Turn a Cheap 3D Printer Into a Cheap Laser Cutter

We know it’s hard to hear it, but the days of you being a hotshot at the local Hackerspace because you’ve got a 3D printer at home are long gone. While they’re still one of the most persnickety pieces of gear on the hacker’s bench, they’re certainly not the rarest anymore. Some of these printers are so cheap now they’re almost impulse buys. Like it or not, few people outside of your grandmother are going to be impressed when you tell them you’ve got a personal 3D printer anymore; and we wouldn’t be surprised if even granny picked up a Monoprice Mini during the last open box sale.

But while 3D printer ownership isn’t the pinnacle of geek cred it once was, at least there’s a silver lining: cheap motion platforms we can hack on. [Dani Eichhorn] writes in to tell us about how he added a laser to his $200 USD Tevo Tarantula 3D printer, greatly expanding the machine’s capabilities without breaking the bank. The information in his write-up is pretty broadly applicable to most common 3D printer designs, so even if you don’t have a Tarantula it shouldn’t be too hard to adapt the concept.

The laser is a 2.5 W 445 nm module which is very popular with low-cost laser cutter setups. It’s a fully self-contained air cooled unit that just needs a source of 12 V to fire up. That makes it particularly well suited to retrofitting, as you don’t need to shoehorn in any extra support electronics. [Dani] simply connected it to the existing power wires for the part cooling fan he added to the Tarantula previously.

You may want to check the specs for your 3D printer’s control board before attaching such a high current device to the fan connector. Best case it just overloads the board’s regulator and shuts down, worst case the magic smoke might escape. A wise precaution here might be to put a MOSFET between the board’s fan output the and the laser, but we won’t tell you how to live your life. As far as laser safety, this device should probably work inside an opaque box, or behind closed doors.

Once the laser is hanging off the fan port of your printer’s controller, you can turn it on with the normal GCode commands for fan control, M106 and M107 (to turn it on and off, respectively). You can even control the laser’s power level by adding an argument to the “on” command like: M106 S30.

Then you just need to mount the laser, and it’s more or less business as usual. Controlling a laser engraver/cutter isn’t really that different from controlling a 3D printer, so [Dani] is still using OctoPrint to command the machine; the trick is giving it a “3D model” that’s just a 2D image with no Z changes to worry about. We’ve seen the process for doing that in Inkscape previously.

With this laser module going for as little as $60 USD (assuming you’ve got a 3D printer or two laying around to do the conversion on), this is a pretty cheap way to get into the subtractive manufacturing game. Next stop from there is getting one of those K40’s everyone’s talking about.

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Lasercut Gears – A Learning Experience

Lasercutters are fantastic tools: they’re highly useful for making flat things, or even flat things that you later bend! This makes them particularly well suited for making gears out of flat stock. [sharvfish] needed to get his hands dirty with producing some gears for his automaton, and decided to share what he learned in the process.

The gears in question are cut out of MDF board, which is readily usable on all but the feeblest lasercutters you’ll find in the average makerspace. The first problem faced was when producing gears with low tooth counts – depending on the exact geometry used, teeth with lower counts can tend to jam easily. For [sharvfish]’s gears, 6 teeth seems to be just a touch too small to work well. Other issues cropped up around the kerf of the cuts affecting the gear mesh and the use of pins to improve the coupling of the gears to the shaft, which [sharvfish] expands upon in the video. There’s also a cheeky cephalopod cameo, too.

It’s always interesting to see the unique challenges faced in the undertaking of a project; we could see six more lasercut projects this week, and we’d likely see six unique problems the builders faced as well. It’s a great insight into the build process and it’s great when makers share their journey as well as the finished product. Video after the break.

Wondering what lasercut gears can do for you? Check out this build that rotates an entire television.

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Expanding the K40 Laser Cutter with Aluminum Extrusion

The K40 laser cutter is an excellent option if you need to laze some plywood or acrylic. It’s ubiquitous, it’s cheap, and there’s a vast community out there that will help you support any issue you could have. Unfortunately, the K40 laser cutter is lacking. It has a small bed, and it doesn’t have the latest technology like ‘switches’ that turn off the laser when you open the door.

[frederik] recently upgraded his K40 to something great. He’s calling it the Layzor, and it has a huge 600×400 mm bed area, a feed-through slot for even wider workpieces, and fancy technology [frederik] is calling an ‘E-stop’. Sounds expensive, doesn’t it?

The build began by scavenging the K40 laser cutter for the electronics and laser tube, then building a new frame out of aluminum extrusion. A few parts had to be custom made, including a few stepper motor mounts and something to hold the laser tube. All of this was tied up in a box with acrylic panels, and went together as easily as any other CNC machine.

The finished project is great. It’s a relatively powerful laser cutter capable of most hobby work, and it was cheap. The total cost for this build was under €500. That’s not including the scavenged K40, but that’s still an amazing price for a very capable laser cutter.

Dual Source Laser Cutter Built Like a Tank, Cuts Most Anything

Laser cutters aren’t the sort of thing that you might think about making at home, but there’s no reason not to if you are careful and do your research. That’s what [Daniele Ingrassia] did with the Laser Duo, an open source laser cutter that has two light sources for cutting various materials. His final product is not a small device: it has a press-formed aluminum case that looks more like a World War I tank than a piece of precision machinery. But that’s for a good reason: you don’t mess about with lasers, especially the 130 Watt CO2 and 75 Watt Yag lasers that the Laser Duo uses. Continue reading “Dual Source Laser Cutter Built Like a Tank, Cuts Most Anything”

Laser Cutter Turns Scrapped To Shipped

We’ll go way out on a limb here and say you’ve probably got a ridiculous amount of flattened cardboard boxes. We’re buying more stuff online than ever before, and all those boxes really start to add up. At the least we hope they’re making it to the recycling bin, but what about reusing them? Surely there’s something you could do with all those empty shipping boxes…

Here’s a wild idea…why not use them to ship things? But not exactly as they are, unless you’re in the business of shipping big stuff, the probably won’t do you much good as-is. Instead, why not turn those big flattened cardboard boxes into smaller, more convenient, shippers? That’s exactly what [Felix Rusu] has done, and we’ve got to say, it’s a brilliant idea.

[Felix] started by tracing the outline of the USPS Priority Small Flat Rate Box, which was the perfect template as it comes to you flat packed and gets folded into its final shape. He fiddled with the design a bit, and in the end had a DXF file he could feed into his 60W CO2 laser cutter. By lowering the power to 15% on the fold lines, the cutter is even able to score the cardboard where it needs to fold.

Assuming you’ve got a powerful enough laser, you can now turn all those Amazon Prime boxes into the perfect shippers to use when your mom finally makes you sell your collection of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards on eBay. Otherwise, you can just use them to build a wall so she’ll finally stay out of your side of the basement.

[Thanks to Adrian for the tip.]

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A Lesson in K40 Laser Repair

The K40 laser cutter has become ubiquitous in hackerspaces and well-equipped home workshops over the past few years, as a relatively inexpensive introduction to laser cutting and a machine that is readily hackable. Tokyo Hackerspace have one, but sadly their laser tube failed after relatively little use. Replacing a laser tube might be a routine component change for some readers, but it’s still worth looking at in some detail.

Their tube had failed at its output lens cooling cap, a component that is glued onto the end of the tube rather than bonded, and which had snapped off. There had been no mechanical stress upon it, but it was found  that the arrangement of their cooling system caused it to drain between uses and thus air bubbles could accumulate. The resulting cooling inefficiency caused enough thermal stress for the bond between the tube and the end piece to fail.

The in-depth analysis of what caused the failure and step-by-step description of the procedure should be of interest to any K40 owner. Little things such as ensuring that the tube is rotated to the right angle for all air bubbles to make their way out of it, or making sure that when the pump is switched off the water isn’t all pulled out of it by gravity seem obvious, but these are traps that will have caught more than one K40 owner.

We’ve covered many K40 stories over the years, but a good place to start for the novice might be this commissioning story, or even this tale of a hackerspace’s modifications to their model.

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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