Face it, it's scary firing a laser up for the first time. The steps below are intended to walk you through step-by-step, from receiving the laser to firing it up for the first time.
Receiving the Laser and Removing it From the Crate. When your laser arrives, it will be in a large crate. Before signing any paperwork, inspect the crate for damage. If there is damage, open it. Most carriers will be patient and wait. If there is obvious major damage, you'll have to make a decision if it's something you think you can work with the seller to fix on your own (or accept compensation for something such as a dent), or if it is beyond repair and need to send it back. If there is damage, be sure to have them call in for an exception and note any damage on both your copy of the bill of lading and theirs, and take photos. This is very important. Broken laser tubes and dents are the most common types of damage.
Usually you the service level you are receiving is curbside delivery. However, in some cases if you are nice to the driver and offer $10-20, they might be kind enough to bring the unit up to the house or place it in the garage for you. If you have a normal, undamaged shipment, proceed to open the crate. Often the crate will have a base and a removable upper box that is held on by screws. If you remove the screws from the bottom, the entire wooden top should lift off in one piece. Otherwise, grab a pry bar or hammer and carefully go to town. Once the crate is open, there are usually for screws in the feet that need to be removed before the laser can be moved.
Once the laser is uncrated, remove any packing material or accessories and inspect again for damage.
This video will give you an overview of what types of accessories you can expect to find packed with your laser: Initial Set Up for Your CO2 Laser Engraver
Move the Laser to its Installation Location. Regardless of the location where you place the laser, it must be under constant supervision. Most of the materials you are engraving are flammable and you are burning them, so it doesn't take long for a fire to get out of control. Large fires have been reported with these machines, so PLEASE keep an eye on your laser at all times, and keep a fire extinguisher handy (I have suggested a model in the Tools section).
Remove Packing Materials. Remove any packing materials that were used during shipping. Often there is styrofoam and plastic wrap in the tube compartment if your tube was shipped installed, so be sure to check there.
Level the Machine. Level the machine using the adjustable feet. You will need a good quality level for this. A digital level is easier to read, but they are available at a much higher cost. Simply place the level on the x-axis rail and rotate the feet until level, then do the same for both the y-axis rails. This process may need to be repeated a few times, because an adjustment on one axis may affect the other. Repeat until everything is level. Sometimes the rails have a lot of grease on them, so be sure your level is sitting flat on the rail when taking the measurements.
Note: Some people prefer the convenience of keeping the laser on its wheels, but this poses a problem because the wheels are typically not adjustable. If you want to leave your laser on its wheels, complete ALL the steps on this list first using the leveling feet, and then go back and place your laser on its feet. If you are going to be using a rotary, you will either need to level your machine or purchase a digital angle gauge. The advantage of using a digital angle gauge is that you can zero it out on the bed, and use that same zero calibration when setting up the rotary.
Required Tools for Leveling the Machine:
Optional Tools for Leveling the Machine:
Install the Laser Tube. If your machine arrived without a tube installed, follow the manufacturer provided instructions, which is usually a video on a USB drive. Be sure to POWER the laser OFF and no cords are connected BEFORE installing the laser tube, because high voltages are present and they can KILL you! Even after powering down, take precautions.
If your machine did not include instructions for installing your tube, you can use the below video as a guide. It is for the 80W and 100W, but most of the concepts hold true for the lower wattage tubes as well. Regardless if you have the 80W or 100W tube, your process may still differ.
Video on laser tube installation:
A few comments on the videos: I would suggest using wire/zip ties on the water hoses to prevent leaks. Make sure you twist the red wires together tightly, to ensure a good connection (soldering is not necessary). Add silicone sealant into the ceramic insulator after the red wires are inserted and allow to dry for 24-hours (this is important to prevent arcing). Your tube brackets may differ and you may need to shim your laser tube and/or adjust the mirror bracket, to get it centered on the mirror.
For connecting the tube wires, there is usually a white ceramic insulator, about the size of a pack of gum, that is usually attached to the OUTSIDE of the tube box. Be careful not to throw it away, because you will need it.
There should be a label on the tube that says, "This side up." If there isn't one, the water line closest to Mirror 1 (the mirror on the right), is water out and needs to point up, and the water line on the left will point down. This will help create a path for the water bubbles to escape. Also, be sure to zip-tie the water lines to ensure they do not pop-off.
The distance between the end of the tube and the mirror bracket should be around 1-inch.
To avoid additional work, it would be a good idea to install and wire the 30mA Analog Ammeter at the same time the tube is installed.
Install a 30mA Analog Ammeter. See Required Upgrades: Analog Ammeter.
Install an Upgraded Exhaust Fan. See Required Upgrades: Exhaust Fan.
Install an Upgraded Air-Assist. See Required Upgrades: Air-Assist.
Install the Chiller. See Required Upgrades: Chiller.
Note: If you are using the factory supplied water pump, install it per the manufacturer's directions (often it's a video stored on the included USB drive) and skip this step.
Check for a Properly Grounded and Wired GFCI Outlet (240V Will Differ). Be sure your outlet is properly wired, and most importantly, properly grounded, After all, the laser tube is generating deathly high voltages. The best way to do this is through the use of a receptacle tester. A receptacle tester will tell you if the outlet is properly wired and properly grounded. I would also suggest using a GFCI protected receptacle (you can use the tester listed below to test for this as well). GFCI receptacles and breakers are common in garages, kitchens, and bathrooms, but not other rooms in the house. If you don't have a GFCI protected receptacle, consider having the existing receptacle replaced. In the event of a cooling system leak, this may help reduce the risk of electrocution and equipment damage.
On the subject of grounding, the question of do I need to ground my machine using the ground lug comes up often. As with many things in the laser world, there are differing opinions. From my understanding, the machines are shipped to countries that do not have good electrical ground, and in some cases, no ground at all, and that is why there is a ground lug and a ground wire. Homes in the US that are wired properly, and meet current electrical codes, are required to have an earth ground. Assuming you are not using a cord with a missing ground pin, or an adapter bypassing the ground, your laser should be grounded when you plug it in with the provided 3-prong power cord. Some people have gone an extra step and have run a ground wire from the ground lug to a copper plumbing in their electrical system, and that seems to be fine, since it is sharing the same ground as the electrical system. However, some people have suggested adding a dedicated ground rod. Based on articles I have read, this is not advised because a proper ground rod needs to be 8-ft long and driven into the ground, and because it can cause ground loops. If you still have concerns about grounding your machine, it never hurts a call a licensed electrician. A proper ground is extremely important! The purpose of a ground is to have electricity flow back to the ground and not through you, in the event of a malfunction, and this happens more often than you would think.
Check Resistance Between Cabinet and the Ground Lug (240V Will Differ). If you don't own a multimeter, this is a good tool to own as a laser owner. Take your multimeter and set it to ohms. Take one of your test leads and place it on the ground pin (the long pin) on your power cord, and then then take the other test lead and connect it to a bare metal part on the machine cabinet to measure the resistance. If you see a reading of 6 or less ohms, then your machine should be properly grounded. If not, you may need to remove some paint behind the nut and washer on the inside of the machine that hold on the ground lug, so you get a good connection (it's not a bad idea to do this even if your ground does test well). Repeat this process on every individual panel you see on the machine.
Plug in the Laser (240V Will Differ). A 60W laser with chiller, a small compressor, and an inline fan will draw a full load of around 15 amps, more or less. Most household circuit breakers are 15 amps, with the exception of the garage, kitchen, and bathroom, which are usually 20-amp. This means that if you are on a 15-amp breaker, it would be a good idea to split your system up over two breakers, to keep it from tripping. Keep in mind that two different outlets does not necessarily mean that you will be on two breakers. Your best bet is to flip the breaker off in the location where you plan to place the laser, find another outlet close by that remains on and use those two outlets.
One other note, if you have a 120V laser, it is advised to use a power strip to connect all your devices and accessories, or plug directly into the wall. Do NOT use the outlets on the back of your machine, because the wiring is usually not adequate for the US electrical system. Use of a surge protector is also a good idea to keep your equipment protected.
Required Components and Tools:
Optional Components and Tools:
Check That the Bed is Level. For adjusting the level, there are actually two things to check: The machine itself and that the bed is parallel to the x and y axis.
a. Leveling the Machine. The machine can be leveled using the adjustable feet. Simply place the level on the x-axis rail and rotate the feet until level, then do the same for the y-axis rail. This process may take two or three times, because an adjustment on one axis may affect the other. Repeat until everything is level. (Note: you may get grease on your level.)
Note: Some people prefer the convenience of keeping the laser on its wheels, but this poses a problem because the wheels are typically not adjustable. If you are going to be using a rotary, you will either need to level your machine or purchase a digital angle gauge. The advantage of using a digital angle gauge is that you can zero it out on the bed, and use that same zero calibration when setting up the rotary.
b. Leveling the Bed. It's important that the distance between the bed and the laser nozzle remain the same throughout the bed. If it is not, some of your cuts may be out of focus. To check the the bed, move the laser nozzle to one of the four corners, as close to the lead screw as possible. Stack two blocks of wood (roughly 1" Thick x 2" Wide x 3" Long) on the bed and under the laser nozzle, and slowly adjust the z-axis up, sliding the top block back and forth until the block is just barely touching the nozzle. You will then proceed to do this for the other three corners, observing the gap each time. If the gap is not the same on all four corners, then the bed needs to be raised or lowered accordingly.
There are three different methods of adjusting the bed: loosening the grub screws, loosening the belt tensioner, or loosening the castle lock nut. They are in order from what I feel is the easiest to the most difficult. Select the method that you feel the most comfortable using.
i. Belt Tensioner Method. The is probably the most common method used to level the bed. The process here is to loosen the belt tensioner under the bed, let the timing belt flop loose, and turn the lead screws until the gap is correct. When the adjustments are complete, you will pull the timing belt tensioner taught, and tighten the screws on the belt tensioner. There are two issues with this method: 1.) a cog or sprocket may not fall exactly on the belt or chain, throwing the alignment off, and 2.) The lead screws will want to turn while you are tightening the tensioner back up. This method works best with two or three people. Below are two videos that you might find helpful:
Video 1: Leveling the eBay 60 Watt Chinese Laser Bed
Video 2: How To Level Your Lasers Bed
ii. Set (Grub) Screw Method. I feel this is the most accurate way to level the bed without the need for special tools (other than an allen wrench which is usually included with the laser). Using this method, you will loosen the set/grub screws that attach the gears to the drive screws. The video below shows how to access the set/grub screws. Note: Not all machines have set/grub screws.
iii. Lock Nut Method. This is another accurate way to adjust the bed, but it requires the use of a castle nut wrench or pin-type spanner wrench, which is a tool that you won't find in most toolboxes. The lock nuts are also tricky to access.
Required Tools for Leveling the Bed:
Optional Tools for Leveling the Bed:
Check That the Laser Head is Plumb to the Bed. Place a square on the bed and to the front of the laser head and to the side of the head and check to see if it is plumb to the bed. If adjustments are required, there are two allen screws that can be loosened to adjust the head left-to-right, and three screws to adjust the head front-to-back. Note: Try to keep the head as close to the same height to avoid throwing the focal point completely off.
Required Tools for Adjusting the Laser Head:
Check and/or Adjust Mirror Alignment and Lens Orientation. By now you should have noticed all those yellow laser radiation caution tags all over your laser. They are there for a reason! It is strongly suggested that you use CO2 laser protection glasses/goggles when running your laser, and that is especially true when adjusting the mirrors.
Your lens should be installed flat side down and convex (rounded) side up. Occasionally, they are installed backwards at the factory, so it is a good idea to check this, especially if you are having issues cutting.
The mirrors should have been aligned at the factory, but since they could have been misaligned during transportation, it's a good idea to check them. Aligning mirrors IS the MOST COMPLEX PART of setting up a laser, and it takes time to master. If your laser tube was preinstalled, I would SKIP ALIGNING THE MIRRORS for now, and come back to it after you've had a chance to run a few test cuts on your laser. If you had to install your laser tube, then you MUST perform the mirror alignment at this time.
If the dots when you pulse are too large, try to adjust the Max Power setting on your Ruida panel. You can do this by pressing the ENT button and then scrolling to the Max Power option. A good starting point is around 15%.
If you're still getting too large of a dot after changing the Max Power, try changing the Pulse button from momentary to a set length of time. On your Ruida panel, press the Menu button or Z/U, then select Laser Set and change the Laser Mode to Manual (or Laser) and the Laser Time to 10ms and Write the settings. This will force the Pulse button to fire for a fixed duration.
Guide on Mirror Alignment:
Laser Beam Alignment Guide by SmokeAndMirrors
The diagrams below are to intended to help with the screw adjustment for aligning mirrors.
Diagrams for Mirror Screw Adjustments:
Below are some good videos on mirror alignment. They are arranged from "best to worst" based on feedback. There is no need to watch them all. Start with one, and if it's not working for you, try another. They all offer something a little different.
Videos on Mirror Alignment:
Mirror Alignment by BRM Lasers (Shows how to rotate adjusting screws)
Mirror Alignment by Digipix
Mirror Alignment by Edmonds Workshop
Mirror Alignment by Jay's To Do List
Mirror Alignment by SarbarMultimedia
Mirror Alignment by MakeStuffNow
Mirror Alignment by BossLaser
Mirror Alignment by SabarMultimedia
Mirror Alignment by MakeTech
Mirror Alignment by Further Fabrication
Mirror Alignment by OMTech
Mirror Alignment by AmericanPhotonics
Mirror Alignment by Further Fabrication
Required Laser Eyewear for Safety (select one):
Install LightBurn. See Software Installation for installation instructions.
Power on the Laser, Chiller and Air Assist. Your laser may have as many as four switches (varies by model) that need to be turned on for the laser to work. Examples include a Key Switch (turn to the right to turn on), an Emergency Stop Switch (turn to the right to reset, push to turn off), a lighted Rocker Switch for the Control System, and a lighted Rocker Switch for the actual Laser. When you turn these switches on, you should see your Ruida panel light up and the machine perform a reset to the Home position and then to the user-defined Origin.
Turn on your chiller and air compressor.
Determine Maximum Power Level. Prior to running this test, it is helpful to know the maximum mA for your laser tube. If you have a brand name tube, you may be able to look this up online. Otherwise, you will need to contact your seller.
a. On a sheet of paper write down the following percentages, one on each line: 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%, 55%, 60%, 65%, 70%, 80%, 85%.
b. Turn on your laser and set the focal length as follows:
i. Place a piece of test material (such as 1/4" x 12" x 12" plywood) on your bed.
ii Place the little piece of plastic (acrylic gage) that came with your keys on its edge (not flat, on its edge, typically it will be around 3/8" to 7/8" high).
iii Raise your bed (Z-axis) up towards the laser nozzle, and slide the plastic piece back and forth, between the nozzle and material, until it barely touches. Your laser is now focused.
c. Start LightBurn, and "Open" the below file.
FILE DOWNLOAD: PowerTest
d. On the bottom right, set Start From to Current Position and Job Origin to Center.
e. Click on the [ ] Frame Button on the lower right-hand side. The laser will trace the area where the engraving will be made.
f. Place the piece of material under the area that the laser head traced above (you can press the [ ] Frame Button again if needed).
g. Close the lid.
h. Click "Start" in LightBurn to begin engraving. The file will produce 12 lines. Watch your ammeter and record the mA for each line, next to the appropriate percentage. When the mA no longer increases, it should be close to the maximum mA for your tube. Write this percentage down, it is the maximum power for your tube. You should never run a job above this power setting. Doing so will only shorten the life of the tube, and won't give you any more cutting power. See Required Upgrades: Analog Ammeter for additional information.
Run a Ramp Test. The purpose of a Ramp Test is to determine the optimal focal length. The machine ships with an acrylic gage for setting the focal point, but they aren't always accurate. A ramp test will allow you to find the best focal distance. Note: This is one of the only times when you will NOT use the focus tool to set your focal point. This video does a nice job explaining the ramp test: Laser Ramp Test with Demo.
a. Place a piece of FLAT test material roughly 12"x12" on the bed (you can use the opposite side of material used in Step 16b. However, it is extremely important that it is flat. Generally, thicker material has a better chance of being flatter, so if you have 1/2" or 3/4" plywood sitting around, that would be a better choice.
b. If LightBurn in not already open, start LightBurn, and "Open" the below file.
c. On the bottom right, set Start From to Current Position and Job Origin to Center.
d. Click on the [ ] Frame Button on the lower right-hand side. The laser head will trace the area where the test engraving will be made.
e. Center the board under the area that the laser head traced above (you can press the [ ] Frame Button again if needed).
f. Place a 2.5" block of wood (or anything else around that height) underneath one end of the board so that it forms a ramp with the left side being higher than the right side.
g. Move your laser head to the center of the top left-hand side of the ramp, using the arrow keys on the Ruida panel. Be careful not to crash into the board, and raise or lower the bed, per your instruction manual, until you have the tip of the nozzle as close to the board as possible, but without touching it.
h. Close the lid.
i. Click "Start" in LightBurn to begin engraving (a single straight line will be drawn).
j. Find the location in the line where it is the thinnest, this is your ideal focal point. (Note: The line should be hourglass shaped. That is, the line should start out thick, get thin in the center, and then get thick again. If your line does not look like this, then raise the left side higher and/or move the nozzle closer to the board.)
k. Move your laser nozzle directly above the thinnest part of the line.
l. Accurately measure the distance between the nozzle and the board, and write it down for future reference. This is your ideal focal point, which may or may not be close to the height of the acrylic gage used in Step 16b. Note: A typical focal distance will be between 4 mm and 8 mm, but your mileage may vary.
TIP: You can use a soft tape measure to take the measurement, or you can slide an object between the board and nozzle until it barely touches, and use that to set the focal point.
m. Compare the height of the acrylic gage to the distance measured above. If they are the same, you can set your focal point using the acrylic gage. If they are different, you will eventually need to make a new gage to ensure you have the proper focal point. Luckily, you can do this with your laser. If you do not make a new gage, you may have problems cutting material. If you need more information on how to create the gage in LightBurn, it is suggested to visit some of their tutorials: LightBurn Video Tutorials and LightBurn Walkthrough for Beginners.
This video does a good job explaining how to perform a ramp test: Ramp Test Video.
OPTIONAL: On the Materials & Settings page there are settings you can use to get a ball park idea of what speed and power to use for cutting and engraving different materials. For the best results, a Test Grid should be run, which you can download here:
LightBurn Test Card
LightBurn Dynamic Test Generators
1/8" Test Card for 60W Laser (You must join the FaceBook Group to download)
1/4" Test Card for 60W Laser (You must join the Facebook Group to download)
That Mom with a Laser has a great video on running your laser for the first time: How To Video
Setup Complete! Congratulations, if all went well your laser is ready to go.