Sam's Laser FAQ, Copyright © 1994-2009, Samuel M. Goldwasser, All Rights Reserved.
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    Laser and Parts Sources

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    Where to Find Laser Equipment and Parts

    Sources for Everything from $5 Laser Diodes to $100,000 C02 Laser Welders

    A large number of companies sell lasers, laser components, and related optics to the hobbyist and experimenter. As with everything else these days, the trend is toward putting their catalogs on the Web, in some cases complete with photos of each item. There is a fairly wide range of prices so shopping around is recommended. At least, your mouse can often to the walking. The quality from places like Edmund Scientific is very high but you pay for it. For many purposes, much cheaper alternatives are available.

    It is also possible to buy from private individuals on-line via classified ads in USENET newsgroups, other discussion groups and bulletin boards, auctions, and private Web sites.

    Where actual manufacturer's model numbers are listed in the catalog or on the Web page, it is a good idea to confirm that the specifications actually do match. Inaccuracies in catalog entries are very common (like a HeNe laser listed as 5 mW that turns out to be only .5 mW, oops). Similarly, it would be disappointing to say the least if you blew a visible laser diode because the driver board actually required a regulated input when the listing claimed otherwise. :-(

    Compare prices as well. There can be a wide variation in the price of the identical system or component among the various surplus houses or other suppliers. Haggling (at least with private individuals) may get you a better deal especially if you can identify lower prices elsewhere. More expensive items may be in better condition or newer, but not always - and it may not matter for your purposes. Consider using COD (Cash On Delivery) for payment if available (instead of a check, money order, or credit card) when dealing with a company for the first time or when in doubt about their integrity. For purchases from individuals, in addition to COD, a partial payment arrangement (e.g., 50% percent up front, 50% after receipt and inspection of merchandise) shouldn't scare off someone who has nothing to hide if they can verify *your* integrity. The latter shouldn't be a problem if you are a regular contributer to USENET newsgroups or frequent buyer and/or seller on eBay! :)

    A commercial supplier should know how to pack and ship fragile merchandise to prevent damage. However, when ordering from a private individual or if you should need to send laser parts through the mail, or via UPS, Fed-X, Airborn, etc., packing should be done such that the box can withstand being drop-kicked from a 10 story building. Four inches of bubble-wrap or styrofoam peanuts on all sides should be considered a minimum with adequate protection between items as well. Insurance is also a worthwhile expense though successfully filing a claim could be an ordeal. Stickers marked 'Fragile' and 'Do Not Drop' may just make the package a more inviting target. :-)

    Then, when you receive your merchandise, make sure you actually were sold what was expected. Confirm that it behaves as advertised. I have received HeNe laser power supplies marked with reversed polarity, for example. Honest (or otherwise) mistakes in packing and labelling do occur. And, of course, DO NOT open the inner packaging or attempt to power an item that was shipped in error as getting a refund may be much more difficult if the seller can honestly claim you damaged something.

    I've only had to file an insurance claim once, with the U.S. Post Office (USPS). That was for a 15 to 20 mW HeNe laser head I had gotten along with a power supply on eBay. The bore of the laser head was fractured, most likely due to the package falling onto a concrete floor. (The power supply was not damaged.) From my perspective, the packing was not totally adequate but would have been fine for ordinary handling, even tossing it onto a pile of boxes. Thus, I would have not been terribly unhappy to have the the claim denied with an excuse of "inadequate packing". Then, I would go back to the seller and it is likely we would have come to some acceptable agreement. However, I filled out the claim form, obtained the insurance receipt and an itemized cost receipt from the seller, and included a description along with a diagram of the damage. I went into my local post office with these as well as the box and all packing material, the broken laser head partially disassembled so the damage could be easily seen, and a mockup of the power supply to show how everything was arranged. Since the claim was for only $50, they paid it on the spot. It turns out that $50 is the USPS limit for this - otherwise it would have had to go through the system, with an uncertain and no doubt long time to completion. (I did forgo reimbursement for part of the shipping cost but figured that a bird in the hand.....) Aside from just getting in under the instant payment limit in this case, one key to getting an insurance claim paid without hassle is no doubt having all the original packaging and complete documentation to present when filing the claim.

    Also see the sections: Laser Sales and Service Companies and Laser and Optics Manufacturers and Suppliers for sources of mostly expensive laser products. However, some of those companies may have overstock and surplus sales as well as items like diode laser modules that are more reasonably priced.

    Locating Laser Specifications

    It is often difficult to determine the capabilities of a particular model laser in terms of wavelength and power output based on a single catalog listing or description alone. (For testing of an laser you have, see the chapter(s) for that specific laser type.)

    Obviously, for a model that is still being sold, the manufacturer's literature or Web site will often provide enough info. User and service manuals may also be available as well as for older lasers that they still support. In addition, there may be many variations on a given model depending on the type of optics installed and possible tube replacement or upgrade.

    Unfortunately, few manufacturers maintain detailed specifications or other information readily accessible (e.g., on-line) for older models. After all, why should they help you fix the laser that you've been happy with for the last 5 years for only $500 when they can sell you a shiny new and improved one for $20,000! :(

    There are a variety of other places to look for specifications but their accuracy can vary based on the objectives of the provider (e.g., honesty, vested interests, optimism, technical knowledge).

    Compare info from multiple sources if possible - the more agreement there is, the higher the probability that the information is correct.

    Also see the section: Buyer Beware for Laser Purchases.

    Buyer Beware for Laser Purchases

    In perusing the various laser offerings from time-to-time at the eBay Auction Site as well as the on-line or print catalogs of various surplus outfits, it very often seems that given the model or size of the laser, the claimed power output ratings are considerably higher than what may be realistic while still achieving a reasonable system lifetime, or are not possible at all. The most common error (intentional or not) is to use the CDRH safety sticker value rather than the manufacturer's or measured power output in the description of the laser. This is an upper bound - the actual capability can be anything lower! And, even if the seller states that they measured the actual output power, there's no guarantee that their laser power meter was calibrated within the last century or that they knew how to use it properly!

    Here are some comments on laser power and other claims that you should be aware of before purchasing a used laser:

    For more info, also see the section: About Laser Power Ratings.

    Attempt to determine what is actually possible - don't take the seller's word for it. You can't confirm actual output over the Internet or from a catalog but at least you will know that you aren't likely to get 5 mW from a HeNe laser head only 10 inches long, 300 mW from a surplus ALC-60X argon ion laser without a meltdown, or 125 mW from *any* Uniphase uGreen laser!

    Many people also claim that the lasers they are selling have low hours or were only used briefly a few times ("only driven by a little old lady to church on Sundays."). In most cases they actually don't have a clue and such claims carry about as much weight as the campaign promises of politicians. :) Unless the laser was originally purchased new, they (or you) may have no real way of determining how much it was used. For HeNe lasers, this may not matter that much since if the laser works when you get it, it will probably continue to work for as many hours as you are likely to care. But for ion lasers, you could be getting a low pressure tube that is on its way out. While there is usually an elapsed time meter present on ion lasers it isn't a reliable indication of past use as the tube may have been swapped or a mechanical meter may have recycled back to zero (more than once!) and like automobile odometers, can be reset. With other types of lasers, it may be even more difficult to determine the amount of use. High power diode lasers and diode pumped solid state lasers may have a life expentancy of only a few thousand hours to begin with and the one being offered may be near the end of useful life. And, if abused at any time, all bets are off and it may not even make a good boat anchor!

    Finally, here are some other common statements paraphrased from various actual eBay offerings:

    Whether buying from a surplus outfit or a private individual, don't expect to get a new laser for bargain basement prices. The well known laser surplus places may buy up reject inventory from major laser companies like Melles Griot - laser heads and tubes that didn't meet spec even when new. Unless the item is clearly stated to be new and meets new specs, this can probably be assumed. If the model number is given, sometimes it's possible to tell a reject. For example, with Melles Griot lasers, a '-Q' suffix (e.g., 05-LYR-171-Q) means that the yellow HeNe laser head (in this case) didn't meet specs but still lases somewhat - its performance wasn't so terrible that it went to the crusher. (I have one that varies between 1.5 and 2.5 mW of yellow on a several minute cycle due to 3.391 um IR mode competition. It's still a very nice laser but not useful for many applications.) However, even if you know what to look for, the Q designation may not make it to sticker attached to the laser. With private sales there are several more levels of unknowns unless the laser was purchased new (unlikely!), the seller worked for a company that purchased it new before the project was cancelled, or the pedigree is completely known. :)

    And the most amusing listings I've seen on eBay lately go something like: "Argon-Ion Laser Tube Air-Cooled Add Gas and Go". Right, like all that is needed is a bottle of argon gas from your friendly welding supplier. Not! Even if these are usable at all (they could very well be rejects), just a bit more is needed. See the chapters on argon/krypton ion lasers before you end up with an expensive paperweight.

    The only real way to protect yourself from deceptive or exaggerated advertising claims is a combination of getting the detailed specifications, buying from a reputable supplier, and obtaining a purchase arrangement that includes a binding money back guarantee in writing or some other way of cancelling a deal for merchandise that turns out not to be or do what was claimed!

    Of course, once you receive your laser, the only way to be truly sure of the output power is with a laser power meter or by comparison with another laser of known performance.

    Remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You aren't likely to be the only one to have 'discovered' a bargain - if no one else has bid it up at eBay there is probably a very good reason!

    Also see the section: Equivalent Brightness Ratings and Laser Pointer Visibility since this is another area where the real and the imaginary are often jumbled together!

    Some Tips for Sellers

    Here are some assorted suggestions to optimize the buying experience and get the highest prices for your laser and high tech junk, err, merchandise. These are written with an auction in mind but most apply to classified ads and newsgroup postings (where permitted):

    Packing Laser Equipment to Withstand Drunk 900 Pound Gorillas During Shipping

    The following applies to both the buyer and seller: Always assume that your package is likely to be tossed around like a bail of hay and that 'Fragile' stickers (or those silly icon that no one understands) just make good targets for drop-kick practice! If you are shipping the laser, make sure it is packed to withstand a nuclear bomb; if you are the buyer insist that the seller pack it to withstand a nuclear bomb - and offer to pay extra for shipping and packing material if necessary!

    Having said all that, I did a very scientific test with one of my dead Spectra-Physics 084-1 barcode scanner HeNe laser tubes from which I had already cannibalized the mirrors. This is about 10 inches long with a spider supporting the bore (the most fragile part in an HeNe tube subjected to mechanical shock) at about the halfway point. I used about 2 to 3 inches of bubble wrap all around and stuffed it into a worn cardboard box about 5" x 6" x 13" 'sealed' with an elastic band. I then abused this package to every way possible short of using a nuclear bomb (which were temporarily out of stock): Tossing it across the room, dropping on various sides and corners with and without spin from 7 feet onto a concrete floor, kicking it through the uprights, sitting on it, etc. The mirrorless tube survived just fine - the bore was well supported. What does this mean? Probably not much except for this particular model HeNe tube and it is still possible that the bore shifted slightly within the spider. There is no way to know that for sure without testing on a live tube (but it can also generally be corrected). However, in all likelihood, the typical HeNe tube would work just fine if packed in this manner (or better) even after all the abuse OOPS could dish out. :) Of course, an entire external mirror laser would likely be a much different story, especially one with a long plasma tube. And even if the glass parts survive, circuit boards and structural components can fracture from relatively low G forces if not well supported.

    Of course, the general rule is: If you ship a dead laser wrapped only in a single layer of brown paper, it will arrive in perfect condition. But, if you ship a functional laser in 6 inches of foam inside a box inside 12 inches of bubble wrap inside another box inside a crate, it will arrive in a thousand pieces. :)

    Note that no matter how well packed a laser is, shipping companies may give you a hard time about insurance claims and point to some disclaimer in their contract printed in 2 point type that disallows any coverage for lasers and other scientific apparatus. Some don't even consider the manufacturer's original packaging to be adequate even for computer monitors, let alone lasers. Further note that the seller may have simply sent you a broken laser. :(

    If you try to file a claim, it is possible for the carrier to insist that any amount of packing material was inadequate.

    Here are some somewhat humorous but all too true guidelines. This was originally posted to the USENET newsgroup alt.lasers for a specific shipping company, whose name I have deleted.

    (Based on a posting from: (

    Many years of experience has shown that insurance claims through shipping companies are next to impossible to recover. Their reasons are as follows and they will deny claims in the following order:

    1. You did not insure the product. If you did go to Step 2.
    2. Item was incorrectly packed. They will stall about 1 to 2 months to have someone inspect the package. If packed well go to Step 3.
    3. Read the print on the shipping booklet. Glass and ceramic items are probably not covered. Go to Step 4.
    4. Take them to court. Unless you feel like supporting the legal profession, you won't win anyway. give it up. Go to Step 5.
    5. If the item was insured and clearly damaged in transit (like a forklift went through it, a truck rolled over it) they won't pay.
    6. Major companies that ship all the time provide their own extra insurance coverage for this problem.
    7. Best bet is to ship with properly packed and supported parts so that anything short of (and possibly including) a nuclear bomb won't damage the laser.

    (From: Steve Roberts (

    I carefully build crates around my lasers, and insulate the lasers from shock with spray in foam that self hardens. Its a wonder how two of my crates have been reduced to kindling lately. One arrived sans crate! A third CO2 tube marked for special fragile handling by UPS (often pronounced OOOPS) didn't make it, it's been reduced to scrap glass. Same for an incredibly well packed 50 mW HeNe laser last year. I specified and paid for FedEx, but the seller used OOOOPPS to pocket the difference and ended up paying for my dead laser as a reward.

    As for the broken CO2 tube, I'm driving 250 miles each way to replace it for the customer to keep my sanity, and my truck has a good suspension. According to a local driver, all OOOOOPPPSS packages drop 6 feet into a rotary sorting bin. I've had a few customers spec OOOOOPPPPSSS lately because FedEx was too expensive. Never again!

    I've had good luck with FedEx, only one package ever got smashed. Delta Air Freight also has done a decent job for me.

    For small air-cooled lasers I've used the U.S. Postal Service, sent 'registered', so it's hand carried and locked up each night in a safe. I Had remarkably good results with the snail mail folks - slow, but it gets there in one piece. A little pricey, but competitive.

    Some suggestions:

    1. Pack the laser in several layers of bubble wrap, tightly taped round the unit.

    2. This then goes in a cardboard box, with several INCHES of foam pellets around it.

    3. This then goes into a crate with 3 to 4 inches of spacing between it and the cardboard box, either filled with solid foam or sprayed in foam. Expect the crate to disappear by the time the unit arrives at its destination (if it ever does).

    4. If it's a Spectra-Physics or similar glass tube, pull off the Brewster stem covers so they don't break the long glass stems by inertia or vibration.

    5. Put a block of soft foam under the tube at the brewsters and under any long runs of unsupported glass.

    6. Gently tape or somehow hold down (RTV or Liquid Rubber?) long glass return paths on lasers that have them.

    7. Glass does flex a little and will break, so any appendages on the tube like gauges, fill stems, and gas reservoirs, must be anchored down in such a way they can flex to survive vibration but not snap off.

    8. Sometimes it's best to remove the plasma tube and anchor it to a carefully designed board shipped in a different box insured as a plasma tube so they can't wiggle out of an insurance claim if it arrives in pieces. Joe Sixpack at OOOOOOOOOPPPPPPSSSSS figures his 4,000 pound car isn't fragile, so your 600 pound laser must not be either.

    9. If it's a big heavy laser system, put it on a proper skid, so they don't jury rig it onto a forklift.

    10. Finally, clearly mark it as a HEAVY IRON ANVIL, SO THEY WILL HANDLE IT LIKE IT'S MADE FROM BIRDS EGGS. ;-0

    (From: Bob.)

    I recently had a problem with UPS breaking something on me, and although they paid the insurance claim, I looked to ways to better package fragile items. I have come up with the following: Wrap the breakable in a few layers of small bubble bubble wrap. This provides a layer of cushioning for the object. Then use self expanding polyurathane foam just like the stuff used in foam-in-place machines, but this stuff is the 2 pounds/cubic foot foam used in building boats. Two gallons of the stuff runs about $40 and is enough to fill a 55 gallon drum about 2/3rds full. The cool thing about this stuff is that if you use it to ship your items, they truly become indestructable. Use cheap industrial type trash bags to keep the foam from getting on the cardboard box and what you are shipping. Make a 'seat' of foam to lay the breakable in, then fill in the box with another trash bag and then foam fill, so that the box is totally full of foam. Make sure you use at least 4 to 6 inches of foam on all sides. So long as you start out with a cardboard box of decent integrity, you now have an in-destructable shipping box. I recently shipped a large X-ray tube in a double corrugated cardboard box that was 18 x 18 x 18 inches. At first the UPS manager didn't want to accept the shipment saying it wasn't properly packed for a fragile item. I then knocked the box off of the counter it sat on, stood on it, and hopped up and down a few times. Needless to say a proper application of marine foam is super strong!!! It still has some give to it, so if a box was dropped on a corner it would dent a small bit (you want some degree of deformation, otherwise you don't have any shock absorption effect going on!), but it makes your box virtually drop and or crush proof. I use the stuff to ship ANYTHING thats fragile now.

    (From: Laserlover (

    I use MSAS Cargo International and add "All Perils" Insurance coverage to cover my butt and packing has to be up to their standards. All the other carriers like Fed-Ex, DHL, Purolator and the infamous UPS (OOOPSsss) will only pay for loss (mechanical damage) - and forget about anything made of glass or ceramic. MSAS Cargo International won't try to screw you as long as you can prove value of goods with quote from the original company or second source in the industry. Also take pictures before and after packing to prove integrity of goods being shipped.

    The following definitely belongs in the humor department though it would be effective.

    (From: Rob (

    Ship all lasers in coffins or caskets!

    1. Most shipping people honor the dead as they can relate to dead relatives.

    2. No fork lift driver is going to stab a casket, Think of what smell or guts might come out the hole.

    3. They are usually rounded on top, and the sides are not flat (delicate handles) so no stacking.

    4. They aren't going to stand it on end, just in case a body falls out, they don't want any part of touching a dead person.

    5. They will be eager to get your package there on time. They don't want that thing sitting in a corner, or in their warehouse.

    6. If they lose it, the may fear criminal prosecution, or surely a investigation.

    I can see it now. When picking up the package from the airport, opening it up for inspection just to see the looks in their face as you open it on their dock. Shippers may feel sorry for you, and airlines may give you a free ticket to fly along with it, or at least priority seating.

    Didn't they do this during Prohibition? Well, at least in the Jack Lemon movie "Some Like It Hot". :) --- Sam.

    Packing a Spectra-Physics Model 127 Laser

    The SP-127 is a large-frame HeNe laser, roughly 42 inches in length and 22 pounds. Since it's got a large glass tube inside, packing to minimize physical shock is essential.

    (The following approach was inspired by a laser packed and shipped to me by George Sohnle. I have added to it slightly.)

    Use a heavy cardboard shipping box with minimum dimensions of 14x15x50 inches. This is still within the maximum dimensions (girth plus length, or 108 inches in this case) of most carriers, for Ground shipping at least.

    1. Check that the 4 screws (on the bottom of the laser) holding the SP-127 tube/resonator assembly in place are tight. It would be a real bummer to find out that while the packing did its job, the guts came loose and were happily bouncing themselves to death inside.

    2. Remove the key(s) and line cord. Wrap the laser in a large plastic bag to keep packing debris out.

    3. Wrap this in 3 or 4 layers of small bubble bubble-wrap all around and at both ends.

    4. Construct an inner "box" from polyurethane or styrofoam 1" thick building insulation that snugly encloses the wrapped laser. Use packing tape to secure it all around and at the ends. This material is available at any building supply store or home center and can be cut with a knife.

    5. Line the shipping box on all six sides with a layer of similar 1" thick building insulation.

    6. Wrap the inner box with enough layers of bubble wrap so that it is a snug fit in the lined shipping box. An alternative is to use packing peanuts but there should then be some type of resilient spacers to assure that the inner box remains centered within the shipping box and can't settle during shipping.

    7. Add several inches of medium density plastic foam at each end. (What I mean here is something stiffer than foam rubber but more resilient than the building insulation foam.)

    8. Put the key(s) and line cord in a plastic bag and tape in an obvious place so they won't be lost if the box gets torn.

    9. Secure the box with multiple layers of strong packing tape.

    10. Label it Fragile, Do Not Drop, Delicate Glass Crystal, Do Not Stand on End, Slimy Biological Specimens May Leak and Stink if Damaged, etc. It probably shouldn't be labeled "laser". :)

    For the laser I received, the box and most of the packing is in a condition that can be reused. So, if and when I ship this laser, I'll probably factor a deposit (like $50) into the shipping cost, so the buyer can send it back to me.

    Comments on Shipping/Export of Small Lasers

    Shipping lasers within the USA is usually no problem - except getting them to their destination in one piece. However, sending laser equipment overseas can be a hassle, especially for higher power lasers or those that were part of weapons systems like the M60 or Chieftain tank rangefinders that are currently quite popular on the surplus market. I don't know that there actually would be a problem with these specific devices but also wouldn't want to find out the hard way, with a knock on the door by someone from one of those three letter Government agencies! If you're thinking of selling these or other such lasers on eBay or elsewhere, I would probably recommend against agreeing to ship internationally. There are plenty of buyers in the USA for your junk, oops, high quality lasers. :)

    At the very least, you will need to provide an invoice to the shipper (e.g., USPS, UPS) listing the item(s) to be shipped and the declared value. I do avoid using the word "laser" so as not to risk an overzealous or just greedy inspector from attempting to dig out an overdriven laser pointer. So far, I've shipped several small HeNe lasers overseas without incident. I just put "barcode scanner tube" (for the SP-084) and "particle scanner tube" (for the one-Brewster Climet 9048) with a declared value of $0.00 on the invoice and on the little green Postal form (for total weight under 4 pounds), marked them as a "gift". These weigh next to nothing so they don't attract the attention of overworked customs inspectors and there's nothing illegal about shipping these lasers to most foreign countries anyhow. Putting some small value other than $0 may attract even less attention though. For example, for the UK in particular:

    (From: Mike Harrison (

    "Anything which has a declared value below UKP18 (about US$25) as merchandise, or UKP36 ($50) as a gift will not be charged import duty, so putting these values will not cause a problem, and might look more credible. Above this there is duty (typically 17.5% VAT) on the goods value PLUS the postage charge, then another UKP3.75 'handling charge', and the package can be delayed by 1 to 2 weeks."

    (Portions from Steve Roberts (

    On a simple unstabilized cheap HeNe laser there are no export controls as far as I know. I have never heard of any regulations on anything that did not have strategic importance, especially if you're only shipping one. Were it a dozen then I would be concerned. Several U.S. HeNe laser manufacturers have sold entire state of the art HeNe production lines to China. Don't loose any sleep over it.

    Besides, it's importing things where customs is concerned with lasers. And unless it deals with drugs, murder, or white collar crime, the U.S. is never going to extradite you. :-)

    However, for high power diodes lasers or parts of lasers, green YAGs, lasers over a few watts, lasers that can be used as weapons, lasers that stabilize themselves, lasers that can blind pilots, LIDAR, something like research picosecond or Terawatt lasers, and lasers that can be used for semiconductor or uranium processing, one has to be careful. These need approval from the State Department. In addition, shipping to laser or other high tech equipment or parts to certain specific countries will raise red flags with the Government so you will have to do your homework to avoid a serious hassle or worse.

    (From: John_LeB (

    All proscribed technology is covered under the Bureau of Export Administration. The Export Administration Database provides links to the files listing various technologies.

    There is a PDF file which you can find that will list proscribed technology. There are links on the web site to regional and national phone numbers where reps will talk with you. You want category 6 - Sensors and Lasers.

    I went through all of this to get my crypto software licensed for export and got an exemption on it. So it is relatively easy to navigate once you get to the page and find the PDF files with the info.

    To export out of the USA, you would just need either an export license or an exemption. Then in the packaging you would need to put the export license number on the packing list, if I'm not mistaken.

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  • Back to Laser and Parts Sources Sub-Table of Contents.

    New, Surplus, Walk-In, Mail Order/Web, Kits/Plans (Commercial)

    The following sections provide links and/or contact info for many companies offering lasers, optics, and laser related equipment and parts as well as some general electronics distributors and surplus outfits, scrap and salvage places, and tips on where to pick up big lasers cheap.

    The listings below are mostly in alphabetical order, domestic (US) followed by foreign. Their position or even their existence on these lists does not imply anything about my impression of their quality, reliability, or integrity. However, there may be additional specific comments included in the description.

    Walk-In/Mail Order/Web

    Mail Order/Web - Lasers, Laser Parts, Optics, Accessories

    It is well worth asking for catalogs or browsing the on-line catalogs, and getting on the mailing lists of all of these companies as they offer a wide variety of neat, nifty, and often useful electronic, mechanical, and optical items often at excellent prices.

    Offerings include new, used, or surplus lasers and laser components. Quality and prices may vary quite widely - check them out before ordering!

    Mail Order - Electronics Surplus, Some Lasers - Varies from Month to Month

    These companies offer a wide and constantly changing variety of new and surplus electronic components, modules, subassemblies, and other weird, interesting, and sometimes useful stuff generally including some lasers, laser parts, kits, and other laser related items: Check out the on-line links to Silicon Valley Surplus Sources as well.

    Mail Order - Electronic Components

    For general electronic components, the following will fill your needs (these are just a sampling). Some of these companies do list a few laser diodes and other opto-electronic components:

    The following companies carry a wide selection of semiconductors (including many Japanese types) and in addition have replacement parts for microwave ovens (and other consumer electronic equipment) which may be useful for some laser power supply designs:

    (From: Kim Clay (

    I live in West Palm Beach, Florida & there aren't any surplus or discount electronics places close but I have found some nice sources on the web. Like

    Electronic, Optics, and Laser Project Plans, Kits, Parts, Specialized Components

    I have no direct experience with any of the vendors below, so I cannot really comment on either the quality of their customer service or on how their claims compare with reality! However, most of the really nutty places seem to be concentrated in this section! I have included general comments when available.

    High Quality New and Surplus

    (Also see the section: Some Laser and Optics Manufacturers and Suppliers for well known names like Coherent/Ealing and Melles Griot. Those listed here are more oriented to retail sales.)

    This may also mean high prices for many items (at least compared to what you might have expected) so you should be sitting down when you are browsing the catalogs or Web sites of these suppliers. However, there are exceptions.

    Scrap and Salvage

    Yes, among other places, junk and salvage yards. Many types of equipment contain lasers and these eventually end up at these sorts of business on their way to the land-fill. Unfortunately, in many cases, the lasers will have been removed or rendered useless (translation: smashed) to satisfy various regulatory requirements but often high performance graphic arts equipment like, printers, scanners, duplicators, phototypsetters; fiber optic communications gear; and other high tech systems will contain HeNe, argon ion, or more recently, diode lasers. There will usually be some sort of laser safety sticker on the chassis. From its type and power level description, you can probably get an idea of what is inside. It's up to you to figure a way to haggle the price down on the laser portion of the junk without looking too interested. :) Don't forget that you want the power supplies and possibly the optics in addition to the laser itself.

    Other possibilities: Companies clearing their 'dead storage' or excess inventory, or going out of business, and auctions and liquidation sales.

    You can often find small lasers and laser parts at high tech flea markets and hamfests. Sometimes intact research lasers will show up there but often they are so old that the tube is gassy and usless (unless you are into regassing).

    How to Get a Laser Without Really Trying - Part 1

    If you are have the guts and are willing to make some phone calls and don't mind being told "no" some portion of the time, consider the following:

    CAUTION: What you may end up with is/are one or more BIG lasers in unknown condition. These are extremely dangerous on all fronts - especially electrically and should they work, from the high power beam! You MUST do this in a responsible manner both for your own and others' safety as well as to not abuse the fabulous opportunity that a successful outcome can provide.

    Old lasers may be available from biomedical sources like hospitals and clinics. These places buy the latest, work them to death or until something better comes along, then puts them in storage and eventually sells or gives them away for scrap. If you do find an offer of one or more of these, you will need transportation (e.g., a truck or large minivan - they won't fit in the back of a Honda Civic!) and some buddies to do the heavy lifting.

    WARNING: Where the laser came from a hospital or clinic, you must assume that the business end at least (the articulated beam guide) has probably been in all sorts of places you wouldn't want to go and may have collected all sorts of stuff you wouldn't normally eat or use for bathing! Yes, they were supposed to have been sterilized but given that the laser may have been put into storage because it failed, such procedures may not have been performed. You MUST clean the entire thing except for the actual interior of the laser head with a strong disinfectant as noted below. (Perhaps you can pick up a couple gallons of hospital-grade disinfectant at the same time - one swipe of alcohol may not be enough!) Take care - there is going to be sharp sheet metal and other hazards - open wounds and biomedical waste are not a happy combination!

    The most likely type of lasers available from biomedical sources will be old but could very likely be serviceable or repairable. Most common types are CO2, but you may end up with a high power YAG or Ar/Kr ion type. For the latter, it is quite likely you won't have the power feed required to use them without serious effort and expense as high current 230 VAC three-phase is often what is used. The 'smaller' CO2 units will run on standard 115 VAC, 15 or 20 A.

    Thus, think several times before actually taking these recommendations seriously - you could end up with a major headache or a major bonanza depending on your negotiating skills, technological abilities, and LUCK!

    The following approach has worked for me quite a few times. Mostly you get dead units but to quote Clara Peller: "Partz is partz".

    Call your local hospitals. Tell them you're looking for old lasers for parts and make sure they understand you're going to demedicalize them, Ask for Biomedical or Clinical Engineering - get past the secretary and and talk to a tech or engineer. Avoid talking to accounting or materials management if you can, they want money. Make sure you tell them your end use is a home made engraver. If they are reluctant to let you have it, offer to smash the delivery arm in front of them with a sledge. These people are used to getting such calls, mostly from companies that recycle medical gear.

    Don't be shocked if you hear: "Be here in 15 minutes with a truck and some people to help you load it". Ask for units by Coherent or Sharplan. You WILL need the pickup truck or a decent sized minivan. Take a complete set of allen wrenches including the larger sized ones and tools/socket set to partially dismantle it. Expect to be told the unit will be free or low cost - you're helping them dispose of a 200 to 500 pound monster. Use gloves when you take it apart as most CO2s are used for gynecology. When you get it home, scrub it down with alcohol except for the tube assembly. Take plastic sheets, tarps, rope and trash bags.

    If they don't have one, still ask for their address to send them a letter or business card so they can reach you in the future. If they ask you to take a skid or two of other scrap do so. Also ask if they know of other biomed guys with units laying around.

    (From: Bob.)

    Hospitals would be the first and best place to look. Although nice letters may be the formal polite way of locating equipment, all the people I know who have had any luck getting any lasers from any hospital did so by wearing out their telephone. It seems as though the fellow responsible for getting rid of the hospital's equipment is always a busy harried individual who is willing to let an average Joe get a laser because he offers to make it as painless for the hospital person as possible. In other words, he doesn't have to make any telephone calls, you just show up with a truck and the manpower to load something he considers garbage. Also keep in mind that you may talk to 10 people at the same institution before you actually talk to the fellow responsible for their surplus equipment. It's much easier to get passed down the chain if someone you call can simply tell you over the phone "you need to talk to Harry at ext. 234" than if you send a letter that places the responsibility onto someone else to actually see to it that your letter gets to the right hands, possibly several someone elses. Other sources of lasers might include local businesses (i.e., read the Sunday want-ads for advertisements of auctions, especially if you have any aerospace or other high tech industry in town. You may also want to try large print shops, occasionally universities will excess equipment, and naturally there is always the Net - eBay and other places are gold mines for used equipment but you need to spend the hours in front of the computer screen to find them and you better know the value of what you bid on so you don't get the short end of a bad deal.

    (From: Robin S. (

    I work in the machine shop at a cancer research hospital. There's a huge 4.5 W argon/2.5 W dye laser in the back they didn't even know WAS a laser. You may want to find the machine shop/work shop if you go hunting. Personally, I'd go in person. Some people may be inclined to help you, and some may be too lazy (the phone makes it very easy to be lazy). Be VERY nice, and food ALWAYS helps! Bring a 6 pack of doughnuts or something. You may not get anything, but they'll be willing to talk to you.

    How to Get a Laser Without Really Trying - Part 2

    A variety of high speed graphics arts equipment (not your typical office copier or laser printer) include an argon ion laser. These consist of a laser head and power supply. While most of the time, the laser heads are refurbished when they no longer perform adequately, some may be available free of charge if you know where to ask.

    However, you will probably not get the power supply since the they are usually not replaced when the laser heads die. Therefore, before pursuing this, realize that a power supply will have to be bought ($300 to $1,000 or more) or built. The latter is a non-trivial undertaking. See the chapters starting with: Argon and Krypton Ion Lasers.

    (From: Flavio Spedalieri (

    I have managed to get two air-cooled argon lasers free of charge. Argon laser are used in industrial high-speed printing machines. If you contact your local companies, you may get lucky.

    Some companies that deal with these types of printers are Xerox, Dainippon Screens, and Ricoh.

    My lasers came from Dainippon Screens. The lasers worked well. One of the lasers is multi-lined. The company was throwing them out, but as I called in earlier, and left my name, they actually thought to call me back.

    If you speak with the technical repairs department, and mention that you are requiring a laser to teach a bunch of students, then you could be lucky.

    Please be aware that in these printers, the lasers are usually tuned to 488 nm (bright blue). Some laser heads may have a line tuning prism on the back and these are tunable to any of the 8 or so argon ion wavelengths.

  • Back to Laser and Parts Sources Sub-Table of Contents.

    On-Line Sources (Non-Commerical)

    You Don't Have to Buy from Companies

    While the numerous commercial laser and parts suppliers listed in the sections starting with: New, Surplus, Walk-In, Mail Order, Kits/Plans (Commercial) can probably fulfill your needs, you may be in for a bit of sticker shock - even if you are only considering used or surplus!

    The following alternatives are most often offers from private individuals (though not always - buyer beware) and are in addition to the zillions of companies that have Web sites. There are varying amounts of risk in not dealing with a well known reputable company. Prices can vary from dirt cheap to way out of line. So you MUST know the value of what is being offered. Unlike companies which compete with each other, some of these people may start with a very high price and hope there is a least one sucker out there!

    In addition to honesty and ethics concerns, once you settle on a price, make sure the seller knows how to pack your (often fragile) equipment properly. It is amazing how much abuse can be inflicted by package shipping companies like UPS and the U.S. Postal Service. If it costs you a couple of dollars extra for a larger box and more bubble wrap or styrofoam peanuts - and shipping insurance - it may be well worth it!

    Newsgroups and Similar Forums

    Posts offering laser diodes and drivers, helium-neon laser tubes, power supplies, and complete lasers, optical and mechanical parts, and other items that are useful to the laser enthusiast are quite common. Mostly, these are from private individuals but not always. These will most likely be found on the following newsgroups: A search via Google Groups (formerly should turn up suitable recent postings.

    Offers of inexpensive lasers, laser components, and other related items may also appear from time-to-time on various other discussion groups. See the sections: Laser (Email) Listservers and Laser Discussion Groups and Technical Forums. One that sees a fair amount of this type of traffic is:

    It allows both private and commercial postings for buy, sell, trade, wanted, employment opportunities, announcements, etc. This is where you might find your next BIG laser!

    Internet Classifieds

    These are offers of laser equipment from people who have posted to alt.lasers or sci.optics or have a private Web site and have more than a few items to sell. I have put these in here as a service to the laser community - they are not paid ads. Unless otherwise noted, I cannot vouch for their quality or reliability. Some of the (as far as I know) current ones are listed below. These are in no particular order (perhaps just based on when I found them, sort of):

    Sam's Stuff for Sale or Trade and Items Wanted

    I (Sam) have a variety of laser, optics, electronics, and other goodies for sale or trade. There are also some "Wanted to Acquire" items listed there. See Sam's Classified Page.


    While eBay and other on-line auction sites are most likely to have offers of overpriced laser pointers, real lasers and laser related equipment do show up and can often be acquired at attractive prices. There is a continuous stream of helium-neon lasers, tubes, and power supplies; some argon ion, carbon dioxide, ruby, YAG, and occasional other types of lasers; and even a few really strange (and possibly valuable) lasers, laser components (e.g., HeNe tubes with Brewster windows, ruby or Nd:YAG rods, optics), and other laser related items, as well as all sorts of optical instruments. There are also gizmos containing lasers like the innards of laserdisc players and barcode scanners. For the home-built laser enthusiast, Variacs, vacuum pumps, and other support equipment of all types and sizes may be found as well. The eBay Smart Search Page can be used to hunt for all sorts of goodies.

    Here are some specific laser related searches to get you started. These are designed to return serious laser related items without being inundated with laser pointers, laser printers, laserdiscs, laser engravings, and countless other common things with the word laser in their description:

    Note: Since the eBay search engine appears to distinguish between singular and plural, if you don't include both (as I've done above with laser and lasers), you might miss that opportunity of a lifetime to buy 1,326 argon lasers. :) Also, for some of these, it may be useful to cut and paste the search string directly into the eBay Smart Search Page to modify or add options or exclusions which can cut down on the amount of unwanted garbage returned by these searches.

    And, for the home-built laser enthusiast:

    You can of course customize your own search strings. For example, if you are interested in pulsed lasers, you may want to enter: "flashlamp,flash lamp,flashlamps,flash lamps,arclamp,arclamps,arc lamp,arc lamps" in the eBay search box which will gather just about anything in the lamp department. :) One can spend a semi-infinite amount of time searching the eBay site.

    Note that the current eBay search facility places an annoying gyrating banner Ad at the top of the results page. The previous one didn't do this and was thus faster loading. Too bad about greed. However, it appears as though disabling Javascript in your Web browser gets rid of the Ads and even speeds up loading, but this screws up some listings where Javascript is used by the seller, as well as the Feedback system for some auctions.

    However, make sure you know the true market value of the merchandise and limit your maximum bid to what you consider it to be worth TO YOU! Avoid getting carried away in the excitement of last minute bidding - there will be other opportunities. Also, where the seller is actually a surplus dealer or other commercial enterprise, check out their Web site or catalog - the same item(s) may be listed there for a fixed price which may be much lower than where the bidding ends up. I've seen eBay auctions where the identical item went for more than twice the catalog price! In addition, depending on the day of the month, phase of the moon, or a particular tea leaf reading, there may be a variation in final bid price for similar items by a factor of 5 times or more - and the lower priced one(s) might even be in better condition or newer! As an example, in one case, I picked up something for $16.50 while the next week, an older and less desirable version of the same model went for $117.00! So, don't go overboard bidding up an item thinking another one won't show up. It will - for lasers and scientific stuff at least - maybe not an original Rembrandt. :)

    Some more considerations:

    Here are some other things to watch out for:

    Also see Don Lancaster's Enhancing your eBay Strategic and Tactical Skills II. It has hints for sellers as well as buyers.

    Although eBay is the most well known general on-line auction company, there are many others - and new ones popping up (and disappearing) daily. These may also offer (fixed price) classified type advertisements. However, from what I've seen, the laser equipment related traffic on these is quite low at the present time, but they still may be worth checking on a lazy Sunday afternoon. You may have a better chance with fewer bidders! And, with the huge number of users of services like Yahoo, there are bound to be at least a few laser related items for sale at any given time. Here are two sites:

    There are also sites appearing that are a cross between regular on-line auctions and good old flea markets or swap meets. Compared to eBay, the traffic on these is microscopic but it could be a growing trend. I don't know whether there is enough - or any - laser related stuff on these currently but they are probably worth watching.

    Of course, regular low-tech industrial auctions may also turn up some laser related equipment and prices could end up being quite attractive where other bidders are more interested in things like steel shelving, NC machine tools, and front-end loaders. :)

    And, the U.S. Government (and others), businesses, and universities, may auction or sell unneeded equipment or excess inventory periodically or continuously. While this is more likely to be beat up office furniture and obsolete PCs, laser related items may also be present. For example, the University of Utah Surplus Property Page lists several pieces of laser and optics equipment. The general public may get to pick over what is left after those connected with the University buy what they want but who knows? You could end up with a 10 kW CO2 laser for $10 if no one else bids on it. :)

    (The following is mostly from: Jonathon Caywood (

    Experiences with on-line auctions vary. I've done some dealing on eBay and have had very good experiences in selling and buying with no problems. However, I am aware of people who have had unfortunate experiences buying from certain people. There are always going to be some bad apples with something like this. I usually will dig into someone's profile a bit before I will purchase from them. I check their feedback (indicated by the number which follows their account name, click on the number) and look to see what type of feedback they have. Needless to say, someone with 100+ comments, and no negative feedback is usually good to deal with. But people selling what you want don't always have such high feedback.

    A few useful things to check on:

    Some of my personal rules I use as to who to deal with, and who not to deal with:

    Dealing on eBay is a bit of common sense, knowledge of what you're buying, research, and well - a small amount of luck. :)

    Sam's eBay Horror Story #1

    I have been a member in good standing with eBay since 1999. As readers of Sam's Laser FAQ are probably aware, I have acquired a large number of lasers and related items on eBay, most at bargain basement prices. All in all I have been very satisfied with the eBay experience. Until now.

    For a blow-by-blow saga of what I'm experiencing now, please go to Sam's eBay Horror Story #1. I will be updating this as it plays out. I expect the outcome to be satisfactory, but the route it's taking is like one of those nightmares where you're trapped on a 15 dimensional mobius strip. Someone suggested that that was better thanbeing trapped in a 15 dimensional Klein Bottle but I'm not so sure. The latter sounds more interesting. :-)

  • Back to Laser and Parts Sources Sub-Table of Contents.

    Laser Sales and Service Companies

    This list is devoted to those companies that are not really manufacturers but are mainly involved in the buying, selling, distributing, service, and/or refurb of lasers and laser systems. However, some of them may also develop equipment themselves or even provide a variety of consulting services, though this probably won't be their primary specialty. Others may simply be brokers ("middle persons") for laser and other equipment. You may also want to look in the section: Laser and Optics Manufacturers and Suppliers since it wasn't always easy to determine in which list to place any given company and some distributors of laser products appear there as well. See the section: High Quality New and Surplus for additional possibilities including companies selling laser replacement parts, accessories, supplies, etc.

    DISCLAIMER: Product and service descriptions and claims are from the company literature or Web sites. This listing is NOT necessarily an endorsement of what they offer! Listing is in alphabetical order by company name.

  • Back to Laser and Parts Sources Sub-Table of Contents.

    Laser Diode Manufacturers, Part Numbers, and Specifications

    The NASA Langley Photonics Group used to maintain a Laser Diode Manufacturers Database, but it has disappeared. It looks like that site only existed around 2001. However, it can still be found via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine NASA Laser Diode Manufacturer Database Archive Links. How many of those manufacturers still exist may be another story. :( :)

    ThorLabs used to have laser diode technical information on their Web site but it has apparently disappeared in favor of strictly commercial interests. Of course, it hadn't been updated for a few years so probably no great loss at this point! It is still possible to obtain a print copy of their complete catalog which may include "Thor's Guide to Laser Diodes" from their web site or by writing to Thorlabs at the address shown in the section: Some Laser and Optics Manufacturers and Suppliers.

    Also see: K3PGP's Laser Diode Manufacturers and K3PGP's Laser Diode Specifications maintained by K3PGP (Email: (This is a listing of a database that is similar or identical the one from Thorlabs.)

    Many major laser diode manufacturers have detailed specifications on the Web. For example:

    Large electronics distributors are gradually improving their selection of laser diodes, diode laser modules, and components. For example, DigiKey now carries a half decent assortment of models from Coherent, Lumex, NVG, Panasonic, and others.

    For suppliers of mostly high power laser diodes, see the section: Sources of Special Parts and Supplies for the Home-Built DPSS Laser. Also see the section: Laser and Optics Manufacturers and Suppliers.

  • Back to Laser and Parts Sources Sub-Table of Contents.

    Laser and Optics Manufacturers and Suppliers

    This list is for companies that actually manufacture and/or integrate lasers, and laser and optics components. For sales and service, see the section: Laser and Optics Sales and Service Companies (though some may have slipped in here as well - particularly if they also are a manufacturer). Also see the sections in: Laser and Optics Related Web Links for lists and directories of manufacturers of lasers, optics, systems, equipment, and components which may be even more comprehensive.

    DISCLAIMER: Product and service descriptions and claims are from the company literature or Web sites. This listing is NOT necessarily an endorsement of what they offer!

  • Back to Sam's Laser FAQ Table of Contents.
  • Back to Laser and Parts Sources Sub-Table of Contents.
  • Forward to Diode Lasers.

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