Bringing a Laser Cutter to Life: Phase One

Last Thursday I picked up the laser cutter I had ordered last month. Jaap Vermaas and Bart Bakker went on a little expedition to the UK and brought back 6 of these machines. One with my name on it.

Now, this is not a plug and play machine. It came without electronics and software to control it. This because an open source alternative to both electronics and software will be used to operate it.

Laser Cutter Arrived
The laser cutter as it arrived in the boot of our car

Yesterday the first step was made to bring the machine to life. After getting myself a building kit for the electronics (again through Jaap Vermaas), I suggested a meeting of those that had bought a laser cutter with me, to build the electronics. Jean-Claude of JeeLabs (great stuff there!) kindly hosted us at his home, and we spent a very enjoyable day soldering and testing. Jean-Claude proved to be invaluable both when it came to testing as well as providing spare parts that got blown up in the process. Over lunch in the garden we concluded that humans are monkeys, but we’re monkeys with laser cutters, we’re Maker Monkeys. (and I registered the domain for fun)

Elmine and I both did more soldering (following the documentation closely) yesterday than in the past 10 years combined, but the result was there. We now have the finished electronics, and it has been tested on a laser cutter and proven to work. This is but a first step to get to a functioning machine, but an important one. Especially as without the help we got it would have been very hard to determine whether everything was working properly.

Laser Cutter Electronics


Second Step to Mini FabLab: Laser Cutter

The laser cutter is the true workhorse of any making set-up. And last week I have ordered one for our minFabLab at home. The machine is a Chinese machine provided by HPC in the UK. The mechanics are fine, but the software less so. However, the LaOS project creates open source hardware and software to run the machines, and you can buy the machine without the original control hard and software.

The good people behind the LaOS project regularly travel to the UK to get ‘gutted’ laser cutters from HPC. Once here you can provide them with the needed electronics and software, and end up with a working laser cutter. Total cost: 850 GBP, 125 Euro shipping, and 150 Euro for the hard and software: 1340,- Euro.

You can find some pictures of the machine at Bart Bakker’s website on his miniFabLab, and a description of the LaOS project is also available.

The machine has been ordered, and will be transported to the Netherlands early July. Then of course it still needs to be outfitted with its ‘brain transplant’, to get a working machine. Also there will be need to create some active air ventilation put in place to remove the fumes from lasercutting to the outside.

Next up is looking for a vinyl cutter (after the summer) and taking a closer look at what I already have and still need for a micro-electronic workbench during the summer.


First step to Mini FabLab: Milling Machine

Yesterday I took a first step in a new experiment: I bought a desk top milling machine (Roland MX-15, see pic). At 750 Euro (compared to 3000 new), this second hand machine is price competitive with anything else currently on the (DIY) market. I bought the machine from Hanne van Essen, one of the founders of the Dutch FabLab Foundation (and on which board I currently serve).

Hopefully it is a first step to creating a ‘mini FabLab’ at home. An idea inspired by Bart Bakker who showed you can set-up a FabLab at home for under 3500 Euro, the great guys at FabLab Amersfoort who bootstrapped themselves into existence for 5000 Euro, as well as my own notions of a ‘Maker Household‘ and turning the home more into a productive unit (in terms of both energy as well as actual production), and creating more resilience in the context of our networks and our connected world.

Other elements that in time will be added to this miniFabLab:

  • a laser cutter (the true work horse of any ‘making’ set-up. There’s a wonderful open source project LaOS. Cost will be 1500 Euro or so)
  • a vinyl cutter (about 300 Euro)
  • a micro electronics workbench (the next thing to do probably, some stuff I already have)
  • a 3D printer (but they’ve got a ¬†way to go before they are truly useful at household level, currently last on my wish list)

The biggest challenge will be finding a space for all this in our home. The utility room would be possible but also needs to fit other things such as the washing machine and dryer, so it’s a challenge space wise. The shed might work space wise, but probably the big variations of temperature over the year in that space (it is not insulated from the outside) are probably detrimental to any equipment.

The experiment has started at least. Next up: planning time in my schedule to figure out how to work with the machine.


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Here on we’ll be gathering interesting fragments, in preparation for creating as a place to find all material relating to making local community more resilient by leveraging global networks. Making, gone digital.