Review: Full Spectrum Laser's "40W Hobby Laser" (LONG READ!)


Sr Member
Back in October of 2011, I participated in a contest over at for Halloween props. The grand prize was a 40W Hobby Laser from a company call Full Spectrum Laser. Since I got this thing, I've gotten lot of questions about it from other builders about the quality of work it does, and if its worth the $2400~ pricetag.

I haven't worked with laser cutters directly before this, though I have ordered some parts from Ponoko before. This machine isn't capable of the same resolution or cutting depth of those, but it has proven itself useful so far.

First, The Bad:

The machine was delivered in early December, and (thanks FedEx) left outside my house without so much as a knock at the door. It was also upside-down and spent its first night outside since I never had any indication of a delivery.

After unpacking it, I noticed there's a bit of a misnomer in the term "Desktop Laser Cutter" as a machine like this requires its own air compressor, water pump, and exhaust fan. I set about building it a cabinet/stand for it to live on. If you get a machine like this, be prepared for it to take up a bit of space.



Instructions for setting the machine up are fairly thorough, but woefully optimistic. There are a plethora of lines where the phrase "______ was carefully aligned at the factory, so further alignment will likely not be necessary" - These alignments were absolutely obliterated during shipping, as some of the ancillary hardware (like the water pump, compressor, etc) are simply placed into the cutting cabinet during shipping. These knocked the crap out of the laser mirrors, and as a result, nothing was aligned when I fired it up the first time.

The first test fire showed the mirrors that bounce the laser were very far off. This charred spot is where the stationary mirror missed the Y-axis mirror and the laser attempted to burn through the casing of the machine. It took me about 5-6 hours of work to get all the mirrors properly aligned.


Other parts, such as the cutting head, were also bent very far off square during transit.


In removing the cutting head to repair the damage of the bent mounting bracket, I also took apart the mirror casing to get a better idea of how the machine operates. Good thing I did, as there was a bunch of sticky-backed paper crud on the mirror which had been igniting as the laser came into the cutting head assembly. This was cleaned off with alcohol and a soft cloth, then re-assembled.


Cutting head after repairs:


The more I got into this thing, the more issues like this started popping up. There is a thin piece of metal that holds up the laser tube as well as the stationary mirror at the back of the machine. During shipping, this was also bent badly out of square.


Further, the Y-axis movement was in no way limited by software or hardware. If given commands to cut a piece a mile long, the machine will simply drive the cutting head into the bottom aluminum frame until it has moved the motors the appropriate distance. There are nylon spacers here to prevent the collision of the cutting head with the frame, but they're about 3/8" too short.


I fixed this by adding a few hose clamps to the rails:


I was able to get the machine mechanically sound, then started it up for a test print. It got about 2 minutes into the cut, then refused to recognize commands any further. The problem was eventually traced to a bad USB driver board. I had a 3 week back and forth with FSLaser's customer service department, who informed me that since I won the laser cutter in a contest they did not endorse, they didn't owe me jack nothing, thank-you-very-much.

I got in touch with Instructables, who in turn went to their distributor, who went to bat for me. I got a pretty begrudged phone call from FSLaser informing me to send the board back to them and they would inspect it and issue a replacement if the board was bad. In their words "We've never had one of these stop working"

For reference, this was the condition of the protective covering plate that shields this board, when I removed it from the machine. This is 1/16" steel here, not tinfoil. I have no idea what could have caused a dent like this:


And after I repaired it, how it should look (closest tan paint I had!)


I waited 5 weeks for the replacement (which was supposed to show up in a matter of days) then emailed them asking what the delay was. I was told that "Phil was on vacation" and my order ticket had probably slipped through the cracks.

The board showed up 2 days later. It was a used board and showed signs of previous damage. Also, it wasn't the same board as I had sent in, and didn't fit the mounting holes in my machine, so I had to drill new ones.

Damage and scorch marks/melted spots on board components:




Surprisingly, the board worked when plugged up. I'm a little concerned as to exactly how long this will be functioning (as of now, two weeks) but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

The Good:

The machine works surprisingly well once you fix all the issues. Cutting acrylic seems to be best, but I've done engraving on MDF, Styrene and ABS with equally positive results. I suppose that's as good a review as I can give it. Once you fix it, the machine will function as intended. *slow clap*

1/8" acrylic. This was before I had gotten the belts tensioned just right on the X-axis control:

Engraving on 1/4" MDF. This was far higher resolution.

More acrylic:

Test patterns for an LED matrix. These are cut in ABS and thin PETG, finals will be thicker and bracketed in acrylic:

I'd say the best use of this thing is going to be for small accessory parts. The ability to do largescale stuff, cut thicker material, or do gentile curves just isn't there. I suppose that's where the "Hobby" namesake comes into play.

The software they include is twitchy and takes some getting used to, but capable and easy to get the hang of. They recommend some really arcane programs (and most of their troubleshooting is worthless. "Having a problem? Not using Corel Draw? Use Corel Draw.") but it will work equally well with Adobe applications as well. No Mac support, but that's understandable.

TL;DR RECAP: Their customer service is garbage and the product needs a competent builder in order to get it to function at all. If you don't have access to at least a moderate workshop in order to repair this thing, and if you're not comfortable with troubleshooting and repairing issues on the fly, look elsewhere. This isn't a "ready to run" piece, at least not the one I got, and you shouldn't expect to have it operational any earlier than at least a week after the box showing up at your door.

Even once its up and working, the machine makes 7 out of 10 results at best. I don't think it has the fidelity for real high end parts production, so if you're okay with a bit of a turnaround then I'd suggest you just keep ordering parts through places like Ponoko.

If you have $3k to spend, don't. Keep saving, double it, and buy something from a company like Epolig Zing 16. If this thing hadn't been free, I would have asked for my money back immediately after opening the box.
Not sure if you're still following this thread at all but I figured I'd give it a shot. I've been looking at laser cutters pretty extensively for about a month now in order to buy one. One application would be for hobby and prop applications, but the other would be fairly extensive use by my SO for her architecture career. I've read quite a few horror stories (A lot about Full Spectrum on CNC Zone as you described) but also some good success stories about some of the Chinese models. The types I'm looking at are much larger and should be able to cut through 1/4" MDF without a problem, but I was curious as to how useful that would be. I guess I'm asking how much do you really rely on it? And should I use my money on something like a Firebolt Meteor first? (She won't need the laser cutter for another year or so anyway as she has one at school she can use.)

I can see advantages to cutting out pieces of props and fabric but I'm not sure exactly how much I would be using it and it dropping to a smaller machine might be a better idea. Right now I can't really afford one of the domestic models so unless I'm gifted one (A domestic one, not a Chinese one like you got [FSL is a distributor for a Chinese maker, it was probably damaged while being shipped from China, which is where most of the horror stories I read come from]) I don't think that route will really be open to me.
Sadly the domestic ones are REALLY expensive. You do get what you pay for though. :)

I have a Chinese one. Shipped to me from China and works fine. Not what I'd call a quality machine but gets the job done.

If you just want something to tinker with they're not bad.
I have an Epilog 2436 with a 75w laser. I generally avoid cutting 1/4" mdf very much as even with this power, it's a very slow process and it produces a lot of particle rich dust, enough to hurt the final focus lens if it's not kept really clean. I do it, I just don't like doing it very much.
Yeah the one we've been using used to cut MDF like butter. But with so many kids putting all kinds of weird stuff in it and breaking parts of it, the laser just burns the surface of the wood and makes a stinky smokey mess. And that's with cleaning the mirror twice a day. I think I'll try one of the Chinese models; I'm looking at an 80w 2x3 right now that looks pretty decent . At worst I'll have a really expensive new shelf to put stuff on that looks really cool and reminds me that I'm a moron
At worst I'll have a really expensive new shelf to put stuff on that looks really cool and reminds me that I'm a moron

I would argue that at worst you'll have a "fixer upper". With fine tuning and some work some of the Chinese units can work quite well.
Yeah the one we've been using used to cut MDF like butter. But with so many kids putting all kinds of weird stuff in it and breaking parts of it, the laser just burns the surface of the wood and makes a stinky smokey mess. And that's with cleaning the mirror twice a day. I think I'll try one of the Chinese models; I'm looking at an 80w 2x3 right now that looks pretty decent . At worst I'll have a really expensive new shelf to put stuff on that looks really cool and reminds me that I'm a moron

Sounds like something with vinyl was cut (a few times) cutting things with vinyl in it (ie pvc) releases pure chlorine gas. That's bad for you and the laser, etches the mirrors, corrodes the metal and messes with the motion control system.

Also a general tip for anyone don't cut ABS with a laser either, ABS emits cyanide when cut. (it also doesn't cut well, it melts more that cuts.)
I'm a member of a hackerspace (Pumping Station: One) and here's a section out of our wiki. It's based both on experience and what we've been told from Epilog.


PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride) : Also known as "vinyl" "pleather" "artificial leather." Emits pure chlorine gas when cut! Don't ever cut this material as it will ruin the optics, cause the metal of the machine to corrode, and ruin the motion control system.

Polycarbonate : Also known as "Lexan". Polycarbonate is also often found as flat, sheet material. The case cover window on the laser cutter is made of Polycarbonate because polycarbonate strongly absorbs infrared radiation! This is the frequency of light the laser cutter uses to cut materials, so it is very ineffective at cutting polycarbonate. Polycarbonate can also emit flame and chlorine gas when cut, making it a poor choice for laser cutting.

ABS : ABS does not cut well in a laser cutter. It tends to melt rather than vaporize, and has a higher chance of catching on fire and leaving behind melted gooey deposits on the vector cutting grid. It also does not engrave well (again, tends to melt). Finally, ABS emits cyanide when cut.

HDPE : "milk bottle" plastic. It melts. It gets gooey. It catches on fire. Don't use it.

PolyStyrene Foam : It catches fire, it melts, and only thin pieces cut. This is the #1 material that causes laser fires!!!

Fiberglass : It's a mix of two materials that cant' be cut. Glass (etch, no cut) and epoxy resin (fumes)

Coated Carbon Fiber: Again, it's a mix of two materials. Thin carbon fiber mat can be cut, with some fraying. However, once coated with epoxy it will emit noxious fumes.
And Orange, thank you. I feel a lot more confident moving forward with this now. I'll be sure to throw up pictures of my adventure with my new toy when it arrives :)
And Orange, thank you. I feel a lot more confident moving forward with this now. I'll be sure to throw up pictures of my adventure with my new toy when it arrives :)

No problem. :)

What type of things are you hoping to make? Mine is primarily for rubber stamps for my paper props.
There are lots of times I find myself needing precise cuts of PETG, styrene, thin mdf, or fabric (cotton, polyester and the like) and things I either can't do by hand or can't do as well. Using CAD has been super easy to learn and there's a replica gun I've been working on that I just can't get to come out by hand. Not to mention the engraving aspect which I could think of hundreds of uses for! The machine I'm looking at also includes a rotary tool with it. I'm not sure what cylinder things I'd engrave with it but I'll find something! This one. It wouldn't be so bad if I weren't insistent on it having lights and moving parts. But the paneling on the side of the grip I can't get good enough by hand and need to laser cut it in addition to the front of the grip, the triggers, and lots of other small parts of the gun. I've got all the CAD files ready to go, just need a cutter that works now because the public one we were using died.
I've been looking at this one by Redsail for a while: C150. The issue is I can't tell why it's so cheap for such a large machine. I'm assuming it can't support additions like a raising and lowering platform or positioning laser, but those things are pretty rudimentary so I can't be sure that's why. Again lots of red flags.

24x36" Laser Engraver Cutter Machine JCUT-6090 - China Laser Engraver Machine,Laser Cutter Machine is the other. It's a bit more expensive for the 80w and it's smaller than the C150, but comes with more feature offers. Main issue is price and having to pay for USB capability
Interesting. I'm willing to bet the C150 doesn't have any of the additions you mentioned. Didn't see a price on the second link, what are we talking?
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