Technical - Workshop Notes
“First Firing of Laser on CNC 3018 PRO"
by Gary Pope
Refer as well, to earlier article using a router spindle on 3018 PRO https://knoxwoodies.org.au/2022_03
The domestic hobby CNC known by a lot of names like "3018PRO CNC" can use a spindle router, or a Laser. This article shows how to drive such a CNC using open source UNIX Mint v20.03 and using a low cost one-time licence of Lightburn v1.4.00 (2023-04-17 edition). Mint v20.03 is based on Ubuntu 20.04 (LTS updates thru April 2025), Linux kernel v5.4, and uses the Cinnamon v5.2 desktop (derived from GNOME 3).
By all means consider a laptop with Windows, but that's a hungry sized machine with a costly licence by comparison to going ultra light open source.
consider the light weight XFCE desktop version of 64-bit Mint v20.4
go to ALL VERSIONS, and choose v20.3 "Una"
and choose XFCE edition of Ubuntu Focal
Make a bootable USB stick (say 4GB) making sure you know the name of the dev/sd? device.
eg: use a spare KINGSTON 4GB USB stick.
gaz@absvenom:~$ sudo fdisk -l
Disk /dev/sdd: 3.8 GiB, 4007657472 bytes, 7827456 sectors
Units: sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
Disklabel type: dos
Disk identifier: 0x00000000
on absvenom (Gary's laptop), the USB drive is known as /dev/sdd
#sudo dd bs=4M if=/path/to/file.iso of=/dev/sdd status=progress oflag=sync
#sudo dd bs=4M if=/spare/Downloads/linuxmint-20.3-xfce-64bit.iso
of=/dev/sdd status=progress oflag=sync
The garage/workshop was setup with a left-over simple shoebox sized computer. Using INTEL based chips is Unix's best friend. Whilst a couple of versions behind, v20.03 of Mint is a quick and compatible operating system that works well with Lightburn v1.4.00.
Adding remote support using tools like https://dwservice.net is a great way to control this workshop PC from a safe distance using another laptop inside the house, away from fumes and the bright laser. But couple that with a spare phone on a zoom-like meeting session, to keep an eye on what is going on, in your valuable workshop! Proper eye glasswear for lasers is a "MUST HAVE".
Connection between the PC and the actual 3018PRO, is best to be a short USB cable.
CNC firmware and GRBL
Despite the 3018PRO being a couple of years old, and running the early version of GRBL 0.9 firmware, this combination of software/firmware worked well, and would also run well for the preferred GRBL 1.1f or higher these days.
The subtle difference in GRBL versions, relates to how to set the laser power and keep the laser on when needed. See the commands affecting this later.
Lightburn has proven to be great for importing happy snaps as color JPG's and they automatically reduce to monochrome settings as part of importing, and you're ready to burn. Lightburn offers a range of operating system standard FONTS, including the more ideal single-line fonts. But beyond those are the SHX fonts. They are extremly fine, single stroke, single line fonts, ideal for laser engraving of fine lettering. These can be downloaded into a spare folder and linked to Lightburn explained below.
DOWNLOAD LIGHTBURN (30 day trial)
Minimum computer system requirements
LightBurn will run on Windows 7.0 or later (32 or 64 bit), MacOS 10.11 or later, or 64 bit Linux (Ubuntu 20.04 or Fedora 36, anything else may not work as intended). Ubuntu users unable to upgrade beyond Ubuntu 18.04 should download version 1.2.01 instead of the current version.
LightBurn does not require a powerful computer for most work, though if your designs contain a lot of images, more memory is helpful. As with most things, a faster computer will make it easier to work with large images or complex vector graphics.
Cost of Lightburn
(Aug 2023 $A95.00 for GCODE version for 2 computers):
Comes with updates for one year. You can elect to continue to run the software permanently thereafter, or pay for annual maintenance for further annual updates.
Installation walk through
In step 1 below, $USER doesn't need to be replaced with your username. It's a standard system variable, and if entered exactly as shown below will automatically refer to the logged-in user's username.
1. Open a terminal and run the following command:
2. sudo adduser $USER dialout && sudo adduser $USER tty
3. IMPORTANT! Log out and log back in (this refreshes the permissions we just added)
4. Download the Linux 64-bit version, use the .run file per the steps below:
1. Open your terminal and cd to the directory you downloaded the file to.
2. Run bash ./LightBurn-Linux64-v*.run
3. It will now automatically install and create a program listing in your desktop environment.
FETCH some SHX Fonts for use in LIGHTBURN
In Lightburn SETTINGS in the Files/Folders group of settings, there is a SHX Font Path button for where you can store SHX fonts you get from whereever (Google search).
Now we have a whole bunch of new SHX fonts in the list to choose from like COBT (shx) font with the colored shx logo to distinguish from TT fonts and so forth.
Some other nice single line SHX fonts are:
Simple one line sentances burn in a matter of half a minute with such SHX fonts.
TAILORING Lightburn after installation
Set up a template say 50mm long as a measure from the bottom of laser body (not the focal ring) to top of job, and always start each job the same 50mm distance from a variable thickness of wood. That way, you only need to set the focal length once, and adjust the z-axis to match the 50mm template.
Initial Setup for LASER, required
- use manual commands in Lightburn to move the laser to virtual 0,0 position and SET ORIGIN.
- Menu --> Edit > Device Settings --> ENABLE Z-axis
- Menu --> Laser Tools --> Focus Test (this turns the laser ON)
so be sure to have material to burn, in place
- establish slower speeds to suit LASER operation like: (Manual GRBL commands)
$110=500.000 (x max rate, mm/min)
$111=500.000 (y max rate, mm/min)
$112=500.000 (z max rate, mm/min)
$120=500.000 (x accel, mm/sec^2)
$121=500.000 (y accel, mm/sec^2)
$122=500.000 (z accel, mm/sec^2)
$130=300.000 (x max travel, mm) (based on a 300x180 sized platform)
$131=180.000 (y max travel, mm) (based on a 300x180 szied platform)
$132=45.000 (z max travel, mm)
- If running GRBL 0.9, don't attempt $32=1 (Laser mode)
and $30=1000 does not apply for speed either
$C first time stops axis movement to check code execution
$C again,, undoes the code-checking to run live.
? asks what STATUS we're at. (in <check> mode or not, and if at <Idle> awaiting execution)
Importing and burning the Club LOGO
Pictures (jpg) are automatically converted to a monochrome IMAGE, and the laser scans left to right and jogs a miniscule Y-axis movement and scans back right to left, over and over, taking 79 minutes to complete this example, based on the acceleration settings above.
In the end, it seems to be all about FOCUS, Font and Speed!
In LIGHTBURN, each aspect of a design becomes a line item to be lasered, and that line item can have the power level adusted as a percentage. For example the SHX font single line words are burnt at 100%, whereas the delicate fine etchings (left/right/right/eft/repeat) are burnt at only 20% with far less fumes involved. The final result, can have a significant variance, based on speed too. Those settings above ($119 etc) were set fairly slow, to allow the laser enough time, at a given power rating, to actually burn the material. At first, when those settings were three times higher (faster), there was hardly any burnt material being achived. Just a faint outline, hardly discernable. By slowing dow the speed, then the laser had time to etch the work nicely.
The examples illustrated were lasered onto 3mm MDF, which is not good for the fumes, based on content of the material. But it well illustrates the final black laser markings on light coloured wood. So Huon Pine comes to mind or light coloured timber to really allow the laser sign to be seen.
So this has been my first experimentation with a laser, and no doubt there is far more to learn, but something is happening, and that's an import start. Experimenting with the speed and power ratings, for any given type of wood, will undoubtedly produce a variety of results. So always practice one part of a design, on a scrap piece of wood.
Happy and Healthy woodworking with your CNC!
Gary Pope 0408 994 799
PS: Now to deal with smoke extraction! Check the movie links below.
And for some more great clues elsewhere
check this chap's great tips, from Geordie_H in Portland USA.