DIY Lasers Hack Chat

Les Wright

Wednesday, October 7, 2020 12:00 pm PDT Local time zone:
Hack Chat
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Les Wright will host the Hack Chat on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 at noon Pacific Time.

Time zones got you down? Here's a handy time converter!

Join Hack ChatIt's not too much of a reach to say that how we first experienced the magic of lasers sort of dates where we fall in the history of technology. For the youngest among us, lasers might have been something trivial, to be purchased for a couple of bucks at the convenience store. Move back a few decades and you might have had to harvest a laser from CD player to do some experiments, or back further, perhaps you first saw a laser in high school physics class, with that red-orange helium-neon glow.

But back things up only a few decades before that, and if you wanted to play with lasers, you had to build one yourself. It was a popular if niche hobby with a dedicated following of amateur physicists who scrounged around for the unlikely parts needed: ruby rods, quartz-glass tubes, and exotic dyes. Couple them together with high-voltage power supplies, vacuum pumps made from converted refrigerator compressors, and homemade optical benches, and if the stars aligned, these parts could be coaxed into producing a gloriously intense burst of light, which as often as not hooked its creator as a lifelong laser addict.

We're not sure which camp Les Wright falls into, but from the content of his growing YouTube channel, we'd say he's caught the laser bug. We recently took a look at his high-performance nitrogen laser, which he's been having fun with as the basis for a tunable dye laser. Along the way he's been necessarily mucking around with high-voltage power supplies, oscilloscopes, and the occasional robot or two.

Les will stop by the Hack Chat to talk about everything he's got going on in his lab, with a focus on his laser experiments. Join us with your questions on DIY lasers, and stop by to pick up some tricks that might help you catch the laser bug too.

  • Hack Chat Transcript, Part 1

    Dan Maloney10/07/2020 at 20:11 0 comments

    Hi everyone, welcome to Hack Chat. I'm Dan, I'll be moderating today, and our guest is Les Wright who has been doing some really interesting stuff with lasers that are leaps beyond diode lasers. Les, are you online yet?

    LesWright12:00 PM
    Hi, Yes, I am here!

    LesWright12:00 PM
    How is everyone?

    Nicolas Tremblay12:00 PM
    Is it only me that had problem connecting?

    Hey there, welcome! Can you start us off with a little about yourself?

    @Nicolas Tremblay - Yeah, things are a bit sluggish today. We have the devs looking into it.

    LesWright12:02 PM
    Yep sure! I have been interested in Science and Electronics since I was a kid. Over the year I have built all the usual HV stuff: Tesla coild, Marx generators, x-ray machines and of course Lasers! I am also interested in ancient computer stuff too.

    Greg Bushta12:02 PM
    Hi Les, Dan and everybody.

    Wait, what's your idea of "ancient"?

    *checks mirror, sees gray hair...*

    LesWright12:03 PM
    LOL late 80's, not ancient ancient, but old!

    LesWright12:03 PM
    Erk I meant 70's

    LesWright12:03 PM
    Cosmac Elf era stuff :-)

    OK, I feel better now ;-)

    Oh man, my first computer! First assembler I ever wrote was for the 1802

    But we digress. This is where I first caught on to Les' laser work:

    Hackaday Dan Maloney

    How About A Nice Cuppa TEA Laser?

    If lasers are your hobby, you face a conundrum. There are so many off-the-shelf lasers that use so many different ways of amplifying and stimulating light that the whole thing can be downright - unstimulating. Keeping things fresh therefore requires rolling your own lasers, and these DIY nitrogen TEA and dye lasers seem like a fun way to go.

    Read this on Hackaday

    LesWright12:07 PM
    Totally! Any Laser questions?

    Nicolas Tremblay12:08 PM
    Eventually, I would like to build my own CNC laser cutter. Any suggestions, tips, comments?

    LesWright12:09 PM
    I have actially never built one, but I will give it a go. What material are you looking to cut?

    Wow, homemade CNC with a homemade laser. a DIY tour de force!

    gmp9 joined the room.12:09 PM

    Nicolas Tremblay12:10 PM
    Thin wood, plywood, acrylic or other plastic

    LesWright12:12 PM
    Ah right, then I would go with a CO2 laser for that. Cheap tubes show up on eBay all the time. It's one of those things I keep thinking about. I suppoese you could get away with the high watt blue diodes that show up on eBay lately as well, but safety goggles for that stuff!

    Nicolas Tremblay12:12 PM
    My first step will be converting my cheap press drill to a 2.5CNC. Just to get my hands wet in building a CNC

    Greg Bushta12:12 PM
    Are those laser attachments for a 3D printer to do engraving any good? What kind of eye protection should be considered, a box with a protection window or just glasses?

    Nicolas Tremblay12:13 PM
    What kind of power level would you recommend?

    LesWright12:13 PM
    @Greg Bushta get safety goggles, and wear them if you are playing with hgh power stuff. I have a real nice project lined up, but I'm notplayong til I have the glasses!

    Dag Spicer12:14 PM
    Slightly OT: Does anyone here remember the CO2 laser project from Scientific American's Amateur Scientist? A highschool student made it. I still have the issue -- always wanted to build it, but hard to scrounge the parts when you're 15.

    LesWright12:15 PM
    @Nicolas Tremblay depends on the thickness of the material. I woudl guess about 5 wats for super thin stuff, than >10w for thicker. The think is to buy based on the thickest material. You can always turn it down for thinner stuff right?

    Ken Berkun12:15 PM
    I really wanted to build that (I was in high school too, senior year) but when I got to the part about sputtering I realized this was not something I was going to get done in time for my senior project. A friend of mine tells me he did build it.

    LesWright12:15 PM
    @Dag Spicer aw man, I always wanted to build that too! Loved the Sci-Am stuff!

    LesWright12:16 PM
    It had salt windows did it not?


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