Another Way To Make PCBs At Home

One of the more popular ways of rolling out your own custom PCB is to simply create the model in your CAD program of choice and send it off to a board manufacturer who will take care of the dirty work for you. This way there is no need to deal with things like chemicals, copper dust, or maintaining expensive tools. A middle ground between the board manufacturer and a home etching system though might be what [igorfonseca83] has been doing: using an inexpensive laser engraver to make PCBs for him.

A laser engraver is basically a low-power laser CNC machine that’s just slightly too weak to cut most things that would typically go in a laser cutter. It turns out that the 10W system is the perfect amount of energy to remove a mask from a standard PCB blank, though. This in effect takes the place of the printer in the old toner transfer method, and the copper still has to be dissolved in a chemical solution, but the results are a lot more robust than trying to modify a printer for this task.

If you aren’t familiar with the days of yore when homebrew PCBs involved a standard desktop printer, many people still use this method, although the results can be mixed based on printer reliability. If you want to skip the middleman, and the need for a chemical bath, a more powerful laser actually can cut the traces for you, too.

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Watch This LEGO Pantograph Carve Chocolate Messages

[Matthias Wandel] is best known for his deeply interesting woodworking projects, so you might be forgiven for not expecting this lovely chocolate-engraving pantograph made from LEGO. With it, he carves a delightful valentine’s message into a square of chocolate, but doesn’t stop there. He goes the extra mile to cut the chocolate carefully into a heart, and a quick hit with a heat gun takes the rough edges off for a crisp and polished end result.

The cutting end is a small blade stuck inside a LEGO piece, but that’s the only non-LEGO part in the whole assembly. A key to getting a good carve was to cool the chocolate before engraving, and you can see the whole process in the video embedded below.

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Review: LinkSprite Mini CNC

It’s a great time to be a hobbyist. No matter how you feel about the Arduino/Raspberry Pi effect, the influx of general enthusiasm and demand it has created translates to better availability of components, a broader community, and loads of freely available knowledge. When people have access to knowledge and ideas, great things can happen. Tools that were once restricted to industrial use become open source, and the price of entry-level versions goes into a nosedive.

As we’ve seen over the last several years, the price of cheap 3D printers keeps falling while the bar of quality keeps rising. It’s happening with laser cutters and carving tools, too. Strolling through Microcenter a few weeks ago, I spotted a new toy on the back wall next to the 3D printers. It was LinkSprite’s desktop mini CNC. They didn’t have one out on display, but there were two of them in boxes on the shelf. And boy, those boxes were small. Laughably small. I wondered, could this adorable machine really be any good? To some, the $200 price tag suggests otherwise. To me, the price tag made it justifiable, especially considering that the next price point for a hobby CNC mill is at least twice as much. I took my phone out and stood there frantically looking for reviews, documentation, anything that was available. It seemed that the general, if sparse consensus is that this thing isn’t a total waste of money. Oh, and there’s a wiki.

According to LinkSprite’s wiki, this little machine will engrave wood, plastic, acrylic, PVC, and PCBs. It will specifically not engrave metal (PCB copper notwithstanding). I’m a bit leery of the chemicals used in the PCB etching process, so the idea of engraving them instead was especially tempting. I pulled the trigger.

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Poor Man’s Laser Scanner Probably Won’t Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid

Yes, laser cutters that come off the slow boat from China are more affordable than ever, and with some tweaks and hacks they can turn out some decent results. But if you just want a laser lightshow that’ll draw boxes on your living room ceiling, this simple X-Y laser scanner might be a good platform to build.

Let’s say right up front that there are more than a few safety issues with [ThingEngineer]’s 3D-printed two-axis scanner. He’s well aware of these potential retina-cooking issues and duly notes that a good pair of laser safety goggles is a must and that the cheap anti-lawsuit glasses that laser module manufacturers often include with their products don’t count.

[Editor’s Note: Glasses are really only intended for alignment operations. Pros enclose lasers beyond a certain power to prevent anyone going blind. Know where your beam terminates, kids.]

With that in mind, there’s a lot to be said for this poor man’s scanner build. Yes, it would be faster with real galvos and low-mass mirrors, but time is money, and the steppers and craft store mirror discs do the job, albeit slowly. We like that everything is so simple, even the method for turning a regular mirror into a front-surface mirror.

[ThingEngineer] proves you don’t need galvanometers to have some simple laser fun. And if steppers don’t do it for you, you can try little brushed DC hobby motors or even 3D-printed cams.

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A Poor-Man’s Laser CNC Engraver

What do you get when you mix the disappointment that sometimes accompanies cheap Chinese electronics with the childhood fascination of torturing insects with a magnifying glass on a sunny day? You get a solar-powered CNC etcher, that’s what.

We all remember the days of focussing the sun on a hapless insect, or perhaps less sadistically on a green plastic army man or just a hunk of dry wood. The wonder that accompanied that intense white spot instantly charring the wood and releasing wisps of smoke stayed with you forever, as seemingly did the green spots in your vision. [drum303] remembered those days and used them to assuage his buyer’s remorse when the laser module on his brand new CNC engraver crapped out after the first 10 minutes. A cheap magnifying glass mounted to the laser holder and a sunny day, and he don’t need no stinkin’ lasers! The speed needs to be set to a super slow — 100mm per minute — and there’s the problem of tracking the sun, but the results are far finer than any of our childhood solar-artistic attempts ever were.

Do we have the makings of a possible performance art piece here? A large outdoor gantry with a big Fresnel lens that could etch a design onto a large piece of plywood would be a pretty boss beachside attraction. Of course, you’d need a simple solar tracker to keep things in focus.

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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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The Othermill Is Something Else

I’ll admit. When I saw the Othermill for the first time I thought it was just another mill with cheap Chinese hardware inside sold as a premium. I’m ashamed to say that I even trash talked it a little bit. It gave me another chance to relearn that I should always do my research before being a jerk, check my assumptions thoroughly, and even then it’s not recommended. Other Machine Company was kind enough to let me swing by the office in Berkeley California. [Danielle], the CEO, led me through the design of the mill as well as the challenges in running the operation.

The Othermill is a serious machine, and with the recent release of the Othermill Pro, it’s only getting better. The components are not bargain basement. This is something that could be more obvious, but it’s almost entirely made from US sourced parts, including the custom stepper motors. There aren’t any ball bearings that will start to make strange noises in a year. It can now cut 6mil traces in a PCB all day long. To put it into perspective. The Othermill Pro costs a third of the price of an equivalent machine from LPKF and has the same capabilities.

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