As a digital fabricator and jeweler for the past five years, i had never really worked with laser engraving or ever liked the burn edges aesthetic. I had read about these diode lasers and decided to try it out of curiosity. I was impressed with the capabilities of the endurance lasers, specially the ability to engrave metals, which was the main reason i purchased one. I also had never had to deal with DIY machines or had to mess with coding and programing.
I have a Lulzbot TAZ5 and a SharkHD CNC machine, so before receiving the laser i had to decide which machine i was going to use for the laser. The shark had the appealing of the working bed size but was a little bit more complicated to install the laser (i got that impression after reading the endurance laser facebook group and their blog on their website). Then again, never had to deal with DIY machines and their programing so it might be just me. So i decided that i was going to use the TAZ5. I read the instructions on the endurance laser web site (instructions here!) looked easy, printed the part that i thought I was going to need to mount the laser to the extruder but i was wrong.
mounting the laser to the printer
When i received the laser i realized that the 10watt+ laser was bigger than the one in the instructions -way bigger, and installing it with the extruder might be too heavy for the TAZ5. so I grab the .stl file of the extruder base and modified to fit the laser.
Following the instructions i was happy to learn that my printer already had the firmware needed for the laser to work, so i didn’t have to modify anything. The installation process was very simple (i linked the instructions above), connected the red and black wire and basically i was done. I put the laser on the printer, and without realizing it before, i positioned the laser on the base exactly where the laser would not obstruct the hole for the screw that goes to the printer mount (pic below), happy accident!!
turning it on for the first time
So after checking everything was connected and ready to go, all excited i turned on the printer and…
i panicked for a little bit, then i started searching for the reason why this happened and found out that the printer (because of the firmware or something else, still don’t know exactly what) does not work if there is no extruder installed. I didn’t want to put the extruder on because of the weight, so i started searching how to modified the firmware or any code to make the printer work without the extruder, didn’t find anything. After a couple days without finding a solution and got close to giving up, i remembered that i had an old extruder that a couple years ago i had ruined while trying to modify it. Without removing the laser i connected the extruder and sure enough, the printer worked, repetier recognized the laser and was able to move the XYZ axes of the printer. but again i didn’t want to put the extruder on, so i started cutting parts of the extruder (keeping in mind that the error was the temperature on the extruder: E1 Err: MINTEMP) and just left the temperature sensors connected.
Not only did this helped bypass the error and make the printer work, but because of this, when i want to 3D print something i just need to swap the extruder or the laser, no need to flash the firmware every time or change anything else. I know this is not a real solution, because not everyone have a spare extruder that they can dismantle, but in my particular case, it worked.
According to this video, the distance to focus the laser is between 2cm to 10cm, but recommends to be at 7.5cm, i put the laser around that height from the table and tried to focus, but silly me, i did it in top of the glass bed of the printer and burned it.
So i got an aluminum plate to cover the bed and attached it to the printer with a couple binder clips, also i created a file where the laser only traces a line along the X axis, and put a tape on the plate so i know how to align my material and it can be square with the laser.
I did a little research about the air assist, and how it is supposed to work and found out that the air must hit where the laser is burning to help keep the cuts clean and to “increase” the power of the laser. At the height that i have the laser the little copper tube was not pointing to the end of the laser beam, but a little above it, so i made a tube trying to mimic the one in this video where it explains the air assist (hoping it has the same result in the diode laser). I 3D printed it, then attached it to the lens.
When i turned on the pump it was really quiet. but when i attached the plastic hose provided in the kit, it started making a loud noise, i guess because of how small the diameter of the hose is. so i put a slight bigger hose and the noise was reduced.
As for safety measurements, i installed a duct fan in top of the enclosure i made for the printer, printed a 4 in duct intake from thingiverse, and put some duct that for now goes to the outside by the door (i hope i can later make a hole in the wall and install it properly) .
I purchased a couple of 24×12 laser shielding acrylics from J Tech Photonics, they claim that this acrylic will filtrate from 250nm to 520nm. I made a couple doors to close the enclosure, this way the duct fan would work better and the fumes would go to the outside and no inside my workshop and it will protect my eyes.
As software goes, i follow the recommendations of some of the other endurance lasers users and installed inkscape and the endurance laser extension, but had some problems with it and after a few days without any answer, i decided to move onto lightburn, and i was able to start engraving, i’m still trying to figure it out how the laser works and all the parameters that i need to set depending on the material and what i want to engrave. but so far, i got the best results if the image is converted to bitmap and using the “jarvis” setting on lightburn, if i try to use the gray scaling even at 5% max power i get burned images and not a good gray scaling.
I’m still testing the grayscale and learning more about the laser, but for now i think i can say that i’m really happy with it. my only complain is that the fan that is attached to the laser has its blades exposed, which caused me to break a couple blades by accident. I’ve seen other photos of other 10watt+ lasers and the fans’ blades are not as exposed, so i just have to be more careful with it.