View Full Version : New to Laser Cutting/Etching, please help

Mike Audleman
08-02-2014, 1:02 PM
I simply couldn't afford a 5 figure laser cutter (Epilog and such), so I opted for a cheap (relatively speaking) $2200 Chinese unit from ebay with a 50w tube and 500x300 cut area (roughly 12x20). I am fully aware this is not a quality unit but I couldn't see dropping $20k on something to find out I didn't like it. So I consider the $2k as R/D.

My intended use is for hobby projects from wood, paper, corian, glass and acrylic (anything else I can get my hands on to play with). I also want to try etching (if it will) of metals (anodized, parkerized). And also laser marking of metals (knives and gun parts). And, lastly, halloween pumpkins. Yea, I am one of those carving nuts but at 50+ arthritis in my hands makes the complex carves painful and too long to tolerate any longer.

I have the machine set up as correctly as I am able as a newbe with a manual thats barely in English. I had some questions about its general operation and the software it came with.

First, I made some scanning swatch files (10%->100% in 10% steps) to document various material's reaction to the laser. I found out by setting the "Default" flag that I could control the scan speed via the LCD panel. That way I could use the same file at different speeds. Ok, that all worked. Duplicated it and set it to step the scan speed and I control power at the panel. Ok, that worked. So I have basic test swatches for power ramp and speed ramp so I can test various materials.

It didn't come with a focus tool. Guess they forgot. I emailed the seller, they said the tool is 10mm x 51mm. Ok, I cut one. I used a 9mm bullet (no, not a loaded round, just the bullet, the part that goes out the gun, I am a reloader) as a spacer to set focus so I could cut a tool, and got one cut. After experimenting around with the new tool, it didn't seem to be producing proper fine lines they were all large and burnt looking. I tried a photo etch. Man, it was aweful. I had resigned myself to thinking I had just bought $2k worth of---.

Then I emailed the vendor and asked to confirm that the focus distance was 10mm. They said no, its 51mm. Huh? Their video shows a guy clearly holding the tool on the narrow edge setting the lens distance (10mm). A guy on youtube with the same unit said his focus distance was 9mm. What the heck is going on here? Thats when I stumbled on this forum. I found a comment about laying a board at an angle and then running the laser down it looking for the finest line point. I did so at several power levels. I came up with 21.79mm as the best finest line. So, I cut another tool, 21.8mm x 51mm. Now it produces much better results. Cleaner looking scans, fine lines. Yay, happy again. So, is my machine just that far off? Different focus lens than the guy on ebay? And why isn't it anywhere close to the 10x51 tool they would have sent? I gotta be missing something here.

Anyway, on to the software. I have Corel X7, Win7 ultimate. The software that came with it is LaserWork RDWorks 6.0.39. I found a link elsewhere here and downloaded 6.0.41, v7 and v8. V7 won't even start up, just a green bar scanning. V8 will start and run but will not communicate with the laser (ie, no download, doesn't get position from test panel). Same with 6.0.41, no communication. So, am I stuck with the older version? The newer ones have things the older doesn't, like scrollbars. I can't believe the software doesn't have scroll bars on the main window or the color layer palette. Oy. Facepalm. Anyone have a newer version that will work with my machine?

So, I downloaded a test project to get going with. A simple 5 petal folding card stock box. It has a simple cut outline and I set the fold marks to be dot. No matter what I do with the layer order, it ALWAYS cuts the outside first THEN does the dots. Stupid. I want it to do the dots while its still attached to the main sheet so when its cut free, any movement isn't a problem. How? Nothing about this sort of thing in the poorly converted chinese manual.

I downloaded a simple 3d turtle puzzle to cut from 3mm ply. Ugg, some of the pieces are cut out BEFORE it cuts internal slots (same issue as the petal box) :confused:. As the pieces fell free of the ply (it was up on supports away from the platform to prevent staining on back), of course it moved out of focus range of the laser and didn't fully cut. I used the pulse button and manually moved the gantry to manually cut the rectangle out. Not a big deal with straight edges, but if it were curved, game over. So, again, how do I make the software cut the inside cutouts of all the pieces first, then the outsides?

What is the "LGP Design" tool in RDWorks? Its not even mentioned in the manual. Its on the left, under the camera icon for capture. It brings up a window with a ton of settings I have no clue what they all do.

And, please tell me there is a way to set the software to english (inches) units instead of MM. What a --- its been with google open as a MM to In calculator window.

Corel. I installed the plugin from the CD that came with the laser. It only listed Corel X6. I have X7. Surprise, it doesn't seem to work. So, thinking i could skin the cat, I installed the plugin from RDWorks V8. Yea, that was a fail too. Corel complains about a compile error in the plugin. Is there hope here other than going out and buying Corel X6? And will that even work? Should I just keep exporting as DXF and opening them in RDWorks 6?

Networking. I purchased this (again, link for reference, not sales):

Its a USB to Ethernet adapter. My laptop is tango uniform right now with a flaky GPU module. My main PC is upstairs, not in the basement (yea, I am gonna lose weight running up and down the 2 flights of stairs). I wasn't gonna run a USB up 3 floors. So, this device works, and works well to connect the laser to the RDWorks v6. It downloads, the test buttons all work. Haven't tried running the cuts from RDworks (safety issue of not being there at the laser). I, however, can't find any way to map it as a printer (ie to print from PDFs). I see it listed under "Unspecified" category in Devices & Printers as "FT254R USB FIFO". I have installed the USB driver from the CD, but I don't know if it did or did not, as there is a garbled text message at the end with "USB" in it. Any ideas on getting it to appear as a printer? Right now I am going through Photoshop and converting to a bitmap or through Corel exporting to DXF.

Now on to modifying the unit. I hate the base plate. Its an aluminum panel with slots. Not so good for airflow. Unfortunately, short of removing it from the unit and going to a machine shop, I can't do anything about it. I am, for now, using aluminum C stock I had for a band clamp on the bed open end up and putting material to cut on top. I see many honeycomb variants on ebay. Anywhere from 1/4" cell up to 3/4" cell in many thicknesses. I think this may be a good option here. But I don't know what cell size or thickness to go with. I want to raise the material off the base plate so smoke and resins don't stain the back of the work piece. I presume I want to give the laser sufficient travel distance so that bounceback also doesn't mar the back side. So, anyone know which honeycomb to go with or do yall have a better solution? Oh, I looked for the aluminum light diffusing grids that used to be in office florescent light figures, well, they are aluminized plastic now so are completely useless as a support grid.

I saw some internet vids/posts about adding a beam combiner and a laser pointer to have a coaxial red dot indicator. Anyone have a lead on the correct beam combiner and mount? I was considering a crosshair type laser pointer...would this work through the focus lens or would it end up a fine dot too? If that all is too expensive, anyone consider mounting two red dots on the gantry head, both in line mode to form a crosshair?


Bill George
08-02-2014, 4:33 PM
Too many questions. First use the search engine on here and do a lot of reading.
Any software Other than the LaserWork or whatever that came with the machine for control is probably pirated copies from China and will not upgrade or work well.

I design in Corel X6 and do a Save As bmp file and import into the control software, I have never had a CNC program that would take direct input from my design software, its no big deal. You need your laptop or control computer, by the machine.

Start with simple projects to get to know your machine. No the control software does not have an Inches function, set up your Corel draw to do your projects in Metric. I even purchased a Metric tape measure.

A lot of people on here have Chinese machines, but there are some brands better than others. I only paid $2700 for mine from a US vender in Chicago.

Have fun learning, I got mine the first part of May and just now feel I know how to operate it and designing is becoming easy.

Mike Audleman
08-02-2014, 6:07 PM
Thanks for the tips Bill. Greatly appreciated from this newbe.

I downloaded the software from http://en.rd-acs.com/ which from the photos on their page and my machine, they look like the manufacturer of the control panel which is pictured here:

So I went to their support, then "Online Download" here:

That is where I got the downloads for the later versions.

And I am not expecting overnight success. It took months to get a handle on my Incra Jig router fence. So I get the learning curve thing. I am just looking for a bit of assistance getting out of the kiddie pool and into the wading pool :)

David Somers
08-02-2014, 7:58 PM
Mike...I am running to go deal with a server room that is overheating. But a fast response to the first part of your post.

The distance for a typical lens provided as a default with a new laser is a 50mm or 2 inch lens. The measurement is from the lens itself to the material you are focusing on. Likely the lens is mounted in a tube that protects it, and also funnels air from the air pump down to the cutting point. That tube will extend below the lens and eats of some of your 500mm space. So I am not surprised you seem to only have 21.8mm for your focus tool That is measuring from the bottom of the tube to the surface of your material, not from the bottom of the lens to the surface of your material. It could also be that you have a different focal length lens than the system you were referencing.

On your last question, Do some searches on combining your laser beam and your red dot. Rodney Gold has a number of posts where he has played with this on his Chinese Shenhui lasers and he was not happy with the results. He felt very clearly that the combiner was not worth the loss of power he was seeing from the process, and also it was not as stable as he would have wanted. I believe he did away with the combiner and red dot all together as not being worth the time and trouble. The posting was from sometime in mid 2011 I believe. And BTW....I just happened to be looking at that set of posts earlier this morning and that is why I remember it so well. I have not committed the entire forum to memory. Though in the amount of time I have been lurking here you might think I could have done that by now! <grin>

Gotta run! Sorry. Other folks will likely speak up shortly! Good luck and have fun with your new toy!!!!


Mike Audleman
08-04-2014, 2:31 AM
So, anyone got a lead on what the LGP design module does?

Per the "manual" pdf...

Click the menu commands the 【edit】 /【LGP design 】 , or click drawing toolbar, already can start reflex block design tools, the tools are specific to block the sun processing, is an independent functions, such as the user is not involved in the sun block can be ignored this section processing content. Play channel tabula rasa design tools, we first need to design a reflex guide the outline.

tabula rasa? A failed MMORG? Who knew it had anything to do with laser cutters.

They are english words, just not in any order my brain can comprehend.

David Somers
08-04-2014, 10:18 AM

I suspect the translator had recently gone through an ESL class where they used Lewis Carrol's Jaberwocky as the text book?
Does the lyrical quality of your instructions sound like this?

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.....


Mike Audleman
08-04-2014, 10:54 AM

I suspect the translator had recently gone through an ESL class where they used Lewis Carrol's Jaberwocky as the text book?
Does the lyrical quality of your instructions sound like this?

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.....


Yea, the whole manual is like that :) Why do you think I signed up here and have been posting so many questions ;)

Though I have been making headway with doing stuff with the laser. So far, churned out some 5 petal boxes for the granddaughters, an esher animal puzzle, an esher fish puzzle (still waiting on the stain to dry), a nice castle box for Serena with accents, and started a chess set with puzzle board but I misjudged the curf and some of the chess pieces broke when i tried to put them together. Re-designing them. I also churned out monogrammed mechanical pencils and regular pencils for the granddaughters (8 & 10) as well as monogramed their wood rulers and cut some mustaches out of Serena's (10) plastic notebooks.

So, yea, been learning to handle different situations, sans english manuals.

David Somers
08-04-2014, 11:25 AM

The scary point is when the manual starts to make sense to you.

A friend I shared your "manual" with suggested that he would buy a Chinese Laser just so he could write an English Manual for it. I suggested he really go the whole distance and take 1 class in Mandarin as a Second Language, translate his English Manual to Mandarin and sell it back to the Chinese. It dawned on me then that that is probably the process we are witnessing with your manual. Someone did that and the Chinese then took that Englese manual (Englese being English Chinese versus Chinglish which is Chinese English) and translated it with Google Translate back into English and printed it to include in your laser! I suspect for good measure they also ran the text through a smartphone's text message spell checker before the final printing.

'And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

Mike Audleman
08-04-2014, 1:31 PM
I did kinda expect this given emails to the vendor on ebay. That and I work at a computer store (sql/asp/net/vb programmer) and I know what the motherboard manuals look like ;) The drawback here is I have zero experience in the matter so its extra hard. At least with the computers, I been around them since the '70s so I had a good grasp of things when the chinese motherboards appeared on the markets.

I didn't have any tinkering time with lasers in college. But I know how to punch and use Hollerith cards. Schools didn't have lasers when I was a kid. That said, I am adaptable. I will get grips on this thing eventually.