D printed enclosures. Of course, if you have a quality 3D printer around but no laser cutter, there are options for custom enclosures as well.

Ink-Filled Machine Badges Score Respect for Your Gear

Remember the good old days when machines had a stout metal badge instead of cheap vinyl decals, and nameplates on motors were engraved in metal rather than printed on a label with a QR code? Neither do we, but these raised brass labels with color filled backgrounds look great, they’re surprisingly easy to make, and just the thing your gear needs to demand respect as a cherished piece of gear.

The ‘easy’ part of this only comes if you have access to a machine shop like [John] at NYC CNC does. To be fair, the only key machine for making these plates is a laser cutter, and even a guy like [John] needed to farm that out. The process is very straightforward — a brass plate is cleaned and coated with lacquer, which is then removed by the laser in the areas that are to be etched. The plate is dipped in an electrolyte solution for etching, cleaned, and powder coated. After curing the powder coat with a heat gun rather than an oven — a tip worth the price of admission by itself — the paint is sanded off the raised areas, the metal is polished, and a clear coat applied to protect the badge.

Plates like these would look great for a little retro-flair on a new build like this Nixie power meter, or allow you to restore a vintage machine like this classic forge blower.

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