Laser Cutter Resurrection Uncovers a Magnificent Machine Beneath the Ash

Trash is relative. When my coworker accidentally lit an ABS-barbecue inside the company laser cutter, he made trash. The wreckage was headed for the dump, but I managed to save it and pass it on to my friend [Amy]. Four months later, she phoenixed it back to life from the trash-it-was to a glorious new system more powerful than the original. This is her story, carefully told in detail in a three-part series (part one, part two, part three) that takes us on a journey from trash to triumph. She even recorded video of the entire process (also embedded below)

Get your notes out because while [Amy] spares every expense to keep this project cheap, she spares no expense at laying out the details for anyone’s path to success when working with these beasts.

Free Laser Cutter Starter Pack

As far as origin stories go, our story starts at my last employer’s office. I was in the machine shop asking one of our MechEs a question when the intern points a finger towards the corner of the room and asks: “hey is that supposed to be on fire?” I turn around to see billowing flames coming from our budget Chinese laser cutter. “Nope!” I say. “We need a fire extinguisher!” But our MechE was already on it. In half a moment he returned with an extinguisher. With one squirt the fire was out, but the machine was caked with a nasty powdery debris. It turns out another coworker had committed the almighty sin of laser cutting: he turned it on and walked away. Better yet, it was cutting ABS with a disconnected air nozzle.

This cutter was headed to the dump, but a few shenanigans later, I managed to divert this heap to [Amy]. The paint job was an absolute disaster on the outside, and the gooey ABS-and-powder mixture had caked over the inside. [Amy] dug in, stripping off the paint flakes and re-coating it. Apart from the belts, she salvaged every other part inside the machine. Her secret: “IPA and steel wool.” From there, she built her own fume extractor and lofted the whole system onto a frame she welded herself so that she could push both extractor and cutter around her wood shop as a unit. These days, it’s seeing some mileage for cutting out jigs for her woodworking projects.

Perhaps what’s truly special about this project is that she restored it with the camera rolling. As if building projects isn’t hard enough, getting the right lighting and camera angles while you’re doing the work is even more work! There’s no drop-down lofted camera setup in her garage, so each documented step is carefully set up so it captures what’s happening onscreen. While the IPA-and-steel wool might’ve been one nifty trick, by the end of these videos you’ll find that there really aren’t any secrets: just one engineer who sees the dignity in a project done well and has the patience to carry it out.

Get to know [Amy] on her blog, and you’ll discover the true finesse of her scavenging and engineering wielded hand-in-hand. From Ukuleles borne of fallen tree branches to a garage woodshop bootstrapped from a series of Craigslist adventures, it’s no surprise that a broken laser cutter would find a new life when it landed in her hands.

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K40 Laser Cutter, Meet Raspberry Pi

The inexpensive Chinese K40 laser cutter has become the staple of many a small workshop within our community, providing a not-very-large and not-very-powerful cutter for a not-very-high price. As shipped it’s a machine that’s not without its flaws, and there is a whole community of people who have contributed fixes and upgrades to make these cutters into something a lot more useful.

[Alex Eames] bought a K40, and since he’s the person behind the Raspi.tv Raspberry Pi business, when he switched from the supplied Corel-based software to the popular open-source K40 Whisperer his obvious choice was to run it on a Raspberry Pi. Since K40 Whisperer is written in Python he reasoned that the Pi’s ARM platform would not prevent its use, so he set to work and documented the process and his workflow.

It’s a straightforward enough process, and his K40 now has a Pi into which he can SFTP his files rather than the inevitable old laptop that accompanies most K40s. With so many K40 improvements created by its community, we find it surprising that some enterprising Chinese manufacturer hasn’t seen the opportunity to make a quick buck or two extra and incorporate some of them into their products at the factory, including one of the many single board computers that could perform this task.

We’ve covered a lot of K40 stories over the years, if you are new to this machine you might like to take a look at this story of bringing one to life.

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.

Tales Of A Cheap Chinese Laser Cutter

The star turn of most hackspaces and other community workshops is usually a laser cutter. An expensive and fiddly device that it makes much more sense to own collectively than to buy yourself.

This isn’t to say that laser cutters are outside the budget of the experimenter though, we’re all familiar with the inexpensive table-top machines from China. Blue and white boxes that can be yours for a few hundred dollars, and hold the promise of a real laser cutter on your table.

Owning one of these machines is not always smooth sailing though, because their construction and choice of components are often highly variable. A thorough check and often a session of fixing the non-functional parts is a must before first power-on.

[Extreme Electronics] bought one, and in a series of posts documented the process from unboxing to cutting. Starting with a full description of the machine and what to watch for out of the box, then a look at the software. A plugin for Corel Draw was supplied, along with a dubious copy of Corel Draw itself. Finally we see the machine in operation, and the process of finding the proper height for beam focus by cutting an inclined plane of acrylic.

The series rounds off with a list of useful links, and should make interesting reading for anyone, whether they are in the market for a cutter or not.

These cutters/engravers have featured here before many times. Among many others we’ve seen one working with the Mach3 CNC software, or another driven by a SmoothieBoard.

Convert that Cheap Laser Engraver to 100% Open-Source Toolchain

laserweb-on-cheap-laser-squareLaserWeb is open-source laser cutter and engraver software, and [JordsWoodShop] made a video tutorial (embedded below) on how to convert a cheap laser engraver to use it. The laser engraver used in the video is one of those economical acrylic-and-extruded-rail setups with a solid state laser emitter available from a variety of Chinese sellers (protective eyewear and any sort of ventilation or shielding conspicuously not included) but LaserWeb can work with just about any hardware, larger CO2 lasers included.

LaserWeb is important because most laser engravers and cutters have proprietary software. The smaller engravers like the one pictured above use a variety of things, and people experienced with larger CO2 laser cutters may be familiar with a piece of software called LaserCut — a combination CAD program and laser control that is serviceable, but closed (my copy even requires a USB security dongle, eww.)

LaserWeb allows laser engravers and cutters to be more like what most of us expect from our tools: a fully open-source toolchain. For example, to start using LaserWeb on one of those affordable 40 W blue-box Chinese laser cutters the only real hardware change needed is to replace the motion controller with an open source controller like a SmoothieBoard. The rest is just setting up the software and enjoying the added features.

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90+ Videos Take you from Laser Chump to Laser Champ

Few of us document the progression of our side projects. For those who do, those docs have the chance at becoming a tome of insight, a spaceman’s “mission log” found on a faraway planet that can tell us how to tame an otherwise cruel and hostile world. With the arrival of the RDWorks Learning Lab Series, Chinese laser cutters have finally received the treatment of a thorough in-depth guide to bringing them into professional working order.

In two series, totalling just over 90 videos (and counting!) retired sheet-metal machinist [Russ] takes us on a grand tour of retrofitting, characterizing, and getting the most out of your recent Chinese laser cutter purchase.

Curious about laser physics? Look no further than part 2. Wonder how lens size affects power output? Have a go at part 39. Need a supplemental video for beam alignment? Check out part 31. For every undocumented quirk about these machines, [Russ] approaches each problem with the analytic discipline of a data-driven scientist, measuring and characterizing each quirk with his suite of tools and then engineering a solution to that quirk. In some cases, these are just minor screw adjustments. In other cases, [Russ] shows us his mechanical wizardry with a custom hardware solution (also usually laser cut). [Russ] also brings us the technical insight of a seasoned machinist, implementing classic machinist solutions like a pin table to produce parts that have a clean edge that doesn’t suffer from scatter laser marks from cutting parts on a conventional honeycomb bed.

Solid build logs are gems that are hard to come by, and [Russ’s] Chinese laser cutter introduction shines out as a reference that will stand the test of time. Don’t have the space for a laser cutter? For the micromachinists, have a look at The Guerrilla Guide to CNC Machining, Mold Making, and Resin Casting.

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