Interesting Optics Make This Laser Engraver Fit In A Pocket

We’re going to start this post with a stern warning: building a laser engraver that can fit in your pocket is probably not a wise idea. Without any safety interlocks and made from lightweight components as it is, this thing could easily tip over and sear a retina before you’d even have time to react. You definitely should not build this, or even be in the same room with it. Got it?

Safety concerns aside, [DAZ] has taken a pretty neat approach to making this engraver, eschewing the traditional X-Y gantry design in favor of something more like the galvanometers used for laser projectors, albeit completely homebrew and much, much slower than commercial galvos. Built mostly of 3D-printed parts, the scanning head of this engraver uses a single mirror riding on an angled block attached to gimbals with two degrees of freedom. The laser module and mirror gimbals are mounted on a stand made of light aluminum so that the whole thing is suspended directly over a workpiece; the steppers slew the mirror to raster the beam across the workpiece and burn a design.

The video below shows it at work, and again, we have to stress that this is about as close to this build as you should get. It shouldn’t be too hard to add some safety features, though — at a minimum, we’d like to see a tilt-switch that kills power if it’s knocked over, and maybe some kind of enclosure. Sure, that would probably spoil the pocketability of the engraver, but is that really a feature valuable enough to risk your eyesight for?

If there’s a laser build in your future, please read our handy guide to homebrew laser cutter safety — before you can’t.

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Putting A Cheap Laser Rangefinder Through Its Paces

Sometimes a gizmo seems too cheap to be true. You know there’s just no way it’ll work as advertised — but sometimes it’s fun to find out. Thankfully, if that gadget happens to be a MILESEEY PF210 Hunting Laser Rangefinder, [Phil] has got you covered. He recently got his hands on one (for less than 100 euros, which is wild for a laser rangefinder) and decided to see just how useful it actually was.

The instrument in question measures distances via the time-of-flight method; it bounces a laser pulse off of some distant (or not-so-distant) object and measures how long the pulse takes to return. Using the speed of light, it can calculate the distance the pulse has traveled).

As it turns out, it worked surprisingly well. [Phil] decided to focus his analysis on accuracy and precision, arguably the most important features you’d look for while purchasing such an instrument. We won’t get into the statistical nitty-gritty here, but suffice it to say that [Phil] did his homework. To evaluate the instrument’s precision, he took ten measurements against each of ten different targets of various ranges between 2.9 m and 800 m. He found that it was incredibly precise (almost perfectly repeatable) at low distances, and still pretty darn good way out at 800 m (±1 m repeatability).

To test the accuracy, he took a series of measurements and compared them against their known values (pretty straightforward, right?). He found that the instrument was accurate to within a maximum of 3% (but was usually even better than that).

While this may not be groundbreaking science, it’s really nice to be reminded that sometimes a cheap instrument will do the job, and we love that there are dedicated folks like [Phil] out there who are willing to put the time in to prove it.

Collaborative Effort Gets Laser Galvos Talking G-Code

Everyone should know by now that we love to follow up on projects when they make progress. It’s great to be able to celebrate accomplishments and see how a project has changed over time. But it’s especially great to highlight a project that not only progresses, but also gives back a little to the community.

That’s what we’re seeing with [Les Wright]’s continuing work with a second-hand laser engraver. It was only a few weeks ago that we featured his initial experiments with the eBay find, a powerful CO2 laser originally used for industrial marking applications. It originally looked like [Les] was going to have to settle for a nice teardown and harvesting a few parts, but the eleven-year-old tube and the marking head’s galvanometers actually turned out to be working just fine.

The current work, which is also featured in the video below, mainly concerns those galvos, specifically getting them working with G-code to turn the unit into a bit of an ad hoc laser engraver. Luckily, he stumbled upon the OPAL Open Galvo project on GitHub, which can turn G-code into the XY2-100 protocol used by his laser. While [Les] has nothing but praise for the software side of OPAL, he saw a hardware hole he could fill, and contributed his design for a PCB that hosts the Teensy the code runs on as well as the buffer and line driver needed to run the galvos and laser. The video shows the whole thing in use with simple designs on wood and acrylic, as well as interesting results on glass.

Of course, these were only tests — we’re sure [Les] would address the obvious safety concerns in a more complete engraver. But for now, we’ll just applaud the collaboration shown here and wait for more updates.

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When Is One Pixel Cooler Than Millions?

On vacation, we went to see a laser show – one of the old school variety that combines multiple different lasers of many different colors together into a single beam, modulates them to create different colors, and sends it bouncing off galvos to the roof of a planetarium. To a musical score, naturally.

When I was a kid, I had no idea how they worked, but laser shows were awesome. As a younger grownup hacker, and after some friends introduced me to the dark arts, I built my own setup. I now know how they work from the deepest innards out, and they are no less awesome. Nowadays, you can get a capable set of galvos and drivers for around a hundred bucks from the far east, it’s fair to say that there’s no magic left, but the awesome still remains.

RGB laser
“laser show” by Ilmicrofono Oggiono

At the same time, lasers, and laser shows, are supremely retro. The most stunning example of this hit me while tearing apart a Casio projector ages ago to extract the otherwise unobtainable brand new 455 nm blue laser diodes. There I was pulling one diode out of an array of 24 from inside the projector, and throwing away the incredibly powerful DSP processor, hacking apart the precision optical path, and pulling out the MEMS DLP mirror array with nearly a million little mirrors, to replace it with two mirrors, driven around by big old coil-of-wire electromagnets. Like a caveman.

But still, there’s something about a laser show that I’ve never seen replicated – the insane color gamut that they can produce. It is, or can be, a lot more than just the RGB that you get out of your monitor. Some of the colors you can get out of a laser (or a prism) are simply beautiful in a way that I can’t explain. I can tell you that you can get them from combining red, blue, green, cyan, and maybe even a deep purple laser.

What you get with a laser show pales in comparison to the multi-megapixel projectors in even a normal movie theater. Heck, you’ve really got one pixel. But if you move it around fast enough, and accompany it with a decent soundtrack, you’ve still got an experience that’s worth having while you still can.

[Banner image from a positively ancient RGB laser hack. We need more! Send us yours!]

Extruded Resin FDM Printing (With Lasers!)

At this point, 3D printers are nearly everywhere. Schools, hackerspaces, home workshops, you name it. Most of these machines are of the extruded-filament variety, better known as FDM or Fused Deposition Modelling. Over the last few years, cheap LCD printers have brought resin printing to many shops as well. LCD printers, like their DLP and SLA counterparts, use ultraviolet light to cure liquid resin. These machines are often praised for the super-high detail they can achieve, but are realllly slow. And messy —  liquid resin gets everywhere and sticks to everything.

We’re not exactly sure what [Jón Schone] of Proper Printing was thinking when he set out to convert a classic printer to use resin instead of filament, but it had to be something along the lines of “Can you make FDM printing just as messy as LCD printing?”

It turns out you can. His extremely well-documented research is shown in the video below, and logs his design process, from initial idea to almost-kinda-working prototype. As you may expect, extruding a high-viscosity liquid at a controlled rate and laser-curing it is not an easy task, but [Jón] made a fantastic attempt. From designing and building his own peristaltic pump, to sending a UV laser through fiber-optic cables, he explored a ton of different approaches to making the printer work. While he may not have been 100% successful, the video is a great reminder that not all projects have to go the way we hope they will.

Even so, he’s optimistic, and said that he has a few ideas to refine the design, and welcomes any input from the community. This isn’t even the only new and interesting approach to resin printing we’ve seen in the last few weeks, so we share [Jón]’s optimism that the FDM Resin Printer will work (someday, at least).

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Inside An EBay Marking Laser

When it comes to trolling eBay for cool stuff, some people have all the luck. Whereas all we ever seem to come across is counterfeit chips and obviously broken gear listed as, “good condition, powers on”, [Les Wright] actually managed to get more than he bargained for with one of his recent eBay purchases.

In his video teardown and tour of an industrial marking laser, [Les] suggests that he was really just in it for the optics — which is not a surprise, given his interest in optics in general and lasers in particular. The 20-W CO2 laser once etched barcodes and the like into products on assembly lines, but with a 2009 date code of its own, it was a safe bet that it was pitched due to a burned-out laser tube. But there were still high-quality IR optics and a precision X-Y galvanometer assembly to be harvested, so [Les] pressed on.

The laser itself ended up being built around a Synrad RF-stimulated CO2 tube. By a happy accident, [Les] found that the laser actually still works, at least most of the time. There appears to be an intermittent problem with the RF driver, but the laser works long enough to release the magic smoke from anything combustible that gets in its way. The galvos work too — [Les] was able to drive them with a Teensy and a couple of open-source libraries.

Galvos, lenses worth more than $800, and a working laser tube — not a bad haul. We’ll be following along to see what [Les] makes of this booty. Continue reading “Inside An EBay Marking Laser”

Laser Propulsion Could Satisfy Our Spacecraft’s Need For Speed

There are many wonderful places we’d like to visit in the universe, and probably untold numbers more that we haven’t even seen or heard of yet. Unfortunately…they’re all so darn far away. A best-case-scenario trip to Mars takes around six months with present technology, meanwhile, if you want to visit Alpha Centauri it’s a whole four lightyears away!

When it comes to crossing these great distances, conventional chemical rocket technology simply doesn’t cut the mustard. As it turns out though, lasers could hold the key to cutting down travel times in space!

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