What Are Your Settings? Laser Stuff

Here is a common occurrence on laser forums and groups.  Post a picture of something cool and within about 4.1643 seconds someone will ask, “What Are Your Settings?”

Unquestionably a valid thought from someone who saw what you did and seeks to emulate it.   And most of us want to help answer that question.  We really do.

But there are a LOT of variables involved in a burn.  My settings could produce great results but could start a fire at your house.  Here’s an example worth noting that happened to me just today.  I have a K40 laser and have settings saved for Baltic Birch Plywood.  I bought a new lens and cleaned all the mirrors and ran a job.  That which was supposed to etch my plywood burned slap through it.   New lens was a heck of an improvement, I guess.

Here are some variables:

  1. The type of wood or material you are burning on.  I may have 3 layer Baltic Birch and you may have 7 layer.  My plywood may have glue made by virgins with harps and your glue may have been produced by the Communist Chinese.
  2. The direction of the grain.  Lasers etch and burn better in some directions than others.
  3. Air Assist.  If I have an air assist and you don’t then my settings may not be relevant to your setup.
  4. Focus.  I may be focused using a microscope and you may have no idea of what the actual state of your focus is.
  5. Temperature.  If using a CO2 laser, cooler water temps can produce more efficient burns.
  6. Lens cleanliness.  If my lens is clean and yours is dirty my settings are useless to you.
  7. Diode intensity.  I may have a brand new diode laser and you may have been burning at 100% power for 6 months.  Diode lasers wear out.  CO2 in a laser tube depletes.  Also you might have a 4.5 watt output and I might have a 5.5 watt output laser.

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Ortur Motherboard Issues – Or Lack Thereof

I have an Ortur Laser Master 2.

I have determined that it is now an essential piece of equipment that must have minimum downtime.

That lead me to purchase a new Laser module and a new Motherboard.  These two items and associated parts are the lions share of the machine.

Ortur seems to be really trying to be open about issues and also seems to have pretty great customer service.  And they’ve done something that I think is remarkable.  They have created a Product Advisories web page.

One of these advisories is about a batch of defective motherboards.  My Ortur Laser Master 2 is working perfectly but I was concerned about my spare board that I just received.  They specifically said if your board failed some previous tests to look for the markings OLM-MAX-V10

Ortur Product Advisory

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Fixing Your Own Stuff – Washing Machine

Samsung washer playing dead

Hear a noise from your washing machine?  Call a repairman and you’ll pay them $100 just to ring your doorbell.  They’ll charge you double for parts and charge you labor as well.

A lot of new washers (or dryers) cost in the $400 and up range so you’ve hit the price point where you just are prepared to buy another one.  Ever wonder why Appliance guys are happy to haul your old stuff away for free?  They know there really isn’t much wrong with it.  They can fix it and resell it, probably to someone looking for a new washer because theirs is broke.

I am NOT knocking appliance repair people.  That’s just how it is.  That has been the system for years.   But the new system is FIX IT YOURSELF.  Everything that has ever broken has a YouTube video attached to it.

But now a lot of manufacturers are responding to that by not selling spare parts and not publishing manuals.  That’s wrong, and many states are enacting legislation to stop them from doing such things.  The premise is, that once I buy it, it is mine and I can fix it, destroy it, paint pink unicorns on it…….IF I WANT TO.  And they can’t, or rather shouldn’t be able to stop that.

So my girlfriend has a Samsung washing machine and it started sounding like a tire mechanic was laying down on an impact wrench when the spin cycle started.  A real ratcheting sound.

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K40 Upgrades

OMTech K40 Laser

The Chinese laser often referred to as the K40 (40 watt) is an entry level CO2 laser at a magnificent price point.  They can be had for around $350 to $450 dollars depending on where you get them and how you get them configured.

I got mine from a place called OMTech for about $420.  It is also were well configured and has many upgrades already included.

Right out of the chute these things engrave and cut well although the 40 in K40 seems to be a bit of a gimmick.  A lot of the included laser tubes are actually 30 to 35 watts.  It’s really not enough to kick a fuss up over.   It’s just the way it is.  So that kicks off the upgrade discussion.  You can buy larger and more powerful laser tubes.

Once you use one of these things a bit and learn your way around one you’re going to want to upgrade some things.  While they do indeed come at a magnificent price point the old adage applies.  You get what you pay for.

Let’s go over a quick list of things you are going to want to upgrade.

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Supporting your Ortur Laser Master 2 – Or How To Stay Running

I have an Ortur Laser Master 2.  Very, very nice low powered diode laser rig capable of making some great craft items.  I also have a larger K40 Laser however sometimes it is like trying to use a sledgehammer to drive a nail.   The Ortur has great flexibility because of how open it is and the fact it can be set on any surface or pass materials through it or raise it way up high.

Make no mistake though, the Ortur Laser Master 2 is NOT a production machine.  It was not meant to be run full power, all day, every day.  It is a hobby device for hobbyists.  If you push it beyond that…….well…….good on ya.

There do seem to be some issues with the laser though.  Some users report 100% laser power 100% of the time and frequent disconnects, not to mention the fact they can’t connect at all to the computer.  So there are issues going in……………

It CAN be a production device though with some pre-planning and regular maintenance.

Let me tell a somewhat unrelated story.  I like solar power and solar powered generators such as the company Jackery makes.  Every time they release a new one about 50 clowns on the internet say “This is bullshit. This will only run a refrigerator for 14 hours and my heart transplant kit needs to run for 15 hours.”

My response to that is always this:  “So buy two of them!”

Do you see where I am going with this?

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Adding a MilliAmp Meter to K40

A K40 with a digital control doesn’t actually indicate actual laser power.  The only way to reliably measure the current from a laser tube is to add a milliamp (mA) meter to your K40.  While there are a lot of differing opinions on max power draw most agree it is somewhere between 18 and 20 mA’s.  Some people even pull short at 15mA to improve tube longevity.

Adding a meter is SIMPLE.  Locate the Black wire on the EXIT end of the laser tube.  That is the end closest to the mirror.  That black wire will be spliced to another wire that runs all the way to the L connection on the Power Supply.

LASER END

K 40 Laser Tube (L) wire

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Mini-Gerbil Control Card Installation In K40 Laser

I recently bought a K40 Laser from OMTech. Most people use a free software mix for the K40 utilizing Inkscape and K40 Whisperer but there is a far better software solution (not free) called Lightburn.

I liked K40 Whisperer and was getting the hang of it.  It’s actually pretty powerful and it really is a good hunk of software but it just isn’t Lightburn.  No knock at all on K40 Whisperer intended.

Most K40 lasers come with a control card called an M2Nano which is not compatible with Lightburn.  The only way to run Lightburn on a K40 is to purchase a new controller card.  There are several options out there but I went with the Mini-Gerbil from AwesomeTech.  I just got the card and installed it and as always took notes while doing the installation and ran into a couple of noteworthy things that I thought was worthy of a blog.

There are SO MANY K40 variants that it is hard to say that anything I took note of is a problem.

“Let me just throw this out there…….If you bought a K40 laser and realize you need a new control card and aren’t scared in the least to change it then nothing I note here is above your skill level.  I don’t view anything as a mistake or documentation error.  There are simply SO MANY K40 variants out there it is tough to cover them all.”

Let’s roll.

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K40 Laser – First 48 Hours

I recently bought an Ortur Laser Master 2 which is marketed as a 20 watt laser but it is truly about a 5 or 5.5 watt output power diode laser.  It’s an amazing device for engraving wood and cutting thin materials.  In other words it has some limitations.  I’m having so much fun with it but the forums are full of stories of parts failures.   If you have a hobby device and it fails it’s not the end of the world, however if you are making money with the device you probably should have a 2nd one at the ready, or at least buy spares, such as another controller board and laser module.

So that’s where I’m at.  I made my first couple of sales and I realized that if I can make a buck or two I’ll lose credibility real fast if my machine goes down and I can’t deliver.  So I decided to pick up another machine.  After all they are cheap.  Around $300 or so.

K40 Mini Laser

Then I (re)discovered the K40 Laser.  K40 isn’t a name brand but rather a gigantic swoosh covering a range of inexpensive cloned Chinese 40 watt CO2 lasers.  K40’s are made by several manufacturers and sold by untold number of secondary retailers especially on the Chinese electronics websites (Aliexpress, Banggood, etc.) and eBay.  The quality range varies from great to absolutely horrific.  You need to carefully source your supplier and do lots of research before buying one of these things.

That being said, these machines are a platform for upgrades and lots of the people who buy them don’t much care if they work or not.  They will make them work and improve and upgrade them in the process.   In fact I’d love to find one broken that someone was selling for a song.  After 48  hours with this thing  I’m pretty confident I could rebuild one and repair parts can be sourced cheaply.

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Laser Etching Tips – Things I’ve Learned The Hard Way

Getting a great finished product isn’t always easy.  I like to think of these processes the same way you might think of a meticulous old machinist or a pilot going through his checklist.

Working through these things slowly and methodically will help you achieve better results.

Let’s get started, shall we?  My first piece of advise is to treat every job like it is the first job you are ever doing.  Be slow and work purposely making sure not to forget ANYTHING.  Let’s roll!

1. Inspect the piece you intend to etch on.  Make sure it is smooth, flat, sanded, has an even coating of whatever you put on it and is prepped to your satisfaction.  Poorly prepped parts will spoil your final product.

2. Second of all you need a GOOD, FLAT, SECURE surface.  Etching a grid on it is really beneficial for keeping your work piece straight.  Cut on a waste board and clamp that board down to your work surface if you can.

Use Your Grid Lines!

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Ortur YRR Rotary Roller Set Up

Ortur YRR Rotary Device

Picked up one of these Ortur YRR Rotary Rollers  to supplement my Ortur Laser Master 2.  There are a lot of videos online showing you how to assemble it as it comes in a kit form but not much information on how to make it work in software.

That’s why you have me.

I spent a couple days researching how to set it up and never really found an “AHA” video or webpage but after viewing a dozen or more items I had a good idea of what to do.

I’m going to set mine up in Lightburn which is a pay program ($40). If you have a GRBL laser cutter, Lightburn is worth every penny.

Connect your Ortur Rotary Roller to the Y axis with the supplied extension cable.

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