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Laser Cannon Revival   -   2003/01/01Viewed 428 times this month, last update: 2003/01/31

You lookin' at me?
Since I started Welding in my garage about a year ago, the Laser Cannon has been in storage.
Now that I'm moved into the new house I have room for both, so I spend a couple hours today setting the thing up on a table in the garage.

The problem is, I don't have enough time to fix up the laser, and make a new bumper. I have been pondering this over the last couple of days, when Vanessa gave me the answer: If I get the laser up to full power, and attach a beam-bending arm, I can use it to cut steel! I can use the laser to build my bumper! I've really wanted a nice plasma cutter, but this would be so much cooler!

So, in order to get this thing working, I've got a lot of work to do!
  • Get the CO2/He/N2 tank refilled
  • Buy or borrow a couple of variacs to drive the HV transformers
  • Get a 3/4" beam-bending arm
  • Get a focusing lens
  • Get some IR goggles
  • Align the mirrors

2003/01/01: I got the vacuum system working, and lit up 1/4 of the tube. Lo and behold, the output spot was round! Last time Chris and I were fiddling with it, we took off one of the rear bending mirrors for inspection. When we put it back, we must have tweaked it just enough to align it properly! (95% anyway) We should be able to get a power reading that we can use for further alignment! Now I just have to get the right gas.

2003/01/02: I connected up another of the 9kv transformers, so as to light up 1/2 of the tube. The output spot was brighter, of course, and still round. That's 1 kilo-watt of alternating-current input power, over about 4 feet of gas. CO2 lasers are about 20% efficient, but less so on AC, so I think if I can get the mirrors 100% aligned, I should be able to get 50-100 watts of output power.
However, listening to it today, I heard some arcing sounds. So, the HV leads will have to be replaced eventually, and it's not a good idea to touch the head when it's operating. Doing so might result in another near-death experience!

2003/01/06: I got the gas tank refilled, and bought some IR protective goggles, and fired the thing up. Nothing. I flushed the tube, nothing. I turned up and down the preasure (tried 20, 30 and 60 torr) nothing. I insulated the HV leads by running them through thick plastic tubes, to reduce arcing losses, nothing. The power meter doesn't even twich. My freakin hand puts out more watts than this damn thing. I don't get it. I should get SOMETHING!

2003/01/10: I tried raising the gas preasure, using one 15kv transformer instead of two 9kv transformers. Nothing. Now, one of the 9kv units makes a much better arc, which I think has to do with it's HV leads being ungrounded and incased in plastic tubing. I'm going to do the same for the other, and see what happens.

2003/01/10: Chris thinks we need ballast resistance between the transformers and the tube, that doing so would stabilize the arc, and so much more efficiently excite the CO2. So, I went and got some very large 100kohm resistors. I put one of these in series with the tube, and switched on. I got the purple dot, which was good, but then the transformer died, which is bad. The going theory is that with the ballast, the arc stabilized, which drew far more current than the transformer could provide. Blammo.

2003/01/10: Different transformer, this time, on a variac, so I can regulate the amount of power it pulls. Still nothing.

2003/01/13: I won a focusing lens on eBay, and I'm in the running for an arm.

2003/01/13: I won the arm! now all I need is some IR watts!

2003/01/25: I got the arm and lens!
I've imported arms from Israel! (Bad joke. Blame the g/f.)
Actually, it's a very nice, if smallish arm. The I.D. is also a bit small, so I may have to narrow the beam before letting it into the arm. It's got threaded ends and wants to wrest in the upright position, so I'll need to fabricate some sort of mount. I'll also need to fabricate a mount for the focusing optic.

2003/01/30: Theory #287: The mirrors are THAT misaligned.
Ok, it could be by some coincidence that the arc glow from the tube is round than that the mirrors are close to alignment. It could be that they are VERY off, and so need to be completely re-done. Or, of course, one of the mirrors could be completely ruined. So, I'm going to remove all four mirrors, check them for quality, then try to align them. I bought one of those nifty laser-level sticks tonight, which I'm going to somehow mount at the output end of the laser in order to get it to shine back at itself. When it does, three of the four will be aligned, assuming I put the alignment beam in the right spot.
Ok, I took all four optics off for inspection. The rear mirrors have some imperfections, but are not too bad for low-power use:

The full-reflector and output coupler look terrific, much to my suprise. They are both completely free of imprefections, and look brand-new. So, back on all three mirrors go, and into the alignment process planning I go.
One more thing I was able to get: Beam diameter! The bore of the tubes is 15mm. Much smaller than we originally thought. However, I think this is small enough to make it into the arm without any additional focusing.

laser finger nail man (2006-11-30): how much did it all cost?

Erik (2006-12-04): We've probably spent ~$700 all told.

Lazer cannonear (2006-12-25): Nice L.A.S.E.R.!


Stephanie (2010-01-05): My son has to make a science project. He wants to make a laser cannon. can you tell me how to make this and the materials i need. thanks

Erik (2010-01-05): Stephanie,
When I was in grade school, I too wanted to build a laser canon for a science fair project. The problem, is that building even a small laser from scratch, let alone one that justifies a "cannon" designation, is a very complex, dangerous, and usually expensive task.

It's not impossible, but definitely requires some more research. I suggest starting at Sam's Laser FAQ.

Good luck!



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