Building a laser engraver, Part 4

I added two cooling fans, and properly focused the laser unit. The major remaining tasks are building an enclosure and figuring out a software tool chain. I suspect the latter will be the hardest part of this project.

Here is a laser cutting torture test, full power at 1000 mm/s. Feel free to jump to the end of the video to preserve your life force.


An overview of the 3D printer Kickstaters – Part 1 – The Disasters


A list of 3D printer kickstaters that were successfully funded and what happened to them afterwards.

Complete Disaster

RigidBot 2013 ,  $335

RigidBot raised over $1,000,000 on Kickstater back in 2013. The design seemed solid but that wasn’t enough. Some backers got their printers but reported poor performance and a slew of technical problems. On September 2015 the company folded, stopped shipping printers, stopped issuing refunds and ignored all communication since then. The Kickstater comments page still has people clamoring for a refund, which will probably never come.

Peachy Printer   2013 ,  $100

One of the most spectacular disasters on this list, Peachy Printer raised a lot of money (over 1m from kickstater, indigogo and government funding) back in 2013. They then went on spending most of the money on salaries and a house. Yup, one of the founders allegedly stole over $300k and built a house. They announced the theft with the most bizarre video and cringe-worthy video I’ve ever seen, including melodramatic background music and super sad faces in closeup. A few days ago they released a video of a flimsy ad-hoc printer in action, showing almost no progress compared to their KS prototype, after 18 months and $1,000,000 spent.

Pirate3d, Buccaneer  2013 , $247

Raised almost $1.5m, Pirate3D delayed shipping again and again, and eventually announced that not all the backers will get their printer. Amazingly, they are still selling printers on their website.

FLX.ARM  2014 , $1800

Featuring a unique SCARA-based 3D printer, they raised almost $90k on KS. Over a year later, there are still updates but the printer itself is nowhere close to shipping. Also, there is a reason why nobody makes SCARA 3D printers, it’s just a terrible design choice for this application.

Phoenix3d, EZ3D  2013 , $349

Raised almost $110k in 2013, went bankrupt in 2015. Very few backers got their printer.

iBox Nano  2014 , $189

Raised over $450k in 2014, they actually shipped “printers” but they didn’t really work. Terrible software, poor hardware choices, super slow. They tried a second kickstater that failed to fund.

Pegasus Touch  2014 , $1750

A kickstater From Full Spectrum Laser (a company that I have zero love for and that is very hostile towards makers/tinkers and loves DRM) ran this KS and raked in $819k. Many backers did not get their printers, those who did are reporting major issues. The company has since stopped all communications via their KS page and are heavily moderating their forums. Just like their laser-cutters, this printer must be online-activated and if you buy it used you need to pay a transfer fee just to use your device. No thanks.

David, Sculptify  2014 , $2745

A printer that was supposed to run on pellents instead of filament, they raised $110k back in 2014. Very few backers (if any) actually got their printer and the company has since quietly vanished.

Helix3d  2013 , $4750

One of the highest priced printers on this list, Helix3D tried (and failed) to make what was basically a scaled up but otherwise very standard reprap. over 100 backed, but not all printers shipped. I am unsure if refunds were issued, the company has since shut down.

CobbleBot 2014 , $299

I’m afraid to write anything about CobbleBot.
I’ll just drop these links here:

Over 10,000 comments on the KS page





Building a laser engraver, Part 3

After a run of bad luck with L-Cheapo units (kudos to their excellent and responsive support) I decided to get a much more expensive JTech Photonics unit. I bought the 2.8W laser, due to the smaller dot size (0.18mm) compared to the 3.5W, and the price difference.

The JTech unit is superbly built, their documentation is excellent and you can tell a lot of thought and planning went into the board design. At $335 I expected nothing less. There are very few players in this market, if you want a cheap laser you can buy the components off ebay and build it yourself. Be warned though, blue diode are super sensitive to static discharge and it’s really easy to destroy a diode just by holding it wrong.

I mounted the laser board next to the Azteeg X5 that is driving the engraver, hooked up the power, connected the TTL line to the Azteeg fan PWM output, and it works.

Here is one of the first cuts I made:


I still have a lot of issues to solve, I need to wire the cooling on the laser diode, which will considerably extend it’s lifespan and also allow me to drive it with a bit more current.

The software toolchain is also a major headache, the vast majority of free software for converting vector to gcode are inkscape plugins, none of which seem to work reliably (or at all). I’m currently experimenting with CamBam, but this also only kinda works, since it was not designed for laser cutters. You have to use post-processing on the gcode to make it suitable for a laser cutter. More on the software in an upcoming blog post (Part 4).


WaxCast by MakerJuice, first results

I’ve recently started a small jewelry business with my wife (NunAndNoot), she is the designer and I’m the technician. Our biggest struggle is to reduce the cost of making our items, and to do so I need to be able to 3D print the items at home and cast directly from the prints.

Enter, WaxCast by MakerJuice. I’ve tried several castable resins (including B9 and FunToDo), and so far WaxCast has been the best to print with. Detail is great, and support break off easily and cleanly. I still don’t know how well it actually casts, that will be tested next week.

I’m currently printing at 4s exposure time at 50um layers, 6mm Z travel and slicing using the terrible Creation Workshop (still can’t find any alternative that actually works with support structure).


Here is the latest prints, notice they have a few random bad layers. I’m still trying to figure out where those comes from. Any ideas?


Free & paid 3D modeling tools, for 3D printing

Which CAD should I use?

I’ve been asked this question so many times I decided to make a blog post about it.

Free CAD tools – If you absolutely have no experience with 3D modeling or design, this should be your first stop. They have a slew of fully interactive tutorials that guide you every step of the way. TinkerCAD is the only child-friendly CAD tool that I know of. If you are serious about CAD, you will outgrow it very quickly, but it will give you an excellent basic understanding that you can then carry over to other CAD tools on this list. The downside (beyond the very low glass ceiling) is that due to it’s popularity in the education system, the website often slows down to a crawl during US school hours. TinkerCAD is free for hobby use. – This is like TinkerCAD for grown ups. Developed by a bunch of guys that left SolidWorks, this is a cloud-based in-browser CAD tool. It’s parametric (meaning that at any point you can go back and change most aspects of your design) and it’s very powerful. It’s rather new and still missing some important features, but it’s well worth getting into. They have excellent video tutorials. The free plan limits the number of projects you can save on their servers, but is otherwise fully functional. It’s even free for commercial use, which is a rare feature on this list.

Fusion 360 – Autodesk seem to love making (or buying) products that have wide overlaps and sometimes it’s very confusing. Fusion360 is one of their CAD tools, and it’s a very nice one. It’s a mix of cloud and local, where the application itself is on your computer but you must login to the cloud to use it. I personally find this very annoying. Fusion360 is free for hobby use and commercial use (up to $100k yearly earning!) and is gaining a lot of popularity in the community due to this.

OpenSCAD – OpenSCAD stands out because it’s not exactly what you’d expect from a CAD tool. In OpenSCAD you write code to create 3D objects. This has several pros and cons. Pro: It’s very easy to go back and change stuff. For example, lets say you made a whole range or parts and then found that you ran out of M5 bolts. Going back and changing all the holes to M4 is trivial, just change one value in the code and regenerate. Con: It takes forever to make anything. I’m a software developer by profession, and even for me it takes about 10x longer to make an objects in OpenSCAD compared to a “normal” CAD tool. OpenSCAD is OpenSource and free.

Sketchup – Let’s get this out of the way. Sketchup is used extensively in the 3D printing community, but it sucks. It really does. It was designed for architecture, for making 3D models that render nice and look good on screen. It’s was not designed for making solid objects or mechanical parts, and it’s really bad at it. It will happily generate broken STLs, with missing faces (holes), self intersections, etc. You will find that pretty much any complex object made in Sketchup needs repair before it can be printed. This is a pain, and with so many excellent & free tools out there, there isn’t any reason to use Sketchup. Sketchup free, but only for hobby use.

123D Design – Another of Autodesk’s CAD tools. I’m not a fan of 123D Design, it’s rather limited and tends to crash often. I don’t recommend it.

FreeCAD – The only OpenSource CAD that I know of. It’s been around for a long time, it’s parametric and has a lot of features. Sadly, it’s absolutely terrible. The GUI is borderline unusable and it crashes a lot. I keep coming back to FreeCAD every year, and every year I’m brokenhearted. Avoid it for now.

Blender – Blender is.. crazy. It does everything. From 3D animations, characters, CAD, sculpting, you name it, it in there somewhere. OpenSource and free, it’s insanely powerful but also has a very steep learning curve. A lot of functions are only accessible via keyboard commands, so if you do dive into Blender make sure you start memorizing those right out of the gate.


Paid CAD tools

SolidWorks – The king of CAD, SolidWorks is a top of the line and feature packed parametric CAD tool, with a high price tag. If you are professional industrial designer (or studying to be one), you are probably using SolidWorks.

Rhino3D – My personal favorite of this list, Rhino3D has been around for a very long time. It’s mature and powerful, has an incredibly intuitive command line interface and in my honest opinion, it is the easiest to pickup for newcomers. With the amazing GrassHopper plugin it can become parametric and math driven. Well worth checking out, Rhino3D has a fully-functional 90 day trial period and large discounts for students.


Free digital sculpting tools

Sculptris – This started as a hobby project and was later bought by PixelLogic (who make ZBrush), probably so they can stop development and make sure it doesn’t compete with Zbrush. Unlike a CAD tool, sculpting software allows you to model organic and “messy” objects, using your mouse as if you are sculpting clay. Sculptris doesn’t have a lot of features, but you can actually get a lot done with it. This ring for example, was made entirely in Sculptris. It’s fun way to get into digital sculpting, and it’s free but it’s also limited and tends to crash a lot. A LOT.

Paid digital sculpting tools

ZBrush – The king of digital sculpting. To say that ZBrush has a lot of feature is the understatement of the year. It has features inside features. It also has the worst GUI that I’ve ever seen on a commercial application. An absolute nightmare of menus inside menus inside options inside panels. PixelLogic opted to create their own GUI and don’t use any of the operating system’s GUI elements. This means it doesn’t scale with your screen DPI settings. ZBrush is unusable on high resolution screens because the fonts are buttons are *tiny*. Boooo.

Mudbox – Another Autodesk app on this list, mudbox is rather new and seems to have a lot of features. I have no tried it so I can’t comment much about it. It has a monthly subscription payment model.



Resin Casting – Tips and Tricks

Got a physical object you want to duplicate? Want to make 100 copies of a 3D print, but can’t afford to wait 100 days? Do you want a robust sculpture but don’t have a kiln? Resin casting to the rescue!

Getting started

You will need an item to be duplicated, 2-part silicone for the mold (or mould, depends where you live), mold release spray, 2-part resin and some optional additives. I recommend Oomoo product line, they are easy to use and affordable. My wife ( carved a few really nice sculptures out of soap stone.


I wont go into lots of detail about the process itself, because it’s already explained in a hundred youtube videos. Here is a good one:


I do have a few tip, tricks and warning though. Here they are:

TIP: Lego Mold

The silicone is expensive, if your object is irregular it can be trick to make a mold that conserves material. The solution is Lego. This pic pretty much explains the whole process:


TIP: Sand additive

In addition to the usual additive powders like iron or bronze (expensive), I tried beach sand. The result is interesting, and differs greatly with the type of resin used (clear or white). The sand sinks to the bottom, so don’t expect a uniform distribution.

Warning: Shelf life

Smooth-on will gloss this over, but the truth is that these products have a very short shelf life. Resin will start going bad after about 6 months, even if it’s in a sealed container. Don’t buy big volumes unless you intend on using it. Bad resin will foam when curing, and will overflow from the mold and is generally nasty.