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DIY Laser Cutter Raises Capital, Concerns 184

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-as-dangerous-as-my-toaster-oven dept.
An anonymous reader sends this quote from Wired: "Affordable 3-D printers and CNC mills are popping up everywhere, opening up new worlds of production to wide ranges of designers. However, one major tool still hasn’t received a DIY overhaul: the laser cutter. Maybe people are sensitive because Goldfinger tried to cut James Bond in half with one, but all that changes now with Patrick Hood-Daniel’s new Kickstarter, 'Build Your Own Laser Cutter.' ... A 40-watt laser tube and power supply means it can cut a variety of materials: wood, plastic, fabric, and paper. ... There is one major red flag, however. The machine’s frame is built from of Medium Density Overlay (MDO) — a type of plywood. Hood-Daniels says this is a feature, making the blackTooth less sensitive to thermal distortion and inaccuracy than a metal frame, but it also creates a serious, fire-breathing concern. ... When asked for comment, Hood-Daniel says 'Initially, I had the same thoughts as to the precarious use of wood for the structure, but even with long burns to the structure which were made on accident when starting a run, there was no ignition.'"
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DIY Laser Cutter Raises Capital, Concerns

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  • So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RobinH (124750) on Monday October 22, 2012 @04:48PM (#41733345) Homepage
    So that means there's not really any story then?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 22, 2012 @04:50PM (#41733367)

    This will destroy Rock, Scissors and Paper.

    Nothing beats Laser Cutter. The game is ruined.

  • by captaindomon (870655) on Monday October 22, 2012 @04:52PM (#41733387)
    Maybe they haven't received as much attention because it's difficult to permanently blind yourself with a 3D printer?
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday October 22, 2012 @05:05PM (#41733563) Journal

      The power supply for a 40 watt gas laser will give you a bit of a tickle, as well, if you fuck up... Fire is the least of your problems here.

      • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Monday October 22, 2012 @05:15PM (#41733683)

        I suspect the idea here is for this to be the enthusiast's enthusiast toy. One of the single largest cost factors in building a 3d printer is the cost of the laser cut gears, I suspect this is a plan to cut that cost considerably. If you've got one guy out of 20 who can cut new gears for all his friends, suddenly the cost of making and maintaining a 3d printer plummets, and interest sky rockets. I sincerely hope they don't plan on having a DIY 40 watt laser enclosure in every house, I suspect this is more of a bootstrap effort.

        • by vlm (69642) on Monday October 22, 2012 @05:24PM (#41733809)

          I sincerely hope they don't plan on having a DIY 40 watt laser enclosure in every house

          Next thing you know lunatics will be demanding kilowatt level radio frequency magnetrons in every kitchen.

          And powering lawn trimming machines using refined ultra low flashpoint hydrocarbons

          Oh the humanity think of the children

          • I did specify DIY. I wouldn't feel terribly comfortable standing in front of a microwave that one of my friends banged up in his garage either.

            • by thegarbz (1787294)

              Really? You wouldn't feel comfortable standing in front of one of the simplest to design devices? A microwave is nothing more than a magnatron emitting into the a metal box. Providing gaps in the metal are as small as the holes you see in the microwave door you'll be perfectly fine.

              Even if it isn't properly sealed you'll get localised heating. You'll know quite quickly that something is wrong and have plenty of time to turn it off. The only way you're really going to injure yourself is by staring into the m

        • by perpenso (1613749) on Monday October 22, 2012 @05:26PM (#41733831)

          I suspect the idea here is for this to be the enthusiast's enthusiast toy.

          Or maybe just put one in the local hardware store. Take your pattern in, they cut up a piece of metal for you.

          In principal its a little like the key duplication machine.

          • In principal its a little like the key duplication machine.

            So, in principal they'll tell me they can't make they device I want because some says they shouldn't, just like they won't copy certain keys of mine. This is why we make a DIY laser cutters, to tell the copy police to go fuck themselves.

        • by necro81 (917438)

          One of the single largest cost factors in building a 3d printer is the cost of the laser cut gears, I suspect this is a plan to cut that cost considerably

          Lasers are great for cutting all manner of parts, but gears are not one of them. For geartrains to properly mesh, transmit load efficiently, and not chew themselves to pieces after a few thousand revolutions, the gears need to be properly made. That means hobbing, broaching, and injection molding. A laser cutter can't produce a smooth involute profil

  • Obvious Solution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TemperedAlchemist (2045966) on Monday October 22, 2012 @04:53PM (#41733407)

    Dope and paint the wood with flame retardant if it's such a concern.

    Problem solved.

    • Re:Obvious Solution (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Lumpy (12016) on Monday October 22, 2012 @05:21PM (#41733767) Homepage

      Dont even do that. Paint it white.

      we stopped a 100 watt laser from damaging the cutting sled by painting it gloss white. if you reflect 98% of the energy it's no longer strong enough to cut or burn. Granted you cant be a moron and work around these things without safety goggles, but keeping it from burning is really easy.

      • by Rakishi (759894)

        The bigger issues with this may be that it causes the laser to bounce back into the lens which asfaik can cause damage to the lens. A decent tabletop laser cutter should be opaque to the laser itself so even a reflection shouldn't requires safety glasses.

        • by Lumpy (12016)

          There was no worry about it bouncing back into the laser with white paint, we used common light scattering paint instead of perfectly reflective front surface paint.

        • by wjsteele (255130)

          The bigger issues with this may be that it causes the laser to bounce back into the lens which asfaik can cause damage to the lens.

          Why would a bouncing infrared laser hurt the lens that the laser beam just passed through??? The other end of the laser tube is another IR mirror. There is no ill effect of having the beam bounce back directly down the path.

          Bill

      • But... but... the song tells me to paint it black...
      • by wjsteele (255130)

        Dont even do that. Paint it white.

        White paint would have no effect unless of course it was "titanium white" in which the titanium would be a relfector. The rest of it would simply vaporize away. This isn't a little laser pointer we're talking about... it's a 40 watt CO2 laser... that has a wavelength of 10600 nm. That's a far longer wavelength than the ~800 you can see in the near infrared and will be absorbed in quite a few materials you think are good optical reflectors. Using a rough metal shield would be the best thing to have. (Sm

        • Is there any particular reason not to shine it in to a flowing container of water? Enough water moving would keep too much of it from converting to steam, and it would keep the bench cool for quite a while, and is easily to cycle out with more cool water.

          Most of the big metal laser cutters I've seen on TV are in a bed of water already.

          • by Baloroth (2370816)

            Because water is reflective (I believe for CO2 lasers as well). And you really really don't want a 40-watt laser reflecting back into your eyes, skin, or anywhere you don't want it, really, even for a very brief time (sure, safety goggles are absolutely mandatory, but even so, you could still cause damage to yourself or things around you).

        • by Lumpy (12016)

          And a 40W laser is a toy compared to the 100W laser I was talking about. and no it was automotive cheap glossy white. easy to spray.

  • by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Monday October 22, 2012 @04:53PM (#41733413)

    If I can't cut nosy Brits in half?

  • by quax (19371) on Monday October 22, 2012 @04:56PM (#41733459)

    That should do the trick.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday October 22, 2012 @05:02PM (#41733517) Journal

    When did the notion start to circulate that anything remotely related to wood is some kind of incendiary deathtrap? Is it when people stopped having to start fires with nothing more than minimal tools and careful arrangement of sticks?

    Christ, you've got something designed to cut through plastics with a laser, plastics which are basically just waiting for some added heat to turn into sticky, flaming, hydrocarbon death, and nobody says a thing. Suddenly, terrifying wood,. notorious for perfunctory smoldering in response to heat, bursts onto the scene and everybody is freaking out about ignition. Kids these days.

    Somehow, people have been practicing pyrography for millenia without bursting into flames.

    • Christ, you've got something designed to cut through plastics with a laser, plastics which are basically just waiting for some added heat to turn into sticky, flaming, hydrocarbon death, and nobody says a thing. Suddenly, terrifying wood,. notorious for perfunctory smoldering in response to heat, bursts onto the scene and everybody is freaking out about ignition. Kids these days.

      Did you miss the part where you pressurize the wooden working area with nitrogen from a wooden pressure tank before you start cutting?

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      When did the notion start to circulate that anything remotely related to wood is some kind of incendiary deathtrap? Is it when people stopped having to start fires with nothing more than minimal tools and careful arrangement of sticks?

      Christ, you've got something designed to cut through plastics with a laser, plastics which are basically just waiting for some added heat to turn into sticky, flaming, hydrocarbon death, and nobody says a thing. Suddenly, terrifying wood,. notorious for perfunctory smoldering

    • I think wood or plastic would be a concern.

      I just don' get where your outrage is coming from, I don't see anyt "anything remotely related to wood is some kind of incendiary deathtrap". Nobody's saying wood isn't a safe material. (I'm lying on a wooden couch with a cotton futon as I write this.) But it's kind of the wrong material for a device that tends to run hot. Maytbe it's "safe enough" for this particular application — but you don't need to leap down the throat of anybody suggesting that it's not

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Over 3500 people die each year from fires. And yet, in thousands of stores across the country, you can buy tools useful for starting fires. Some bars even give them away for free! And Congress does nothing about it.

      Now, some of you will claim that most municipalities have teams of people who are specially trained to ensure that fires don't get out of control, but if we really want to be safe, we need to ban all use of fire in homes. Also, because electrical problems can cause fires too, we should ban all us

  • by Art Challenor (2621733) on Monday October 22, 2012 @05:10PM (#41733623)
    Wait, so we have a DIY device with a 40W laser and people are worried that the plywood might be a fire hazard?
    • by Romwell (873455)
      What should they be worried about? A crazy hobbyist running around with a dangerous laser in his garage? A chainsaw is more dangerous in terms of power, speed and portability, and good old gasoline canister is a greater fire hazard.
      • by Issarlk (1429361)
        Looks like with a 40W Laser you can basically blind everyone in sight. Much more dangerous than a chainsaw.
        • Looks like with a 40W Laser you can basically blind everyone in sight

          yeah, well, only once.

          so, over time, the risk is nil!

  • by Romwell (873455) on Monday October 22, 2012 @05:12PM (#41733649)
    I thought lasers stopped being scary after everyone played with a laser pointer. Or a CD/DVD drive. Or a laser mouse. Or a laser barcode scanner in a store. Or after the Star Wars style laser weapons didn't exactly materialize after all the years of research and investment. As for CNC machines, waterjet systems are more powerful (try cutting stone with a laser), and turret/punch systems are, IMO, more dangerous (things are actually slamming around). I always thought that you'd use laser when you need the extra precision that laser CNC gives you, not the "dangerous" power. As for the fire hazard - try setting a block of wood on fire with a magnifying glass. In general, you would use a laser CNC to cut wood, not to set it on fire (and it cuts nicely indeed). It seems like all the issues the summary talks about are not the real reason why DIY laser cutters aren't abundant. The real reason - talked about in the article - is that commercial cutters are already available for less money [fslaser.com] than even this kickstarter is asking for (you get a smaller, but metal-framed and fully assembled device).
    • by quax (19371)

      Laser of that class are scary. Even the stronger laser pointers [straightdope.com] on the market have enough power to irrevocably damage your eyes. All the more because you won't feel any pain.

  • by dbc (135354) on Monday October 22, 2012 @05:13PM (#41733659)

    So I wonder how much experience the poster has with either MDO or laser cutters. I have a laser cutter, and have used MDO, but have never tried cutting MDO. Go try it. I cut plywood and MDF -- I'm less worried about a fire than the laser cutting through the MDO given enough dwell time. But basically, this artcle seems like a "I'm clueless and scared, so let's post unsubstiated speculation to SlashDot."

    BTW -- there is another open source laser cutter out there: http://labs.nortd.com/lasersaur/ [nortd.com] I'll probably replace mine with a Lasersaur when my machine dies (it's acting poorly :(

    • by EdZ (755139)
      Plus there are TONS of DIY and open source laser cutters. They were around before the RepRap/Makerbot/Fab@Home/etc DIY FDM scene arrived. Hardly something that's in need of a 'DIY overhaul'.
    • by Inda (580031)
      I didn't RTFA. Never heard of MDO.

      Gaboon ply was always seen as the "daddy" of composites. It's extremely stable. Why not use that?
      • by dbc (135354)

        MDO == Medium Density Overlay. Core is MDF, but there is an outer skin of "some kind of" very thin, smooth, (synthetic?), laminate. It is assembled with exterior grade glues. Major application is outdoor signage. Usually needs to be special-ordered as it isn't commonly stocked at building supply centers. Machines very nicely on a CNC router, and takes finishes very well.

  • Something like 0.3mm would be great. Then you can cut motor laminations. This would be much closer to replicating its own part than the other guys.
    • by Animats (122034)

      Laser cutters for sheet metal are widely used industrially, but need more power than this little one. 150W to 6000W CO2 lasers are used for metal.

      Metal cutting is more difficult than cutting wood or plastic. Getting a clean cut is harder. On plastics or wood you can burn your way through slowly, but on metals, you need enough power for fast cutting or you get slag on the edges.

  • I was just cutting medium density fiberboard on a laser cutter last night. The problem is not the laser beam igniting the cabinet. That's hard to do. The problem is igniting the workpiece, which is easy for many materials, and the cabinet not being able to contain the resulting fire. The cutting process should take place in a nonflammable box with an exhaust to the outside.

    Sheet steel is cheap. Spot welding is cheap. This is not rocket science.

    • by TWX (665546)
      Given how mundane the actual manufacture and assembly of rockets is, rocket science is quite a bit less advanced actually...
    • Thermal warping of metal can turn cheap simple things difficult. Burning thru the entire sheet of MDO takes a long time. Just take a torch to any 1/2" sheet of wood product. A solid sheet of MDO on the bottom would keep the fire from falling thru for a long time. The edges separating would be the biggest danger. The choice of plexiglass for the windows would effect the flammability of the unit more. Proper fire detection and a safety zone around any heat/flame/spark generating unit are what determines if yo

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday October 22, 2012 @05:22PM (#41733783)

    Just put the 3D printer and the material in an oxygen-depleted environment. It's not like a canister of Nitrogen is expensive, or even dangerous (the gas, not the risk of explosive decompression if you go full retard). It's pretty easy to build a glass enclosure to seal everything in. That way, you could work with wood that would ordinarily burst into flames and it won't. You'll need to setup a infrared thermometer to rake the workbench after and only unlock once the material has cooled, obviously... and air-cooling something that's several hundred degrees takes a few hours... but I see no problem here.

    It's simple to design safety features for a design like this. As a backup, you could put a water pressure sprayer in the containment area as well, in case the seals break while the material is in a super-heated state.

  • I love how all these "new" cutters and shapers and printers are nothing more than your standard 2D CNC mills with the "mill" part swapped out in favor of a laser, or water jet, or extrusion nozzle... I guess if it ain't borked, don't fix it, right?

    What'll we think of next?
  • by cachimaster (127194) on Monday October 22, 2012 @05:50PM (#41734137)

    I used to work programming laser cutters. Let's summarize the ways these machines can kill/maim you:

    1) Fire: You can build your entire machine on metal, that won't prevent the thing you are cutting from catching fire.
    2) Smoke: There's a reason most laser cutters have huge ventilation tubes. The laser will produce smoke, if you cut anything but wood it will be toxic smoke. Not good.
    3) Laser: 40 watts is 100 times the power needed to instantly blind you. Lasers of that power are dangerous even bouncing on non-reflective surfaces. The laser is probable IR so invisible too.
    4) And IMHO the worst: The high-current high-voltage power source (10 KV or more) can instantly kill you.

    The company I worked for had huge problems with the certification of the power source alone.

    DIY 40W Laser = terrible idea. CNCs are much cheaper and safer.

    • by timeOday (582209)
      I see what you're saying, but look how easily you can maim yourself with any power-tool - just touch the blade while it's running. Or a car: just turn the wheel 15 degrees in either direction into oncoming traffic.

      That said, most of us aren't old enough to remember, but it took about a hundred years during the industrial revolution to make common machines (from farm equipment to sewing machines to water heaters) safe enough that people weren't killed or maimed on a pretty steady basis. Invent a new mach

      • I see what you're saying, but look how easily you can maim yourself with any power-tool - just touch the blade while it's running.

        But there is a limitation in range. Unless you actively go to your neighboor who is in front of his home and actively touch him with the tool, it is very difficult for you to harm him. But with a laser that potent you can easily harm him without moving.

        Or a car: just turn the wheel 15 degrees in either direction into oncoming traffic.

        I don't know about USA laws but I think that you need a licence to operate such a dangerous machinery. And DIY vehicles are not allowed in the road unless they pass a complete inspection and get registered.

        Not to forget that cars serve an useful function for

    • 1) Fire: You can build your entire machine on metal, that won't prevent the thing you are cutting from catching fire.

      Nitrogen canister, regulator, pump to measure gas volume... enclosed container. Fire needs oxygen to burn.

      2) Smoke: There's a reason most laser cutters have huge ventilation tubes. The laser will produce smoke, if you cut anything but wood it will be toxic smoke. Not good.

      Seal the equipment in an air-tight chamber, vent it to atmosphere when safe or pass exhaust through activated-carbon.

      3) Laser: 40 watts is 100 times the power needed to instantly blind you. Lasers of that power are dangerous even bouncing on non-reflective surfaces. The laser is probable IR so invisible too.

      Safety interlocks to prevent chamber from being opened while laser is active; Viewing ports made of laser-safe safety glass to absorb specific wavelength of laser beam (same as the safety goggles you should know to wear...).

      And IMHO the worst: The high-current high-voltage power source (10 KV or more) can instantly kill you.

      Isolation transformer, sealed unit, zero-delay ground return faul

      • 1) Fire: You can build your entire machine on metal, that won't prevent the thing you are cutting from catching fire.

        Nitrogen canister, regulator, pump to measure gas volume... enclosed container. Fire needs oxygen to burn.

        The only deadly thing a Laser lacks is something that can explode and throw shrapnel at you. Now it have it.

        2) Smoke: There's a reason most laser cutters have huge ventilation tubes. The laser will produce smoke, if you cut anything but wood it will be toxic smoke. Not good.

        Seal the equipment in an air-tight chamber, vent it to atmosphere when safe or pass exhaust through activated-carbon.

        Instead of toxic smoke now we have concentrated pressurized toxic smoke.

        3) Laser: 40 watts is 100 times the power needed to instantly blind you. Lasers of that power are dangerous even bouncing on non-reflective surfaces. The laser is probable IR so invisible too.

        Safety interlocks to prevent chamber from being opened while laser is active; Viewing ports made of laser-safe safety glass to absorb specific wavelength of laser beam (same as the safety goggles you should know to wear...).

        Good luck absorbing 40 Watts in 0.1 mm^2 of glass though.

        And IMHO the worst: The high-current high-voltage power source (10 KV or more) can instantly kill you.

        Isolation transformer, sealed unit, zero-delay ground return fault interrupt from mains, capacitor buffered to smooth initial load during firing (which would otherwise trip the aforementioned). Proper grounding. Oh, and proper grounding. And proper. Fucking. Grounding.

        Now you're right, these things are all dangerous and can kill you... but so can climbing into a hot tub if you're drunk. You can't make something perfectly safe, but you can make it reasonably safe. Your microwave also contains a power supply rated for similar voltages... and similar risks for body damage if the safeties are compromised.

        Fair enough. When isolating the stuff remember 10 K

      • Oh, and proper grounding. And proper. Fucking. Grounding.

        It would scare you to see how many residences I've been to that the grounding has become ineffective with time, or grounding that works ok in the wet season but is ineffective in the dry season. Resistance to ground can be a bitch.

  • by rickb928 (945187) on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:08PM (#41734339) Homepage Journal

    Darn, now my insurance company will be asking if I have any laser cutters, 3D printers, etc. And it will probably cost me more than a pit bull, fireplace, or inground pool.

    Thieves. Next thing you know, they will also tell me what I can or cannot make with it. Oh, wait [nydailynews.com]...

  • People have been making DIY laser cutters for a few years now. But sometimes it ends up being cheaper to just buy the whole damn thing instead of wasting months fine-tuning all the fiddly bits and still getting less than stellar results.

    It's TRUE that there's no real 'definitive resource' for the A-to-Z on how to get it done, but then the same is true for CNC conversions, even though hundreds of people have done them.

    I'm in the process of converting my mini-mill and mini-lathe to CNC, after that I've defin

  • by David Byrn: Lasing down the house!
  • by blind biker (1066130) on Monday October 22, 2012 @06:28PM (#41734593) Journal

    I've worked with three different laser ablation systems last year. For that, I had to go through a one-day training session, to prepare me for all the safety issues involved. Most notable is protection of your eyes. Any of the lasers at the research institute where I was working, was capable of permanently blinding. Most of them had a continuous power of "only" a few tens of W, while one was a 300 W IR laser which melted a computer's case placed 7 m away - only with the reflected light.

  • ...the frame of which was constructed entirely of pressed straw.
  • You just can't do much very quickly with 40 watts. Besides monogramming or similar, it's just not fast enough when cutting anything more than paper. They talk aboit 5 inches per minute....really guys, you need something much bigger and faster.

  • Why is he worried about thermal distortion? I work for a laser welding shop and believe me, thermal distortion is not a concern when it comes to the machine frame. We built two of our workstations, the first was built using 80/20 and the second machine has a welded frame that was designed in house and built by a 3rd party. Thermal distortion was a non issue and we work with tolerances down to the nearest 1/10000 inch (2.54 um).

    To me this "article" is more about promoting his kickstarter than anything else.

  • Everyone's focusing on the blah blah blah, but this is the big news: a laser cutter that can be bought for less than $1000! That would make it affordable to hobbyists.
    Being a 2D machine, it's also easy to prepare drawing files for. Much easier than making .stl files for a 3D printer or CNC machine. This means it's also affordable from a time perspective.

  • Though with no intention I know of to become a product. Many page detailed write up of how this has been done with mostly junkyard parts, yet to great accuracy on my site (I didn't do this, one of the other members did). 6 pages of just how Jerry Biehler did it here: (with pix and videos) http://www.coultersmithing.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=78&hilit=laser+cutter [coultersmithing.com] When hackaday linked this last month, we got slashdotted (but our servers handled it OK).
  • by Aggrav8d (683620) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @11:54AM (#41741067) Homepage
    I've built the BlackToe 8'x4' router and the WhiteAnt 3D printer. Don't fund this.

    In both cases the shipments arrived with multiple mistakes and require two or more reshipments. Instructions were out of date, assumed you knew things, and didn't cover any safety issues. When I would write for help I'd frequently get an automated out-of-office message, followed by his response a few minutes later. Everything about the way this guy does business says "this is going to lead to disaster".

    He would have been better off running a kickstarter on his RedFrog pick & place machine.

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