K40 Laser Engraver and Cutter Adventures

Awhile ago, shortly after coming home from the Bay Area Maker Faire, I began Googling options for a laser cutter for MakerCave when I stumbled upon pages about upgrading the cheap K40 laser engraver and cutter, which could be found on eBay for less than $400. On June 24, 2015, for a whooping $379, I purchased off eBay a 40W USB Laser Engraving and Cutting Machine. On June 28, 2015, I unboxed the machine at MakerCave and began my journey.

Engraving from Stock K40I managed a couple of test engravings that, while not spectacular, were passable and enough to raise hope that this was an OK investment of $379. Then the unit stopped working. It would stop mid-job or get “off-track”. After monkeying around with the stock unit for a month, I immediately realized why it was priced at $379. The electronics and software were JUNK! COMPLETELY WORTHLESS!

However, I didn’t abandon hope and turned to the Internet for a solution. The solution, according to everyone’s opinion, was to gut the electronics and software, and I stumbled upon LightObject.com’s X7 DSP Controller Upgrade Kit for the K40. The claims on the Net were that this would make the K40 a serviceable machine. For an additional $575, rather than resigning myself to possessing a $379 paper weight, I went in. This laser engraving and cutting machine was now coming in at $954.

Stock K40 DisassembledOn July 26, 2015, I began gutting the stock machine for the installation of the X7 DSP Controller. I cleared one of my shop work tables, and, without any reservation of my ability to make the unit better, I pulled out the X-Y table and Moshidraw controller board as the LightObject K40 Conversion Manual instructed. A caution about this manual…it is incomplete and is written for the AWC608 Upgrade Kit. Though not terribly off the mark, I would eventually need to do some further research to complete the upgrade.

I laid out the contents of the upgrade kit:

  • X7 Controller with color screen
  • Limit Switches
  • (2) Stepper Motor Drivers
  • DC 24V 5A Switching Power Supply
  • 18mm Laser head with air assist
  • 3 digit Mini Blue LED DC 100mA meter
  • Emergency Push Button Switch with lock
  • 2405S DC-DC 5V (2Watt) Isolated Power Module

Z-Axis Power TableWith the machine having to be taken apart anyways, I decided to include a Power Bed Kit ($165.00). It arrived along with the  X7 Upgrade kit. It would allow for critical laser lens focal length adjustment and make the laser engraver and cutter more useful with the ability to cut or engrave materials with various thickness. This did require me to add another Stepping Motor Driver ($30) to the upgrade. Upgrade now stood at $1,149.

Broken Laser TubeDuring the retrofit, I experienced two setbacks. First, I somehow fried my laser power supply. Second, while trying to remove the wiring from the burnt PSU and the CO2 laser tube, I cracked the glass tube around the anode post. Back to lightobject.com, I went and ordered a new laser PSU ($205) and CO2 laser tube ($175)…now at $1,529.

I cut and used a single pair from an European barrier terminal strip to attached the laser PSU wires to the anode and cathode posts. The set screws in the terminal strip provided a solid connection. I wouldn’t be able to solder the wiring to the posts. As a safety precaution, afraid of arcing and swearing I could hear crackling under the hood during a test run, I sleeved the connection with 1/2″ electrical-insulating vinyl sleeving.

While I was at it, I also ordered a water flow and pressure sensor ($8), which would turned off the laser cutter wasn’t getting coolant pumped through the laser tube. However, in the mess of MakerCave, perhaps tossed into the trash by accident, I couldn’t find the sensor when it came time to install. Another time…an expense, nonetheless, now at $1,537.

Stock Focus LensI was unsatisfied with the stock 14mm focus lens, which was too small for the 18mm laser head included with the upgrade kit. As you can see from the photo to the right, I had to fit it inside a nylon washer in order to seat it in the middle of the laser head, and I still didn’t like it. I ordered a two High Quality 18mm ZnSe Focus Lenses (50.8mm focal length for cutting and 38.1mm focal length for engraving), each $52. Total grew to $1,641.

The results were much better and more consistent after the upgrade as can be seen in the photo below:

Upgraded Laser Engraver and Cutter Results

Now I am not making the claim that this machine is at par with the Full Spectrum H-Series 20×12 Desktop CO2 Laser ($3,499) or the Epilog Zing 16 Laser ($10,995), but for $1,650 is not a bad entry price.

October 2015: Interesting Projects

3D Printing Has Evolved Two Filament Standards: We’re far beyond the heyday of the RepRap project, and the Hackaday tip line isn’t seeing multiple Kickstarters for 3D printers every week. In a way, this is a bit of a loss. – by Brian Benchoff – Tags: 3d printer, makercave, things to make – http://hackaday.com/2015/09/29/3d-printing-has-evolved-two-filament-standards/

Netflix Releases Plans for DIY “Movie Night” Button: Every Friday in my household there is a ritual. All work and school stuff is tossed in the corner, to be ignored for the rest of the evening. Phones are silenced, email closed. We order pizza, drag out some bean bags, snuggle up with our dogs and watch a movie. We’re not alone here. – by Caleb Kraft – Tags: makercave, things to make – http://makezine.com/2015/09/29/netflix-movie-night-button/

10 (of 100) Must-Learn Skills: I love articles that detail must-learn skills that every adult should know. Popular Mechanics recently posted “100 Skills Everyone Should Know.” Here are ten of those skills that certainly every maker should know. First, determine which way the tree will fall. – by Gareth Branwyn – Tags: makercave, things to make – http://makezine.com/2015/09/27/10-of-100-must-learn-skills/

How to Make a Hackerspace Access Control and Check in System #piday #raspberrypi @Raspberry_Pi: HACCSY app is meant to run on a RaspberryPi that’s connected to internet and the front door electric strike lock. – Tags: makercave, things to make – https://blog.adafruit.com/2015/09/25/how-to-make-a-hackerspace-access-control-and-check-in-system-piday-raspberrypi-raspberry_pi/

Robot Salamander #Biomimicry – by Rebecca Houlihan – Tags: makercave, things to make – https://blog.adafruit.com/2015/09/08/robot-salamander-biomimicry/

This Graphic Explains 20 Cognitive Biases That Affect Your Decision-Making: We all make bad decisions sometimes, but have you ever wondered what mental obstacles can lead you astray? This infographic goes over 20 of the most common cognitive biases that can mess with your head when it’s decision time. – by Patrick Allan – Tags: makercave – http://lifehacker.com/this-graphic-explains-20-cognitive-biases-that-affect-y-1730901381

The Best Tools and Toolbox: These tools are best for people who have already started dabbling with home improvement and want to up their game. – Tags: makercave, things to make, tools – http://m.thesweethome.com/reviews/the-best-tools-and-toolbox/

BlocksCAD is Browser-Based 3D Modeling that Teaches You CAD: Considering all of the projects the Raspberry Pi is used for now, the fact that it was originally envisioned to be an educational tool is sometimes forgotten. – by Bryan Cockfield – Tags: makercave, things to make – http://hackaday.com/2015/09/12/blocckscad-is-browser-based-3d-modelling-that-teaches-you-cad/

Configure Raspberry Pi For WiFi Without Keyboard Or Monitor (Video) #piday #raspberrypi @Raspberry_Pi – Tags: makercave, raspberry pi, things to make, wifi – https://blog.adafruit.com/2015/08/28/rapsberry-pi-configure-wifi-after-writing-os-to-sd-without-keyboard-and-monitor-video-piday-raspberrypi-raspberry_pi/

Control your Pi’s Desktop from any Mobile Device: One of the great things about a Raspberry Pi is that it can fit in your shirt pocket, but out of the box if you want to use it you need to hook it to a keyboard, mouse, bulky monitor, etc… nearly defeating the Pi’s greatest attribute. But… – by Kurth – Tags: makercave, raspberry pi, things to make – http://www.instructables.com/id/Control-your-Pis-Desktop-from-any-Mobile-Device/

Cylinder/bottle rack: This is an Instructable on how to make a universal cylinder rack. The purpose I use it for is storing appx. 100 fire extinguishers of various sizes, as well as scuba dive bottles and SCBA bottles used on firefighting air packs. – by Sparky – Tags: makercave, things to make – http://www.instructables.com/id/Cylinderbottle-rack/

Build a Compact 4 Node Raspberry Pi Cluster: Updated: This project was originally published on 26th Aug 2015 and was then updated on the 5th Sept 2015 with additional instructions on how to add a second Ethernet adaptor to the head node, and have it serve as a DHCP server for the other nodes in the cluster. – by Alasdair Allan – Tags: makercave, things to make – http://makezine.com/projects/build-a-compact-4-node-raspberry-pi-cluster/

3D Printable Robotic Telescope You Can Build : Make : DIY Projects, How-Tos, Electronics, Crafts and Ideas for Makers: When I was a teen, I did an astronomy (and archeology) summer camp one year. As part of it, we got to spend some nights operating the telescope in the teacher’s backyard observatory. – by Gareth Branwyn – Tags: makercave, things to make – http://makezine.com/2015/08/09/3d-printable-robotic-telescope-you-can-build/

Watch : The Infinite Slinky Escalator — Woodworking: Matthias Wandel’s friend Eric Andrasi had an idea to make a slinky machine. Wandel teased him about it, but then finally decided he wanted to see it built. Since it didn’t seem like Andrasi was ever going to make it, Wandel decided to tackle it. – by Nicole Smith – Tags: makercave – http://makezine.com/2015/08/05/infinite-slinky-escalator/

How to do Milky Way Photography – A Comprehensive Tutorial: You’re spinning through our solar system on a gorgeous blue marble which offers jaw dropping views of an astronomical phenomenon we call The Milky Way. – by Gavin Hardcastle – Tags: makercave, things to make – http://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-do-milky-way-photography-a-comprehensive-tutorial/

Laser Cut Dinosaur Safety Gear Holders: This project tutorial will show you how to make dinosaur safety gear racks for storing and displaying your earmuffs and safety glasses. – by Sam DeRose – Tags: makercave, things to make – http://makezine.com/projects/workshop-laser-cut-dinosaur-safety-gear-holders/

Raspberry Pi Tutorial – Connect to WiFi or Create An Encrypted DHCP Enabled Ad-hoc Network as Fallback: From the list of networks, you should be able to see the SSID of the network you are going to connect to. If that is the case, we are now going to add that network to wpa_supplicant. – by Lasse Christiansen – Tags: makercave, raspberry pi, things to make, wifi – http://lcdev.dk/2012/11/18/raspberry-pi-tutorial-connect-to-wifi-or-create-an-encrypted-dhcp-enabled-ad-hoc-network-as-fallback/

How To Make a Circle Cutting Jig for a Band Saw: This band saw circle cutting jig is great for making perfect circles every time. It features a cool adjustable sliding t-track which enables you to easily change the size of your circle, it also has a nice clamp as well as a built in measuring tape to easily set the size you want. – by darbinorvar – Tags: makercave, things to make, tools – http://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-Make-a-Circle-Cutting-Jig-for-a-Band-Saw/

Tips for 3D Printing Press-Fit Parts: There’s common adage that you shouldn’t attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole, which seems to imply that you should use a round peg instead. – by Kurt Hamel – Tags: 3d printer, makercave, things to make – http://makezine.com/magazine/tips-3d-printing-press-fit-parts/

How to Make a Laser Cut Stencil from Vector Art: Vector art files are perfect for making stencils. Here at the Maker Media Lab, we’ve been working hard to ramp up our public appearance. As part of this process, I made laser cut stencils to paint our favorite tools on the sides of our desks. – by jose santos – Tags: makercave, stencil – http://makezine.com/projects/laser-cutters-101-make-stencil-vector-art

Make a Shark Fruit Bowl from a Watermelon: Watermelon is one of the best treats for summer; it’s tasty and very refreshing on a hot day. – by Nicole Smith – Tags: makercave, things to make – http://makezine.com/2015/07/11/make-shark-fruit-bowl-watermelon/

Skill Builder : Convert STL Files for Laser Cutting: 3D printers are not always the right tool for the job. They’re fantastic tools with unique capabilities, but there are often better, more efficient ways to fabricate simpler parts. – by jose santos – Tags: laser cutter, makercave – http://makezine.com/projects/skill-builder-convert-stl-file-laser-cutting/

DIY Portable Mini Monitor: In this project I will show you how I used a 1280×800 LCD Kit to build a battery powered portable mini monitor which is useful for your DSLR camera, your Raspberry Pi or to extend the viewing field of your computer. Let’s get started! – by GreatScottLab – Tags: makercave – http://m.instructables.com/id/DIY-Portable-Mini-Monitor/

Rotary Indexer gives Mill a 4th axis (sort of): Rotary indexer’s are standard issue in most machine shops. These allow you to hold or chuck a work piece, and then a graduated handle lets you to rotate the workpiece. Useful when you want to drill or tap axial or radial features. – by Anool Mahidharia – Tags: cnc, makercave – http://hackaday.com/2015/07/04/rotary-indexer-gives-mill-a-4th-axis-sort-of/

Automated knitting machine made with #3D printing and #Arduino #ArtTuesday: Make has a post up about the hypnotic looking knitting machine created by artists Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Cenet. Knitting is a popular needlecraft, but it can get tiring knitting larger pieces. – Tags: makercave, things to make – https://blog.adafruit.com/2015/06/23/automated-knitting-machine-made-with-3d-printing-and-arduino-arttuesday/

How to prepare your lasercutting files (Inkscape): This is a tutorial for people that want to get their project lasercut but don’t know any software to prep their files (yet). I’ll be explaining how to do the setup, basic shapes and tabbed boxes in Inkscape. – by lutkeveld – Tags: laser cutter, makercave – http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-prepare-your-lasercutting-files-Inkscape/

Hypnotic Circular Knitting Machine: Knitting is a popular needlecraft, but it can get tiring knitting larger pieces. Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet came up with a clever way to automate the process with this open source, open design, 3D printed circular knitting machine called the Circular Knitic. – by Nicole Smith – Tags: 3d printer, makercave – http://makezine.com/2015/06/21/hypnotic-circular-knitting-machine-weaves-yarn-like-magic/

Rasberry Pi 2 Reset Button @Raspberry_Pi #piday #raspberrypi #iLuvMyPi2: Simple but useful tutorial from Eric Brouwer on instructables. This is a quick Instructable, showing how I added a reset button to my Rasberry Pi 2. – Tags: makercave, raspberry pi – https://blog.adafruit.com/2015/06/19/rasberry-pi-2-reset-button-raspberry_pi-piday-raspberrypi-iluvmypi2/

From Skylanders to Infinity, Amiibo and beyond: The coming battle over the toy: When you picture the toys of the future, do they come to life when you interact with them? Are they connected to a video game? That future is already here, and there’s a mighty battle brewing in the video game industry over the toys you’ll buy. – by Nick Statt – Tags: makercave – http://www.cnet.com/news/from-skylanders-to-infinity-amiibo-and-beyond-toy-battle/#ftag=CAD590a51e