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Low Cost CO2 Laser Build

Goal: To assemble a working CO2 Laser from a minimum investment using only tools one can find at your average home improvement store.

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This project was created on 05/01/2014 and last updated 12 days ago.

Description
Allowable extras will be:

optics, This includes a gold mirror and a ZnSe Lens for the output

Neon Sign Transformer, it must be non-GFI. You can often

get one from a local neon guy out of his scrap bin for free if you ask
nicely… and bring cookies.

Glass tubing, also from the neon guy.
I used 12mm ID…. bring more cookies, especially oatmeal raisin,
everyone brings chocolate chip… surprise him :D

Another item that is nice, but not required is a variac to control the output voltage of the neon transformer

Helium, get this from walmart as it is used for party balloons.

Nitrogen and CO2 can either be obtained from the air we breath, OR if you wish, a welding supply store.

Construction of various Parts: If you plan on building
this, read the ENTIRE thing first as I may have made design changes or
redone things along the way as I discovered new or better methods or
corrected errors.

~Jessie
twitter https://twitter.com/ThunderSqueakAK
Details


Project logs
  • All Fired Up! Some shots of the plasma. :)

    12 days ago • 0 comments

    Just thought I would post an update to this build as well as post some images of the plasma.

    The first image is what happens when you have a leak, the tube glows a very bright purple and the plasma fills the chamber. This is a bad sign and meant that I had to check every seal to find the leaks in the system.

    After some tinkering to check all the seals, this was the result and what I wanted to see ^^

    The plasma inside was a shade of pink, which was so bright I had issues taking an image to post here. My camera kept dimming itself to compensate.

    Some of the issues I have found are the inner chamber cracking where the tube reaches the end of the water cooling jacket. This was solved by slowly powering up instead of a more "instant on". The bright flash of light and small explosion scared me the first time ^^;;

    The laser itself does function and I wish to continue working on this project as I have time, as of this writing, the ternary computer project has most of my attention.

    In other news, I have also received a number of different optics to experiment with at a future date as well as am considering building a much larger CO2 Laser.

    Thank you everyone! :)

    ~ThunderSqueak

View project log

Build instructions
  • 1

    PVC Cooling Jacket for CO2 Laser

    0

    PVC Cooling Jacket for CO2 Laser

    The adventure begins while I was walking around the local home depot looking at ideas on how to build the laser. I was sort of making it up as I went. Mapping things out in my mind. I wanted to keep the construction costs to a minimum and adapt things to work without having to order new or special components. Keeping in mind that simply buying a laser tube these days is actually pretty cheap (ebay as of the time of this writing has them for about 300 dollars).

    The Purpose of doing it myself lets me tweak it, and to experement. It gives me the freedom that I cannot really get if I simply buy a sealed tube from ebay or another website.

    For the Cooling jacket, I chose PCV. I did consider CPVC for its thermal characteristics but decided that a standard 2″ PVC would suffice. Thinking back, I could have easily gone with a smaller diamater but this way I can possibly keep it cooler or at least give me a small cushion of time if the pump were to quit working to turn it off before it overheats.

    The Window I put in it used a tube from an old aquarium vacuum that I had recently replaced, it was a larger 2″ one that fit perfectly inside the PVC

    aquarium vacuum

    The first step was to cut it to length, and then using my dremel I cut the window in the middle as shown in the photo. I then drilled two 1″ holes. One in the top, and one in the side. The reason for this is to allow the water to flow through the pipe, if they were both in the top water wouldnt flow at all, and if they were both in the side, there would be no place for the air bubble that would form to escape.

    I had aquired the 12mm glass tubing from the neon guy in town. This turned out to be close to a half inch. With the drill, I made two holes in the endcaps of the pipe.

    The final step was to use the PVC primer and glue. ONE NOTE, do this outside, the stuff stinks … and stains lenolium !!!! (Don’t ask me how I know this -.-;; )

    Sorry I dont have construction photos for this part of the build. I didn’t think to take pictures of it as I went along until I was done assembling it.

    assembled Water Cooling Jacket

    I then coated all joints with JB weld. The glass tubing is in it and I tossed on two gromets, one on each end to keep it in place and safe from being broken while I constructed the rest of it. The grey clamps holding it are from the electrical department, for electrical conduit. The hose clamps around it were there to apply a little pressure to the clear tube inside it while the epoxy cured.

    I then went over the whole thing with a black PVC paint to cover up any imperfections such as purple staining.
    Be sure you use a plastic PVC safe paint.

    5 coats later, with a light sanding between each coat. I simply suspended it while it dried overnight between coats. I would have left it outside but it started snowing.
    paint drying

    This step is complete!

  • 2

    Mirror Mounts

    0

    Mirror Mounts… where to begin, in many ways… these are the make or break it for this project. These have some very high tolerances and requirments. Especially considering I am doing this all by hand, after all, the goal of this project is to see if I can do this with as little as possible.

    To start off… walking through the home improvement store I began looking at ways to create an electrode as well as alow gas to enter and exit the tube AND be able to adjust the mirrors in any direction or angle. Lots of ideas came to my mind, many of them were WAY to complex for this project. In the end, it hit me… I can simply pump the voltage through the mirror mount itself… and if I used a simple sharkbite T fitting I had a ready made way to pump gas in. For the mount itself, washers with some creative drilling and soldering was in order.

    In the beginning, the main concern was a way to get the whole thing square and flush.

    When I got home, I cut off the last barb on the sharkbite fitting, the washer I selected had a slightly to small center hole, so using a rat tail file I filed this out carefully to create a VERY snug fit… it was so snug a rubber mallet had to be used to get it into the fitting. The next step was filing down the end that would fit into the tube. For this I used a dremel, a fine file, and find sand paper. I test fit it as I went into the glass tubing, be sure you cut the end off the tube as they fire polish them and the diameter will be a lot smaller there. For a proper fit, you have to cut the ends

    snug fit T fitting filed properly

    The next step was to drill holes for the mounts. Pick a drill bit that is slightly larger than the bolts you are going to use. You need them to be able to spin freely in the holes. The easiest way is to somehow stack all 4 larger washers, I simply used some zip ties. Put a mark along the edge of them so you can line them up again after… trust me on this. Then using a drill press if you have one… or being VERY careful if you dont, drill 3 holes through all 4 washers at the same time.

    washers held together showing the bolts through the holes.

    The next step was to solder some nuts over two of the washers over the holes you drilled. The easy way to do this is to simply thread the nut onto the bolt through the hole, this sort of autocenters it then also get a couple small bolts to solder face out. I didnt do this until the last step, in retrospect it would have been a lot easier to do it when I did this step. Best part of DIY stuff is making it up as you go :D

    I also took the time to notch the washers that I put over the end of the T fittings. This was to make room for the bolts as you can see later. I sanded each surface to rough it up a bit, applied flux, then heated each with a toch and soldered. In the end, the result was as you see below.

    soldered soldered and assembled without gromets

    After a while, and some major thinking… there was a problem… How to hold on the optics while the vacuum formed inside the tube. I needed a mirror mount.

    This is where I had to solder on the small bolts as shown in the final product. then after, you make a loop of wire and using nuts simply tighten it down over the optics. If you are worried about slippage or damaging the optics, put some heat shrink onto the wire. I put a gromet into it to form the seal that will be needed later.

    with bolts added for the optics

    And there we have it, fully assembled mirror mounts ! :D

    ======

    Nope… not quite, today while walking through the hardware store, I got a great idea upon seeing some pipe fittings and hose fittings! I picked up these, with the hopes to make my own lens focus for this unit. For the OC I plan on using a gold mirror with a hole drilled in it and a ZnSe window, just a flat plain old window. Why? Because they are cheap. Then I will use a convex ZnSe Lens that I have and make my own variable focus :D

    Pipe Fittings I found at the hardware store

    The next step was soldering it to the adjustment, I removed the old screws that I had soldered onto the mirror mount. The next step was centering the hose fitting and soldering it on. The excess solder on that one side is from the old retention bolt, I didnt bother to remove it. I did verify that the joing was 100% sealed with the use of flux and then testing under water as before. So far so good.

    After soldering the hose fitting with retention bolt installed

    After this, I remounted it to the laser and installed the gaskets for this system. after which I took the pictures of some possible configurations. :D Lots of possibilities with this system AND it should make a nice heatsink for the optics.

    Total cost of this addition, 6 dollars per side. I do need to go pick up the parts for the other side now, and a standard solid “plug” to allow for better contact and heat disipation. Note: Do NOT over tighten! You will break the optics!

    top down view with 1 gasket installed primary method with just retention

    And now for the possible lens configuration.

    Fist screw in the large one to retain the OC, then use the smaller one with a lens mounted in it. I can do a few possible configurations with this setup. Not sure if it will work or not, but that is the point of it. To experement and learn :D

    lens setup

    on a side note, I need to adjust the screws to fix the alignment, it is crooked ;)

    And NOW finished! … almost ;)

  • 3

    Assembling the tube

    1

    And now for assembling the laser tube itself. Things needed for this will be a bit of JB weld, a long thin dowl that fits inside your mirror mounts. This will help align them, much better than eyeing it. You will also need some 3/8th inch tubing and a few sharkbite fittings. Also, having a blow drier will help things out a LOT.

    For the base of the laser I used oak. The reason for this is that it is already cured, very resistant to warping, and heavy, also it is a LOT stronger than MDF when you are screwing things to it. ALWAYS remember to predrill all holes.

    Cut your glass tube to length, the easiest way to do this is score it using a file all the way around it. I simply went around it a few times until I could feel the score with my fingernail. After that, wet the score and with your thumbs positioned on the sides of your score, snap it like you were breaking a twig. Glass is actually pretty easy to work with as you can see. Just be careful to not burn yourself.

    working with glass

    Make the glass a length so that when you put it inside the cooling jacket, about a quarter inch sticks out of each end. Mix up some JB weld and apply it to the smooth secion of your mirror mount, leave about a quarter inch on the end untouched by epoxy as this will also serve double duty as an electrode and we dont want epoxy insulating it. Put the dowl through the whole tube … all the way down the shaft. The reason for this os to hold the mounts ABSOLUTELY straight while the epoxy cures. Make sure you put enough in to form a good seal. Make sure the position of the gas input is in a position for easy access, I chose to place them straight up. Then epoxy around the glass and the end of the PVC cooling jacket to seal that. Leave this for about 24 hours to cure before going further.

    epoxy on the glass and mirror mounts mounts installed

    The important thing is to make sure that you seal it. There can be NO air leaks, NO liquid leaks. To test this, after it is sealed, I filled up my bathtub, put a couple rubber stoppers in each end installed the tubes and litterally blew into it while it was submerged. I looked for air bubbles, I had none.. YAY! :D

    To install the tubing, since it is a tight fit, warm up the tubing slightly with a hair drier. It will slip on easily and should shrink tight as it cools.

    The next step was to run the lines and mount the tubing as well as install the connectors for attatching the vacuum pump and gas system. For the Electrical, I am going to simply use aligator clips (well insulated of course) and clamp onto the mirror mounts or the T fitting. I may come up with something else such as runing lines to terminals, but for now, I think simple is best.

    completed laser tube 2completed laser tube 1

    This is how I am going to mount the Optics, I simply made a wire loop with some heat shrink, I am waiting on the optics to arrive as of this writing, so I put in a nylon washer that I had sitting on the bench to show how it holds. Seems to work really well :D K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Stupid! I am a firm believer in keeping it simple :D

    mount holding washer instead of lens

    Laser Tube is Complete!… sans optics

See all instructions

Discussions

thomas.sanders7777 wrote a month ago null point

does it work?? a lot of followers for just some pvc pipe and fittings, just sayin

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Iketcha wrote a month ago null point

This really gives me hope! Have you tested it out yet? How well does it Lase?

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Alan Kilian wrote 2 months ago null point

Did you complete this project and get light out of the LASER?

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Beaglebreath wrote 4 months ago null point

This is really cool.
What is the light source (does the CO2 get excited like a neon sign or will you have a flash tube?)
I am curious about the details of the power supply. Do you need to worry about current or voltage limitation?

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romilly.cocking wrote 5 months ago null point

Great project., thanks. One day I hope to have the space to build this!

One question: you mention getting helium from Walmart. In the UK, suppliers like that call it helium but actually sell 'balloon helium' which is 50% Nitrogen. Is that not so in the USA?

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ben.alderson1 wrote 6 months ago null point

So the actual laser gas tube is only 12 mm, the rest is the cooling jacket? Or did I read that completely wrong. I'd there any benefit to going wider, or is longer more effective?

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ThunderSqueak wrote 6 months ago null point

You are correct. There is a 12mm glass tube and the outside is all cooling jacket. Most designs I see have the tube longer and some are even folded with appropriately placed mirrors. :)

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Tachyon wrote 6 months ago null point

I would not help anyone that brought me oatmeal raisin cookies so your neon guy must really like you. ;')
Other than that, this is a really impressive project. One I will be following closely.
I will be very upset if this doesn't end with some cool videos.

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I can build things wrote 2 months ago null point

I agree, I want to see this thing work

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JAM_BD wrote 6 months ago null point

I have been working on a similar project as I found some old florescent tubes, it all started with fridge compressor vacuum pump and Flyback HV supplies. This is really nicely made. Look forward to updates.

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tom wrote 6 months ago null point

What factors will the power output of the laser depend? I'm assuming the neon power supply is part of it, but does it also depend on the length of the CO2 chamber?

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ThunderSqueak wrote 6 months ago null point

The length of the chamber, the type of gas, any water vapor, how cool I can keep it and lots of other variables go into how powerful a laser build is. CO2 is one of the more efficient gas lasers.

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zachb1121 wrote 6 months ago null point

Very impressive, but I'm curious as to how much this cost? You mention the ones on eBay are 300 or so, did you come out under or over?

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ThunderSqueak wrote 6 months ago null point

about 70 dollars when the build was completed

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Adam Vadala-Roth wrote 6 months ago null point

Damn this is impressive!

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Mike Szczys wrote 6 months ago null point

How did I miss seeing this earlier? Damn this is impressive +1

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The Big One wrote 6 months ago null point

Very cool! I don't have the physics knowledge to attempt this one... but I know enough to appreciate the intricacy of what is going on.

Do you have a particular use for this when finished? Or are you just building it for the sake of building it? (Nothing wrong with that, BTW... just wondering).

Cheers

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ThunderSqueak wrote 6 months ago null point

It was done just to see if I could :) I am silly that way. I also learned a lot about different optics and various gas combinations and the wavelengths they produce when used in a laser such as this.

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