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Thread: Laser engraver HELP please

  1. #1

    Default Laser engraver HELP please

    Hopefully this is the correct location for this quest for HEEEELLLPPP.

    Mrs. Fixer has decided to add laser engraving to her portfolio of craft making and set out on a journey with a diode cutter that actually worked fairly well at first. Then suddenly the operation software stopped communicating. At the outset of each project it required driver reinstall. At first no biggy, but in time it would fail mid-project. So she decided that was not worth the hassle and sent back the machine.
    (I kept smelling the aroma of burning wood throughout the house and installed a suction fan in a window of her craft room.)

    So next she decided on a K40 tube cutter. Well the first thing noticed was it took two people to bring it to the porch. The poor UPS fellows arrived in a downpour and stuggled to carry that giant, heavy box to my (uncovered) porch. I sheephishly waved a thank you to them and covered it with a plastic cover until the rain let up. Figuring this heavy thing would be quite a chore to bring in alone I would have the door wide open trying to rassle it in while the hounds decide to escape through the wide open door, which would have me chasing them in the rain with cheese as bait to load them into the van. Oh, that's right we sold the van and they won't all fit in my pickup. Nope. Plastic covering over the box.

    Fast forward a couple of hours. Mrs. Fixer is home now and we have unboxed the behemoth. It's late and I'm retired for the day while she reads the instruction manual. She wakes me to ask "what's a 5 ohm ground?". The tube cutter needs a ground rod installed outdoors. No biggy, but still. How freaking powerful is this thing that it requires a lightning rod outside of my house? At work we inspect grounding sources for super sized electrical stuff like traffic signals or lightning arrestors on bridges so I'm familiar with that.

    Next morning I'm up at 4:30am thinking about a ground rod project and how to get the cable to my (hopefully 8' rod achieves the required 5 ohm or less ground) through the floor or wall. I read the sketchy manual and see warnings about death through shock, death through poisonous vapors, blinding by the infra-red laser etc and I'm wondering if all this is worth it to burn flower shapes onto thumb sized wooden pendants. Mrs. Fixer goes to install the operating software(s) to her modern laptop and the dam things won't even open up. I'm not a computer geek but between the two of us and some online instructions we manage to get things installed but the main software that talks to the engraver won't open. Ugh.

    Luckily she has decided to send back this potentially deadly engraver that uses a reported 20k volts and has an unmetered water cooling system via cheap aquarium pump to prevent the thing from catching fire. Instead of having a coolant temp monitor with this one you need to keep check on the temperature of the water inside your supplied bucket of water. 20 thousand volts, 5 ohm ground and an open bucket of water is not creating a good feeling here. I was deciding where to mount the fire extinguisher and who to call first, poison control or the fire department……

    As we all know, once your favorite lady has her mind set on something it is going to happen. I'm all about learning and helping. We decided to go back to the diode engraver, and use after market software simply because the components to building one from scratch isn't all that hard. So using quality construction and reliable parts is right up my alley. We can tweak a diode cutter when necessary in the event some weak link shows up. It's the communication from computer to machine that daunts the whole laser engraving for home use that seems to plague the market. It seems all across the fruited plane there are lots of $300 to $3000 bricks due to faulty driver software. And I don't speak in 0's and 1's.

    There are a few software options that supposedly work. But each instructional video seems to involve words, terms and phrases that I do not understand. To this day I have no idea what a "bus" has to do with making my computer able to process better. Serial bus? Huh?

    If you're still reading this, what I'm asking here is "are there any good web sites for dummies" like me to get started installing the required RELIABLE softwares needed make our next diode engraver work like it should? Tips on potential mechanical changes to on/off buttons so that the GRBL speaks to the on/off switch? What drivers need to be installed to over ride the machines proprietary software? Stuff like that.

    Thanks for any tips and advice.
    Last edited by bykfixer; 02-08-2020 at 08:16 AM.
    John 3:16

  2. #2
    *Flashaholic* idleprocess's Avatar
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    Default Re: Laser engraver HELP please

    I use laser cutters at the Dallas Makerspace on occasion, although my uses are primarily cutting ala this project. The cutters I use are larger than the K40 you had bad luck with - running on 208/240V with 130W tubes, and necessitating significant air extraction for the exhaust - and easily capable of cutting ⅜" plywood.

    However, I've found that Lightburn is a fantastic software for running laser cutters and it's compatible with a fairly wide range of devices. Note that this software is best used for production purposes - you'll be feeding it design files from another application (i.e. CAD or art programs) of your choosing then using Lightburn for laser-specific functions such as "speeds and feeds" on vectors (cuts) or image settings on raster (engraving).
    I apologize that this letter is so long; I did not have time to write a short letter

  3. #3

    Default Re: Laser engraver HELP please

    Thank you for that.

    The words "feeding it design files" cleared up a lot of questions. The how to stuff I read just said "install this" or "install that" without saying why.

    Heck, the description in Lightburn also cleared up a lot too. Suddenly a lot makes sense.

    Also your description of "feeds and speeds" helps a lot.
    Last edited by bykfixer; 02-08-2020 at 09:50 AM.
    John 3:16

  4. #4
    *Flashaholic* idleprocess's Avatar
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    Default Re: Laser engraver HELP please

    Quote Originally Posted by bykfixer View Post
    Thank you for that.

    The words "feeding it design files" cleared up a lot of questions. The how to stuff I read just said "install this" or "install that" without saying why.

    Heck, the description in Lightburn also cleared up a lot too. Suddenly a lot makes sense.

    Also your description of "feeds and speeds" helps a lot.
    I was a bit taken aback the first few times I tried to use the laser cutters but soon adapted to the Conceptual Design >> Production Design >> Production file workflow.

    The Conceptual Design is half to two thirds of the work where you hash out the shape(s) of the thing(s) in a design application. I use an AutoCAD clone, but applications like Illustrator, Inkscape, GIMP are common for more art-centric concepts. I have a moderate library of these with extensive extraneous stuff like failed iterations, external references (i.e. flashlights and batteries for the aforementioned presentation cases) and they are the source for many subsequent production design files.

    The Production Design strips the conceptual design down to its minimums, removing any helper features or extraneous cr_p. If your design has multiple parts you'll orient them for material efficiency as well as certain machine realities (i.e. mirror text for anything being etched onto the backside of transparent material). You might also design in moonwalker units but use machines that operate in metric thus scale by 25.4 since the base units tend to be mm. I have a general library of production design files due to the time investment in creating them. It took me a great deal of trial-and-error to determine what formats and parameters worked best to go to production.

    The Production File is what ultimately generates G-Code for the machine, using its specific software. Since I'm not engaged in serial production I tend not to maintain these files - I ingest the production design, tinker with the configuration in the machine control software to get a workable production file, have the machine do the work, then discard the file afterward.
    I apologize that this letter is so long; I did not have time to write a short letter

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Laser engraver HELP please

    I have no idea about any of this stuff, but it is fascinating reading.

    And Byk, you really should write some sort of book someday.
    ... is the archimedes peak

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Laser engraver HELP please

    Oh, maybe I can help with one tiny bit.

    A serial bus is one way that computers can communicate with external devices, like a printer. Or, I suppose, a massive freaking laser.

    The familiar "USB" on your laptop, for example, is a "Universal Serial Bus"
    Last edited by archimedes; 02-08-2020 at 12:17 PM.
    ... is the archimedes peak

  7. #7

    Default Re: Laser engraver HELP please

    Archi, when I think serial bus my minds eye thinks about a Greyhound city bus with a Cheerios ad on the sides. But I have a son who writes software for a living. Rather he trouble shoots glitches in software the company he works for builds so I hate to bug him to help us de-bug a stupid driver. Afterall he faces that dilemma hour after hour, week after week at work. All so I can have a "my governor is an idiot" (Ralph Northem) etched onto wood blanks meant for key chain jewelry.


    The Va seal didn't turn out so great.

    I appreciate what you're saying IP. It makes a lot of sense after I read it a few times. It also opens my eyes to the potential of these machines. Mirror etching? Multiple levels? Good grief. Sounds like fun times ahead. I've been looking at kits to build with open source ability and upgradable parts. Fitting for a CPF'r to build one then upgrade it later, right?

    Archi, maybe some day I can coax Mrs Fixer to write a book, then when she asks for help that'll be the catalyst for me to actually do it.
    Last edited by bykfixer; 02-08-2020 at 01:27 PM.
    John 3:16

  8. #8
    peter yetman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Laser engraver HELP please

    When you said "laser engraver' i was imagining a laser powered biro.
    You don't do things by halves do you?
    P
    "O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!" He chortled in his joy.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Laser engraver HELP please

    If you mean laser powered "ball point pen" then yes in some ways they are. In Mrs Fixers case it is kinda like a cnc wood burning pen. In other words it's easy to create exact duplicates of drawings burnt onto wooden blanks. She is working in a 2D thought process.

    By the way, I had to look up the word biro. It seems a bloke named Laslo Biro invented the ball point pen.
    Last edited by bykfixer; 02-09-2020 at 07:32 AM.
    John 3:16

  10. #10

    Default Re: Laser engraver HELP please

    Update:
    Mrs Fixer sent back the unit that prompted this thread and got a full refund. I sat down with her and explained the basics and even drew a few napkin drawings. I also showed her a few potentials for a diy kit. Those kits as it were are pretty much pre-build list included but you assemble it.

    One evening she told me her new laser engraver should arrive the next day. "Uh, what laser engraver?" "which did you buy?" It turns out she bought a kit. Cool. It has a brass spring in two locations but the kit only had one so she is waiting for one to arrive from the manufacturer. I showed her how to make our own spring but she chooses to wait on the one from the manufacturer. Better to err on the side of caution.

    The thing I like about the one she chose is every part is user servicable and components are plug n play. Oh, and the software and driver loaded flawlessly with Windows 10. That in itself is a positive.

    The information provided in this thread 'turned on the light' so to speak, which allowed me to take a two day crash course on the big G over a weekend so I wanted to say THANK YOU!!
    John 3:16

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