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.
Continue reading “Review: LinkSprite Mini CNC”
There’s an old saying, that in theory there’s no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is. That sentiment could easily be applied to refitting a 3D printer to hold a laser. There shouldn’t be much to it, rig up a laser module to turn on under computer control, mount it to your hot end carriage and off you go. In practice, though there are other considerations to account for. If you have a Monoprice Mini Select, you can start with instructions from [drodrii] for adding a laser to your printer.
Although [drodrii] mentions that you need a second 3D printer to make a bracket for the laser, we think you should be able to print it on the Mini as long as you do it before the first step of removing the hot end. However, since your laser module might not exactly match the one used in this project, you’d have to get it right the first time if you don’t have another 3D printer. Of course, you could remove the laser gear, remount the hot end, print a new bracket and start over, but that’d be a drag.
Continue reading “Monoprice Mini Laser Engraver Hack”
A few months ago, [Marco] picked up a cheap, cheap, cheap laser engraver from one of the familiar Chinese resellers. It’s a simple affair with aluminum extrusions, a diode laser, and a control board that seems like it was taken from a 3D printer controller designed five years ago. Now, [Marko] is building some upgrades for this engraver and his PCB production skills have gone through the roof.
The laser engraver [Marko] picked up is called the EleksMaker, and lucky for him there are quite a few upgrades available on Thingiverse. He found two 3D printable parts, one that keeps the belt parallel to the aluminum extrusion, and another that provides adjustable x-axis tightness on the belt. With these two mods combined, [Marko] actually has a nice, smooth motion platform that’s more precise and makes better engravings.
These upgrades weren’t all 3D-printable; [Marko] also got his hands on a few Trinamic TMC2130 stepper motor drivers. These stepper drivers are the new hotness in 3D printing and other desktop CNC machines, and looking at the waveform in an oscilloscope, it’s easy to see why. These drivers produce a perfectly smooth waveform via interpreted microstepping, and they’re almost silent in operation. That’s terrible if you want to build a CNC chiptune player, but great if you want smooth engraving on a piece of copper clad board.
This project has come a long way since the last time we took a look at it a few months ago, and the results just keep getting better. [Marko] is making real PCBs with a laser engraver that cost less than $200, and the upgrades he’s already put into it don’t add up to much, either. You can take a look at [Marko]’s progress in the video below.
Thanks [dechemist] for the tip.
Continue reading “Improving Cheap Laser Engravers For PCB Fabrication”
Now that anyone can go online and get a fairly decent 3D printer for around $200, they’ve officially fallen out of the “Elite Hacker” arsenal and are now normal, if perhaps highly specialized, tools. That’s great for the 3D printing community as a whole, but what about those who want to be on the fringe of technology? Telling people you have a 3D printer at home doesn’t get that wide-eyed response like it used to. What’s a “l33t” hacker to do?
Enter the laser engraver/cutter: it’s like a 3D printer, but easier to build and has a higher capacity for bodily harm! While there are a couple good options for kits and turn-key setups out there, just like the early days of 3D printers, some of the best machines are still home built. In his latest video, YouTuber [MakerMan] takes us through his build which features an impressively low part count.
To start his build, [MakerMan] strips down four printers and salvages seven high quality 8 mm linear rods; a huge cost saving tip in itself. We’ll certainly be picking up any printers we see in the trash for the next couple months hoping to score some rods. With the addition of some cheap LM8UU bearings and 3D printed holders for them, [MakerMan] has a smooth 2D motion platform for just a couple bucks. The frame of the machine is built out of type of aluminum square tubing you can find at the hardware store, no expensive extrusion here.
For the laser itself, [MakerMan] is using a six watt PLH3D-6W-XF from Opt Lasers. This module features integrated driver and cooling, so all you need to do is provide it power and a stable means of moving it over the work piece. They even offer a magnetic “dock” which allows you to remove the laser from the mount without any tools for servicing or tool changes. [MakerMan] reports he’s been able to engrave stainless steel with this laser module, and cut thin wood.
This isn’t the first laser engraver we’ve seen built out of scrap parts, though if you want to save some work you could just upgrade a cheap commercial model.
Continue reading “Homebuilt Laser Engraver Using Salvaged Parts”
What’s better than a cool build? A cool build with valuable advice! Add a few flashy pictures and you have [Martin Raynsford]’s Reuleaux triangle coasters blog post. [Martin Raynsford] wanted to share his advice about the importance of using jigs and we’re sold. He was able to make 100 coasters in a single day and if he’s like us, after number ten, the work gets a little hurried and that is when mistakes are made.
Jig is a broad term when it comes to tooling but essentially, it holds your part in place while you work on it. In this case, a jig was made to hold the coaster pieces while they were glued together. [Martin Raynsford] didn’t need any registration marks on the wood so even the back is clean. If you look closely, the coaster is two parts, the frame and the triangle. Each part is three layers and they cannot separated once the glue dries. If any part doesn’t line up properly, the whole coaster is scrap wood.
This robot arm engraved 400 coasters in a day but maybe you would prefer if you simply had your beer delivered to your new coasters.
Continue reading “Reuleaux Coaster”
The relatively inexpensive K40 laser cutter/engraver machines from China have brought laser cutting to the masses, but they are not without their faults. Sure, they’re only powerful enough for the lightest cutting tasks, but on top of that, their bundled software is inflexible and disappointing. If your workshop or hackspace has one of these machines languishing in the corner, then the release of a new piece of software, K40 Whisperer from [Scorch], is an interesting and welcome development.
He tells us that the reverse engineering process required to understand the K40’s protocol was non-trivial, given that it does not use handy decimal numbers to issue commands. A spreadsheet was used to collate data packets and spot repeating patterns to analyse the inner workings. Feature-wise, the software reads SVG and DXF files, and can split SVGs by colour. It has a halftone algorithm for rendering grey scales, and cuts from the inside of each shape first to avoid pieces of work dropping out of the piece of material. Currently it works with the stock M2 Nano controller board and is available as a Windows download, though it can also be compiled for Linux distributions, or MacOS, and he is asking owners to test it with as many machines as possible to ensure compatibility with other boards.
He has posted a video of K40 Whisperer in action, which you can see below the break.
Continue reading “Take Control Of Your Cheap Laser Cutter”
[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.