Tarkin: worth the wait

I have taken the early Tarkin training class, and I’ve used it on my own twice now, so I wanted to share some feedback.

For some context, I’m a code monkey by day, and I have too many hobbies, but they’re really just one big hobby: making stuff. I have been using Red and sometimes Blue for several years. That’s my main experience with CNC work, and I haven’t used any other laser cutters. I do a lot of small, odd jobs on the laser, but my favorites are precision fabricating custom hardware for miscellaneous domestic problems. Example: I just designed and cut a bracket to mount a red dot sight on my DSLR camera.

For all of my purposes, Tarkin is better in every way that I hoped for. It’s also better in some ways I hadn’t anticipated. For those of us who haven’t used it yet, and who didn’t know what to expect, I want to share my thoughts so far.

  • Hardware specs: awesome. I’m not exactly a laser gearhead, but I think it’s better than Red by every metric?
  • Lightburn: awesome. This solves 95% of my workflow problems with the ULS print driver interface. I learned about the software a few months before hearing that we’d be switching to it, and I’ve been looking forward to that ever since. I just purchased my license.
  • User origin: awesome. This is a CNC user experience improvement that I didn’t know I needed. Instead of the laser head homing to an upper corner (this is the least accessible point on the Red bed, which has been driving me nuts for years), it homes to wherever you want.
  • Bed camera: awesome. Another thing I didn’t know I needed. I do a lot of test cuts on scrap, for both laser settings (hopefully less frequent now) and guess-and-check design finalizing. This makes it so much easier to align repeated small cuts on odd-shaped scrap, without the hassle of trying to keep it EXACTLY in place in the bed.
  • Framing: awesome. I use it less after discovering that the camera works, but it’s still useful.
  • Settings library: awesome. I know we had something like this for Red, but it was not easy to use. The combination of having it built into Lightburn, and hopefully more consistent laser performance, means the library is actually useful.
  • Mag clamps: awesome. Much better than the various solutions that I’ve seen on Red.
  • Room reorganization: I saw the new room layout on Saturday, which places the computer desk, laser bed, and laser controller all within arm’s reach of a single spot. This is exactly what I want when going back and forth between the PC and the laser.
  • Danny Miller: awesome. I can’t say how much I appreciate having someone to do the heavy lifting on running these machines.

All of that said, it’s not perfect. In addition to the wiggle when vectoring rounded corners (discussed elsewhere I think), I have encountered two issues that I want to warn others about:

  • The laser head erroneously took a path through the interior of my design while cutting. Danny and I spent a little while trying to diagnose this, without much luck. The best answer that I have is that the path was overly complicated, as evidenced by the fact that breaking it up into smaller pieces allowed me to work around the issue. This did ruin a few pieces of my material, but it’s relatively cheap stuff. For anyone doing a large vector job on expensive material - as you should already know - it’s probably a good idea to test your complete job on scrap. I made the mistake of testing smaller sections of my design, and assuming that the complete job would work just as well. Danny mentioned that he does not expect this to be a common occurrence, but if I can save just one job for someone else by warning about this, I think it’s worth it.
  • When running in absolute origin mode, the y-axis was offset about 4" too high. I don’t know if there is a simple setting adjustment in Lightburn or on the controller; I didn’t want to mess with any of that. I noticed this before starting a job, so it didn’t ruin any material, but it did force me to adjust my workflow a bit.

And a few other minor comments. None of these are high priority for me, but Danny said he’s been wanting more feedback, so I wrote down everything that occurred to me while using the machine. Part of my day job is to be a UX critic, so I guess that’s spilling over here.

  • It would be nice if the controller had a “go to current origin” button.
  • It would be nice if the controller were mobile. When setting the bed height, you need to be eye level with the head, which is quite a bit too low to be able to see the controller’s buttons. A friend of mine has a CNC mill with a similar interface, and if he messes up because his visual attention is divided, there is the small but nonzero risk that he could crush his finger under the bit. It’s nowhere near as unsafe as that for us, but just an unfortunate issue that we might think about improving.
  • I love the idea of the mag clamps, and they work pretty well for now. They would be even better if the springs were actually attached to the magnets. I do realize that this is probably already the goal, and they’ve gone through a couple iterations. Are there any existing products that we could buy? Does anyone know of a 3D printable solution? Or have an idea for one? If we don’t have a plan for improving those, I will probably start passively thinking about designing something.
  • The big, heavy, wobbly door is just a little annoying, but also I worry that it will get dropped and damage something. Is that worth worrying about? Is there anything we could do to mitigate it?
  • The bed is nearly 5’x3’, which is great. But that means that a decent number of users are going to want a prep area about that same size. I mean, other than the floor, which is what I used yesterday. I realize that we want to keep the laser room neat and presentable, and we should always strive to prevent it from getting to the state that the old laser area was in. But I do think it’s important to balance utility and presentability.
  • Personally, I would prefer a higher desk, placing the PC keyboard at a similar height as the controller board. I assume we’re currently just using whatever desk was available, but if we do consider getting a new one deliberately, standing height would be nice.
  • We were warned to prevent scrap from falling through the honeycomb as much as possible, which I’m happy to do. In some cases, the best way is to vacuum up tiny cutouts after each job. If it were up to me, I would suspend the vacuum hose over the bed, so it’s easily within reach any time you need it. I realize that might be too much “utility” and not enough “presentability”. Food for thought, at least. A much easier step would be to get a brush attachment for the vacuum hose; tiny scraps of thin, light material are hard to vacuum up. I’ve been scrubbing at the bed with the plain plastic end of the vacuum hose.

Finally, Lightburn should add a setting to disable the overwrite warning prompt. Currently, it’s an extra click that I keep forgetting about, which has caused me to make a few incorrect cuts. I don’t imagine anyone plans to store job files on the machine beyond their own session, so there is no reason we should care if a file is overwritten. I believe Danny said he’d request this, and I will as well.

So, I’d just like to say thanks again to Danny and anyone else who has helped get this monster of a machine running.


If any desks in the shop are ever are moved to a standing height, I’d like to add in a request that a correspondingly tall chair also be added so that sitting is always possible.


Thanks for all the detailed feedback!

The near-future furniture plan includes 4 matching standing-height desks (about the size/shape as Blue’s current desk) and 3 more tall adjustable-height chairs like Blue has now. We’re just waiting to see how Dorian and accessories fit before finalizing dimensions to fit the layout. We’ll probably wall- or arm-mount the monitors so each desk has room for a laptop in addition to the laser PC.

We definitely plan on having more worktable. Again, waiting on Dorian to finalize dimensions.

Interesting idea on the vacuum situation. I think we could come up with something the Festool vac boom arm accessory – it’d keep the vac hoses from piling up on the floor too.

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