A couple months ago I had to replace the laser tube/driver on my 35W Epilog Mini-18. It had slowly been losing cutting power for a few weeks before I had to get it replaced because I simply couldn't limp it along any more. I snapped a couple pics of the laser module before sending it back to Epilog to swap it out for a fresh one:
The entire module is housed in a big aluminum block and sits under 4 fans on the cutter for cooling.
The whole thing appears to be powered off the main 48v power supply and it connects to the motherboard via a standard Cat-5 patch cable.
On the opposite end you can see the laser pointer module, used to adjust the optics and help you position the laser home position. Overall, these modules seem pretty well designed and pretty convenient if you're building a laser cutter. I'd love to be able to find laser module setups similar to this (air cooled, metal reflector tube, integrated visible laser pointer, integrated driver electronics) for a DIY laser cutter!
I'm going to be moving all my stuff to the new CCCKC HQ, Hammerspace by the end of March, and I've taken this opportunity to experiment with building a carbon filter for the laser cutter exhaust to cut down on VOCs and nasty smells generated by the machine. Being a cheapskate frugal, I decided to try to make a very cheap setup that's easy to build, seal up, and fill (and refill). Here's some more pics of my first prototype:
The setup consisted of a 5 gallon bucket with rubber seal to form the main enclosure, a 3 gallon bucket to hold the carbon, a plastic coffee can, some thin aluminum screen, 4" OD toilet anchors to act as ports, and a tube of silicone caulk to seal everything up. All components, except for the active carbon itself and the coffee can, can be found at a Home Depot for about $20.
Basically, I took the plastic coffee can, cut the sides out, and added some screen held in place with silicone to be my innermost support. For the 4" port on the bottom, I used a toilet anchor and cut 4" holes through the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket and a 3 gallon bucket and sealed everything up with silicone. A small ring of PVC that press fit the 4" OD toilet anchor was added for mechanical support (you can kinda see it in the pic where the 4" ducting is installed below).
The 3 gallon bucket was used to form a support cage which screen was attached to, much like the coffee can, but this time the holes were cut with the same 4" hole cutter that was used to make the holes for the 4" inlet (toilet anchor). The active carbon is poured in to the 3 gallon bucket and forms an envelope around the coffee can. Once filled, the 3 gallon bucket lid is installed. I probably took a little too much material out of the sides of the 3 gallon bucket, as it was a little difficult to get the lid on it because the sides kept collapsing a bit.
It took a little less that 3 quarts of active carbon to fill the void in the 3 gallon bucket (about 60 oz. by weight). I was surprised that very little of the active carbon actually made it through the screen (a little less than a tablespoon) while filling. After filling, I attached a 4" hose to the inlet and sucked some air through the filter (I would suggest you do this along with filling the filter outside) with a small dust collector motor. Airflow didn't seem particularly impeded by the filter so it should work well with the dust collection system in the shop.
In normal operation, air from the laser cutter would come in the coffee can where it would pass through 1.5"-2" or more of active carbon between the 3 gallon bucket interior and the coffee can exterior, then out the lid of the 5 gallon bucket. I'm eager to actually put this thing to the test here in the next 2-ish weeks and see if it actually works for filtering out the nasty gasses put off by the laser in operation.
I nearly had a heart attack about 2 months ago when my laser cutter stopped suddenly whilst cutting some parts. Turns out that a component or two on the motherboard was fried. I took this opportunity to snap some pics of the board out of my 5ish year old Epilog Mini-18:
As you can see, there's already been a little rework on this board before (bottom photo near u17). Looks like a PXA255 is the brains of the system and there's an FPGA on board as well (Altera EP1K100FC256). The entire system is powered off a single 48 Volt 12.5 Amp power supply, so this board seems to provide all other regulated sources for the system. It seems that a voltage regulator blew from the looks of the fried chip (top photo, U31, just left of the PXA255, appears to be an Linear LT3430).
Luckily, Epilog will send you a new motherboard without much hesitation and I had my mini up and cutting orders in no time. My new board's layout is pretty similar but has an additional daughter board with some big inductors on it, which I'd bet is a power supply fix for this board.
P.S. If your Epilog Mini or Helix dies suddenly, looks like there's an internal 5Amp breaker the motherboard is on that you can try and reset and there are some status lights on the motherboard indicating the rails that are up (48v, 5v, 3.3v, and 2.5V) so you can at least tell if everything's getting power. Mine only had the 48V rail up after kicking the bucket.
So I went to Home Depot several months ago to pick up some plywood for cutting on the laser decided to try out some sandply. It's cheaper than birch or oak, lighter, and seems to be less prone to warping, which is pretty important when laser cutting. Given that sandply is less dense than the bitch I had been cutting, I expected the laser to cut through it without issue. When I tried it out on the same settings I had been using for birch and I was not impressed.
Above you can see that some parts continued to burn after the laser cut through the wood (air asset doesn't seem to have an effect on this charring) and below you can see that the laser just barely failed to go all the way trough several parts at the same laser settings used for birch. I haven't tried to see if I can elevate the issues I was seeing, but I'd say that sandply is probably not a go to material for laser cutting functional wood parts.
The above image shows the first mounted stamp I made up with my laser cutter, which was created as a stand in for CCCKC's official hackerspace stamp for hackerspace passports (I can't wait to get mine own soon)! It should be no surprise that I love to use laser cutters for making all kinds of stuff. I thought I'd start posting some of the myriad of ways you can make stuff with a laser cutter/engraver and today I'm going to cover making stamps like this.
First off, you'll need access to a laser cutter that supports raster etching. Almost all commercially available laser cutters will support this, and most will support a special stamp mode. I'll be covering how to do stamps with Epilog Laser drivers, but Universal Laser and GCC laser cutter (I've seen them sold under the LaserPro and Pinnacle brand names) drivers also have stamp modes, I'm just not familiar with how they implement their stamp modes. Unfortunately laser setups that have to be driven directly by G-code like the Lasersaur and some of the A4 size laser cutters out there probably won't be able to make stamps with the methods I'm outlining here.
First off, you'll need a few supplies. First and foremost is laserable rubber, which is specifically designed with laser based stamp production in mind. It's available from a number of sources online and comes in a couple varieties , one of which is low odor rubber which is what I've been using. Next you'll need the other components of the specific type of stamp you'll be making, called the mount. If you just want a simple, easy to mount and use stamp, you'll probably want to pick up a self inking stamp. These come in several sizes, are pre-inked in most cases, and simply have an adhesive strip you place your cut out engraved rubber on and you're done. Most also have an indexing strip you can stamp and insert after mounting your rubber. Here's an example I made up:
The second option for mounting stamps are "artistic" stamp mounts, like the kind used for crafts that you find at local hobby stores. These consist of a wood block (or an acrylic block), a foam rubber cushion that forms a bond between the block and the rubber (or some foam rubber with a sticky coating or simply a sticky film if you're using an acrylic block), and the rubber stamp itself. If you've got some wood scraps or acrylic to use, all you really need is some cushion, making this style the cheapest stamp mount you can make. It also gives you the most freedom since you can make them almost any size or shape and the results can still look very professional. Hand stamps are similar in construction to wood block artistic stamps but have a handle and often an index strip on the side, or you could just print the mount if you have or know someone with a 3D printer using this design. Here's a picture of the 2"x2" blocks I used for the CCCKC stamp above:
I coated one with polyurethane because I planned on etching it with the laser later and the polyurethane coating protects the wood from the byproducts of the etching without masking. Here's a small scrap of cushion as well:
The cushion has adhesive coating on both sides and is used to mount the stamp to the block and distribute pressure when stamping. I picked up all my sample stamp supplies from JMP because they had all the supplies I wanted in one place, but they're not the cheapest source out there.
Now you'll need some artwork. Ideally you'll want a nice crisp high resolution black and white raster image or some vector artwork to work with. The easiest way to get a nice crisp black and white image from raster artwork that's well defined (already high contrast) but a little blurry around the edges and/or not quite black and white is to:
Desaturate the image (either by converting its color space to grayscale or using the desaturate operation in your image editor of choice) to remove color.
Adjust the brightness/contrast of the image and turn the contrast all the way up. This will eliminate any intermediate shades and leave you with just a black and white image. You may need to adjust the brightness to get the desired effect.
Gimp can handle both of these operations easily. Here's a quick example showing what I did to clean up the original artwork for this stamp and how adjusting the brightness effects the final output:
When done, remember to save in a non-lossy format like PNG of GIF to prevent the re-introduction of compression artifacts.
If your raster artwork is too low resolution you can try the bitmap tracing operations in your favorite vector graphics suite (both Inkscape and CorelDRAW have this functionality) and clean up the results a bit manually. There are plenty of resources online if you need additional help cleaning up or creating artwork.
Once you've got artwork and your supplies you'll need to follow the recommendations of your particular laser manufacturer to set up your artwork and configure the laser. You can find Epilog's tutorial here. You only need a single outline for a single stamp to define the "fence", but if you're making multiple stamps the fence needs to encompass all the stamps (if you don't do this it looks like only the first stamp is rastered). The entire area inside the fence will be rastered so don't spread stamps out too much or you might waist material. Here's my artwork prepped for cutting in CorelDRAW:
On my 35 watt Epilog Mini-18 I used raster settings of 10% speed and 100% power for the CCCKC stamp. Under advanced options, select "Stamp" for raster type, and I checked the mirror option under the stamp settings because I didn't mirror my artwork beforehand (see above pic). I stuck with the recommended settings for the shoulder and widening options.
The driver is doing a few interesting things for you in the background:
Creating a negative of the raster image within the defined vector outline (which is why it's important to define one even if you're just going to cut it out manually)
Flipping the image horizontally (if you checked the mirror option)
Expanding the area that will be raised 0n the final stamp based on your widening selection
Ramping up and down laser power at the edges of the raised sections based on the shoulder profile you selected
All these operations can be easily done in photo editing software if you're laser cutter supports raster mode but doesn't have a stamp mode for some reason, but I've yet to encounter a cutter where this is the case.
Once the raster etching is done, take a look at the result but don't touch anything yet. If you feel the etching is too light, just tweak the settings and run the job again. The second pass will etch even deeper into the material, but will only work if you haven't moved the stamp material around. The stamp will be coated in dust that you'll have to clean up later before placing your stamp (and you'll likely want to clean up the laser cutter a bit too after making some stamps).
Once you've reached a depth you find appropriate you'll need to cut out the stamp. You can simply do this manually or do a vector cut with the laser. This was my first stamp, so I opted to cut it out by hand and play with vector cutting settings later. Recommended settings for vector cutting imply that you don't want to cut it at full power (this may indicate that higher power settings char the material). With my 35 Watt Epilog, a speed setting of 5%, power setting of 20%, and a frequency setting of 500Hz cut about 2/3 of the way through the sheet after a single pass of raster etching but cut all the way through after I did 2 raster passes on later stamps. Higher power settings cut a bit deeper but did induce a little charring, so it looks like I'll have to try a few more settings combinations to dial it in. Here's the CCCKC stamp before cutting it out from the sheet:
Once you've cut out the rubber you need to cut out the cushion. I just used an X-Acto knife but it cuts easily with scissors as well. The description on the cushion order page indicated that PVC was used in the cushion that I ordered, so it would be a bad idea to cut on the laser because of its chlorine content. There are a number of other options for cushion, but it's likely that they have similarly incompatible chemistry (the acrylic stamp mounting films I looked at seemed to contain vinyl, which is another no-no). Since you won't likely be cutting the cushion out on the laser, you'll probably want to cut the stamp and cushion out at the same time (you may even want to adhere the stamp to the cushion before you start cutting).
All you have to do now is mark your block and assemble it. I engraved the stamp into the wood block rather than making a sticker (as most commercial stamps I've see do) or stamping the top, which is kinda difficult to do at that point. Here's a pick of the stamp totally assembled after stamping:
Next time around I think I'll make the etching of the stamp and the block a bit deeper, but the results of my first stamp making attempt seem to be pretty functional. Maybe I'll experiment with some acrylic mounts next...