Right now, you can get a diode laser engraver on eBay for around $100 USD. That sounds like a deal, but it’ll probably use some arcane proprietary software, won’t be terribly accurate, and the laser itself will almost certainly be fully exposed. Of course there’s no shortage of DIY builds which improve upon this situation greatly, but unfortunately the documentation and instructions to replicate them yourself often leave a lot to be desired.
To get a safe and accurate laser platform into the hands of hackers everywhere, we need more well documented open source designs that are actually built with community in mind. Projects like the Engravinator from [Adam Haile]. This isn’t a one-off design with documentation thrown together after the fact, it’s a fully open hardware engraver with a concise assembly guide that’s built from 3D printed parts and readily available components. You’re free to source and print the parts yourself or, eventually, purchase everything as a kit.
The microwave-sized Engravinator is built from standard 2020 aluminum extrusion, and offers a workable area of 130mm x 130mm. There’s a hatch on the front of the enclosure for objects that are small enough to fit inside the machine, but the open bottom and handles on the top also allow the user to place the Engravinator directly onto the work surface. [Adam] says this feature can be especially useful if you’re looking to burn a design into a tabletop or other large object.
Outside of the aluminum extrusion and miscellaneous hardware that make up the frame, most of the other parts are 3D printed. Released under the CERN Open Hardware License v1.2 and distributed as both STL and STEP files, the printable parts for the Engravinator are ripe for modification should you be so inclined. The same goes for the DXF files for the enclosure panels, which will need to be cut out of orange acrylic with a CNC or (ironically) a laser.
For under $300 US of parts and a few nights working in his pajamas, the aptly named, pajama micro laser engraver is a pretty nice little machine for its class. Not having the space for a full size machine and not necessarily needing its capabilities he aimed to produce something compact.
The frame is aluminium extrusion, the movement is core-XY an H-bot on linear rails, and it appears to just be a grbl board with a Chinese laser module on it. He took a bit of care to make the frame a cube which allows him to easily vent the fumes from the little unit. There’s even a small air pump to blow the off-gas from the cutting away from the laser.
All in all a nice little hack useful for all sorts of things from solder masks to cutting wood veneers. You can see it zipping around in the video after the break.
The build starts with an Anet A8 3D printer. It’s an affordable model at the lower end of the FDM printer market, making it accessible to a broad range of makers. With the help of some 3D printed brackets, it’s possible to replace the extruder assembly with a laser instead, allowing the device to cut and engrave various materials.
[Gosse] went with a 5500 mW diode laser, which allows for the cutting and engraving of wood, some plastics and even fabrics. Unlike a dedicated laser cutter there are no safety interlocks and no enclosure, so it’s important to wear goggles when the device is operating. Some tinkering with G-Code is required to get things up and running, but it’s a small price to pay to get a laser cutter on your workbench.
Laser engraving and cutting has something in common with focusing the sun’s rays with a magnifying glass: good focus is critical to results. If materials of varying thicknesses are used, focus needs to be re-set every time the material changes, and manual focusing quickly becomes a chore. [Scorch Works] has a clever solution to avoid constant re-focusing that doesn’t involve sensors or motors of any sort. The result is a self-adjusting bed that compensates for material height changes, ensuring that the top surface of the material is always a fixed distance from the laser’s head.
The way [Scorch Works] has done this is to make two spring-loaded clamps from angle aluminum and a few pieces of hardware. When a sheet of material is placed into the machine, the edges get tucked underneath the aluminum “lips” while being pushed upward from beneath. By fixing the height of the top layer of angle aluminum, any sheet stock always ends up the same distance from the laser head regardless of the material’s thickness.
[Scorch Works] shows the assembly in action in the video embedded below, along with a few different ways to accommodate different materials and special cases, so be sure to check it out.
[bdring] just recently completed his absolutely fantastic NickelBot, which is a beautifully made unit that engraves small wooden discs with a laser like some kind of on demand vending machine, and it’s wonderful. NickelBot is small, but a lot is going on inside. For example, there’s a custom-designed combination engraving platform and hopper that takes care of loading a wooden nickel from a stack, holding it firm while it gets engraved by a laser, then ejects it out a slot once it’s done.
NickelBot is portable and can crank out an engraved nickel within a couple of minutes, nicely fulfilling its role of being able to dish out the small items on demand at events while looking great at the same time. NickelBot’s guts are built around a PSoC5 development board, and LaserGRBL is used on the software side to generate G-code for the engraving itself. Watch it work in the video embedded below.
When I got my first 3D printer I was excited, but now that I’m contemplating adding a forth to my collection, I have to come to the terms with the fact that these machines have all the novelty of a screwdriver at this point. Which is fine; getting the cost down and availability up is the key to turning a niche piece of technology into a mainstream tool, and the more people with 3D printers at home or in their workshop the better, as far as I’m concerned. But still, there’s a certain thrill in exploring the cutting edge, and I’ve been looking for something new to get excited about as of late.
Lasers seem like an interesting next step in my quest towards complete in-house fabrication capability, so I started researching cheap setups to get my feet wet. In the course of looking up diode-powered laser cutters, I came across the NEJE DK-8-KZ. At only 1W, there’s no question this device isn’t going to be cutting a whole lot. In fact, it’s specifically sold as an engraver. But given the fact that you can get one of these little guys for around $70 USD shipped, it’s hard to complain.
Now I wasn’t 100% sure what I would do with a laser engraver, but I thought it would be a good way to test the waters before putting serious money (and time) into something more powerful. Plus, if I’m being totally honest, I wanted to start on something on the lower end of the power spectrum because I’m terrified of blinding myself.
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.