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Laser Rebuild – Part 4 (laser mounting)

Since I'm replacing the RF tube with a Chinese glass tube, I'll have to fabricate the mounting brackets.  The buildlog 2.0 laser uses plastic brackets cut out of HDPE on a CNC router.  I've cut HDPE before and it's great stuff to work with on the router and I even have enough left over from an earlier project.

I started by mounting two pieces of 1/8" aluminum square tube to the existing mounting holes on the frame of the laser.  This will give a nice solid base to attach the brackets to.  It also has clearance behind for routing wires and enough room to turn the bottom adjusting screw.



Laser Rebuild – Part 3 (Panel)

The old panel had an LCD display and a few controls specific to the original electronics.  It went away with the rest of the antiques.

I made a new panel from a chunk of 1/8" steel cut to the same dimensions as the original.  I consider this a temporary job to get the machine up and running.  It has a bare minimum of control since most of the user interaction will be done through EMC2 on the PC.

Ultimately, I'd like to incorporate some controls to jog the X and Y, touch off, and monitor the water temperature, but that can all wait.  This panel will have the following:

The all-important Emergency Stop button.  (E-Stop).  A good E-stop is is big and red so it's easy to hit.  It also locks into the emergency condition position.  There's a lot of different styles available and they can be very expensive.  This one isn't expensive.   It's also cheap.  It has two sets of terminals so the switch can be wired normal-open or normal-closed.  Playing around with it, I found the normal-closed was reliable but the normal-open was flaky in the closed position.  I certainly wouldn't trust my life to this switch in that configuration.  The way I'm using it, any flakiness will shut the machine down.

The toggle switch/button toggles the controller between taking it's pwm control signal from either the potentiometer on the panel, or from one of the pins incoming from the computer.  For normal operation, the computer will control the output power of the laser but manually controlling and firing it is desirable for alignment.

The pot (black knob) sets the pwm manually as described above.

The square momentary switch manually fires the laser.  Useful for alignment and other 'experiments' (ie screwing around 🙂 )

I drilled and countersunk holes to mount the panel.  Then mounted it on the machine.  Then overlayed it with a sheet of paper and played around with where I wanted the controls before drilling and mounting them.



After drilling, painting, and installing:


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Laser Rebuild – Part 2 (control)

I started looking around for a board to replace the original controller electronics.  My priorities:

  • Has to work with EMC2.  That's actually pretty easy to do since EMC2 is so flexibile, but I was looking for something a little more "off the shelf" compatible.  I'm not afraid to hack on an EMC2 configuration, but it's not my strong suite and I want easy.
  • Besides driving the steppers and laser, it needs to handle as much of the other stuff as possible.  Door switches, cooling pump, air assist, etc.
  • At least 1/8 microstepping.
  • Needs to fit in the cabinet along with a power supply and any fan, wiring, etc.
  • Not too expensive.
Also, it would be nice if it supported some direct control so I don't have to do everything from the PC.
I found a few solutions that were interesting but once again, the Buildlog guys seem to have anticipated my needs perfectly.  The laser interface driver uses pololu drivers which I'm familiar with from my Reprap RAMPS board.  The pololu stepper drivers are on a separate little board so they can be replaced easily if something "unexpected" happens.  Most of all, I'm happy to see an active community of guys using this hardware in conjunction with EMC2 to drive a laser.
The board is set up to control 3 Axis.  My Z axis is manual, so I have one driver free.  I'll either convert Z at a later date or maybe think about something like the rotational engraver on this page.
Here's what the stock cabinet looked like:
After gutting it I had a few leftover parts:
After mounting the new controller, it looks like this:
The three black posts are stand-offs for the top panel.  The new controller supports some manual control, so I'll build a new panel to go there.
The DB-25 connector and the pololu microstepping controls fit almost perfectly into the existing holes in the chassis.  To make it fit, though, the mounting holes on the right edge of the board were under the lip of the right sidewall.  I couldn't drill and tap under there so I had a to make a small acrylic part.  The controller is mounted to the acrylic on that edge and the acrylic is screwed into the original holes.
I already had a 24V power supply salvaged from a printer and it fit nicely in the back.  The filter, relay and chocolate-block terminal strip are the only things I saved.
After wiring it up and hacking up a configuration in EMC2, I have it moving the X and Y axis, detecting the limit switches, and detecting the safety switches on the doors.  It should also be tripping the relay, but I think the relay may be bad.
I don't have any documentation on the number of steps per inch for the axis.  I emailed one of the guys from and he got me very close.  Theirs runs 500 half/steps per inch. I'm going to run everything in metric so I converted. Then I clamped a digital caliper and started fine tuning by trial and error. I found a value of X steps per mm got me within 9 one-hundredths of a mm over a 100 mm travel. Not bad.



Laser Rebuild – Part 1 (Research)

My first step in resurrecting this machine is research. Less than 5 minutes of hunting around on Google has uncovered a couple of incredibly useful sources:

I don't have any experience with lasers and I'm rather fond of my ability to see so I started by reading A LOT on the grandaddy of all internet laser resources.  Sam's Laser FAQ.  - This is the home of the fascinating Buildlog 2.0 laser cutter project.  An opensource design for a DIY laser that can be build for less than $2000.   The most interesting part is the community that has sprung up around the design and is collaborating on improvements.   There's a wealth of information in the forums including this thread about another ULS rebuild.  Also worth looking at is the Makerslide project that originated with Buildlog founder Bart Dring.

Hacklab Toronto did a ULS renovation a few years back.  It's well documented here.

After reading through these projects and studying my own machine, here's what I think I know:

Optics:  Seem to be in good shape but filthy.  I'm going to do a thorough cleaning following the procedure I found documented in a ULS manual.  While I have them apart, I'll take a closer look to see if they've suffered any permanent damage.


Linear motion:  Steppers and guide rails seem to be in good shape.  Both axis work great.  The X axis belt is a bit loose but doesn't seem to be losing steps.

Laser:  No joy.  I'll be replacing this with a 40W Chinese tube and power supply.


Cooing: The original RF laser was air cooled but the replacement will be water cooled.  Need a whole new system.

Ventilation:  The chassis is designed to conduct air across the build area.  Again, it's filthy but intact.

Motion control:  The original electronics are designed to be driven by a windows printer driver.  They're serious antiques at this point.  I plan on driving it from EMC2 and will need a new controller.


Safety interlock and E-stop.  All the switches and the by-pass key work on the original.  I should be able to wire them into a replacement controller.


Build Platform:  A 1/4" aluminum plate.  Scored in places but serviceable for now.



Sliptonic has a (frickin) laser!

Well, not quite....yet.

I found an old Universal Laser Systems model 25A for sale at a surplus auction.  It looked to be in good shape and went cheap.  After I got it home and cleaned up, I found that I couldn't get the laser head to fire.  I called in some expert assistance from Columbia Gadget Works, but no luck was to be had.  I've since learned that RF laser tubes have a life expectancy of about 10 years before they need to be re-gassed.  Re-gassing this one is prohibitively expensive and would *only* get it back to 25W.  Instead, I'm looking at replacing the RF laser with a chinese glass tube.  This should take it to 40W.

Either way, this looks to be a fun project.  Here's a picture.



2011-11-15 10.49.19