June 30th, 2022—
When stuck between a cheaper yet small laser cutter and splurging on a much larger one, Owen Schafer decided instead to just build one himself. The project started with Schafer sourcing a 40W CO2 laser, which differs from a diode laser in that it uses gas heated with 16,000 volts to produce a very powerful beam of light. This had the added side effect of needing a water-cooling system since the tube tends to generate ample amounts of heat.
Once the laser and the necessary reflectors had been sourced, Schafer purchased aluminum extrusions and attached them with corner connectors. The head moves with the help of a gantry, wherein the X-axis slides along the Y-axis, and both are driven by NEMA17 stepper motors and a timing belt. For some added safety, he created a basic enclosure out of plywood just in case something went wrong internally.
Each stepper motor is driven by an A4988 driver module, and all of them are controlled by an Arduino Mega 2560 loaded with the Marlin-based Marlaser laser cutter firmware. He even included a few LEDs strips within the enclosure that aid visibility and a simple ventilation system for fume extraction.
After generating some toolpaths using Inkscape, the laser was finally able to cut nearly anything out of materials ranging from plastic to plywood. You can watch more about how Schafer brought this inexpensive laser cutter to life in the video below!