Laser Fixed!

Replacing the two thermistor surge suppressors in the high voltage power supply seems to have cured the laser of its problems. Hurray! It’s actually cutting a bit better than it has been doing recently.

Total parts cost: $6.66, plus shipping. Not bad!

Laser classes on April 3 and April 10 will go ahead as scheduled. A new class or two will be scheduled soon, with people from the canceled March 26 class having first shot.

Debug Update

After a couple of rounds of back and forth with tech support, they had me open up the high voltage power supply and inspect for visible damage. Somewhat to my surprise, I found some. These two big black ceramic disks are clearly blown up. By the part number MF72-5D20 these are power NTC thermistors used as surge protection. According to tech support, this type of failure is usually caused by a random power surge.

I have replacement parts on order (they’re cheap) and will try simply swapping out the thermistors as soon as they come in. If that doesn’t solve the problem I will probably have to send the power supply in for repair ($100 plus shipping and handling). Cost-wise, this could have been a lot worse.

IMG_5203 IMG_5195

Laser Not Working

The laser is currently not working at all. The laser tube just won’t fire. I strongly suspect a failed high voltage power supply. I have a support ticket open with Full Spectrum Laser and expect to hear back by Monday. If I’m right about the problem, the downtime will depend on whether they have a replacement power supply in stock.

The laser class for Saturday, March 26 (later today) is CANCELED. We can’t have a laser class without a working laser. The classes for April 3 and April 10 are still on, for the time being, but are at risk of being canceled if I’m not able to get the laser repaired in time.


Inkscape 0.91 available now

After a long development cycle, the developers of the excellent free vector drawing program Inkscape have just released a major new version, numbered 0.91. There is a good article about the updates available from Libre Graphics World and you can download the new software (Windows, Mac, or Linux) from

I’ve installed the new Inkscape on the computer attached to the laser. Just in case you should have trouble with the new version, the old version (0.48.4) is also still available.

HEPA Air Cleaner in the Laser Room

I’ve placed a HEPA air filter and cleaner in the laser room, in the hope that it will reduce the general stench of burned material and also cut down on the ambient dust level. It’s not in any way a substitute for the laser’s exhaust blower, which vents almost all the smoke to the outside. The HEPA filter is just for our comfort when we’re in the laser room.

The HEPA filter has a timer built in. I suggest you set it to run for 8 hours (the longest timer setting) when you leave the room, if you’ve made any smoke during that session. We’ll see how well that works.

HEPA Air Cleaner

HEPA Air Cleaner

How to Schedule Time on the Laser

[Updated. Change of plans as requested by Colab managers.]

There is now a short online form to fill out to schedule time on the laser, which you can find by clicking on Schedule at the top of the web page. The form goes directly to a Colab volunteer, who will try to respond promptly (usually within a few hours). The volunteer will try to arrange for a Colab key holder to be available to open the building for you. If that’s not possible at your requested time, they’ll work with you to find a mutually agreeable time when you can use the laser.

The Google Calendar is now read-only, and gives you a view of what times have already been reserved or blocked out. You can view the calendar by clicking on Schedule at the top of the web page, or directly by following this calendar link. On that view you’ll find a button to add the calendar to your own calendar, if you wish.

The Google Group I previously set up to provide access to the calendar is no longer needed for that purpose, since the scheduling volunteer will update the calendar.

Please schedule the time you need, as far in advance as you can. The Colab key holders are happy to arrange a convenient time for you, but they can’t be expected to show up right away without advance notice. If you’re already at Colab and the laser isn’t already scheduled for someone else, you can ask any key holder who happens to be available if they can let you use the laser.

If you can’t make it at the scheduled time, please do your best to let us know. The scheduling volunteer will let you know who to contact if you need to cancel.

In the future, we hope to have regular open hours when you can be sure Colab is available, and a fully automated way to schedule time on the laser during those hours. In the meantime, and for hours when Colab wouldn’t otherwise be open, going through the scheduling volunteer lets you get time on the laser and access to the building in a single step.

Laser is Fixed!

The replacement mirrors and lens arrived this morning, and I got them installed and working this afternoon. The laser is functional again, maybe even a little better than before. Let the artmaking resume!

I replaced mirror 2 (which might have been OK), mirror 3 (which was trashed), and the focus lens (which was destroyed). Did a full alignment on the optics, and a rough spot-check on the table leveling.

People have noticed that the laser seems weaker on the lower right and works best in the upper left region of the work area. It’s normal for there to be some small differential, because of the longer beam path to reach the lower right, but it was much worse than normal. I think it’s improved now. A cut that worked at speed 17 in the upper left required a speed of 13 in the lower right.

The new lens has a slightly different focus point than the old lens, for whatever reason. I have adjusted the autofocus probe to what seems to be the best focus point for the new lens. If you prefer to measure, you’ll find the new focus point is several millimeters longer than before. That is, the table is a bit lower with respect to the cutting head.

People have had trouble cutting half-inch plywood. I was able to cut a small square out of half-inch plywood today, in a single pass at speed 17 (or 13 in the lower right corner) at 100% power. There was some charring on the edge of the wood, but nothing that wouldn’t sand off. The only trick I used was to focus a bit down into the material, instead of at the surface. The Z axis setting I used was about where the autofocus probe touches the material, but that was just an educated guess. You’ll still need to experiment with settings and focus heights to find a configuration that works with your specific plywood.

I still think we can get better cutting of thick plywood (half-inch and maybe thicker) by getting a stronger air-assist compressor. I’ll look into that soon.

I hope to see you and your laser-cut art at YOUtopia!

Laser is broken

The laser is offline for repairs. Replacement parts are expected to arrive on Wednesday, October 8, and if all goes well I’ll get them installed on Thursday. Apologies to those of you planning to use the laser in the next few days for last-minute YOUtopia projects.

In the photo gallery below, you can see the damage. The zinc selenide lens has a hole blasted in it, and most of the surface of the final mirror (a few inches above the lens) has been ruined, with the worst damage in one localized area. These parts need to be replaced (about $300). Besides that, there’s a notch out of the aluminum mirror holder at the top of the cutting head. That won’t cause any problems, as far as I know. There was also a coating of reddish powder on the inside of the tube between the mirror and lens, which I presume to be oxides of the material blasted out of the lens.

I am not sure exactly what happened. Clearly, the laser beam itself did all this damage, but what went wrong first, and are all three types of damage the result of the same sequence of events? I don’t know. There are basically two things that can go wrong: gross misalignment, causing the laser to hit the holder instead of the mirror, or crud on the mirror and/or lens. I didn’t find any gross misalignment when I checked, so I suspect there was crud on the mirror and lens.

If there was crud on the optics, it was probably a build-up of smoke deposited by burning plywood. If there’s crud anywhere on the optics when the laser passes through, it gets hot, possibly burns, and damages or destroys the optical surface it’s on. Once the optics are damaged, the laser beam can bounce around unpredictably and cause additional damage. Once the surfaces are no longer pristine, the heat left behind by the laser beam causes the damage to accelerate quickly.

Put this down as a lesson learned about keeping the laser’s optics clean. I will try to do more preventative maintenance, but every laser user needs to be aware of the issue. At the beginning of your laser session, shine a flashlight at the mirror in the cutting head (look sideways at the left side of the top of the head) and see if there’s any visible crud on the mirror. If you see any, you can clean it (if you know how to clean it without causing damage!) or stop and report the issue.

If you end up making a lot of smoke during your laser session, please inspect the mirror again at the end. Make a note in the log. Post a note to warn the next users. Let me know if the mirror needs cleaning.

Unfortunately, the lens can’t be inspected without taking things apart, so I don’t recommend you do that routinely.

If you notice the laser isn’t behaving as expected, please let me know directly. Email is best (my address is on the wall). Make a note in the log book, too. Sometimes we can catch a problem and fix it before it causes permanent damage to the optics.