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Loving a Life with Lasers

K40 Laser Cutters: All You Need to Know

Picture of Larry Wood
by Larry Wood
Feb 4, 2020
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Want to start working with lasers? Get started with the easily modifiable K40 laser cutter, and upgrade as you go!

K40 Laser Cutters

What Is a K40?

Kanji name
A Kanji name ready to be turned into a Hanko stamp (Source: Samurai Baby)

Laser cutters do just what the name suggests – they use concentrated light to cut material in 2D. Most laser cutters are fairly expensive, easily costing thousands. Over the years, however, prices have lowered somewhat. And now, we finally have the K40.

“K40” is a moniker for an affordable laser cutter that goes for about $300 to $400. There’s no single manufacturer or official design specification for these machines, but they all work the same. They’re usually in the 30-Watt range but are often upgraded to 40 Watts – hence the name “K40”.

Fun fact: One of the uses of these machines is for engraving what’s called Japanese Hanko stamps, which are popular for signature purposes in Japan, similar to how royalty has specific wax stamps for sealing letters but much more widely used. (You can create your own stamps using the K40, too.)

These desktop machines can be modded to cut anything from wood to acrylic, and they’re a great introduction to the laser-cutting world (assuming you’re ready to tinker).

Read on to learn how to get started with K40 machines!

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K40 Laser Cutters

Features

The important components of a K40 machine
The important components of a K40 machine (Source: Amazon)

If you like to tinker, the K40 is meant for you. Though they come with the bare bones required to operate, they shouldn’t be considered plug-and-play machines, as you’ll need to do a fair bit of assembly with this cutter. And as with any low-cost machine, you might also need to do some initial tune-ups. Replacement parts and upgrades are the norm to make your K40 a higher-quality machine.

All K40 laser cutters should come with the same main components:

  • an O2 laser tube made of glass,
  • stepper motors,
  • a control board with a power supply,
  • an exhaust fan, and
  • a coolant pump.

Each part plays a major role, and most can be easily upgraded. Some models will also include an emergency shut-off button and air assist.

If you do go ahead and work with these machines, know that they have high voltage and powerful lasers. Bear safety in mind, and always remember to take the proper precautions when using these machines.

Laser Tube

With laser tubes, you have to pay close attention to what you’re working with. The way tubes are usually rated are by their maximum output. This means that, if a K40 has a 40-Watt CO2 tube, it’s really a 30-Watt tube with a max output of 40 Watts. When the max output is used, the machine is doing what’s known as over-driving the tube. In other words, it’s operating past the recommended power level. Pay close attention to the wattage rating and the level of power used.

Control Board

Control boards are of varying importance. Some are more powerful than others, some are more reliable, and some have different capabilities. The right choice for you can take some consideration. Check out the in-depth comparison at Awesome.Tech.

Power Supply

The power supply that comes with a machine is best-suited to work with the laser tube that’s supplied. Sometimes the power supply can die, whether from improper or extended use. Sometimes the power supply needs to be looked at when the laser tube is being replaced or upgraded.

When the machine is upgraded with a more powerful laser tube, the power supply will also need to be upgraded in order to account for the power difference. There’s plenty of information on power supplies out there, and how to choose the right one for you.

Exhaust

When cutting certain materials, such as PVC, highly toxic fumes can be emitted. It goes without saying that this can be lethal. A fan will be installed in the rear of the machine to redirect these fumes. This is usually just a bathroom exhaust fan that can easily be upgraded. Consider doing this if it’s not shifting enough air.

Also included will be an exhaust hose that should be directed outdoors so that your workspace is safe, clean, and free of unwelcome smoke.

Cooling

The K40 is water-cooled and sometimes comes with some type of coolant pump, which keeps water flowing through the system. Distilled water is preferred, as it doesn’t have as many solids or ions in it.

In order to have a good working system, the water reservoir will need to be filled with ice to help further cool the laser tube. If a higher quality system is desired, a water chiller will be needed. (We’ll discuss this more a bit later.)

Emergency Shut-Off Button

Almost all machines come with an emergency shut-off button. If one doesn’t and a button can’t be installed, it’s best to find a cutter that comes with one. Most laser cutters will also come with a laser test button, which isn’t as important but is still helpful.

Air Assist

In layman’s terms, air assist is an air compressor that blows air where the laser cuts. Its purpose is to expel debris and cool the laser simultaneously to prevent flare-ups. It also allows for more precise cuts and engravings.

Not all machines come with this feature. If there’s a nylon tube attached to the cutting nozzle, there may be the option of using it. Air assist is highly recommended and will extend the lifetime of several components. Look out for 3D printable air assist.

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K40 Laser Cutters

Performance

Tests after upgrades that can show before and after progress
Tests after upgrades that can show before and after progress (Source: Thingiverse)

Like many budget machines, K40 laser cutters have amazing potential. With a little tuning and a few upgrades, you’ll have a desktop machine that can easily cut through 1/4-inch (6.35-mm) wood, acrylic, leather, cardboard, and more!

Tuning

A K40 with no upgrades will need to be tuned up, but should still be able to cut 1/8-inch (3.175-mm) materials. A tune-up starts with leveling the laser tube, which allows water to flow normally. With a level tube, the mirrors can be cleaned and properly aligned, so the laser will cut accurately and without loss of power.

It’s best to make sure there is ice in the cooling water before doing laser tests. Leveling the bed comes next to make sure the focal point stays consistent during cuts. This is all that needs to be done to get started!

Upgrades

For higher quality work, some upgrades can be made:

  • Focus lens: One of the easiest is upgrading the focus lens to make deeper or more precise cuts.
  • Gas assist: Another simple upgrade is adding gas assist; all that’s needed is a small air compressor and a gas assist nozzle (if one isn’t already included with the machine).
  • Water chiller: For an easy (but more expensive) upgrade, get a water chiller. Using a water chiller as a coolant system helps lengthen the lifespan of the laser tube. This isn’t always recommended because it may cost more than the machine itself. With a budget machine like this, it’s best to stick with ice water.
  • Control board: A difficult but helpful upgrade is switching out the control board to make using the machine easier overall.
  • Tube: The most dangerous, difficult, and expensive upgrade is changing the power supply and CO2 laser tube from a 30-Watt tube (max rating 40 Watts) to a true 40-Watt tube (maximum rating 50 Watts) so the machine can reach its full potential.

All in all, if you want a small machine for easy crafts, the K40 is for you. If you want to learn every aspect of how a laser cutter works, feel free to get a K40 to experiment and work on! But, as we said earlier, remember to take all the necessary precautions!

To see one of these machines in action, check out this video from Snook Family Studios:

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K40 Laser Cutters

Specifications

It's size makes the K40 a perfect desktop cutter
It's size makes the K40 a perfect desktop cutter (Source: Amazon)

As mentioned above, “K40” is a blanket term for a budget 40-Watt laser cutter. Depending on where a machine is purchased, there may be small differences.

The following specifications are based on the Orion Motor Tech 40-Watt laser cutter, one of which we are familiar with.

Dimensions

  • Machine dimensions: 27.95″ (L) x 19.7″ (W) x 9.84″ (H)

Work Area

  • Maximum cutting depth: 1/8 in (1/4 in with a tube upgrade)
  • Cutting area: 300 x 200 mm

Materials

  • Cutting and engraving: Wood, fabric, leather, paper, cardboard, acrylic, rubber, cork
  • Engraving only: Glass, marble, rubber stamps, stone, ceramic tiles, anodized aluminum, titanium

Software

  • Programs: 40 Whisperer, LaserDraw, CorelDraw
  • Interface compatibility: Mac, PC, Linux
  • File compatibility: JPG, PNG, SVG, PDF, and more

Laser

  • Laser type: CO2 Laser 40-Watt (rated 30-Watt)
  • Estimated lifespan: 1,000 hours
  • Upgradeable: Yes

Mechanical

  • Manufacturer: Orion Motor Tech
  • Case: Folded sheet metal
  • Linear system: Custom-extruded aluminum linear rails with a belt-driven v-wheel carrier
  • Motion: Stepper motors
  • Cooling: Water pump
  • Air assist: No
  • Recommended operating temperature: 15-25 ℃
  • Connectivity: USB
  • Onboard controls: Partial
  • Emergency shut-off: No

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K40 Laser Cutters

Where to Buy

Purchased machines will usually come with everything shown here
Purchased machines will usually come with everything shown here (Source: Walmart)

There are dozens of places where you can get a K40 laser cutter. We find it’s best if you purchase from somewhere reputable that accepts returns if anything goes wrong. Although one can find the K40 in shops like Walmart or eBay, Amazon tends to offer more products from different companies:

K40 Laser Cutter
Commissions Earned Check price at

(Lead image source: eBay)

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License: The text of "K40 Laser Cutters: All You Need to Know" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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