Industrial Electronics

How to Get Started with Your First DIY Laser Project

31 August 2015

Generations of physicists and engineers have built upon each other’s discoveries to introduce the invention of the laser. It was not as simple as it sounds, though. It started with microwave discoveries, then the creation of the ammonia maser and finally resulted in a plethora of varieties such as helium-neon lasers, semiconductor lasers, and pulsed lasers.

Fast forward to present day, lasers are now a staple project in the hearts of technology DIY-ers. For example, makers/hobbyists have created lasers capable of slicing through ping-pong balls, laser light party balls, and even lightsabers.

One such DIY-laser pro, AnthonyDrake, has a YouTube channel, with over 66 million views, dedicated to his homemade laser creations.

Image credit: Drake Anthony/StyropyroImage credit: Drake Anthony/StyropyroThe 22-year-old Southern Illinois University student triply majoring in chemistry, physics and mathematics has been most commonly referred to as the “DIY Laser Guy” since 2006.

For 10 years, Anthony has been experimenting with laser projects such as a homemade death-ray laser drone bot, laser swords and burning lasers.

So if you too have the itch to start playing with lasers, where should you start?

His inspiration comes from a variety of sources—everywhere from random daydreaming, to eBay, to rummaging through junk piles.

“I love to build crazy contraptions just to see how cool science can be when approached correctly,” says Anthony about where his project ideas originate.

He provides some tutorials on his website, Styropyro, for starters, but you can also find some innovative DIY projects to start you off on instructional websites such as Instructables or HackNMod.

Once you have decided on a project, you will need to gather your materials. Anthony strays from traditional sources when it comes to parts.

“I tend to grab a lot of my power supplies, heatsinks, some laser diodes and various electronic components from broken computers that I can coerce my family and friends
to give me,” he says.

For a more traditional approach, there are also numerous laser-seller forums where you can purchase the parts.Anthony displays one of his laser projects in progress. Image credit: Drake Anthony/StyropyroAnthony displays one of his laser projects in progress. Image credit: Drake Anthony/Styropyro

For newcomers to the DIY laser field, Anthony strongly recommends not opting to create any laser stronger than 500 mW for your first project. Instead, he suggests starting out with a simple project like a 250-mW red laser since many of the parts needed can be extracted from an old computer and 250-mW laser diodes can be purchased on eBay for under $5.00. This way you can purchase inexpensive replacement parts if you accidentally smoke the laser diode during your build-out.

His approach is just one method for starting out with laser projects, but websites such as DIY Lasers provide hobbyist kits and components to get you started.

When experimenting with lasers, safety is of the utmost importance. So remember to purchase—and wear—your safety goggles.

“Even at 50mW, a hit to the eye is going to cause massive and permanent eye damage, and in fact anything over 5mW has the ability to damage eyes,” says Anthony.

It may take several attempts to create a successful project so do not be discouraged. He reminds beginners that laser diodes can break for numerous reasons that are out of our control, including a tiny static discharge or too much heat from the soldering process.

If you are interested in learning about more outlandish laser projects, Anthony has some tricks up his sleeve. He is currently working on a ruby laser that will peak at 10,000 mW of output power and will run on an enormous flash lamp array, as well as a RGB white laser with controllable color channels, which he will reveal to his followers once complete.

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