Arduino Revives Junkyard Laser Cutter

Some people have all the luck. [MakerMan] writes in to gloat tell us about a recent trip to the junkyard where he scored a rather serious looking laser cutter. This is no desktop-sized K40 we’re talking about here; it weighs in at just under 800 pounds (350 Kg), and took a crane to deliver the beast to his house. But his luck only took him so far, as closer inspection of the machine revealed it was missing nearly all of its internal components. Still, he had the frame, working motors, and laser optics, which is a lot more than we’ve ever found in the garbage.

After a whirlwind session with his wire cutters, [MakerMan] stripped away most of the existing wiring and the original control board inside the electronics bay. Replacing the original controller is an Arduino Nano running Grbl, likely giving this revived laser cutter better compatibility with popular open source tools than it had originally. Even though the laser cutter was missing a significant amount of hardware, he did luck out that both the motor drivers were still there (and working) as well as the dual power supplies to run everything.

After a successful motion test, [MakerMan] then goes on to install a new 90W laser tube. Supporting the tube is a rigged up water cooling system using a plastic jug and a cheap bilge pump. He also added an air assist system, complete with side mounted compressor. This pushes air over the laser aperture, helping to keep smoke and debris away from the beam. Finally, a blower was installed in the bottom of the machine with flexible ducting leading outside to vent out the smoke and fumes that are produced when the laser is in operation.

This machine is a considerable upgrade from the previous laser [MakerMan] built, and as impressive as this rebuild is so far, we’re interested in seeing where it goes from here. If you ask us, this thing is begging for an embedded LaserWeb server.

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Drop-in Controller for eBay K40 Laser Engraver Gets Results

[Paul de Groot] wrote in to let us know about a drop-in controller replacement he designed for those economical K40 laser engravers that are everywhere on eBay. With the replacement controller, greatly improved engraving results are possible along with a simplified toolchain. Trade in the proprietary software and that clunky security dongle for Inkscape and a couple of plugins! [Paul] felt that the work he accomplished was too good to keep to himself, and is considering a small production run.

Laser engravers are in many ways not particularly complex devices; a motion controller moves the head in x and y, and the laser is turned on or off when needed. But of course, the devil is in the details and there can be a surprising amount of stuff between having a design on your screen and getting it cut or engraved in the machine. Designing in Inkscape, exporting to DXF, importing the DXF to proprietary software (which requires a USB security dongle to run), cleaning up any DXF import glitches, then finally cutting the job isn’t unusual. And engraving an image with varying shades and complex dithering? The hardware may be capable, but the stock software and controller? Not so much. It’s easy to see why projects to replace the proprietary controllers and software with open-source solutions have grown.

Cheap laser engravers may come with proprietary controllers and software, but they don’t need to stay that way. Other efforts we have seen in this area include LaserWeb, which provides a browser-based interface to a variety of open-source motion controllers like Grbl or Smoothieware. And if you’re considering a laser engraver, take a few minutes to learn from the mistakes of other people.

Laser Surgery: Expanding the Bed of a Cheap Chinese Laser Cutter

Don’t you just hate it when you spend less than $400 on a 40-watt laser cutter and it turns out to have a work area the size of a sheet of copy paper? [Kostas Filosofou] sure did, but rather than stick with that limited work envelope, he modified his cheap K40 laser cutter so it has almost five times the original space.

The K40 doesn’t make any pretenses — it’s a cheap laser cutter and engraver from China. But with new units going for $344 on eBay now, it’s almost a no-brainer. Even with its limitations, you’re still getting a 40-watt CO2 laser and decent motion control hardware to play with. [Kostas] began the embiggening by removing the high-voltage power supply from its original space-hogging home to the right of the work area. With that living in a new outboard enclosure, a new X-Y gantry of extruded aluminum rails and 3D-printed parts was built, and a better exhaust fan was installed. Custom mirror assemblies were turned, better fans were added to the radiator, and oh yeah — he added a Z-axis to the bed too.

We’re sure [Kostas] ran the tab up a little on this build, but when you’re spending so little to start with, it’s easy to get carried away. Speaking of which, if you feel the need for an even bigger cutter, an enormous 100-watt unit might be more your style.

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Aligning Invisible Lasers on-the-cheap

Lining up the beam from your homebrew (or retrofitted) laser cutter doesn’t come without its challenges. For instance, how do I use my remaining eye to align an invisible beam that has enough power to burn through some objects in its path? Some of us will go through the extra hassle and expense of mixing in a visible guide that traces the path of the CO2 laser. For the penny-pinchers out there, though, [Stephen] has us covered with an inexpensive technique that will cut you down by only a few strips of masking tape.

Stephan’s technique is simple, but elegant. He covers each mirror with tape, fires the laser, and leaves a burn mark, working his way from the last mirror that the laser hits to the first. With a burn mark on each mirror, and one through a guide made from a sheet of plywood, [Stephen] has a pretty good idea where the native direction of the beam is headed. He then swaps a red dot laser in to line up with the burn marks, and then aligns the mirrors using visible, and safe, light. Phew! Now that’s a lot easier than iteratively firing the beam and replacing the tape on the mirror each time we want to tweak the mirror alignment.

With all that burnt masking tape, the process can get a bit smelly. Nevertheless, we’ve filed this one away for later when we start getting that itching, burning sensation that kicks us into building our own homebrew laser cutter.

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Building a 3D Printed Laser Tube

A YouTuber by the name of [1kreature] is doing some excellent research into building his very own 3D printed laser tube.

It all started after he managed to find an extremely high voltage pulse driver. In his video he assures us we should never buy one. He then designed some 3D printed fittings for a clear acrylic tube that allow for pneumatic and electrical connections. Using a hand pump to create the vacuum inside was the most difficult, so he quickly upgraded to a proper industrial vacuum pump.

Apply the vacuum, turn on the pulse driver… and well… see for yourself!

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Ikea Desk Laser Cutter Combo

Craigslist can be a good source for finding someone else’s abandoned projects. Besides being extremely jealous, you’ll agree that [Mike’s] find is atypical of the normal Craigslist listings. He scored a 75% complete group of laser cutter parts for $500. That included the XY frame, stepper motors, Gecko motor drivers, optics, and 40 watt CO2 laser tube. He paired the laser parts with another Craigslist find, a $15 desk. A few more parts and 3 weeks of tinkering later, [Mike] had a working DIY mutant Ikea Desk Laser Cutter.

The laser cutter has a 23 x 14 inch work envelope and is controlled via Mach3. The X Axis of the frame had a little bit of wobble in it so [Mike] added a THK linear rail and bearing to stiffen it up. To add a little bit of mistake proofing to the laser, [Mike] put a water flow sensor in the laser tube cooling system. The laser will not turn on unless water is pumping to cool the laser tube. Wrecking your laser tube by accident would be a total bummer!

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Building A CO2 Laser In A Hardware Store

Over on the Projects site, [ThunderSqueak] is pushing the bounds of what anyone would call reasonable and is building a CO2 laser from parts that can be found in any home improvement store.

Despite being able to cut wood, paper, and a bunch of other everyday materials, a carbon dioxide laser is actually surprisingly simple. All you need to do is fill a tube with CO2, put some mirrors and lenses on each end, and run an electric current through the gas. In practice, though, there’s a lot of extra bits and bobs required for a working laser.

[ThunderSqueak] will need some sort of cooling for his laser, and for that he’s constructed a watercooling jacket out of 2″ PVC. In the end caps, a pair of brass pipe fittings are JB Welded in place, allowing a place for the mirror assembly and lenses.

The mirror mounts are the key component of this build, but the construction method is surprisingly simple. [ThunderSqueak] is using a few brass barbed hose fittings, with washers stuck on one end. The washers are drilled to accept a trio of bolts that will allow the mirrors to be perfectly parallel; anything less and the CO2 won’t lase.

The build isn’t complete yet, but having already built a few lasers, there’s little doubt [ThunderSqueak] will be able to pull this one off as well.