Article by Richard Grisafi
I’ve had my 40W Laser Cutter for just over three months now and I feel that I’ve got a good grasp on how it operates. Overall this is a good machine but it leaves a lot to be desired and the quality control is certainly lacking. The manual (at least the one I received) is written in poorly translated English and it really just skips over many important functions of the laser cutter. In addition, the pictures in the manual were inaccurate and there were various ports/connections in the manual that just were not on my model. Being that I’m a mechanical engineer who is used to accurate documentation, this is just deplorable.
Try to search online about the” 40W Laser Cutter” , “Chinese laser cutter”, “eBay Laser Cutter” or “K40 Laser Cutter” for information. You might see some reviews or complaints but there is very little information about its operation or maintenance. Understandably, this is going to frustrate people who shelled out a few hundred dollars to purchase this machine so I figured I’d be the one to do a write up and potentially save you some headache from my experience.
I’m writing from my experience only and I’m not responsible for any damage you cause with information you’ve read here or anywhere else. A laser cutter is a powerful and dangerous tool and it’s not a toy. Use it at your own risk. That being said click below to read on.
Unpacking and Setup
First of all, I open the laser cutter to find my vent duct completely bent. It’s still perfectly functional but it’s not a good sign to see something bent and crammed carelessly into your new toy. It was not off to a good start
Next I notice the exhaust fan is too tall for the laser cutter. The fan actually sits slightly above the top and leans back. I’ve seen others like this so I guess it’s normal although unsightly. As a designer if I couldn’t have found another fan that fits, I probably would have increased the height of the laser cutter. I have no idea why they thought this was acceptable.
I feel like it’s a popular misconception that this fan was provided for cooling the laser or mirrors. It’s only to remove smoke and avoid poisoning everyone in the same room. It also helps the laser to cut without interference from smoke. There is another model (minor upgrade) that provides an aquarium air pump which blows air onto the work piece and prevents smoke from interrupting the laser path.
There was a screw holding the laser tube compartment shut as well as the control panel compartment. Although I feel it was necessary for shipping, it’s not necessary to keep the screws there. You may discard them if you’d like. Just out of curiosity I opened the laser tube compartment and noticed it was filled with bubble wrap. I removed it but I’m about 80% certain this would have been an instant fire had I not since it was actually blocking the laser path. They also put a sticker on the laser tube which I don’t think was a good idea since I couldn’t remove it.
Next you will note the water pump. My first thought was “This can’t be an aquarium pump can it?”. Just to clarify – Yes it is. It’s not even a very good aquarium pump at that. You also need a water reservoir. I use a 5 gallon bucket from Home Depot but anything that can hold several gallons of water should be fine. As a lesson in heat transfer, the more cooling water you have in your reservoir the more heat you can absorb so it benefits you to have your bucket nearly filled. Make sure to use distilled water or at the very least purified water. It doesn’t hurt to add frozen ice packs or ice cubes if the water starts to get warm during operation but remember not to get the water too cold. We all know what happens to hot glass when you fill it with cold water. If you notice the water is getting too warm then either quickly cool it off or stop the cutting process. Overheating it just once can and likely will be enough to kill it.
As for the connections, my instructions had it totally backwards from how it was on my laser cutter. In the manual, the input was on the opposite side that it was supposed to be on. It was correctly labeled on my laser cutter but if I just followed instructions blindly I’d probably have a broken laser tube. So just to make sure, the water input on the laser cutter is connected to the pump output. The pump is supposed to sit at the bottom of your water reservoir where it draws in cool water through its vents. The output tube from the laser cutter can be loosely hanging into the reservoir. The tubes in my laser cutter were already filled with water (?) which naturally leaked everywhere during shipment and the control panel shows evidence of being wet.
Maybe I’m unlucky but mine had misaligned mirrors when it arrived and of course the manual had no information describing how to align the mirrors. I thought the laser was broken because it would just sort of trail off and stop cutting through the material.
As it says on the control panel “The non-professionals are forbidden to adjust route of light”. Well I guess I have to call my local laser cutter repair technician right? No. It’s fairly easy to align the laser especially with such a small work area. I’ll show you how.
You will need thermal receipt tape (I’ve seen people use mailing labels also). I took some receipt tape from my friend’s restaurant but you can use an old receipt if that’s all you can get. I’ve noticed lately CVS gives you a five foot receipt if you purchase a pack of gum so that should leave you covered.
You start with the mirrors in the upper limit or home position and then you wrap receipt tape around the Y axis mirror as shown below. Make sure this is tight and try to keep the receipt tape flat against the mirror. If you wrap it around more than once that’s fine too. You may tape it in place as long as there is no tape in the laser path.
Close the door and quickly tap the “Test Laser” button once. Unless you’re unlucky the laser will make a hole right through the receipt tape. Next, without disturbing the receipt tape, move the Y axis mirror all the way to its lower limit. Once again, close the door and hit the “Test Laser” button. If your mirror is aligned it will look like the picture below.
If you see two holes, one elliptical or elongated hole, or nothing at all, then your first mirror needs to be adjusted. This is the mirror directly in front of the laser tube (Shown below).
Fortunately my first mirror was correctly aligned (Good thing I had all that bubble wrap filling the compartment). If your not as lucky as I was then you have to adjust the mirror. If the second burn hole was higher than the first then you have to angle the mirror slightly down by turning the upper thumb screws. If it was slightly lower then angle the mirror up. Repeat the whole alignment process with clean receipt tape until you have a nice round burn hole. Then remove the receipt tape and clean the mirror. I recommend Zeiss Lens Wipes available on Amazon. You don’t want dirt or carbon deposits on your mirror because the dirt will absorb heat whereas the mirror is supposed to be reflecting it.
Once you have a nice round burn hole and a clean Y axis mirror then set the mirrors back into the home position and wrap receipt tape around the X axis mirror. This is the same concept as the Y axis mirror so make sure the receipt tape is tight and is not easy to disturb.
Once it’s ready, close the lid and hit the “Test Laser” button. Unless you really blew the last part there will be a hole in the receipt tape. Next move the X axis mirror all the way to the right limit without disturbing the receipt tape.
Once again, close the lid and hit “Test Laser”. If it’s aligned correctly then it will have a single round hole like the one shown below.
If you have more than one hole or an elongated hole the Y axis mirror must be adjusted by turning the brass thumbscrews on the back of the Y axis mirror. If the second hole is higher than the first the mirror must be angled down slightly. If it’s lower than the first then the mirror must be angled up slightly. Note that I had to use pliers to turn my thumbscrews because they were very tight. Repeat this process with fresh receipt tape until you have a clean round hole. Once this is done your mirrors are aligned correctly. You may now discard your pile of burnt receipt tape.
So I opened the envelope included in the package and there are two DVDs and a USB Dongle with no explanation of either. One DVD contained Corel Draw with a product key (I’m sure it’s legit) and the laser driver software called CorelLaser which seems to be an add-on package for Corel Draw. It also contained LaserDRW which I didn’t install. I have my own copy of Corel Draw which was ironically the same version so I didn’t install theirs. I installed CorelLaser which appeared to install correctly but for some reason I couldn’t get it to work with Windows 8. It just said “The application was unable to start correctly (0xc0000142). Click OK to close the application”
So I tried two different Windows 8 machines and the same issue happened with both of them. I tried it on an old Windows 7 laptop and it worked just fine even with my legitimate version of Corel Draw. Either it’s not compatible with Windows 8 or it’s some flaw with two of my computers (doubtful).
I checked the other DVD and it seemed to have training videos which were basically incoherent as well as some sample graphics to get started with.
So that leaves the USB dongle. I thought “Oh great more software” but it’s not. It’s sort of like a hardware key to use their software. I believe CorelLaser can be freely downloaded but it can’t be used without this key. It’s like a product key (The one they included with Corel Draw) except it’s a physical key.
Don’t lose it. I’m assuming this is not easily replaceable. The software company has a site 3wcad.com and it’s entirely in Chinese. If you want support for this just pray to the support fairies. You’re not going to get it from them so just search around the Internet and hopefully you can find someone who knows the software better.
I believe some other similar laser cutters have Moshidraw included which from what I understand is even worse. I don’t know anything else about it though. CorelLaser uses the Corel Draw interface which is why you need to have Corel Draw installed. There’s not much of a learning curve especially if you know how to use Corel Draw.
Tips, Warnings, and Suggestions
Watch out for the hole – Alright so I cut my first piece of acrylic and it’s going pretty well. I know you’re not supposed to look at the beam but I smell something burning so I quickly glance. There is an open hole in the base of the laser cutter and apparently the laser is powerful enough to cut through the material and halfway into your desk. I quickly inserted a piece of acrylic to prevent more damage to my desk. It’s not a bad idea to purchase a honeycomb bed on eBay. Just search for “honeycomb bed laser”. My laser cutter is sitting on top of a $70 desk from Ikea so I’m not going to lose sleep over it but be careful especially if you have an expensive work table.
Protect your eyes – This should go without saying but NEVER look into the beam. You can’t see a CO2 laser with your eyes but you can burn your retinas out in a fraction of a second if the beam is reflected into your eyes. Purchase CO2 laser safety goggles if you plan on doing a lot of cutting.
Be careful what you cut – Wood, cardboard, and acrylic should be safe. Don’t cut anything containing chlorine which includes PVC and Vinyl. Polycarbonate (Lexan) is not safe to cut due to fumes. Polystyrene (Styrofoam) is known to start fires which are difficult to put out so avoid cutting that. Although I’ve heard glass can be engraved you will not be able to cut it. Cutting metal and reflective surfaces can reflect the laser back into the tube which can damage it. There are tricks to engraving metal and I know it’s possible to cut thin metal however I’m not going to do it. If you’re unsure, then it’s best to err on the side of caution. Do your research before you cut a new material.
Keep a fire extinguisher handy – This should go without saying. Fortunately I’ve never needed mine and I hope it expires without being used. If you notice a piece catch on fire the last thing you should do is panic. Calmly stop the laser cutter, open the door, and try to put the fire out. If you can pick it up and bring it to a sink then do that. If it’s starting to get big, just spray it with the fire extinguisher. Worst case, you need a new laser cutter. It’s cheaper than a new house. I only had one instance where a fire started. I was cutting cardboard too slowly and it just ignited. I shut the machine off and tried to blow the fire out. The exhaust fan is ironically fanning the flame by drawing in fresh oxygen so I removed the piece and just ran it under water. Disaster averted.
Get a DSP controller – If you’re absolutely fed up with the software and you are tearing your hair out trying to get it to work, then you can purchase a DSP controller for a few hundred dollars. This will allow you more freedom to choose the software you want. It’s an expensive upgrade but it’s a great one. Just search eBay for terms like “DSP Controller 40W Laser” or some combination of that.
I’m going to be honest. This is not the best laser cutter money can buy. In fact, it’s probably the worst. It has many flaws, there is no support, quality control is just out the window, and it’s pretty weak. It comes with poor software and it’s hardware is pretty low quality too.
That being said, if you don’t have a laser cutter then mine is certainly better than yours. I only paid $478 for mine. It has cut through plenty of materials and it’s incredibly accurate. If you purchase a high end product where the manufacturer holds your hand then you’re never going to learn anything for yourself. I could have blown $3000 for a similar laser cutter made in the USA and it would have the same abilities. It might have better software and support and it might have shown up without misaligned mirrors. While I certainly value my time, the six to seven hours I spent tweaking this laser cutter to perfection have saved me up to $2500 on a better model. If you’re like me, you don’t make $2500 in a day at work so it’s worth a few headaches. If this one breaks, (I mean WHEN this one breaks) I will have the skill set to repair it or I may just buy a more powerful one. I’m overall very happy with this and I hope to use it for many of my personal projects and inventions. If you’re on the fence about buying one I recommend it as a great starter model to get your feet wet.
I hope I’ve helped you in some way. Feel free to leave a comment or ask a question.