More Laser Discussion For New Users

Beating a dead Horse by PotatoeHuman on DeviantArtI hate to beat the proverbial dead horse but I digress.

First I have got to say that anyone ABSOLUTELY HAS THE RIGHT TO BUY A CO2 Laser for their business or hobby or whatever.  I am not opposed to that at all.  More power to ya.  Seems since this COVID pandemic the “work from home” DIY business model has exploded and CO2 lasers are at the forefront of this.  Heck, it is hard to buy a laser right now.

Also let me throw in that while this blog is largely about a lack of technical prowess just know that I am jealous AF of the artistic and creative ability of a lot of you.  I can fix some stuff……but art……..I failed art and I didn’t even take it, and still failed it.  I can’t draw a circle with a compass and a can of beans.

What bothers me when I peruse the forums Facebook groups for CO2 lasers there are a rash of new users with no experience whatsoever on the technical aspects of a CO2 laser.  And let me add…….THAT INCLUDED ME AT ONE TIME.   Again, if you want a laser and can afford one………get one.

Here’s what worries me.  I will frequently see discussions where the new user buys a giant laser and says “What do I do now?”

I’m not knocking you if you are asking that question or any other.  That’s what forums are for.  You are most assuredly doing the right thing.   Just know that I’m scared for you.

The answer I can best provide is “Don’t Kill Yourself”.  First and foremost, know that your CO2 laser uses a High Voltage Flyback transformer that pulses anywhere from 1000 volts DC to about 20,000 volts DC.   Allow me to translate:  That will stop your heart in an ……errrr…….heartbeat.   We’ve all been shocked by household current.  You get tingled, a moment of OUCH and then a giggle.   If you take a 1000vdc shot to your body you will likely die and you better hope you are standing next to someone who knows CPR.  I wish I was joking.  I’m not joking.

This is not meant to be an all-inclusive safety discussion, but I swear I don’t think people realize this about the lethal high voltages.  I think they know they shouldn’t LOOK at a laser beam but I’m not sure they don’t realize they shouldn’t lift the back door of the laser and lean in with a big old bracelet on or a big old necklace dangling to see the pretty pink or purple pulse.

Also, the laser uses INTENSE energy and heat to BURN things.  That includes your house if you aren’t there watching it.  If the laser is actively operating, you need to be there…….for the whole hour or two. or however long it is in operation.  Heck the other day I was burning a Coir Doormat, which I had done a few times previously and I looked down and saw a glowing red circle.   My doormat was ON FIRE and that fire was about to get bigger.   Had I been out back in the hot tub or in the kitchen or in the shitter or something it would have been TRAGIC.  I’d have burned my house down.

As it turned out I hit the stop button on the controller, opened the lid, and pulled the glowing red doormat out of the machine and threw it outside.   I lost a whopping $5 in my investment.  Got the mats at Walmart.    I don’t think doormats are going to be part of my repertoire anymore.  However, that being said, I ran the same file on another doormat blank 5 minutes after the other one and it worked fine.   I had a mental flash of some Chinese person misting toluene or lighter fluid on the center of the mat to clean a mark off or something.  Probably not that, but something caused that mat to go POOF.

So lasers are no toy. High voltage, high energy beams, with a mirror system that directs the high energy beams to another mirror and then to the cutting position.   I’m sorry but I don’t understand why it is such a hard concept to grasp how a light beam hits a mirror and makes a 90 degree turn.

DISCLAIMER:  I work as a DOD Tech Rep in the Aircraft Visual Landing Aids program.  My job literally is to send beams of light into the sky at precise angles and work on Aircraft Carrier landing light systems. So it is possible I might have one hair up on some folks.   Not one chance in hell I’m saying I’m better at it than anyone else.  I learned through Youtube University as well how to align my mirrors. 

It’s so obvious that some new users find out their mirrors aren’t aligned and then get in and start twisting the mirror adjustment screws with no real concept of what screw causes the beam to move in what direction.   One screw does up and down, another screw does left and right, and the third screw, between the other two moves the beam diagonally.  Why they don’t laser engrave up, down, right left, etc. next to the adjusting screw is beyond me.

I was nervous to do my first alignment on a K40 but it really didn’t take too long to figure out.  I had more issues with the WHOLE MACHINE AND ENTIRE LASER HEAD ASSEMBLY being crooked than I did with making a mirror bounce a beam at a 90 degree angle.   And people are wrapped around the axle that the beam needs to hit the center of the mirror.  On a K40 IT DOES NEED TO HIT THE CENTER……..OF MIRROR 3.  On a big old CO2 laser that has an adjustable mirror on the laser head …………all that matters is that the beam hits the same spot on the mirror in all 4 corners of the machine and then exits STRAIGHT DOWN out the nozzle.  FORGET CENTER FOLKS!  If you can get center……….great.  Good on ya.  But nothing needs to be centered but the exit point.

These unexacting build standards I discussed leads me to another point.  These machines are made in China and NOT MADE to exacting specifications.  Oh, they are made pretty well and I think by and large quality is improving but don’t expect PERFECTION.

Also the component mix in these machines is fairly poor.  In my 50 watt laser I have changed the air pump (it failed after a week), the water flow sensor (it didn’t fail or leak but they are well known POS) so I changed it before it did fail.  Then I changed the power supply.  If you have a blue power supply in your laser………….just change it.  It’s gonna die.  Trust me.  I’m an electronics guy by trade for DOD.  Those blue power supplies will drop dead.

So let’s say you have no electronics troubleshooting experience.  That’s absolutely fine.  Not everyone is skilled in everything.  But here you are with a machine that has a high voltage power supply and laser, an optical mirror alignment system, stepper motors, firmware that tells those stepper motors how far and fast to move, electronic controllers, networking components (on some lasers), and water flow systems that can include refrigeration systems.

That’s a lot of stuff to know about.   And if all of those things sound like voodoo to you I think it is incumbent on new users to educate themselves as much as humanly possible before jumping into buying a several thousand dollar machine capable of

a). killing them

b) burning their house down

c) all of the above

Sometimes some of the things I read SCARES ME.  I swear if some of the authors were in my home town I’d message them and tell them “STOP”.  “If you let me, I’ll come over there and help you.”  And so I think we should all strive to be more helpful.  There are several great folks on some of the forums who make good YouTube videos.  The manufacturer has good videos on upkeep and maintenance, and there is a wealth of people who will help you when you have problems.

But everyday you see the pic of a person with a gigantic laser crate and then 2 days later you see them say they are ready to cry.  Crying is okay.  Dying is not okay.  Go slow, be careful, ask questions.  But some of that research should occur before the photo of you and your giant laser crate.

And also just as prevalent and increasing is the “Laser For Sale” posts.  NEVER GIVE UP! I’ve seen people lose pretty big money on their investment because they couldn’t align the mirrors or couldn’t change the laser tube.

There is no chance, none, zero, that you will uncrate your laser, hook it up and it will work AND CONTINUE TO WORK FOREVER.  No chance.  You are going to experience failures.  Someday.  Someway.  Support, while it exists with some companies………it ain’t that great.

Here’s one last thing that drives me nuts.   A user buys a laser.  They have no technical experience to maintain the laser.  They buy no spare parts to support the laser.  Then scream bloody murder when a part goes poof and then complain that their “business is down, they have orders to fulfill and this is unsatisfactory”.   “This company is horrible by golly.”

Okay…….I feel your pain.  But if your business is reliant on a machine……… some spare parts for the machine, huh?    Buy them AS YOU ARE ORDERING YOUR MACHINE.

Just hear me out for a second……….You can barely spell laser, You had to ask how to plug it in, you have no idea what software to use or what settings to start with and “BAM” your laser stops working. Is is possible, I mean just a little bit possible that YOU BROKE IT because you don’t know what you are doing?  Maybe not, but just possible?  Things do break.

Or upgrade your components and keep the old parts around for spares.  This is generally my strategy.   Install known reliable components and the old stuff will float the boat for a few days or a week while a new part is inbound.  Laser tubes are a different animal.  They degrade just sitting on the shelf so buying one for a spare is an iffy proposition.  But shouldn’t you know WHERE to buy one QUICKLY ………..BEFORE it goes bad?

And just let me throw this out there.  If you have a business and your LASER TUBE goes bad causing you to be down for a few days and this is UNACCEPTABLE TO YOU………..then you have some options.

  1. Have Two Machines or a smaller laser like a K40 or heck even a diode laser.
  2. Buy a spare laser tube anyway even though you know it will degrade on the shelf
  3. Work with someone in your hometown who also has a laser.  Have them help you if you go down and offer to help them if they go down.

Okay, the horse is dead.  I know it is dead.  I know I have repeated myself in a few blogs………….but this is just one of those things that snaps up my attention.

Laser on, bros.



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