Laser Cutter: Improving the Red-Dot Pointer

The red-dot pointer on the OMTech laser cutter has the same problem as my laser aligner for the Sherline mill: too much brightness creating too large a visual spot. In addition, there’s no way to make fine positioning adjustments, because the whole mechanical assembly is just a pivot.

The first pass involved sticking a polarizing filter on the existing mount while I considered the problem:

OMTech red dot pointer - polarizing filter installed
OMTech red dot pointer – polarizing filter installed

The red dot pointer module is 8 mm OD and the ring is 10 mm ID, but you will be unsurprised to know the laser arrived with the module jammed in the mount with a simple screw. Shortly thereafter, I turned the white Delrin bushing on the lathe to stabilize the pointer and installed a proper setscrew, but it’s obviously impossible to make delicate adjustments with that setup.

Making the polarizing filter involves cutting three circles:

OMTech red dot pointer - polarizing filter
OMTech red dot pointer – polarizing filter

Rotating the laser module in the bushing verified that I could reduce the red dot to a mere shadow of its former self, but it was no easier to align.

Replacing the Delrin bushing with a 3D printed adjuster gets closer to the goal:

Pointer fine adjuster - solid model
Pointer fine adjuster – solid model

Shoving a polarizing filter disk to the bottom of the recess, rotating the laser module for least brightness, then jamming the module in place produces a low-brightness laser spot.

The 8 mm recess for the laser module is tilted 2.5° with respect to the Y axis, so (in principle) rotating the adjuster + module (using the wide grip ring) will move the red dot in a circle:

Improved red-dot pointer - overview
Improved red-dot pointer – overview

The dot sits about 100 mm away at the main laser focal point, so the circle will be about 10 mm in diameter. In practice, the whole affair is so sloppy you get what you get, but at least it’s more easily adjusted.

The M4 bolt clamping the holder to the main laser tube now goes through a Delrin bushing. I drilled out the original 4 mm screw hole to 6 mm to provide room for the bushing:

Improved red-dot pointer - drilling bolt hole
Improved red-dot pointer – drilling bolt hole

The bushing has a wide flange to soak up the excess space in the clamp ring:

Improved red-dot pointer - turning clamp bushing
Improved red-dot pointer – turning clamp bushing

With all that in place, the dimmer dot is visually about 0.3 mm in diameter:

Improved red-dot pointer - offset
Improved red-dot pointer – offset

The crappy image quality comes from excessive digital zoom. The visible dot on the MDF surface is slightly larger than the blown-out white area in the image.

The CO₂ laser hole is offset from the red laser spot by about 0.3 mm in both X and Y. Eyeballometrically, the hole falls within the (dimmed) spot diameter, so this is as good as it gets. I have no idea how durable the alignment will be, but it feels sturdier than it started.

Because the red dot beam is 25° off vertical, every millimeter of vertical misalignment (due to non-flat surfaces, warping, whatever) shifts the red dot position half a millimeter in the XY plane. You can get a beam combiner to collimate the red dot with the main beam axis, but putting more optical elements in the beam path seems like a Bad Idea™ in general.

The OpenSCAD source code as a GitHub Gist:

// Laser cutter red-dot module fine adjust
// Ed Nisley KE4ZNU 2022-09-22
Layout = "Show"; // [Build, Show]
/* [Hidden] */
ThreadThick = 0.25;
ThreadWidth = 0.40;
HoleWindage = 0.2;
Protrusion = 0.1; // make holes end cleanly
inch = 25.4;
ID = 0;
OD = 1;
LENGTH = 2;
function IntegerMultiple(Size,Unit) = Unit * ceil(Size / Unit);
//----------------------
// Dimensions
PointerOD = 8.0 + 0.2; // plus loose turning fit
Aperture = 5.0; // clear space for lens
SkewAngle = 2.5;
MountRing = [10.0,16.0,8.0]; // OEM laser module holder
GripRim = [Aperture,MountRing[OD] + 2*1.5,3.0]; // finger grip around OD
NumSides = 24;
//----------------------
// Useful routines
module PolyCyl(Dia,Height,ForceSides=0) { // based on nophead's polyholes
Sides = (ForceSides != 0) ? ForceSides : (ceil(Dia) + 2);
FixDia = Dia / cos(180/Sides);
cylinder(r=(FixDia + HoleWindage)/2,
h=Height,
$fn=Sides);
}
//----------------------
// Holder geometry
module Holder() {
difference() {
union() {
cylinder(d=GripRim[OD],h=GripRim[LENGTH],$fn=NumSides);
PolyCyl(MountRing[ID],MountRing[LENGTH] + GripRim[LENGTH],NumSides);
}
translate([0,0,-Protrusion]) // close enough without skew angle
PolyCyl(Aperture,2*MountRing[LENGTH],NumSides);
translate([0,0,MountRing[LENGTH]/2 + GripRim[LENGTH]])
rotate([0,SkewAngle,0])
translate([0,0,-MountRing[LENGTH]/2])
PolyCyl(PointerOD,2*MountRing[LENGTH],NumSides);
}
}
//----------------------
// Build it
if (Layout == "Show") {
Holder();
}
if (Layout == "Build") {
Holder();
}

Laser Cutter: Sheet Holder

Applying a laser cutter to paper-like materials requires balancing two contradictory imperatives:

  • Hold the sheet flat to avoid distortions
  • Have nothing below to avoid schmutz on the bottom

This seemed like a good compromise:

Sheet Holder - Tek CC bottom deck
Sheet Holder – Tek CC bottom deck

The orange 3D printed blocks hold aluminum miniblind blades:

Sheet Holder - steel sheet magnet pads
Sheet Holder – steel sheet magnet pads

The curved slots hold the blades flush with the upper surface and align their top sides parallel to the laser beam, giving the beam very little blade to chew on near the focus point and allowing plenty of room below the sheet to dissipate cutting fumes.

The gold-ish squares are thin steel sheets covered with Kapton tape, painstakingly filed en masse from small snippets:

Sheet Holder - filed steel pads
Sheet Holder – filed steel pads

The first iteration used precisely laser-cut refrigerator magnet pieces, in the expectation a crappy rubber magnet would provide just enough attraction to let a neodymium magnets hold the paper flat, without risk of blood blisters between fingers and steel:

Sheet Holder - ferrite magnet pads
Sheet Holder – ferrite magnet pads

As expected, contact with the neo magnet completely wiped away the alternating pole magnetism in the rubber sheet, leaving a weakly attractive non-metallic surface. Alas, the rubber had too little attraction through a laminated sheet of paper, so I switched to real steel and risked the blisters.

Most of the blocks are narrow:

Sheet Holder Bracket - solid model
Sheet Holder Bracket – solid model

The four corners are wider:

Sheet Holder Bracket - wide - solid model
Sheet Holder Bracket – wide – solid model

They’re symmetric for simplicity, with recesses for the magnets / steel sheets on the top. The through-holes have recesses for M3 SHCS holding them to T-nuts in Makerbeam rails, with a slightly overhanging alignment ledge keeping them perpendicular to the rail.

The magnets come from an array of worn-out Philips Sonicare toothbrush heads:

Sheet Holder - magnet holders curing
Sheet Holder – magnet holders curing

They’re epoxied inside a two-piece mount, with the lower part laser-machined from 3 mm acrylic to put the two magnets in each assembly flush with the lower surface; the green area gets engraved 1 mm below the surface for the steel backing plate. The 1.5 mm upper frame fits around the plate and protrudes over the ends just enough for a fingernail grip:

Magnet Holder Cuts
Magnet Holder Cuts

The epoxy got a few drops of fuschia dye, because why not:

Sheet Holder - trimmed magnet holders
Sheet Holder – trimmed magnet holders

The garish trimmings came from slicing the meniscus around the lower part of the holder off while the epoxy was still flexy.

The holders must be flat for clearance under the focus pen:

Sheet Holder - focus probe clearance
Sheet Holder – focus probe clearance

Some experimentation suggests I can raise the pen by maybe 2 mm (with a corresponding increase in the Home Offset distance) , but the switch travel requires nearly all of the protruding brass-colored tip and there’s not much clearance under the nozzle at the trip point.

With all that in hand, it works fairly well:

Sheet Holder - Tek CC cutout
Sheet Holder – Tek CC cutout

The lower deck has very little margin for gripping, which is why the four corner blocks must be a bit wider than the others.

The lamInator tends to curl the sheets around their width, so most of the clamping force should be along the upper and lower edges to remove the curl at the ends. This requires turning the whole affair sideways and deploying more magnets, which is possible for the smaller middle and upper decks:

Sheet Holder - Tek CC middle deck
Sheet Holder – Tek CC middle deck

Protruding SHCS heads on the four corners snug up against the edge of the knife-edge bed opening for Good Enough™ angular alignment.

Plain paper (anything non-laminated) seems generally flat enough to require no more than the corner magnets.

It’s definitely better than the honeycomb surface for fume control!

The OpenSCAD source code as a GitHub Gist:

// Bracket for sheet holder
// Ed Nisley KE4ZNU 2022-09-09
Layout = "Show"; // [Show, Build, Blade]
/* [Hidden] */
ThreadThick = 0.25;
ThreadWidth = 0.40;
HoleWindage = 0.2;
Protrusion = 0.1; // make holes end cleanly
ID = 0;
OD = 1;
LENGTH = 2;
module PolyCyl(Dia,Height,ForceSides=0) { // based on nophead's polyholes
Sides = (ForceSides != 0) ? ForceSides : (ceil(Dia) + 2);
FixDia = Dia / cos(180/Sides);
cylinder(r=(FixDia + HoleWindage)/2,
h=Height,
$fn=Sides);
}
// Sizes
Magnet = [10,30,0.5]; // magnetic sheet size
//Magnet = [10,14,0.5];
MagnetRim = 1.0;
Screw = [3.0,5.5,3.0]; // SHCS OD=head LEN=head
MakerBeam = 10.0; // beam size, screw = half height
BeamRecess = 0.5; // slight overhang for alignment
BladeSlot = 0.15 * 4; // slot with plenty of clearance
BladeSocket = 5.0; // recess to hold miniblind
BladeWidth = 24.6; // miniblind width
BladeM = 1.6; // height of miniblind curve
BladeSides = 12*8;
BladeRadius = (pow(BladeM,2) + pow(BladeWidth,2)/4)/(2*BladeM);
BladeAngle = 2*asin(BladeWidth/(2*BladeRadius));
echo(BladeRadius = BladeRadius);
echo(BladeAngle = BladeAngle);
Block = [Magnet.x + 2*MagnetRim + ceil(BladeRadius*(1 - cos(BladeAngle)) + 2.0),
Magnet.y + 2*MagnetRim,
BladeRadius*sin(BladeAngle)];
echo(Block = Block);
// Cutter for spline recess
// approximately correct and good enough
module BladeRing() {
rotate([90,0,0])
translate([0,0,-BladeSocket])
linear_extrude(height=2*BladeSocket,convexity=2)
difference() {
circle(r=BladeRadius,$fn=BladeSides);
circle(r=BladeRadius - BladeSlot,$fn=BladeSides);
}
}
// Overall bracket
module Bracket() {
difference() {
translate([0,-Block.y/2,0])
cube(Block,center=false);
translate([Magnet.x/2 + MagnetRim,0,Block.z - Magnet.z/2 + Protrusion/2])
cube(Magnet + [0,0,Protrusion],center=true);
for (j=[-1,1])
translate([0,j*Block.y/2,MakerBeam/2 - Protrusion/2])
cube([3*Block.x,2*BeamRecess,MakerBeam + Protrusion],center=true);
for (j=[-1,1])
translate([Magnet.x + 2*MagnetRim + BladeRadius,j*Block.y/2,Block.z])
BladeRing();
for (j=[-1,1])
translate([Block.x - 2.0 - BladeSlot,j*Block.y/2,5*ThreadThick/2 - Protrusion/2])
cube([2*BladeSlot,2*BladeSocket,5*ThreadThick + Protrusion],center=true);
translate([MakerBeam/2,Block.y,MakerBeam/2])
rotate([90,0,0])
PolyCyl(Screw[ID],2*Block.y,6);
for (j=[-1,1])
translate([MakerBeam/2,j*(Block.y/2 - Screw[LENGTH] - 1.0),MakerBeam/2])
rotate([-j*90,0,0])
PolyCyl(Screw[OD] + HoleWindage,2*Block.y,6);
}
}
//----------
// Build it
if (Layout == "Blade")
BladeRing();
if (Layout == "Show")
Bracket();
if (Layout == "Build")
Bracket();

Laser-cut Plywood Can Rack

On occasion I will do something practical:

Salmon can storage boxes
Salmon can storage boxes

It’s not that we needed a rack for those cans, but it did get a laugh from Mary and that’s what counts.

The magic URL encoding all the parameters to generate a rack, using a recent addition to the wonderful boxes.py collection:

https://www.festi.info/boxes.py/CanStorage?FingerJoint_angle=90.0&FingerJoint_style=rectangular&FingerJoint_surroundingspaces=0.0&FingerJoint_edge_width=1.0&FingerJoint_extra_length=0.0&FingerJoint_finger=2.0&FingerJoint_play=0.0&FingerJoint_space=2.0&FingerJoint_width=1.0&Stackable_angle=60&Stackable_height=2.0&Stackable_holedistance=1.0&Stackable_width=4.0&fillHoles_bar_length=50&fillHoles_fill_pattern=no+fill&fillHoles_hole_max_radius=15&fillHoles_hole_min_radius=5&fillHoles_hole_style=hexagon&fillHoles_max_random=1000&fillHoles_space_between_holes=10.0&fillHoles_space_to_border=15.0&top_edge=%C5%A0&bottom_edge=%C5%A1&canDiameter=80&canHight=115&canNum=6&chuteAngle=5.0&thickness=3.2&format=svg&tabs=0&debug=0&labels=0&labels=1&reference=0&inner_corners=loop&burn=0.04&render=0

In order from left to right, the three successive racks represent:

  • A good laugh
  • Finding that a burn correction parameter of 0.04 produces a much better fit than 0.05.
  • Discovering that I must orient finger joints along the same axis to minimize small axis scale errors errors

The Burn Correction Factor encapsulates many physical effects and, much like 3D printing’s Extrusion Multiplier, must be determined empirically.

The axis scale error, however, took me by surprise.The X axis travels on the order of 0.2 mm more along 250 mm, about 0.08%, than the Y axis, even after my tedious calibration. I must do that calibration again, because, as Miss Clavel observed in a different context, Something Is Not Right.

And, yes, that tiny difference is enough to misalign the last few fingers with their holes, to the extent of requiring somewhat more than Gentle Persuasion with a plastic mallet.

Tour Easy: Chain Drop Pin

Every now and again, an upshift to the large chainring on my Tour Easy would go awry and drop the chain off the outside, where it would sometimes jam between the pedal crank and the spider. In the worst case the flailing chain would also jam in the TerraCycle idler, but I fixed that a while ago.

Contemporary chainrings (i.e., anything made since the trailing decades of the last millennium) generally have a chain drop pin positioned against the crank specifically to prevent such chain jamming.

Making a chain drop pin is no big deal if you’ve got a lathe and an M4 tap:

Tour Easy - DIY Chain Drop pin
Tour Easy – DIY Chain Drop pin

A closer look:

Tour Easy - DIY Chain Drop pin - detail
Tour Easy – DIY Chain Drop pin – detail

That’s a 10 mm length of 5/16 inch brass rod drilled with a recess to fit the head of a 10 mm M4 socket-head cap screw.

The pin should be a micro-smidgen shorter, as it just touches the crank, but, if anything, moving the chainring inward by one micro-smidgen improved the upshifts and I’m inclined to go with the flow.

Should’a done it decades ago …

Mini-Lathe: Adapting a Five Inch Four Jaw Chuck Adapter Plate

The kludge required to trim the coaster rims disturbed the silt enough to reveal a long-lost 5 inch 4 jaw chuck that fit neither the old South Bend lathe nor the new mini-lathe. In any event, the chuck does have an adapter plate on its backside, it’s just not the correct adapter plate for the spindle on my mini-lathe.

Making it fit required enlarging an existing recess to fit the spindle plate, a straightforward lathe job with the plate grabbed in the 3 jaw chuck’s outer jaws:

5 inch 4 jaw chuck - boring spindle recess
5 inch 4 jaw chuck – boring spindle recess

Carbide inserts don’t handle interrupted cuts very well, but sissy cuts saved the day. The plate is kinda-sorta cast iron, so the “chips” are dust and a vacuum snout reduces the mess; you can see some chips inside the bore.

A faceplate for the mini-lathe lathe located three holes matching the spindle plate, after I noticed the amazing coincidence of both parts having 26 mm bores. Making an alignment tool from a scrap of 3/4 inch (!) Schedule 40 PVC pipe was an easy lathe job:

5 inch 4 jaw chuck - adapter plate alignment
5 inch 4 jaw chuck – adapter plate alignment

Transfer-punching those holes produced pips on the chuck side of the adapter plate:

5 inch 4 jaw chuck - spindle bolt spotting
5 inch 4 jaw chuck – spindle bolt spotting

I thought about freehanding the holes, but came to my senses:

5 inch 4 jaw chuck - adapter plate drilling
5 inch 4 jaw chuck – adapter plate drilling

Of course, the Sherline lacks enough throat for the plate, so each hole required clamping / locating / center-drilling / drilling / finish drilling. With all three drilled, hand-tapping the threads was no big deal:

5 inch 4 jaw chuck - rebuIlt adapter plate
5 inch 4 jaw chuck – rebuIlt adapter plate

Those are M8×1.25 studs from LMS (although the ones I got look like the 30 mm version), with the long end sunk in the adapter plate to put the other end flush with the nut on the far side of the spindle plate:

5 inch 4 jaw chuck - installed - spindle nuts
5 inch 4 jaw chuck – installed – spindle nuts

And then it fits just like it grew there, although the jaws don’t have much clearance inside the interlock cover:

5 inch 4 jaw chuck - installed - front view
5 inch 4 jaw chuck – installed – front view

Now I’m ready for the next set of coasters and, if the jaws stick out too far, I can gimmick the interlock switch for the occasion.

If the truth be known, I ordered two sets of those studs along with the 4 inch 4 jaw chuck intended for the mini-lathe, so, if anything, I’m now over-prepared.

The description of the 4 inch chuck seems inconsistent with its listed dimensions, which may be why I ended up with the larger chuck in the first place. You can never have enough chucks: all’s well that ends well.

Acrylic Coasters: Edge Finishing, Round 4

Lacking a 4-jaw chuck for the lathe, this should suffice:

Coaster Epoxy Rim - chuck-in-chuck setup
Coaster Epoxy Rim – chuck-in-chuck setup

Which is just the Sherline 4-jaw chuck chucked in the lathe’s 3-jaw chuck, with both chuck Jaw 1 positions lined up and marked on the acrylic disk fixture. The picture is a recreation set up after the fact, because I lack a good picture of the overall scene.

Now it’s easy enough to center the fixture, stick the coaster in place with reasonable accuracy, then tweak the Sherline chuck to center the coaster:

Coaster Epoxy Rim - turning setup
Coaster Epoxy Rim – turning setup

Because the bottom layer is a laser-cut disk, eyeballometrically aligning its edge to a simple pointer worked surprisingly well:

Coaster Epoxy Rim - locating mirror edge
Coaster Epoxy Rim – locating mirror edge

Turning the OD down to match the bottom disk meant I could finally get decent results with zero drama:

Coaster Epoxy Rim - turned samples
Coaster Epoxy Rim – turned samples

From the bottom, this one has a 3 mm mirror, the 3 mm fluorescent green frame + petals, and a 1.6 mm top sheet:

Coaster Epoxy Rim - turned 6 petal mirror
Coaster Epoxy Rim – turned 6 petal mirror

This one has a 3M double-sided tape with low-surface-energy adhesive layers between the mirror and the fluorescent blue frame + petal, with epoxy between the top layer and the frame.

Coaster Epoxy Rim - turned 4 petal
Coaster Epoxy Rim – turned 4 petal

If I never tell anybody, they’ll think the slightly granular look if the tape was deliberate; it looks OK to me.

And, for completeness, the crash test dummy from the start of this adventure:

Coaster Epoxy Rim - turned 6 petal black
Coaster Epoxy Rim – turned 6 petal black

I don’t know how to avoid the bubbles, as the usual torch-the-top and pull-a-vacuum techniques pop bubbles at the epoxy-air interface. These bubbles are trapped under the top acrylic sheet, even though I was rather painstaking about easing the layer down from one side to the other while chasing bubbles along.

Maybe I can define bubbles as Part of the Art?

Definitely fancier than chipboard, although not nearly as absorbent.

OMTech 60 W Laser: Mirror Cleaning

While I was puttering around inside the laser cabinet, I figured it was time to check the mirrors for cleanliness. The first two mirrors looked fine, but Mirror 3 needed help:

OMTech 60W laser mirror 3 cleaning - before
OMTech 60W laser mirror 3 cleaning – before

It turns out OMTech used molybdenum rather than gold-plated silicon or copper, trading off some reflectivity to reduce damage from over-enthusiastic cleaning with a vigorous circular motion.

A first pass with an optical wipe removed most of the crud:

OMTech 60W laser mirror 3 cleaning - during
OMTech 60W laser mirror 3 cleaning – during

Gentle touch-up with a little more isopropyl alcohol cleared the rest:

OMTech 60W laser mirror 3 cleaning - after
OMTech 60W laser mirror 3 cleaning – after

The focus lens required similar attention, but there is no way to get meaningful pictures of a transparent lens.

Realigning the mirrors went well (top before, middle during, lower after):

Beam Alignment Targets- 2022-08-06
Beam Alignment Targets- 2022-08-06

The diagonal results at Mirror 3 show the XY axes aren’t quite square, but AFAICT it’s close enough. The rightmost tape shows good beam centering in the nozzle and the Focus target shows excellent Z alignment over about 50 mm of travel.

Done!