In the world of big-box retail, December 26th is a very special day. The Christmas music playing on the overhead speakers switches back to the family friendly Top 40, the store’s decorations get tossed in the compactor, and everything that’s even remotely related to the holiday is put on steep clearance. No more money to be made on the most commercialized of all holidays, so back to business as usual.
It’s in this narrow corridor of time, between the Great Holiday Unloading and the new spring products coming in, that you can find some fantastic deals on Christmas decorations. Not that long ago, this would hardly be exciting news for the readers of Hackaday. But Christmas lights and decorations have really started pushing the envelope in terms of technology: addressable RGB LED strands, Bluetooth controlled effects, and as of the last couple years, friggin’ lasers.
That’s right, you’ve seen them all over the neighborhood, probably took a few stray beams to the eye, you might even own your own. Laser projectors have been one of the most popular Christmas decorations for the last couple of years, and it’s not hard to see why. Just set the projector up in front of your house, and you’re done. No need to get on a ladder and string lights on the roof when you can just blast some directed energy up there instead.
Given how popular they are, I was surprised to see a lone Home Accents Holiday Multi-Color Light Projector on the clearance rack at Home Depot for around $14 a few days after Christmas. This was a 75% price reduction from normal MSRP, and right in that sweet impulse-buy price range. Let’s see what’s hiding inside!
A lot of the DIY laser engravers and cutters we cover here on Hackaday are made with laser diodes salvaged from Blu-ray drives and projectors, which are visible lasers in the 400 – 450nm range (appearing as violet or blue). Unfortunately there is an upper limit in terms of power on visible diode lasers, most builds max out at 5W or so. If you need more power than that, you’ll likely find yourself looking at gas laser cutters like the K40. While the K40 is a great starting point if you’re looking to get into “real” lasers, it’s a very different beast from the homebrew builds using visible lasers.
In the setup that [gafu] has come up with, a cheap laser module (the type from a handheld laser pointer) is moved into the path of the primary laser on an arm that’s actuated by a simple hobby servo. To prevent the primary and visible lasers from firing at the same time, an Arduino is used to control the servo given the current state of the K40’s lid. If the lid of the K40 is open, the primary laser is shutoff and the visible laser is rotated into position so the operator can see where the primary laser’s beam would be hitting. Once the lid is closed, the visible laser rotates out of the way and the primary is powered back up.
Running the cutting or engraving job with the lid of the K40 machine open now let’s [gafu] watch a “dry run” of the entire operation with the visible laser before finally committing to blasting the target with the full power beam.