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Monday, May 23, 2011

How to build a Lasersaur

Note: this project is still in alpha phase. The information provided here is still subject to completion.

How to build a Lasersaur

Welcome to the Lasersaur project!

If you want to build your own laser cutter, understand it from ground up, and want to maintain such a system yourself you have come to the right place. This project is about empowering you with knowledge, robotics, and things that make things. We think of it as both open source hardware and the infrastructure that enables more open source hardware. Most importantly it is also a place to exchange ideas about personal fabrication and promoting technology that is collectively owned and understood.

DISCLAIMER: With this freedom comes responsibility. You build the machine and you will have to make sure it is safe. The instructions on this website come without any warranty or guarantees whatsoever. All information is provided as-is and without claims to mechanical or electrical fitness, safety, or usefulness. You are fully responsible for doing your own evaluations and making sure your system does not burn, blind, or electrocute people.

Still excited? This is how you go after building your own Lasersaur:

  1. Understand the Prerequisites
  2. Understand the Risks
  3. Order Parts
  4. Assemble System
  5. Run and Maintain

Understand the Prerequisites

You need some simple tools and some basic understanding of mechanical and electrical systems as well as some understanding of basic software development. We tried our best not to require any advanced tools or advanced craftsmanship to complete the build. For the most part the system is assembled by mounting and connecting parts with socket cap screws. The control board requires some through-hole soldering and running wires to sensors, motors, and the laser.


  • hex keys
  • screw driver
  • pliers
  • side cutter
  • soldering iron
  • hot glue gun
  • metric caliper and ruler
  • ...

Understand the Risks

The primary risks come from operating a CO2 laser tube. Please operate your first system with a laser source within your level of expertise, even if this is a laser pointer. From there work yourself up until you can safely run a high-powered system.

CO2 lasers involve high-energy infrared beams that may be reflected or scattered and can cause fire on many materials. Most importantly lasers may cause permanent damage to the eye. The best way to manage these kinds of risk is wearing protection glasses certified for CO2 wavelength and having proper fire extinguishers available at all times. Fire extinguishers come with different agents. You can choose between effective, clean but expansive (Novec 1230), ozone depleting and deprecated (Halotron), effective and messy (powder), clean but less effective (CO2).

The second danger is high-voltage. Depending on the tube, you are looking at 25000-40000 volts. The power supplies are rated in the 50mA range which puts any electric shocks into lethal territory. One might be able to survive such a shock but depending on things like physical condition, length of shock, and the fact that the power supply may actually supply more amps temporarily puts this into the avoid-at-all-costs category. Also note that electricity at these voltages jumps through the air for several inches and be aware that the power supplies stay charged after disconnecting them from the outlet for quite some time.

Most countries have specific regulation for laser radiation that is typically dependent on the class of laser. Any laser that is suitable for cutting is class 4. Only after proper encasement and applying specifically regulated safety measures will a laser cutter be class 1.

Ordering Parts


The Lasersaur project's goal is to create an open source laser cutter. Within one year we hope to provide a cheap, safe, and highly-capable machine that will increase the proliferation of laser cutters and make a significant contribution to the personal fabrication movement. As part of this movement we hope to simplify the creation and sharing (building instructions thereof) of tangible objects. We hope to help make open source hardware mainstream.

Building things is fun and we prefer custom-built bikes, cars, houses, surf boards over industrially mass-produced ones any time. For us these are indicators of a read/write versus a read-only culture. They are indicators of a society in which authorship is democratized versus monopolized, or quite simply a prosperous versus an idling culture. We understand the appeal of watching a dream team fly to the moon but ultimately think it's more worthwhile to emphasize community and allow wide-spread participation. We believe a culture that allows more engagement and collaboration is a better one.

These are big aspirations and luckily we aren't alone. We are part of a larger whole. Consuming all your goods and media from a few large-scale actors just doesn't cut it. While it simplifies many aspects of our lives (thanks for the Slap Chop, btw) it also perverts the nature of who we are.

Over the next year, Nortd Labs and a community of collaborators and supporters will collect and generate knowledge for key personal fabrication technologies. We will specifically focus on laser cutting and on making the building process repeatable for others.

Our approach is to develop the project in four stages. Firstly Nortd Labs will develop the first prototype. This is a fully working system which operates according to the initial requirements. From there the project goes through the alpha and beta stages. In each stage we invite people to join us in the development and will work hard to address further requests. Finally we will fully open source the Lasersaur with all the documentation nicely packaged and illustrated.

Feed this project


How to build a Lasersaur
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