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Mini CNC Laser Engraver

Build a simple CNC laser engraver and control it with this free software and plans.

Mini CNC Laser Engraver is a portable freeware computer numerical control (CNC) interface for an ultrasimple laser engraving machine, complete with schematics and instructions for building just such a machine out of scraps like DVD parts. We didn't build or test the laser engraver, but the job seems simple enough, based on past experience with kits and similar projects, and the software certainly seems up to the task of controlling it. We examined Mini CNC Laser Engraver to satisfy our curiosity.

Mini CNC Laser Engraver's interface is a square dialog with controls grouped by function: Prominent X, Y, Z coordinates for the laser pointer's position as well as power and speed controls for the jog motor and jog laser controls on top; twin display windows for the picture engraver and picture frame cutter tools, each with adjustable height and width, in the center; and at the bottom the manual Jog Control, which is similar to jog controls on DVDs and game consoles. We could also select laser power level, maximum laser power, or an automatic setting, and set the motors' stepping intervals in milliseconds. The controller offers two engraving levels, coarse and precise, with a slider to adjust overall sensitivity. We clicked Schematic on the Help menu, which called up illustrated plans for the laser engraving machine; and Explanation, which offered basic instructions and debugging tips. We clicked the Manual button, hoping for a user's manual, but it only toggled the Jog Control on and off. Next we tried the home page provided in the About file but could find nothing about Mini CNC Laser Engraver. Nevertheless, the settings all seemed to work; we clicked Load and selected an image to engrave, chose some options, and clicked Run, and the program went through its paces even though there was no machine tool to control. It seems like it would be easy enough to use the software to control other stepped-motor devices, such as an autopen or loom.

The average high school computer lab is full of kids who could easily handle this project, and we don't doubt that this nifty little CNC control software could be used to control all kinds of devices. The software and plans are free, and the parts probably are, too, if you salvage them from junked players. We didn't build it, so we can't swear that it works, but one thing we can say with confidence: it looks like fun!

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