I see a number of articles on the WEB about using a blue laser around 2 watts for cutting and engraving. A lot of times the laser is attached to a 3D printer. Now I have a 3D printer but I wanted a cutter that was a bit larger and did not want to bother with swapping the laser for the print head. So I built a carriage for the laser based on reprap Prusa technology.
The usable area of the bed is about 16″ by 16″ (400 by 400 mm). Unlike the 3D printer the laser is moved in both the X and Y directions rather than moving the bed in one direction and the laser in the other. A piece of 3/4″ plywood serves as the base and it sits on rubber feet so I can get my fingers under it to pick it up. The carriage and gantry move on 8 mm rods with dual linear bearings. I used two steppers to move the gantry in the Y direction to provide even force at each end of the gantry. There is no Z axis as the laser can be refocused for different height materials. There is a piece of sheet metal on the base that serves to protect the plywood from the laser.
Parts like the motor mounts and bearing supports are 3D printed and are based on the Prusa parts. For the electronics I used the Arduino mega with the ramps 1.4 interface. Since I have 2 steppers for the Y axis the Z axis driver on the ramps was used as it has two stepper connectors. To get this to work I modified the pins.h file in the Marlin software to swap the Y and Z axis.
The laser is turned on by use of the fan circuit in the ramps board. This is really handy as the circuit provides the 12VDC needed by the laser and there is Gcode functions to turn the fan on and off.
There is a bit more work to do on it. The cables need to be properly dressed. Then there is all the safety issues. It needs a lockout switch and an enclosure to prevent any stray laser beams and control the fumes.
Repetier-Host works well for testing and for sending the Gcode files to the cutter. The manual mode lets me move the carriage around and turn the laser on and off. The first test I did was using handwritten Gcode to cut a 20 mm square. For generating more complex designs I have settled on using Inkscape for drawing and have tried both Gcodetools and J Tech Photonics Laser Tool extensions to generate the Gcode. So far I have had better luck with the J Tech tool.
Here is a short video showing cutting the fabric.
I did a number of tests to see what materials could be cut with this laser cutter and what cutting speeds to use. Regular paper cuts very easily. The cuts don’t even have a burnt looking edge like thicker material. Card stock cuts nicely with a slightly slower cutting speed. Cereal box cardboard would take a slow cutting speed and several passes to cut. Normal thickness cotton fabric cuts easily. I haven’t yet tried other types of fabric. Cricut vinyl cuts and you can adjust the cutting speed to cut just the vinyl and not the support material. It will mark wood with nice clean lines.
Above is Cricut vinyl cut with the laser and below is after it has been weeded.
Below is a piece of pine that has been engraved with the laser.
I see many interesting uses for this laser cutter especially once I get better at using Inkscape.