The basic machine will be a familiar looking design to many. It is a 3 axis setup with a long x and y and a moderately short z. I am 3d printing the major components including gantry type z overhead axis so it can be scaled up and using very standard parts throughout. Everything on the mechanical side can be got at a hardware store and the steppers and leadscrews from ebay etc. Nothing is expensive and nothing is particularly hard to come by. I have been printing machines and basic axis for several years and have finally formulated a nice mix of functionality and easy to make axis that just is working out well for my needs.
I was new to laser cutting and etching when I started this and went through several laser power levels before landing one that worked for one of my common material cutting needs-Balsa(and thin plywood). I make lots of balsa prototype stuff,some flying machines and rockets, some decorative stuff and lots of impromptu stuff just screwing around. My thickest are about 3/16ths thick and when I settle on some crazy design it involves make a bunch.....for some reason. I first used a motor and router bit which worked fine but when I saw the price of those small lasers come down I tried one at 2.5 watt(about 40$ from ebay. I would etch fine bit only would pierce and cut 1/16 material. So next I tried a ten watt and it proved to cut even a bit beyond 3/16ths. It would also cut very thin plastics and that proved useful for make some spray paint type stencils. Ten watt versions are still inexpensive and can be PWMed for etching details in wood etc. making cool effects and decorative as well. If I needed to cut thicker wood and plastics the motor bit setup was easy to bolt on to the z axis(just two wing nuts!) and plugged in the same plugs as the laser.
Later I would add a vinyl pen knife older as an additional accessory which cuts sign vinyl(sticky backed) just perfect. This was an easy thing to make just using a servo for pen blade direction.
Of course the sharpie pen was the first accessory and I still use that for a variety of jobs
The controller was my next bit of planning. I could never get gerber setups working all that well. I had problems with the software, with the setup and it always seemed lie it was too much fiddling.
I stuck with an Arduino but did some serious and contemptable acts I never dreamed I could pull off...I made my own file converter for several commom cad file formats that takes the file and creates sketches from them that could be flashed to the Arduino or read from an SD card. Yes-I did in fact reinvent the wheel, but it is so simple to implement and made everything work seamlessly. The Arduino can hold many cut files that could keep residence in the Arduino and executed from a pushbutton, or loaded from an sd card. I was shocked and amused at the simplicity and no tinkering with feeds and speeds, weird crashes or stupid errors. I could have used many other microcontrollers for this but used the Arduino as it is cheap,I had several, and in reality the end builder can sub whatever they desire anyway.
The machine also features a small onboard joystick to execute jogs and a port for a large analog joystick used for freehand cutting and slicing of material. It is good for ripping strips of material up or just making some nice graphics in wood, plastic and paper.
Another use I have for the machine is making a quick pcb. I use the motor bit attachment and import the design and let it have at the copper pcb. I got some phenolic board and it really saves the bits for lifespan. Most of the boards I make are pretty basic I send serious stuff off to a fab, but there are times when I need it now or to test an idea. I guess I am a rather impatient bastard on things like that. I just want an answer now...
It should be noted that this first machine is very prototypy...ish. I need something to test and...Read more »