Session 01 – Buying a Laser Machine

The Concise RDWorks Learning Lab Series

Welcome to the new Concise RDWorks Learning Lab Series with Russ Sadler. In this Session, Russ goes through the decisions you need to consider when buying a laser machine and the pitfalls to watch out for. This session on it’s own could save you hundreds, or even thousands of Dollars / Pounds / Euros.

Over the last 6 years, Russ has built up a formidable YouTube following for his RDWorks Learning Lab series which currently has over 200 videos.

The original RDWorks Learning Lab series on his “Sarbar Multimedia” YouTube Channel, follows Russ as he tries to make sense of his new Chinese laser machine and to sort out the truths, half truths and outright misleading information that is available on the web.

Six years later with over 4 million YouTube Views under his belt, Russ has become the go to resource for everything related to the Chinese CO2 laser machine user or wannabe user.

Buying A Laser Machine - Example Projects
Buying A Laser Machine – Example Projects

In this new series, Russ has condensed his knowledge and experience of the last 6 years to provide valuable information and insights into the purchasing, understanding, use, repair and maintenance of the Chinese CO2 laser machines and their key component parts.

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Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine

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The Concise RDWorks Learning Lab with Russ Sadler. Session one: Buying a machine.

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Welcome to another Chinese lasers A to Z. To be fair, it’s just a title we’re not actually going to work our way through the alphabet at all.

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What we’re going to do is try and work our way logically through the process of buying and learning about Laser, Chinese laser machines.

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Whether they’re Chinese laser machines or whether they’re very expensive American machines or Austrian machines.

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It really doesn’t matter. The technology is the same. The cost will be different and the quality of the engineering will be different. By that,

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the more you pay, the better the quality of the engineering.

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But there are certain fundamental things that you should look for when you decide to buy a machine.

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Now, the very first thing that you must do, is decide what size machine do you want?

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What do you need the machine for? Are you a hobbyist? Are you a small business?

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If you’re a small business, you might not want to go down this Chinese route.

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Because you may well be buying a project rather than a machine. But on the other hand,

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if you buy a project and you learn about this machine, you will be your own 24/7 technician.

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You won’t need to use and pay for the services of some very expensive technicians who will probably say, “ooh, I don’t like the look of that.

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That’s, that’s probably, I think you should probably spend 300 pound to buy a new one of those.”

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Or, “We ought to fix this. You know, it’s going to cost me 200 dollars just to come and visit you.”

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Now, first of all, that’s not the sort of cost you want when you’re buying a relatively expensive machine.

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You want the expensive machine to be reliable and you don’t need service.

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These are not expensive machines. But surprisingly enough, once you’ve got your hands on them and fix them, they are quite reliable.

Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine (Cont…)

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I have to say, quality control is not an optional extra that you can buy with these machines.

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They are what they are. As I described in the first session, these are basically a do it yourself kit that arrives fully assembled.

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So, you know, you haven’t got to hunt for any pieces. You might have to make the pieces work properly.

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But essentially it’s all here. So maybe you want to work on card?

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Maybe you want to put pictures onto slate tiles, onto tiles or granite.

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Even anodized aluminum, as we’ve shown you already. Or maybe engrave on wood? Here, we’ve got examples of deep engraving, raised text on wood,

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and here we’ve got something else that’s quite fascinating that you can do with these machines, and that’s 3D engraving.

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You can do that on wood or you can do it on acrylic. You can see this particular machine, which is 300 by 500 millimeters.

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This is probably really a starter machine to go any smaller than this,

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we’re talking about a different sort of machine with a different sort of technology, a different price,

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and you get what you get. You pay a little, you get a little.

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I’m not disparaging the K 40 machine, but I will show you what K 40 machine looks like in a minute.

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Because I’ve got an example here that I was given, but this really is a starter sized machine.

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This is 500 by 300mm.

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Now, this is a small machine, that has all the attributes of a large machine.

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And these are the sorts of things that you really must look for when you’re buying a machine.

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The first thing is you need this sort of rail system here.

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Now, don’t go for Round Rail Bearings, Round Rail bearings are supported at the end only.

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And that means in the middle here, they have a tendency to flex, not a good move.

Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine (Cont…)

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So always go for this style of, sort of square bearing rail, which is called a HIWIN style.

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They’re not made, these are not made by HIWIN.

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But people would know that as if you like, a generic style. But the great thing about these is, first of all, they are very stiff.

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And they are fixed all the way along, whereas the round rail system is fixed at both ends and the middle can, in fact float around a little bit.

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Not a good move when you’re trying to drive the machine at high speed, backwards and forwards in this direction.

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Now, in this particular machine, we’ve got a rail that’s mounted on the front here for carrying the x axis.

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This is by far and away the most important axis of the machine,

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because this is the one that’s going to continuously keep flying backwards and forwards.

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So it needs to be capable of remaining stiff so that it doesn’t wobble in either plane and it enables it to go quite fast.

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And it’s got to last a long time because if you do an engraving, you will be thrashing hell out of that bearing. The next give-away you must look for,

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is this still a keyboard now.

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There are lots of keyboards out there that look similar to this, but you need to be very careful that it says, but it won’t say on the keyboard,

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but you’ll be able to recognize this pattern of colors and the layout of the X and Y keys that we’ve got here.

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This is a RUIDA, R. U. I. D. A. It’s a Chinese manufacturer.

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It’s an industry standard controller. Now, the controller is tucked away in the electrical cabinet there,

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we’re not going to look at that at the moment, but the controller always comes with this style of keypad.

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So you can tell what the controller is just by looking at this keypad.

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This is the thing that you must look for. As I said, this is a small machine.

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But because it’s got this control system, these sorts of bearings on it, it becomes a “little me” big machine.

Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine (Cont…)

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But it’s got a lot more beneficial features because it is a small version of a big machine, than of a big machine. It might sound strange,

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but when you’ve got a big machine, you’ve got a lot more weight, bigger motors.

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Everything won’t move as fast and it won’t be as agile because a little machine like this.

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You find that you’ve got a big beam across here because this length will get larger and as the beam gets bigger,

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so it will become more flexible and you have more problems. The next size up is a 600 by 400mm machine, which I’m going to show you in a minute.

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And then after that, you can go on to a 700 by 500mm I think? That’s probably as big as I would recommend you go,

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if you want a fairly trouble free machine. After that, you start getting all sorts of size issues, but they still work,

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but they might not be as accurate and as easy to maintain and control and set up as these smaller machines.

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Now, on this machine, I have a Z (axis), which goes up and down, the table goes up and down.

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Right now, I put some buttons on the front here to drive the table up and down.

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The buttons were previously around the side, which is much more awkward to control.

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But the point is, I’ve got a table that goes up and down, motor driven.

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It’s not essential to have it motor driven.

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Most of these sorts of machines will be manually controlled with a big knob on this right hand corner here.

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So if you look at the pictures of machines, you won’t find these buttons here or on the side, but you will find a big silver or black knob just here,

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which tells you clearly that you’ve got to adjust the height of the table up and down manually.

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Now, that’s not a big problem, because even though I’ve got this machine here with a motorized control on it, you can see it’s not very fast.

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There are ways to make your manual table very quickly into a motorized table, very, very cheaply,

Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine (Cont…)

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and that’s just to put to to put a thread in the top and put a screw in the top so that you can use,

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if you like, a power screwdriver and you can drive the table up and down with a powered screwdriver.

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And if we take a look on here, look, I’ve even added a manual control knob because the degree of sensitivity when I

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want to set the the focus accurately for photo engraving is just not there.

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So I have to do the final focus like this.

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You quite often find, that this whole assembly here is very, very, lets say dickky.

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I think the word describes it, they’re very wobbly and the last thing you really want is table wobble.

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There is a simple way that you can do something like that to stop the wobble by gluing this plate onto the steel plate underneath.

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Okay. Or making a new little bearing assembly that goes in the top here,

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out of acrylic because there’s no load on this and you can get rid of table wobble. The last thing you really want,

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is this table moving around. So I think those are really the key features that you’re looking for. Now here is the head and nozzle assembly that

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the machine came with and er yeah, I’ve taken it off and replaced it with something a third of the weight.

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And with lots more capability, this has a very limited range of lens assemblies that I can put into that.

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Whereas this one, I’ve got a whole range of lens assemblies that I could fit onto here, and we’ll talk about that at the appropriate time.

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So you won’t have a choice about this.

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But this is less important than these rails and the controller.

Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine (Cont…)

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Now, the one thing you’ll note is that when I close the lid, it doesn’t close.

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But that’s because as, as a design, this is, to be honest, crap. We’ve got an extractor fan at the back here.

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I’ll just wind mine on. Which sucks air out the back of the machine, but when I close the lid, if I don’t have these little stops.

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I’ve got these little stops that I’ve just taped onto the corner here, which prevents my door from closing. If they weren’t there,

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how does the air get into the machine?

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You’re sucking air out of the machine, but there is no way to get air into the machine because there’s no vent holes along here.

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This is this is just. A piece of junk design.

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But hey, as I said, it’s not difficult to fix it, so let’s not complain about it too much.

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We’ll talk about the table in another session. It did not come like that,

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it came with an aluminum base platell, which is below there.

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They’re not things that you have to have, they’re things that you could fix yourself at a later date.

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Now, just as we jump between my first machine and my second machine, I’m just going to show you this. Now,

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this is a very small format machine, which is basically called a K 40.

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Yes, it is a laser machine. And many people will cut their teeth on these machines because they are so cheap.

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We’re talking about a machine here that will probably cost around about anything from four to 700 pounds, depending on where you buy it.

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So it will be roughly half the price of

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the first format machine I’ve just shown you, my 300 by 500mm. Now

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the first thing you’re going to probably ask is why on earth have I got this machine?

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I certainly wouldn’t buy one. I have to be honest, that’s not to take anything away from those people who have already got these machines.

Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine (Cont…)

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They actually do quite a good job of engraving because they are, relatively speaking, a very low power machine.

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They’re sold as a K 40 machine. But again, they’re not 40 watts.

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The very most that they are will be 30 watts and probably closer to 20 watts, which makes them an excellent engraving machine.

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But they would only be good for engraving. They’re not really a cutting machine.

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They have no adjustable table. They don’t even have a nozzle or an air assist.

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They’ve got one lens. And we’ve got this very

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wobbly head and this very unstable arm. And remember what I said to you about steering clear of round linear bearings?

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Well, here we are. We haven’t got two of them. We’ve only got one of them.

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And fortunately for it, for its size and length, it’s relatively stiff.

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But even so, you can probably see that with a small amount of load, you watch that switch.

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I can move it maybe one millimeter. I’m certainly not saying that this is a heap of rubbish.

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It is what it is. It’s a very cheap introduction to laser work, to be honest, for four or five hundred pound,

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I wouldn’t waste my money because the only thing that it got going for is that it’s a laser.

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The controller on it really doesn’t exist. You can’t do very much with this at all.

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You write a little program and you put it into the machine.

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The programing system is fairly crude and the capability of this machine is very, very limited.

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It can’t do multi-layers. You can only do one thing at a time.

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You can either cut or you can engrave. You can’t change the power.

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The power is controlled by this knob here. As I said, this is a very crude and basic machine.

Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine (Cont…)

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So not something I would recommend, but I’m showing it to you so that you know what to steer clear of.

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Now, here we’ve got my other machine, which is a completely different animal.

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Isay Animal? I love it.

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I love it because I just jump on it and it works, the other one I love because I gradually taught my little Chinese dragon all sorts of new tricks.

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It’s been housetrained and it now becomes a lovely little circus animal, it can do anything.

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This one is reliable from day one, it’s a plug and play machine, OK, it’s more expensive.

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It’s something called a Lightblade machine, which is still basically a Chinese machine, which has been carefully designed with parts in the UK.

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And then the Chinese have built it to a certain standard, a much better standard than the other one that I’ve got.

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So, yeah, I love this machine, but I’m still able to criticize it because it has got some of the same weaknesses.

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It’s got some great features in it, like it’s got the HIWIN rails both here and here in the X and Y.

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Now in this one and in this one, you’ll see that the X rail is not mounted on the front.

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It’s mounted on the top of the gantry. And my goodness me.

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Look at the size of that gantry, you know, you could you could drive a tank over that and it would not move.

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This is an extremely well-built machine,

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but it still has a few small problems which I have fixed. For three years I’ve been using it with the original standard head assembly.

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It’s very heavy. It’s about 350, 400 grams that head assembly. Whereas I’ve now, replaced it with something that weighs less than 100 grams.

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So again I have pimped this machine up.

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So it’s no longer standard, but even in its standard condition, it was a great, reliable piece of kit.

Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine (Cont…)

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Let’s just turn it on with. (Beeping)

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So the noise that you can hear is this table here finding its own zero,

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because this has got an additional feature built into it, which is a controllable Z.

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So not only have we got X and Y, which is programable, we have Z on this machine, which is programable as well.

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Now, most of the time you do not need Z programable, but there are a few occasions when, depending on your application, you may find it useful.

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Now, the main reason for having a Z control on this machine is because it had another feature which is built into the machine,

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which is called AutoFocus Feature. Basically, it’s nothing more than a switch and I’ve taken it off, and there’s the top half of the switch.

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And it would normally have fitted on here somewhere.

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But, show you how much I need it or want it, because first of all, you can see here I’ve taken my red dot pointer off, and secondly,

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I’ve taken my auto, I’m taking my auto focus switch off and the auto focus,

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sits over there out of the way. Because, well, I think the fact that I’m not using it, tells you a lot about how I think about the autofocus system.

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It takes a long time to set up. It has to be set up every time you change your lens.

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It’s a tedious process to find because you have to hunt down the menu to do an autofocus, to be honest.

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Pain is one word I would use to describe it. And you can focus the machine up very quickly and reliably with nothing more than a simple step gauge.

Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine (Cont…)

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So. But the Z feature is on here, and I have found some uses for it from time to time,

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but they’re very few and far between. We will go through the feature at an appropriate point in time.

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But it’s not a key feature that you should look for when you buy a machine.

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Again, you will see just here we’ve got the RUIDA keyboard.

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So this has got a RUIDA control on as well,

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which is great because it means both the machines work off the same piece of software. Nice looking machine, well-designed.

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It’s even got a grille across the front here to the air into the machine.

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But hey, look at them. They’re so small, they’re almost worthless. On this machine, we’ve got my one inch blocks which allow the air to slide in through here.

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Now, on this machine, it’s better than the other machine because here we’ve got the worktable sitting basically level with the frame.

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And this is a nice feature to have. If you can find it. It’s not essential.

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But if you could find it, that’s great.

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So you will often find that these machines, some of these machines will have a safety switch built into them and here it is.

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That’s a safety switch. I’ve disconnected it so that I can use my machine.

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Like this in the open, because I have to do lots of video work, this could be a small business machine and you want other people to use this machine.

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You are legally bound to make it safe. The way that I’ve disabled the switches on here.

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It wouldn’t be considered safe for somebody else who is not experienced to use.

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So you have to be very careful with the legals when you, when you start buying a machine.

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I mean, the Chinese machines that come in are not technically illegal to use probably with other people using them.

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Certainly in this country with regard to the law, they would be illegal.

Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine (Cont…)

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And I suspect that is the case in most countries. Now, this particular machine has got an extract system, that is actually hiding over the back here.

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OK, now that’s a fairly big unit. It’s called a PUREX recirculating extract unit.

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And what it does, it sucks

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the air from here, puts it into that chamber, passes it through a primary filter, like a bag filter, like a vacuum cleaner filter.

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Then it passes it through a HEPA filter and then it passes it through an active carbon filter,

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which removes the smell and then sends the clean air back into this workshop.

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Now, that’s a great idea during the winter months. I mean, doesn’t matter here because this is not a heated workshop,

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all right. But if you had a heated workshop and you had your air going to the outside world,

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you would be sucking heat out of your workshop and adding to global warming.

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So, but it’s an expensive feature you probably paying,

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You’re probably paying about fifteen hundred pound as much as as much as a small machine just to have the facility to recirculate and clean the air.

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Plus, a disadvantage is that after maybe a year, you’re going to have to spend maybe 400 pound replacing the filters in there.

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So, if you’ve got an office, for instance, an architect office, where you want to run a machine like this to make models,

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then it’s an essential thing to have a recirculating air filter.

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So these are nice, fairly small format hobby machines, although probably at about five or six thousand pound.

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This is not necessarily a hobby machine. This is a small business machine.

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But if you can afford that sort of money, you’ve really bought yourself a super piece of kit.

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I mean, the next stage up from here really is only the expensive industrial machines.

Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine (Cont…)

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Now we’re going to come back to my Chinese machine here, because here we’ve got the vital part of the machine, which is the laser tube.

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Now, I’m going to warn you, if you buy a machine from eBay or from an Amazon marketplace vendor,

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almost certainly you’ll be buying from a private person. They may look like a company, but they won’t be.

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And the reason will be very simple. The people that built these machines do not want to be directly associated with you.

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So what happens is, they build these machines with, particularly this which is an expensive part of the machine.

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This will be a big grade reject tube that you get with your machine.

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It will work, but it won’t necessarily work very well.

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And the idea is they will build 50 of these machines, put them into a container and ship them to various parts of the world into warehouses.

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And then there be a guy in China with his PC who will try and sell them to you for commission

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via eBay. So you will not be ever talking to and you will not have the warranty from the factory.

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That’s just a load of tosh. You’re dealing with a private individual in China that can disappear at the stroke of a pen if

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you start jumping up and down and squealing about the quality of your tube or your machine.

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Just a word of warning! You’re buying this as though it was from fleaBay, not eBay, basically sold as seen.

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So when you buy this machine for twelve to fifteen hundred dollars,

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factor in the possibility that you’re going to have to spend another two or three

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hundred dollars replacing the tube with a good quality tube, an A-grade tube.

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The chances are from my own experience of five years dealing with people around the world,

Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine (Cont…)

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you’re going to finish up with a 90 percent chance of a junk tube, you will buy it as a 50 what tube.

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It will not be a 50 watt tube. It will be a 40 watt tube that happens to fit into this format.

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So it’ll be 40 watt to start with, not 50. And then it’ll be a B grade 40 watt tube, which will probably deliver 25 to 30 watts at the most.

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We’ll talk about the tube later on. I don’t want you to have any surprises.

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The fan that comes in the back here is pretty useless. So you’re going to need to replace that fan with something.

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The something generally will be a small centrifugal fan like that, so you’re going to have to allow maybe 50, 60 pounds for an additional fan.

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The great thing about a centrifugal fan is, it’s got a six inch inlet duct.

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But if you look down there, you’ll see closely that just down here we’ve got a four inch outlet pipe,

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which means that you haven’t got to punch a great big hole through your wall or your window.

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You may well be able to pipe it out somewhere very conveniently.

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Quickly back to this machine and all the problems that you’re going to have with air flow into the machine and out of the machine.

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There is another thing which we’re going to talk about in another session, which no manufacturer ever takes any notice of at all.

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But I think it’s the most important thing that you can deal with on this machine,

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and it’s something called airflow management.

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This feature here is the start of airflow management, but we’ll go into this on a completely separate session.

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Theret will be a lot of machines out there that claim to fit RECI or Reci.

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R. E. C. I. you say tomato, I say tomatoes, whatever it is, it’s a tube with a reputation, a very good reputation.

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If you would believe what the manufacturer and the rest of the world says, I’m afraid I’m not of the same opinion.

Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine (Cont…)

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They’re very, very expensive tubes to buy. And therefore there are lots of people out there attempting to copy them, fakers, in other words.

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So there are a few fake RECI tubes out there.

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To be honest, a lot of people will be selling you a genuine RECI tube and they will tell you that.

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And when you check it out, they are genuine, but they’re not A-Grade tubes.

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When you look at the details on the tube, you’ll find that they don’t match the specification required by RECI themselves.

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They will not be supplying a warranty with that tube. They will have sold that tube to a manufacturer of machines for a very low price,

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on the understanding that the manufacturer carries the can for any warranty.

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That doesn’t mean to say it’s a crap tube. What it does mean to say, is it failed final test at RECI and it’s been sold onto the repurposing market.

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So that’s one thing to watch out for.

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The other thing to watch out for is, you need very little power to do engraving, but you need a lot of power to cut.

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RECI, Reci, they make powerful tubes, their specific aim is cutting.

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They don’t have much control of low power, which is where you want the control for doing decent quality,

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particularly photo engraving and sometimes detailed engraving. So all I say is be careful what you wish for.

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People say I must have a one hundred and thirty or a one hundred and fifty watt tube. OK, that’s fine.

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You can have it, but you won’t be able to have certain capabilities of this machine.

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It will become a cutting machine and not a cutting and engraving machine.

Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine (Cont…)

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If you want a cutting and an engraving machine, you will to have to compromise on the speed of cutting by maybe choosing a 70 or 80 watt tube. At 70,

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60, 80 watts in that sort of region, you will get reasonable control of low power so that you can do photo engraving as well.

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So fundamentally, only two things to look for when you buy a machine.

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HIWIN type bearing rails and a RUIDA controller, everything else

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Is fixable, you can’t fix those, so if you look at the machine size, here’s a guide for you.

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Look at the width of this machine and this machine is 1060 millimeters wide.

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OK, now take 200 millimeters off of the overall width of your machine,

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and that’s the maximum length tube you’re going to be able to fit in the back.

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You can sit at the back of this machine. We’ve got an extension box.

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Most machines will not have have an extension box.

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And therefore, if you’ve got a 1060 wide machine, you’re going to be able to fit an 860mm maximum length tube.

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And the closest you’re going to get to 860 is an 800, it’s an 800 long 40 watt tube.

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So, you know, you’re getting a 40

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watt tube if you check the overall dimensions of your machine. If you’re happy with the size or the other size of machine,

Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine (Cont…)

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300 by 500mm, 600 by 400mm, don’t spend a lot more extra money buying a big tube because you’ll still be buying a crap B-Grade tube.

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You might as well accept the fact that you buy the same sized machine with a smaller

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power tube and then replace the tube with a more powerful tube at an appropriate time.

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I don’t think I can give you much more advice about looking for a machine.

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There are all sorts of other issues, small issues that you could look for in the machine and I would look for.

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But if you cover those two main bases, don’t buy too big because it will cost you money.

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Don’t buy too powerful because it’ll cost you money, always buy with HIWIN rails and always buy with a Ruida controller. Simple!

Transcript for Buying a Laser Machine

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Last updated August 26, 2021

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