Review: Full Spectrum Engineering 40W Hobby Laser (Deluxe Model)

Around the end of February I ordered a 40W “Hobby Laser” from Full Spectrum Engineering.  Other lasers such as those offered by Epilog were simply way out of my price range.  If I had a business built around a laser I might have sprung for one, but for a personal tool that was out of the question.  However, I did really want a laser.

Unboxing the Laser

Unboxing the Laser

After much research I settled on Full Spectrum which arrived a couple of weeks ago.  Now that I’ve had time to get it up and running and actually have some knowledge of it, I thought it time for an initial review.

What I ordered:

http://www.fullspectrumengineering.com/co2laserv2-40w.html No need to write out the parts list here when you can see for yourself!

Fancy bits?

The closest thing to a bell or whistle only comes with the Deluxe Model:  a USB interface and printer driver software.  Otherwise…  the stage can be raised and lowered to focus the laser via a bolt that sticks out the bottom of the case (and which is hard to reach and turn).  The laser output is monitored by a simple analog ammeter and controller by a knob with no markings except to indicate that clockwise is “more power” and counter-clockwise is “less power”.  It’s a big, sturdy enclosure with lots of open space around simple, get-the-job-done components.  None of these things are drawbacks to me — I’ll explain why shortly.

Performance

Like any tool of this sort, it takes calibration, experimentation and a bit of fiddling to get good results.  Laser cutters are NOT laser printers!  If all you want to do is etch a few pictures onto a few items then, yes, you can get up to speed very quickly.  However, if you really want to use a laser as a tool for precision cutting you have to know what you’re doing.  This machine will not hold your hand through the process any more than any machine shop tool would.  Don’t buy it if you think otherwise!

The Big Plusses

I previously mentioned that the lack of bells and whistles and the big open spaces weren’t downsides to me.  The lack of fancy bits means it is affordable and easily maintained by me.  This isn’t a machine that requires regular visits from a vendor service tech.  The simple design and lots of space also mean that the system is HACKABLE.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that it is going to be extremely easy to upgrade this machine with features that I want.  Things like a stepper motor to adjust the build platform height, an Arduino power monitor/controller for the laser power, a flow detector for the cooling water (it doesn’t tell you if you forgot to turn on the cooling pump!), etc.

Downsides?

Well, the exhaust fan died after a few days, but that was because the manufacturer didn’t tie a knot in the power cord inside the fan.  That resulted in fatigue where the wire was screwed in to the terminal and the wire broke.  I fixed the break and reinstalled the wire WITH a knot to keep it from breaking again.  Also, the air assist compressor stopped working while I was setting up and calibrating.  It had been humming away for a hour or more and apparently overheated.  I turned it off for about 15 minutes and it has been fine ever since.  The lack of a beam combiner (an optional upgrade) does mean that the red dot pointer is an approximation of where the laser will actually strike.  Finally, the big rim on the honeycomb table cuts down your cutting area quite a bit — you lose a good 1.5  to 2 inches in each direction.  Finally, my z-platform is not quite leveled properly, so I need to remove the belt and tweak that (not a problem in most cases, but cutting larger objects in 1/4-inch acrylic needs accuracy).

Verdict

The Full Spectrum Engineering Laser is *exactly* right for me.  I’ll upgrade the basic bits to suit my desires along the way.  I’ve already cut a 1/4-inch acrylic z-stage for my Makerbot (took some time to get it dialed in just right, but I figured it out).  I’ve also had good luck with 0.002-inch Kapton film for use in printed circuit board solder stencils.  Etching is, of course, even easier and is giving me good results as well.  The laser does a great job, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you were looking to do custom laser cutting/engraving as a commercial enterprise.  I think it’s up to the job, mind you (at least the actual laser itself), but a more expensive laser will save you a little when you are swapping materials in and out all day long by offering a few more bells and whistles.  Also, the air exhaust and compressor are a bit more entry-level than I would want to run for 8 hours a day.  Of course, Full Spectrum states clearly in the name that this is a 40W hobby laser, so that’s not a real criticism either.  Overall I am very satisfied and won’t hesitate to recommend it to other makers/hackers/hobbyists looking to add a laser cutter to their tool set.

8 thoughts on “Review: Full Spectrum Engineering 40W Hobby Laser (Deluxe Model)

  1. Pingback: Full Spectrum 40W Deluxe Review - CNCzone.com-The Largest Machinist Community on the net!

  2. When you say that you think someone looking for a commercial setup would want more bells and whistles, what would those be? I am looking to get a CO2 engraver/cutter to do some light duty work such as etching anodized name plates and cutting out some plastic parts from time to time at a small aircraft part company.

    • Bells and whistles include autofocus and a motorized z-axis. This unit has four threaded rods that raise and lower the cutting bed. One of them has a pair of nuts on it so you can raise and lower the bed with a wrench to get the distance from the lens to the material right (I’ve attached a wheel to make it easier to turn). The laser output is tracked with an analog current meter and adjusted with a 10-turn potentiometer on the panel rather than digital controls. It’s up to you to monitor cooling water flow — there is no automatic cut-off if your water pump fails and the laser overheats! Finally, you cannot download jobs to the laser and store them there (something you may wish to do if you are running production batches of several repeated types).

      If your workload is as light as you indicate, I think this unit would work for you and be a good value. If you need to run it 3 or more hours each day, you could do so, but at that point I would suggest moving up to a professional model.

      Sorry for the slow response — I was out of town for a few days. Hope this helps!

    • You would likely want the rotary tool so you could engrave glasses, wine bottles, etc. Otherwise, the laser is good to go. Once you get to high volumes, though, I’d go with a more expensive model to make it quicker to switch from material to material and job to job. I understand the latest revision, however, already has a lot more of those capabilities than my model from last year. For cutting small wooden ornaments, this should do fine, but a higher power would let you cut faster — for a commercial endeavor that can be important. Depends on the volume you expect to handle.

  3. This is a real basic unit…but workable. I reviewed FS deluxe model as well. Thing that turned me off is the ad I found them said $1,850 for a 20×12 but that’s the price for their basic 12×12 machine – w/o software. So,
    that’s not cool. But I still think this unit is good for those wanting to do very light engraving…I found out it can cut balsa wood ok..

    I found a source online that bought one than had to make a lot of modifications to make it workable.

    Anyway, thanks for your review as it reconfirmed my thoughts on what I need.

  4. Thank you for a great review! I’m seriously considering this cutter for my Xronos Clocks. Can anyone tell me how it performs cutting 1/4″ acrylic? Does it melt off a lot of extra material, or cuts are precise?

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