Tag Archives: laser cutter

Reach is an all-in-one 3D printer, laser cutter, plotter and mill

… and it costs less than $300.

If you’re like most of us, chances are you’ve played around with a 3D printer at some point. But as you know all too well, the market only has a few affordable options for the everyday enthusiast: there are the sub-$500 plastic units with non-accesible parts, and then there are RepRaps with their fragile fames that require frequent adjustments. With hopes of solving all of these issues, Nate Rogers and his team have developed the Reacha high-quality, versatile machine with an all-alluminum frame, a large build area, as well as interchangeable modules for cutting, engraving, plotting and milling.


The Reach has everything you’d expect from a DIY 3D printer kit, such as auto-leveling, a 200mm x 200mm x 215mm volume, a heated bed and a geared extruder. It boasts V-Slot extrusions, Delrin V Wheels and a sturdy frame comprised of 1/8” laser-cut aluminum plates. With an Arduino Mega (ATmega2560) and RAMPS 1.4 shield at its core, NEMA 17 stepper motors, a precision 8mm lead screw and GT2-20 pulleys, the Reach is capable of achieving 90mm/second print speeds with an accuracy of 50 micron layers. As you would expect, the Reach works with pretty much all 1.75mm filaments ranging from PLA and ABS, to Nylon and NinjaFlex, to faux metal.


As a Maker himself, however, Rogers knew that a 3D printer in today’s market was a dime a dozen. And so, he and his crew enhanced the Reach’s capabilities using detachable toolheads: a laser for cutting and engraving, a plotter and a light mill, which together create the ultimate all-in-one machine that will be a welcomed fixture on any workbench or at any Makerspace.

An upgrade kit will soon also be available for an extra $70, which consists of a full graphics LCD screen with SD card reader, an MK2 heated bed, a 100K thermistor and an improved power supply. The Reach supports most open source software, including Sketchup, Meshlab, Repetier, Cura and Inkscape, and is currently compatible with Windows and most Mac operating systems.


Sound like the $259 device for you? Head over to its Kickstarter campaign, where Rogers and his team have already doubled their $40,000 goal. Delivery is slated for summer 2016.

Chalkaat is an augmented reality-based laser cutter

Created at MIT’s Media Lab, Chalkaat is a direct manipulation laser cutter that’s aware of the strokes being drawn on the workpiece. 

Laser cutters are one of the more interesting tools you can have around your home (or professional) shop. Normally, you load what you want to cut or engrave into the unit, place the material to be cut inside of it, start the process, and some time later you hopefully everything has been cut correctly. As amazing as this technology is, the MIT Media Lab decided to take it one step further with their augmented-reality Chalkaat laser cutter system.


This laser cutter setup, using a camera and a projector, allows you to put or even draw an object to be duplicated via laser in the cutting field. The object is then scanned and a representation of it is projected where it will be cut. The camera that originally scanned the image then tracks a red and blue marker, which, allow you to move and resize the now-projected object.

Once things are ready to cut, a homebrewed Arduino (ATmega328P) moves the laser into position via stepper motors, and turns it on at the needed intensity. Although code was available that could take care of some of the control details, for this project the MIT Media Lab decided to write their own firmware for the sake of learning.


Many tend to have a bit of an aversion to making their own “DIY laser” setup, and as noted on their instructions, “Working with lasers is extremely dangerous. A 2W laser can blind you instantly even if looked indirectly. Always wear proper laser safety glasses.” This is a really cool project, but don’t try something like this unless you know what you’re doing and take the proper precautions.

Intrigued? Head over to the team’s project page here, or simply see it in action below!

Maker mods a Wii remote into an autofocus laser

While it may not be a Glowforge, this Wiimote hack is pretty slick. 

Chances are that it’s been quite a while since the last time you played Mario tennis or went bowling on your Nintendo Wii. But as we’ve seen with other obsolete devices, there’s no reason to throw it away! In fact, the Wiimote’s unique design lends itself to several innovative projects, like one from Maker Martin Raynsford who has retrofitted the handheld controller into a fully-functional laser cutter.


Raynsford and the Just Add Sharks crew were inspired by the newly-revealed Glowforge 3D laser printer’s ability to autofocus as the head travels along complex curves during cuts and engraves. And so, they employed the Wiimote’s built-in infrared camera to refocus the laser based on the height of the material.

“The hardware automatically identifies these points and feeds back XY positions through a Bluetoth connection. The cutting laser on a laser cutter is an infrared beam, as it cuts through the surface of the material there is a moment where it is reflected off the material and the Wiimote is able to detect the location of the cut,” Raynsford writes. “The location data is fed back to a laptop and by comparing this point against the initial ‘in focus’ point we’re able to detect if the Z-axis needs to move up or down and by how much.”

The optical camera is calibrated to a ‘zero’ point the first time it sees the laser cut. The offset between the current dot position and the zero position is then converted into Z-height adjustments. A laptop sends the data to an Arduino Nano (ATmega328) that is connected between the laser cutter’s on-board controller and the Z-axis stepper motor driver. This gives it the ability to remain in focus throughout the duration of a cut.

“Our laser cutter moves the whole bed up and down to adjust the focal height. There is a lot of mass to move and it gains momentum so it isn’t able to adjust the Z-axis as fast as required. This is why it’s so noisy as it tries to keep up with the requested position,” Raynsford adds.

It should be noted, however, that there are a few drawbacks in the DIY laser cutter when compared to more professional-grade units. For one, the remote’s camera is only able to detect light sources 60 times a second, thereby causing a bit of a lag in the time that it changes height and the actual movement. What’s more, an increased mass on the cutting head prevents the machine from reaching its top speed of 50mm/second, and even if it could, the response time from the system would not be fast enough to cope with changes that quickly.

Conversely, the good news is that many of us have a Nintendo Wii collecting dust somewhere. The project itself was written using C# and Brian Peeks Wiimote Lib, which made hooking up the Wiimote as simple as a few lines of code. Perhaps this will offer a second lease on life for the gaming console!

Intrigued? See it in action above, or check out the Maker’s project page here.

Playing real-world Space Invaders with real-world lasers

Warning: Do not try this at home.

When it comes to old-school arcade gaming, Space Invaders undoubtedly joins the ranks of Pac-Man as one of, if not, the most influential 8-bit pioneers. Originally released in 1978, the laser cannon shooting game led the way for the industry in migrating from just Pong-inspired sports games towards action-packed ones involving fantastical scenarios. However, the pixelated blocky graphic graphics always seemed a little unrealistic. That’s why one engineer has made a real-world version with real-world lasers.


In anticipation of Arduino Day 2015, Martin Raynsford — who happens to be one of the owners of UK-based laser cutter manufacturer Just Add Sharks — decided to brought the idea to life using the hardware of a modified Whitetooth A1 laser cutter along with a laptop keyboard to serve as its gamepad. An Arduino Nano (ATmega328) was also mounted to a custom 80W laser controller to enable side-to-side movement to help shoot the paper invaders, each clipped to a plate and driven by stepper motors.

“X,Y and Z; step, direction and limits make the first 9 I/O, laser on/off and laser PWM make the last two outputs. The USB connection provides serial input for the board and the communication link with the PC,” Raynsford explains.


How it works is relatively simple. A player watches the game via an overhead webcam while a PC controller sends simple left/right/fire commands. The PC controller was written with VB.net, and the images were captured using OpenCV.

Given the genuine risk of fire, Raynsford advised that he completed a test burn before the actually playing the game. During those tests, the Maker discovered that the paper invaders were too close together. In other words, fire would spread across a row quite easily should a player hit the intended target. After a few minor alterations, “The game played well and resulted in flamey death for the Space Invaders and not the laser cutter, [so] I consider that to be a win condition.”


Intrigued? You can read more about the project on its official page here, or watch it in action below.

Arduino powers this ‘Etch A Sketch’ laser cutter

Martin Raynsford and the JustAddSharks crew has created a rather unique Arduino-based ‘Etch A Sketch’ laser cutter.

“What happens when you combine a love of laser cutters with a love of cool 70’s toys and an Arduino? An ‘Etch A Sketch’ controlled laser cutter of course,” Raynsford wrote in a recent blog post.

“I always wondered… what if I could control my laser cutter just like drawing lines on an ‘Etch A Sketch’?”

The JustAddSharks crew kicked off their impressive project by using a Blacknose Laser Cutter, bypassing the control board to drive the laser tube and stepper motors. An [Atmel-based] Arduino Pro Mini (ATmega168) controller was then patched into the machine’s wiring using the existing connectors to interface with the Leetro controller.

“The schematic shows the connections we made into the control system. The onward items like the stepper motors or laser tubes have not been drawn because they were not modified and use all the existing wiring,” Raynsford explained.

“The [Atmel-based] Arduino Pro Mini (ATmega168) works as the controller. The analogue input pins are configured for use as general IO to provide the additional number of inputs required from the rotary encoders. The pulses for the stepper motor drivers are provided by the Timer 1 PWM hardware module. The laser module power is controlled by Timer 3.”

The software, says Raynsford, is relatively simple. When the machine is activated, the laser attempts to drive to the zero position. Meanwhile, both X and Y axis are driven until they hit the end stops. Once both axis are pressed against the limits, the controller moves the axis forward again until they no longer press the switches. The controller then moves the laser head to a ‘Home’ position – a fixed distance from the zero spot.

“When the laser has reached the Home position it is ready to run. The stepper motor drivers require far more pulses than the rotary encoders provide,” Raynsford noted.

“If it was left with a one to one relationship you would need to turn the dial a dozen times to get noticeable movement on the axis. The software detects rotation on the dials and creates stepper motor pulses for a set period of time, this scales up the number of output steps for each input.”

The final version of the handheld Etch A Sketch controller is custom built from laser ply and stained red with Mahogany wood dye, while the screen is actually layer of baking paper to give the device a frosted plastic look.

Interested in learning more about the Arduino-based ‘Etch A Sketch’ laser cutter? You can check out the project’s official page here.

Video: Building a tiny Arduino laser cutter

A Maker by the name of SilverJimmy may have already had a full-sized 50 watt laser cutter, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to design something smaller and microcontroller-driven.

Enter the MicroSlice, which HackADay’s John Marsh describes as an adorable little engraver.

“To keep the design simple, SilverJimmy opted for a fixed cutting table, which meant moving the cutting head and the X-Axis as a unit along the Y-Axis,” Marsh explained.

“The solution was to take inspiration from gantry cranes. He snagged a couple of stepper motors with threaded shafts, designed the parts in Inkscape, then fired up his full-size cutter to carve out the pieces.”

The MicroSlice’s bottom platform includes an Atmel-powered Arduino Uno (ATmega328) and the relays for the laser and fans, while two EasyDriver motor controllers sit above them on the next layer.

Interested in learning more about SilverJimmy’s tiny Arduino laser cutter? You can check out the project’s official page on Instructables.