Adding a laser cutter to the BlackToe CNC Mill

by Stephen Hobley on August 6, 2011

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It’s time I took the CO2 laser from the Chinese cutter and attached it to the gantry of my BlackToe CNC mill. Effectively increasing the size of the cutting bay from the tiny 5×8″ to a whopping 2′x 4′ – the small size of the cutting area was starting to become annoying – and it seemed ridiculous to have the larger gantry available and not be able to use it.

So…

…the first task was to strip the laser tube, power and control systems from the original cutter.

The next step is to construct a heavy-duty housing to mount the tube alongside the milling gantry.

UPDATE : After a weekend of futzing around with lots of different combinations – this is the final configuration of flying mirrors I’m going with.

I split up the focus head and will attach the lens to the base of the milling head – so I can adjust focus with the Z axis control. I can also switch between spindle and laser without adding/removing anything…

UPDATE UPDATE : So… having very carefully removed the laser and power supply from the original casing I’m sorry to report that the PSU is dead. The flyback driver is no longer flying the way it should and the laser isn’t lasing.

I’ve put in a bid on a replacement PSU and we’ll see how that works out. Kind of annoyed about that, as I really didn’t want to buy another 40W PSU – I was hoping to upgrade to a full 80W system. :-(

UPDATE3 : OK so the new PSU is on its way – should take a couple of weeks, in the meantime I’ll make some refinements to the optics.

Click here for an update.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

TheKackler August 8, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Glad you are trying this! I am just now feeling the sweet call of a laser cutter… I built the ‘book CNC’ from buildyourcnc.com

I assume your cnc runs smooth with little vibration.

Good luck… I’d love to see this work!

Robert August 11, 2011 at 8:37 am

Hi,

I will be the first to buy a blacktoe once you get this to work! Any laser cutting machine this size would cost thousands. I advise you to be careful b/c the laser exposed can and will blind you. This is why the laser cutting machines have a cover on them.

Stephen Hobley August 11, 2011 at 8:52 am

Yes the safety concerns are prime importance – buy the correct protective eyewear when working with these lasers.

This is the main reason I have the beam routed the way it is, so that it is away from the operator whenever possible.

Jelle August 13, 2011 at 6:24 am

I don’t think this would be a good idea if it ever comes to completion.
No enclosure -> eye & fire hazard
No smoke extraction/ laminar flow -> bad cuts & fire hazard
No plenum under material to be cut -> bad cuts & fire hazard
(basically, you need to get the smoke away and cool as quickly as possible, if it needs to cross the beam again it has more chance to catch fire and your cuts will suffer)
Slow machine -> no picture engraving/rastering.
You could bypass these dangers by only cutting non-flammable materials, but then you’d skip the two best lasercutting materials: wood and acrylic.

If I were you, I’d use the router to make a frame/enclosure for a lasercutter and perhaps combine it with a 3d printer. Those two have much more in common (speed, no force, enclosure = good).
And buying the correct protective eyewear does not give you safety, you have to wear it too!

Stephen Hobley August 13, 2011 at 8:24 am

Thanks for the response – all the points you raise are valid and require consideration.

…and I have been considering them for some time. Presently I’m satisfied that I can operate the machine safely, with fume extraction and proper workpiece support that is superior to the Chinese machine that the laser hardware came from.

Stay tuned – just installing the laser was one piece of the puzzle – safety is the next thing.

The gantry is just as fast as the cheap chinese cutter – no one said this would be as good as an expensive Epilog – and raster engraving is very low on my list of functions – I just need to be able to cut delicate clock parts more accurately than I can now – and the chinese machine was taking up too much space in my workshop.

Finally, regarding the 3d printer – yes I would love to add a print head, but I just don’t think the filament extrusion method is the way to go. When you see what the “big boys” can produce using powder sintering, or liquid resin bath, it just blows filament stuff out of the water.

I’m going to wait for this guy to get his machine ready…

http://3dhomemade.blogspot.com/

But he seems too wrapped up in patents to actually get something out there.

Jelle August 17, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I would have agreed with you on the FDM stuff not being really nice before I had seen product made with netfabb instead of skeinforge. Those really show that the bottleneck is not in the hardware, but in the software. Resolution and speed both go up if you produce better gcode, whowouldathunk? From looking at the ‘interface’ of skeinforge, it is clear that it is more a developers toy than usable software.
I don’t like it that Netfabb is not free, but on the other hand, if you have invested 1500+ in a 3d printer, 150 euro to make it print twice as good is not a bad deal IMHO.

wrt to 3dhomemade: if he is busy with patents, add 1.5 years at the very least. It’s mostly futile, as he most likely does not have the funds to either defend his patent when someone infringes on it, or defend himself when he is sued by ‘the big boys’. Patent is all about the amount of lawyer-money you have. But anyway, I do not expect anything from that project soon. But I’d love to be wrong.

al January 5, 2012 at 11:57 pm

I am “sitting in the bleachers”, so to speak waiting for some one to offer :
1.) a plug and play controller to motivate 3 or4 steppers (of which I have plenty) . and
2.) a 40 watt laser to play with, without having to go back to college.
For all I know, it’s been out there all along, without me being able to recognise it (how do you spell recognise ?) from what I read, bunch of people are having their CNC making chips, cool ! Al

CNC Engineering February 8, 2013 at 3:48 am

Very nice innovation I had used it earlier but never used Laser for the cutting purpose I was using a thin wire for the purpose which is good enough to cut thermocoals and plastic. you must look after all the safety measures while working with the Laser. Always safety is our main concern while making or working on some harmful objects.
Waiting to look after a new developed Laser cutting machine.

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