The laser module shown cutting shapes out of a piece of cardboard that's lying on the CNC's work surface

Giant CNC Partners With Powerful Laser Diode

[Jeshua Lacock] from 3DTOPO owns a large-format CNC (4’x8′, or 1.2×2.4 m), that he strongly feels is lacking laser-cutting capabilities. The frame is there, and a 150 W CO2 laser tube has been sitting in a box for ages – what else could you need? Sadly, at such a scale, aligning the mirrors is a tough and finicky job – and misalignment can be literally blinding. After reading tales about cutters of such size going out of alignment when someone as much as walked nearby, he dropped the idea – and equipped the CNC head with a high-power laser diode module instead. Having done mirror adjustment on a few CO2 tube-equipped lasers, we can see where he’s coming from.

Typically, the laser modules you see bolted onto CNC heads are firmly under three watts, which is usually only enough for engraving. With a module that provides 5 watts of optical power, [Jeshua] can cut cardboard and thin plywood as well he tells us even 10 W optical power modules are available, just that he didn’t go for one. We reckon that 20 W effective power diodes are not that far into our future, which is getting very close to the potential of the blue box “40 W but actually 35 W but actually way less” K40 laser cutters we cherish. [Jeshua]’s cutter is not breaking speed limits, but it’s built on what’s already there, and the diode is comparatively inexpensive. Equipped with a small honeycomb surface and what seems to be air assist, it’s shown in the video cutting an ornamental piece out of cardboard!

We hackers have been equipping CNCs with laser diodes for a while, but on a way smaller scale and with less powerful diodes – this is definitely a step up! As a hacker, you should have at least some laser cutting options at your disposal, and this overview of CO2 cutters and their availability can get you started. We’ve also given you detailed breakdowns about different sides of laser cutting, be it the must-have of safety, or the nice-to-have of air assist.

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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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Laser Cut LEGO In MDF

It’s hard not to be a fan of LEGO. The humble plastic bricks from Denmark enabled many a young engineer to bring their architectural and mechanical fantasies to life. But one limitation was that you were stuck using the bricks LEGO designed. Thankfully, [John Sokol] has come up with a way to laser cut his own LEGO-compatible bricks, and provided the tools so you can do the same.

After hacking an OpenSCAD script to generate just the top pins of the block, [John] exported an SVG into Inkscape so that he could scale the pins properly before exporting a final PNG for the lasercutter. Using RDWorks, [John] was able to find an engraving setting that worked well with dry-erase whiteboard MDF — an unusual material for a brick, but functional nonetheless. The key here is that the engraving setting takes away just enough material to create a raised pin on the part, without cutting all the way through the MDF or burning the surface.

Despite some damage when removing the work piece from the laser cutter, the part mates up well with the official LEGO brand parts. We’d be interested to see how the MDF cut parts hold up over time compared to real LEGO bricks made in ABS, which seem to last forever.

This isn’t the first make-your-own-LEGO hack we’ve seen – maybe you’d like to 3D print your own bricks on a printer made of LEGO?

Laser Tattoo


We’re amazed we didn’t stumble across this ill advised burnination sooner. Earlier in the week [tetranitrate], of LED chess set fame, posted his experiences using a laser cutter to scarify his own skin. It’s very painful, not to mention the discomfort of smelling your own burning flesh. He’s using an Epilog with a magnet over the safety switch. To get the positioning right, a layer of painters tape was put down and then etched. For a less painful version, you could try Bre’s fingernail calendar from last Fall. Video of multiple tattoos embedded after the break.

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