Noob here, received clearance from my house ground control to buy a laser. I’m looking at a 100W machine, as I want to be able to cut 1/4 baltic birch. I also want to be able to run this at a much lower % for basic engraving on wood. I figure that running a bigger tube at a lower rate will help with longevity.
I’ve asked some questions to some of the Ebay sellers, and the answers come back in a concerning fashion. They misinterpret simple wording, and fail to answer my questions. This raises a warning flag for me if I need subsequent tech support. (warranty parts, debug issues, whatever).
The plus side is that these machines are 1/3 the cost of US based manufacturers. It appears I can get a 100W Reci tube box with chiller and rotary for about $4k. Hard to tell, as the “no shipping cost” ebay folks only don’t charge shipping to a closest port.
So… I know that many of you have ebay machines. Am I over-worrying?
Here’s my wish list :
working area at least 18" wide, with pass through for larger pieces
Ruida controller to work with Lightburn
Prefer beam combiner to allow marking red dot to be aligned exactly with cutting beam. (doesn’t look likely for ebay boxes)
“generic” port for attaching rotary Y drive.
Another preference would be the ability to change out lenses for etching irregular surfaces.
Depends on how much work you want to do yourself, how much support you need, and how much you like tinkering. Also, from your specs, you could probably get closer to $3K, including a name-brand chiller (not radiator).
If you need it to “just work, and work right”, you are going to pay for it. If you are willing to fiddle, the biggest things to look for, IMO, are having a RECI or EFR tube and a Ruida controller. Plus figure on spending a few hundred dollars of “buying stuff to make things better”.
My grand total was $3,150 for a 700x500mm, 100W EFR, with a C&W 5200, including lift-gate delivery to the house. I’ve made… a few … modifications, upgrades, and fixes.
For the pass through, on my machine it’s on the long side. So, I can feed in 28"(-ish) wide material. Some machines will let you pass through on both X and Y, but I don’t think any of the Chinese ones have that that feature.
Thanks! I don’t mind fiddling, but I do mind repairing. I want to be able to set it up and know that it will hold alignment, and will operate well as long as I keep it clean and treat it well. I’ve got a tech background in EE, and am hoping that my aging brain can wrap around this.
Do you mind sharing with me the model of your machine along with the mods / upgrades / fixes?
Was the assembly difficult in terms of getting it into place? I’m hoping to be able to assemble and move it in solo.
It was delivered on a pallet. You will not move it on your own unless it’s just brute-forcing it off the pallet and rolling along a solid floor. There was no “assembly”, just connecting the exhaust house, air compressor, etc.
Repair is actually probably a bit of hyperbole. There was some questionable wiring and poor quality connections that I replaced because I’m really not a fan of being zapped or having electrical fires.
New control panel and AC distribution - Done
So, “it’s a solid machine made a little better (and, IMO, a lot safer) with some relatively minor modifications.” Mechanically, all I’ve done is adjust (and re-, re-, re-adjust) to get what I wanted.
The only minor quibble I’ve got on it is that the layout of the X-axis mount on the gantry is different from “everything else”, and I haven’t sourced an upgraded 3rd mirror/nozzle, yet.
I have an XM-1060 100 Watt Reci tube. 600mm x 1000mm bed, Only 6 or 7" Z axis though, and no pass through. I bought it a few years ago, been working like a champ. I cut 1/4" Birch all the time for trays for my boxes… It has a Ruida DSP Controller in it. But, that power is not so great for doing photos or such… but I do a lot of engraving and inlays, so I am happy. You do have to be able to diagnosis problems, and do some light maintenance, but nothing super bad. And of course, with the LightBurn software… great.
I’m a software engineer by trade, but have been a maker for a while and had a CNC machine before I bought my first laser. I’ve only owned a laser for about 4 years, and started writing LightBurn within a couple months of buying an EBay Red/Black 100w Kehui machine.
All of this to say, if you’re an EE, this should be well within your skill set. The machines are pretty straightforward for the most part. Mirror alignment is fussy, but it’s just geometry. There’s other domain specific stuff you’ll learn, but it’s not terribly difficult.
99% of eBay sellers are middlemen. They drop-ship from a manufacturer.
Why not buy direct?
Chinese factories are falling over themselves to sell machines. The importation isn’t difficult, but better to locate a broker to handle the port-to-site hassle - paperwork, fees, duty, etc.
As an indicator, I paid ~$1000 for all freight handling, delivery to my door and all taxes and fees on top of the 6000 I paid for the machine. The vendor would have done to-the-door delivery, but their price was significantly higher than the quotes I got from forwarders. (all NZ - about 30% higher than US$).
Buying direct means you get to spec the machine you want. It’s also significantly cheaper.
There are three companies I have bought off over the last ten years that have proven to be reliable and do proper QC. My last machine literally plugged in, filled the chiller, ran for a couple of minutes then fired up the machine. that was a year ago and there has been no need to do anything - no mirror adjustments, no electrical gremlins - nothing.
My favourite manufacturer is ShenHui (https://shenhuilaser.en.alibaba.com). I have owned and worked on over a dozen of their machines. They are nothing flashy, but their engineering is sound. They have a lot of cross-pollination with Beijing university (leader of laser tech in China), and are located close to the centre of the laser industry with RuiDa, SPT, Reci and co. and most of their staff seem to have decent engineering degrees, rather than being production-line workers.
As an example, the current machine I have at home weighs something like 450kg - 1000lbs. Most of that is in the chassis, in large square beams used to keep it square. The drivers are Leadshine, as are the hybrid steppers, the controller is from RuiDa, the power supplies are MeanWell. The electrical were earthed and terminated correctly, the solenoids more than capable of the power needs and the outlet wiring is safe and can carry the loads for chiller and extractor and air-assist.
Think of eBay sellers as you would someone selling meat out of the back of a van. They have no idea what it is or where it came from, how it was made or whether it is safe. All they care about is the sale and then they are off to whatever else makes them the most margin.
Where a laser manufacturer has a reputation to uphold, a staff to keep employed and every interest in you being a happy, return customer.
I can typically source any machine cheaper than the eBay and Amazon sellers, at a higher spec. Why would you want to chance a seller without pedigree?
My experi3ence of eBay machines is poor. People rave about theirs, but that’s because that’s the only machine they have any experience of, other than a K40. After around 3 decades of laser servicing, I can categorically say eBay isn’t the place to shop, unless it’s convenience you’re after.
Areas that are compromised - rails. Often they are no different to the junk shower-screen nylon wheel transport used on many K40s. They should have a proper hywin-style rail system on the X-axis, at least. Preferably on X and Y. Tubular ‘rails’ used in a budget machine are guaranteed to give issues, and issues that require a big strip-down to remedy. A solid square-steel tube carrier with hywin rails is definitely the right way forward. Controllers - many budget machines use the same controllers as K40s, and are K40 in everything but the bed size. If it doesn’t have a Trocen (with ethernet) or Ruida, just say no. Tubes - the good machines come with SPT, EFR or Reci (or a couple of other decent up-and-comers that I only know third-hand) for a reason - relaibility and longevity. I’ve seen budget machine non-name tubes go tits-up in less than 500 hours. And you have no idea of the spec. Steppers/power/drivers. Cheap drivers and steppers and crappy power supplies are only a few bucks less than name-brand top-of-the line items. Why save $10 on a stepper when you can have the latest Leadshine?
And lastly, when you order from a manufacturer, you can get anything you want in the way of spec. Custom at no extra cost, because basically everything they sell is custom. To take my current machine from basic to top-of-the-line was a difference of ~$250. Included in my NZ$6000 was a spare Reci tube, spare PSU, spare stepper and driver, ten spare lenses in each of 2", 3" and four spare 4" lenses, with three different spare lens tubes, a genuine S&W CW-5200 chiller, a decent air-assist and (LOUD) extractor, which is the only part I think I will change. I can repurpose the extractor to be a dust collector for my wood workshop.
Thanks! When you say that power is not great for doing photos… is to too weak, or too strong? I’m not sure what the resolution is on the power steps for these things. I could see that it might be too strong if the resolution only allows for large changes in laser output.
Strong… you can do photos, don’t get me wrong, but my laser doesn’t even fire till 8%. Most people that do awesome photos do so with lower power, where yo can control the swing more easily. You can still do them, but it is much harder with a higher wattage unit. But like I said, I bought mine for cutting and engraving, not for photos.
You get knife and mesh bed as standard. They are RuiDa - Chinese shorthand for RDWorks, I guess. Chiller is always S&W, rotary is OK. A CW5000 would be fine for 100-130W.
$120 gets you to Shanghai port. And if you are in a country with taxes and tariffs, you’ll be paying those, clearance, local freight-forwarding, etc.
If you know anyone that imports stuff, talk to them. I help import stuff for friends and family because I have all the logistics set up. It’s a lot of work to do if you just import once, but you can get a much better machine for your money
@Bonjour All are great points. Fortunately you have plenty of years and resources at your disposal which most people starting out do not. I will agree that eBay is a crap shoot. Some get good systems other get not so good systems. Bottom line, for majority of people it is what they can afford and that it is a first or second system upgrade from a K40. As shown here and on plenty of other forms, it is easy to find out what you need to ask for before purchasing a machine and make sure it has the best parts and features you can afford.
This has been a very helpful thread; thank you to all who have contributed.
I’m slowing down a bit. I was trying to get something ordered and delivered by Christmas, I have a tech nutty daughter who would have really liked helping me set this up. But I need to make a good choice based on my immediate needs to (mostly) learn. I’ve got to have something in my garage by mid February, as I am on the hook to create a bunch of wedding decorations.
The link I posted above is to a box which is simply too large (and I know nothing about importing). And 100W is likely too much power given that I would like to try to do some photo work. I need to strike a compromise between cutting power and ability to not over-burn when doing photos.
I still want to try and find a decent working size bed area. I think 16" is a little small. I’d prefer to be able to work on a single piece of material in one pass that is 20"x20". I also want to have a feed through slot, and a Ruida controller. I wish to be able to easily cut 1/8" plywood as well.
Just like other things, one size doesn’t fit all. Doggone… if only laser attenuators were more affordable!
Thanks again… I’ll be watching this thread carefully.
with a 100W laser, you can do pretty much anything except fine cutting of paper.
going for a low power laser will be awfully tedious when you will have to cut something. and for engraving, a 100W will do fine for most jobs : even if the laser start “too powerful”, you can achieve pretty low power using decimal values for power (for example, at 8% laser does not fire, but at 8.2% you get some low power, and at 9% you are already too powerful). also, you can adjust speed : more speed = less power per pixel.
the only real problem would be for cutting very thin material, as you can not increase speed : at any corner, it will always be near 0, and on curve it can be wobbly. you can play with min/max settings to decrease the power when the speed is low, it works but it is a fine tuning and you have to test for each material.
I’ll jump in on this. I purchased a Chinese laser about 6 months ago. Did a lot of looking around online and talking to friends that purchased before me. Of note about me. I’ve made a living selling things online for the past 25 years. I pretty much started selling on eBay and Amazon when they opened their respective doors to the public. With that tidbit of information, I personally do not buy anything valued over a couple hundred bucks off eBay anymore. Amazon’s protection for buyers is far far superior to eBay. Take some time and research how long your money will be tied up and the hoops you have to jump through to be made whole thru eBay should something go wrong. It is literally months you will have to wait on eBay compared to 3 business day past guaranteed delivery date on Amazon.
Other things of note. I would recommend getting a genuine S&A 5200 water chiller. The water chiller setups shipped with these lasers are junk aquarium pumps. I don’t want to seem biased so I won’t say the sellers name I used on Amazon but it was an awesome transaction. I paid and they did everything to set up free lift gate delivery to my residence. Pretty much everyone on eBay said an extra $500 for lift gate delivery. Anyway, my laser arrived in 8 business days. I could have actually had it delivered earlier but the carrier called me to schedule delivery and I couldn’t be home on the first available day.
My two friends that went this route before me told me to expect to have to align the laser and do some minor adjustments. I had to do none of that. My laser worked perfectly from the start and has continued to work flawlessly.
Bottom line, I definitely recommend buying a Chinese laser over the super expensive American ones. I’m sure the super expensive ones are better and probably have better customer support but that being said, I was clueless about using a laser and I had it figured it in minutes. Was selling products made with it within days.
But I need to make a good choice based on my immediate needs to (mostly) learn.
if only laser attenuators were more affordable
The power output isn’t what changes the spot size. That’s generally, a function of beam width. A beam expander would actually increase the main beam size which would (against common sense) give you a smaller dot size after the lens.
However, this really isn’t what you will be running into. Higher power lasers also have high-power excitation/low-end as well. e.g. a 100W laser might have a minimum power of 8-10W before it will fire. 80W would be 6-8W, etc. Lower power is where a lot of engraving and photo/tile work come in at. This is why diode lasers are so popular with photo/tile work; they top out around 5-8W.
If you are going to be cutting, I’d recommend figuring out the materials and max thickness you will cut and get something that will comfortably go through without multiple passes. You will still be able to engrave and the photo quality may/not be what you want. From what you’ve said so far, a 60 or 80W might be your sweet spot. My 100W does “good enough” for me for photo/engraving, but that’s not what I got it for.
Keep in mind that higher power tubes are also longer. My 100W system uses the same chassis on 50-150W or so. The longer tubes have an extension bolted onto the cabinet to accept and protect it. The bed size doesn’t change, but the overall width gets a lot higher.
Being in the US, and given the number of small businesses in trouble, there’s probably a lot of good second hand US-made machines for sale. There’s a thriving second-hand market.
One of the medium-sized epilogs would be a good machine at a reasonable price and would be perfect for making ornaments. A 50-60W machine will easily handle 5-6mm MDF, 6mm ply, acrylic, and is appliance-like to use. Keep them clean and they run forever. A gas recharge is ~$1000, and there’s another 8-10 years of life.
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