It’s the second week of November as I write this. The weather is starting to get colder and it looks like the bicycling season here is pretty much over so this is a good time to look at how my new Vado bike has been doing. I’ve been using this bike just about every day since July and I’ve put about 1,000 miles on it. So I thought this would be a good time to take a look at how well it holds up under long term, real world use.
The Vado has exceeded my expectations in every way. It is heavy, yes, it scales at a bit over 60 lbs. That might be a problem for someone who has to lug a bike in and out of an apartment building or up stairs, but it isn’t a problem for me. When actually riding the bike I never even notice the weight, even when riding it with the motor turned off. The Vado works just fine as a standard bicycle without motor assistance, by the way, thanks to it’s 10 speed derailleur shifter. Having that 10 speed shifting capability, IMO, makes the Vado much, much easier to ride out in the real world when compared to e-bikes that are single speed.
I won’t go into a lot of details here and just hit the high points, looking at it from a rider’s point of view.
The lights, both front and rear, are excellent. The headlight is very bright, more than bright enough to be genuinely useful at night. The taillight wraps around the cargo carrier and is also highly visible even in daylight.
The cargo carrier, a sort of flat pallet rack kind of thing, comes installed on the bike, and a sort of “A” frame extends down bolting directly to the rear axle. Vado claims you can lug 50 pounds of junk on this bike if you need to and I have no reason to doubt that claim. I have a hard sided bag strapped to mine with a tool kit and other stuff tucked in there. I’m thinking of throwing together a complete amateur radio system that will fit in there, with ny Yaesu FT-818, a battery and antenna, etc but that’s I’ll talk about that later if it ever happens.
From the front the bike looks, well, busy, to be honest, with cables for the shifter, the electronics, etc, plus the hoses for the hydraulic brakes looking like, frankly, a tangled mess. But when I’m riding I’m not looking at the front of the bike so I don’t care.
Speaking of hydraulic brakes, this is the first bike I’ve had which has hydraulic disc brakes and I am very, very pleased with them. They are so much better than the old caliper style brakes that clamp on the rim, or even the cable actuated disc brakes that I’ve had on other bikes, that I don’t think I’d ever want to go back to the old style brakes. I didn’t really think they would make that much of a difference but they really do.
The computer display is excellent as well. It’s full color, small but easily readable even in bright sunlight. It shows all sorts of interesting statistics that I’m sure will be of interest to somebody. But not to me. I’ve had that Garmin thingie up there on the left side of the handlebars for more than a year. It has built in GPS, mapping functions and other goodies, talks to my cellphone, and does everything I want, so I just transferred that over to the Vado. The Vado’s computer does what it needs to do, and there is an app for it that I have on my phone that does all sorts of nice things. Never used that, either. I’m a bit perplexed by the emphasis some bike makers and reviewers put on these computers because ultimately they do little or nothing to make a bike any better as a bike. There’s one bike out there that includes a video game on the computer for heaven’s sake. The computer needs to have a few basic function, speedometer, odometer, battery health and state of charge indicators, and, if possible, ways to adjust things like the levels of motor assistance. That’s really all this class of bike really needs because people who are interested in a bike in this price range are almost certainly already going to have something like the Garmin or an Apple watch or similar fitness tracker device independent of the equipment it’s used with.
Let’s talk about battery life. Vado’s documentation indicates the bike has about 40 miles of range on a charge, which is considerably underestimating the results I’ve been getting in the real world. I did a 22 mile ride the other day and when I got home the battery indicator said I had 74% battery capacity left. 74%. Now I’m not an aggressive rider. I keep the assistance level in “Eco” mode, the lowest, and I don’t have a lot of lengthy, steep hills to climb around here, so I’m probably easier on battery life than a lot of other people, but even so that’s pretty damned good. Considering what my riding style is like I suspect I could get 80 – 90 miles useable range out of this bike. And I should also remind you that unlike some e-bikes, the Vado works perfectly well as a standard, unpowered bicycle.
I suppose I should talk about speed, too. This is a Class 3 bike which means it can hit 28 MPH (that is limited by law apparently?) And it will. In 10th gear and pedalling my little legs off I can hit 28. I generally cruise at around 13 – 15 mph though. That’s a nice, comfortable pace for me in “eco” mode, the lowest boost level for the motor. And I should add that doing 28 mph on a bicycle is, frankly, a bit scary. If you hit a stone or a hole or just about anything at that speed on a bicycle chances are good you’re going to end up with a nasty crash.
If the bike has one potential problem, it’s that derailleur and shifter. It has a more or less standard 10 speed derailleur. First of all it is, oh, fiddly, let’s say. It will occasionally not shift properly when moving the shift lever and I have to fiddle with it to get it to engage the proper gear. Trying to get it into 10th gear doesn’t work at all unless I jam the lever all the way over and then pedal backwards for a turn or two. But this has been such a minor problem for me that I’ve never bothered to take it back to the dealer to get it adjusted, which I suspect would take care of the problem. The shifting problems have also gotten much better with time.
Another problem that went away by itself after a couple of weeks was that when in a high gear, let’s say 8th or higher, and in Turbo mode, the highest boost mode, getting up on the pedals and really pushing hard would occasionally cause the chain to jump on the sprocket. Considering the amount of force being exerted on that chain by my effort plus the torque of the motor, this is actually understandable. There is a hell of a lot of stress on that chain so it jumping on a gear isn’t all that surprising. And as noted, that problem went away after the first couple of weeks. As noted, I have 1,000 miles on it and if I was going to have serious issues with the derailleur I’d think they would have shown up by now.
There is one significant issue with this bike and that’s the price. If you want this model bike yourself it’s going to set you back about $4,000. That’s a hell of a lot of money. Is it worth it? That’s going to depend on what you’re going to use the bike for and how often you’re going to use it. To me, it is. When the weather is decent enough to ride, this is the vehicle I use. From everything to just toodling around the neighborhood, to running up to the local store to get snacks, to riding over to Brillion or Forest Junction for lunch, or packing up my camera and drone and running around the countryside taking photos, this is what I drive. It’s handled everything from gravel trails to broken up country roads to city streets without a problem. It’s been 100% reliable transportation for me. And meanwhile my Buick has been sitting in the garage most of the summer gathering dust. I’ve only had to buy gas for the Buick once since July when I got this bike. That’s how much I’ve used it. So for me, the Vado has been well worth the price.
I’ve had the Specialized Vado ebike for about three weeks now and I love the thing. By the time I get around to finishing this article and posting it I’ll have around 300 miles on it. But I suppose before I get started I should define the term ebike because it’s gotten a bit confusing since there are actually two types of bikes that now fall under the term. One is an actual ebike and the other, if one wishes to be pedantic about it, isn’t.
The first type has a motor and battery but it is still an actual, real bicycle that you have to pedal to make it move. It will not move on its own. This type of ebike uses the motor system to to provide assistance to the rider. It does some of the work for you. How much work the motor does is generally adjustable. I can switch mine from giving no support at all, all the way up to nearly 100% where the motor does almost all the work while I pedal along.
The second type isn’t really what I would call a bicycle. It looks like a bicycle, probably has usable pedals, but it is really more of an electric moped or small motorcycle. With these bikes the motor can be used to do all of the work. You don’t have to pedal at all. There is a throttle on the handlebars to allow you to control the speed. All you have to do is just ride.
There are some issues with this second type. There are potential legal issues for one thing. In a lot of jurisdictions these types of bikes aren’t technically bicycles, they probably should be classified as mopeds or even small motorcycles, and if one were to be strict about it, in those jurisdictions they should be registered and licensed as such and the riders required to have at least a driver’s license and perhaps even a motorcycle license, and they should be insured as such. But fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) no one seems to be paying much attention to that.
They also, legally speaking, should be required to meet the same equipment and safety requirements as mopeds or small motorcycles. They should have turn signals, proper brakes, headlight, tail light, brake light, properly rated tires and wheels, etc. And because a lot of these are basically just bicycles that someone strapped a motor and battery to, a lot of them have none of those things.
(Sidenote: A word about speed. Most people toodle along at about 5 – 10 mph on a bicycle. Someone who is in relatively good physical shape can cruise along considerably faster than that. With my 24 speed (no motor) a comfortable speed for me on level ground on a nice paved road is about 10 according to my gps thingie, and if I work really, really hard I can hit 19 mph on a level road for short periods of time. I used to work for a bicycle race and those guys cruise along at 24 to 30 mph all day long, and they can max out at about 45 mph. I usually average about 8-10 mph on the bike though because I’m in no real hurry to get anywhere. I’m just out there to enjoy being outside. With the ebike I find myself now cruising easily at about 13 – 15 mph, even going up hills. If I kick up the boost I can run at 20 mph all day long and I max out at around 28 mph.)
Prices on ebikes of both types are all over the place. They range from a low of about $700 up to, well, up to whatever your bank account can withstand. There is a Porsche branded ebike out that that supposedly sells for $10,000.
Sidenote: Yes, Porsche, the maker of supercars and sports cars with eye watering prices, is in the ebike business. They’ve been selling a Porsche branded ebike for a few years now, and have been investing in ebike companies for some time. They’re staring up two new companies specifically to develop, build and sell their own in-house created ebikes. Why would a company known for it’s overpriced, gas sucking, tire squealing sports cars that no one except influencers and trust fund kiddies can afford be getting into the ebike business? Money, of course. Ebikes make a lot of sense in Europe. The population density is high, towns are generally very close together, commutes to work or to do shopping are generally much shorter than they are in the US, traffic in cities is generally horrific with the average speeds for motor vehicles down to just a few miles per hour because of congestion. In most European cities you can get around a hell of a lot faster on a bike than you can in a car. So for a lot of people in the EU ebikes make a lot of sense. Porsche figures it can take a $4,000 ebike, slap some Porsche stickers on it and sell it for $10,000 to the same status hungry influencers and pretend millionaires it sells its cars to.
Now if you go online and start looking around at ebikes you’ll notice a couple of things. First, if you’re at all familiar with the bicycle market you’ll know that if you want to buy a good non-electric bicycle it’ll cost you around $600 and for anything really good the prices go up fast. So how can these companies be selling ebikes for the same price? It makes one wonder about the quality of those inexpensive models.
The second thing you’ll notice is that when it comes to a lot of those cheap ebikes, no matter what the brand name may be, they all look suspiciously alike. That’s because they are. Very few of the companies selling ebikes at the low end of the market actually manufacture them themselves. They all buy the bikes from the same factories and the only differences between them are a few plastic stick on bits and the company logos.
But I wanted to talk about the Vado and let myself get distracted, so let’s get on with this sort of review. I want to talk about ebikes and transportation but I’ll do that in a separate article.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first before I move on to the goodies.
First, it’s heavy and it’s big. It won’t fit into the back of my Buick even with the rear seats folded down. I had to use MrsGF’s Rav4 which has a larger cargo area to pick it up. And it is definitely no light weight. It scales in at around 60 lbs. It definitely is not some kind of sleek road racer. But it has to be big and heavy because it’s designed to not just carry a person around, but also a big battery, a motor, all the electronics, me, and supposedly 50 pounds of cargo as well. And unless you have the motor turned off and you’re using it as a regular pedal bike you won’t even notice the weight.
Second, it’s not exactly cheap. When all was said and done, with taxes and other stuff tacked on, that Vado up there in that photo set me back close to $4,000. That is a hell of a lot of money for a bike, even an ebike. In my opinion the Vado was well worth the money, but that’s me. I put a lot of miles on a bike.
Third, the seat it came with was horrible. It was one of the most uncomfortable saddles I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit on. First thing I did when I got it home was replace the seat with the one from my old 24 speed bike.
Fourth, it comes with pretty much nothing but the bike itself. While the bike is reasonably well equipped and includes a luggage rack on the back, it comes with nothing else. The bag, water bottle bracket and rear view mirror were add ons I put on myself. You’d think they could at least include a water bottle holder on a four grand bike, but that’s the way it goes I guess.
Let’s get on with the good stuff.
The brakes are frankly amazing. No caliper brakes that squeeze on the rim of your wheels. This thing has actual hydraulic disc brakes like you get in a car. Yes, hydraulic, not cable actuated. I’ve never had a bike that stopped this well before. Braking is smooth, predictable, with no unexpected grabbing or fading after repeated stops.
The Vado comes with a 10 speed derailleur gear changer. Anyone who has had a bike with a derailleur system will be familiar with this. It’s the one part of the bike that I think could be a weak point. When I first got the bike it would miss shifts and under hard pedalling it would jump a cog on the gears once in a while. I figured I was going to have to take it back to the dealer and have them take a look at it, but after I’d ridden it for about fifty miles or so the gear changes became smoother and it stopped jumping cogs on the gears. So perhaps it just needed a break in period to work smoothly? I still think this could be a weak point, however. It’s a 10 speed and I think that’s too many gears for a derailleur to handle without some issues. But it’s working fine now so we’ll see.
It comes standard with a very bright LED headlight and a tail light that wraps around the cargo carrier on the back. The tail light isn’t super bright but it will hopefully help make me more visible to car and truck drivers when I’m on the road.
Also note the fenders. I like fenders on a bike. I often ride on gravel trails, run through mud patches, ride right after rains when the roads are wet, etc. Not having fenders on my old bike meant I’d come home with a streak of mud up my back and splatters all over my legs. These fenders work quite well. They are very thin and very flexible but stiff enough to work well.
Front suspension is fantastic. The front forks seems to absorb bumps, railroad tracks and potholes very well. Some people don’t like front suspensions like this for various reasons. I think those people are, frankly, stupid. With the multiple railroad track crossings, gravel trails, potholes, washboard roads, etc. around here, some kind of decent suspension is a requirement around here.
The battery is removable and completely tucked away inside the frame of the bike. It’s relatively easy to get out. Removing it requires using a key in a lock located alongside of the charging socket. Just for the heck of it I looked up what a new battery would cost, thinking that it might not be a bad idea to have a spare. So go ahead, guess what that battery costs. Just take a wild guess.
Try $1,200. Seriously. Twelve hundred bucks for a replacement battery. I find it a bit difficult to believe that the battery alone costs more than a quarter of the value of the bike, but, well, that’s the way it goes I guess.
That’s the charging port in the photo up there, and it is one of the most unnecessarily frustrating things I’ve ever had to fiddle with. It has a kind of magnetic holding system which is neat, but trying to get the blasted plug actually inserted into that socket is infuriating sometimes. It won’t just slide into place and latch on. I’ve spent minutes fiddling with the damned plug, turning it, twisting it, trying to get it to lock in place. And from what I’ve read online I’m not the only one who has problems with the damned thing. There’s no excuse for this on a bike this expensive. Yo, Specialized! Fix the damned plug!
This is an ebike so you need some kind of display and control system. The dashboard, if you want to call it that, defaults to the view you see in the picture above. There are controls on the handlebars that let you flip through various screens that display various bits of information that I suspect I’ll never need to know and will never actually care about, but it’s there if you need it. The left handgrip has a push button control that lets you cycle through various information screens, and a + and – button that cycles through four different levels of ‘boost’, Eco, Sport, Turbo and Off, the latter turns the motor off completely.
There is an app (because of course there is because everything has to have an app on your phone these days whether you want one or not) that does many things, none of which I care about except for the ability to tailor the amount of boost you get from the motor. Eco setting has the motor take up about 30% of the work, Sport is 50% and Turbo is 100%. Basically in Turbo all you’re doing is moving your legs up and down, the motor does almost all of the work. And, of course, Off, which switches the motor off entirely and the only thing powering the bike is your legs. I’m told that I can change the level of boost the motor gives to almost anything I want but the defaults work good for me and probably will for most people.
Yes, you can use this as a normal human powered bike, and it works rather well that way. Despite the bike’s weight it works quite nicely as a normal bicycle.
You’ll have noticed that Garmin thingie on the handlebars up there next to the bike’s control buttons. That’s why I don’t care about the app the bike comes with. That’s a Garmin GPS/fitness tracker/mapping system and displays text messages, emails and other goodies. And, in a feature I hope I never need, will supposedly send an email to my wife if I crash that says something like “Hey, your idiot husband wiped out and he’s laying in a ditch somewhere at these coordinates so you better go sweep him up before you get fined for littering.”
But back to the Vado. I’ve put 300 miles on it now in the three or four weeks I’ve had it and so far I love the thing. It rides well, stops well, handles well. The motor works seamlessly with the bike. The electronics make its presence entirely unobtrusive. The only way i can tell it’s even working is because I can feel that I’m using less effort pedaling up hills or when starting out from a dead stop, which is exactly how it’s supposed to work. It’s very well made. The frame is extremely robust, the welds are just about perfect.
Normally I drive in Eco mode which is the least amount of boost, which is more than enough for me to deal with things like long uphill climbs. If I’m out on a long ride in hot weather and I’m getting tired out I might kick the boost level up to Sport. I’ve tried it in Turbo mode several times. I still have to pedal, but in that mode I’m not doing any work at all, just moving my legs up and down.
Range is always something one needs to be concerned with when it comes to electric vehicles. The manual says I can expect about 40 miles range under normal usage, but I suspect in real life it would be much, much more than that. I went out for a 20 mile ride one day, running mostly in Eco mode, and when I got back home I still had 70% battery life left according to the monitor.
I really, really like the Vado so far. It meets or exceeds all of my expectations. If I didn’t live in a rural area where it’s at least 15 miles to get anywhere I need to go I could easily see using it as my primary means of transportation when the weather was reasonably nice.
The only thing I hate about it is that damned charging port. It’s keyed, so it will only fit into the socket when you have the plug oriented at exactly the right angle. But the port is recessed into the frame, and down near the bottom of the frame, so you can’t actually see how you’re supposed to orient the plug unless you literally get down on your hands and knees. I thought maybe it was just me. I’m not exactly the most graceful person in the world, after all. But it isn’t just me. I’ve read other reviews of the Vado that expressed similar frustrations with the charging plug, so this is a common problem. And there is absolutely no excuse for this. Not on a bike that costs this much money.
To wrap this up, overall I really, really like the Vado. As I said earlier I have over 300 miles on it now and it has worked pretty much flawlessly. It’s great fun to ride, the motor and electronics work beautifully. It’s robustly made and has handled all of the railroad tracks, potholes, expansion joints and other garbage we have to contend with on the roads around here. Brakes are simply excellent. It’s expensive, yes, but I think it’s worth the money if you put as many miles on a bike as I do.
I want to talk about biking, ebikes and transportation in general but I’m not going to do that here. This is already getting on the long side so I’m going to end this right now. 🙂
So it was time to replace my old laser engraver. That’s it over there on the right. And what’s replacing it is the one in the lead photo, the Laserpecker. The one over on the right is a more or less generic style engraver made in China that hit the consumer market a few years ago, often at ridiculously cheap prices. They were complicated machines, usually based on cheap CNC machines with the cutter replaced with a laser. There were rails and stepper motors and drive belts and complicated mechanical systems in addition to the controls needed to run the laser itself. As you can tell from looking at the two photos, the Laserpecker is much, much different. It doesn’t ride on rails, there are no stepper motors or belts. In fact it doesn’t move at all. It is entirely motionless during the entire engraving process. The only thing that moves is the laser. Here’s a quick video review I found on Youtube that will show you exactly how it works.
Now everything he says in that video is true, but needs to be taken with a grain of salt. He’s going through this so fast that he has no time to tell you about some of the issues you have to deal with if you get one of these. And there is some misleading information floating around out there about the LP that needs to be cleared up as well
Let’s look at the hardware first, and start with different models and prices. What the reviewer up there is showing is the standard Laserpecker which is selling for around $250 or so right now. It includes the LP itself, the tripod, a ruler to measure distance, a small power supply, and a pair of safety glasses. There are apparently three other versions. The only difference between them is that they come with more accessories, the most expensive of which is the focusing stand like the one shown in my photo at the start of this review.
The first ‘step up’ so to speak includes that stand, and more than doubles the price from around $250 to about $530. Why so much for a stand? It isn’t just a stand. In addition to getting rid of the awkward tripod that stand has some nifty electronics in it. It connects to the LP and when combined with the laser it eliminates the need to carefully measure the distance between the LP and the object being engraved. Just touch a button and it raises or lowers itself to the proper height to focus the laser.
The next option up adds a set of glass shields, edged in magnets, that clip together to form a folding safety screen to protect your eyes from the laser. Those are the panels over there on the left. You can also get just the safety shield from LP. Should you? Yeah, probably you should. Lasers and eyes don’t get along very well. You need some kind of eye protection when using any laser device. The panels are convenient, easy to set up, fold up flat for storage, and can be configured to work around just about any shaped object. And you can leave one corner open for a fume extractor, something you also absolutely need. I’ll talk about that a bit later.
The next level up only adds a storage case to hold all of the various parts which, of course, you don’t need at all.
I got what was labeled the “pro deluxe” model in the ad when I bought it, which includes the same laser head as shown in that video up there, the automatic focusing stand and the shields. Also included were the power supply, which is a tiny power pack with a USB connector in it and a cable with a USB C connector on the other end to go to the stand. The stand then connects to the LP itself with a short cord. There was also a set of safety glasses, simple instructions and some bits a paper that apparently you’re supposed to engrave for some reason.
Let’s talk about specifications. The LP uses a 405nm, 5 watt, blue violet laser with a specified lifetime of 10,000 hours. So the laser is fairly typical of laser engravers in this category. You aren’t going to be using this to burn through metal or anything else for that matter except paper and thin cardboard. It isn’t made for that. It’s an engraver. Period.
The included power supply is tiny, hardly the size of a small phone charger. It puts out 5 volts and is rated for 2 amps which, well, it isn’t a lot, really. I was rather surprised to find a laser engraver that ran at that low of an amperage. In some of the ads I’ve seen them running this thing from one of those little “power bank” battery packages that lets you recharge a cell phone.
The LP can do an engraving of up to 100 x 100 mm in size, or about 4 x 4 inches. Now that is smaller than the area that can be covered by some other engravers, but the size really isn’t an issue here. The LP is aimed at hobbyists, crafters and woodworkers who are probably working on small projects. Basically people like me who need to do the occasional company logo or piece of artwork to embellish a project. That 4×4 size isn’t going to be a problem for people like us. Most of the engravings I do are half that size or less. And you’ll want to keep engraving size small because larger ones take a long, long time. Almost all of the videos I’ve seen promoting the LP (and to be fair other laser engravers as well) drastically speed up the video and make it look like an engraving that really took an hour or more only took a few seconds.
The LP itself is a very simple looking little round box. That’s it in the photo over there on the right. That’s the entire thing, except for the stand. There are no moving parts, no rails, no motors, no drive belts. That’s it. Unlike my old engraver, the LP has no moving parts at all. The only thing that moves is the laser beam itself. It either attaches to the tripod with a screw or it sits in a cutout on the top of the stand if you opt for that. It’s about as simple as it gets, really.
Lasers are, of course, light, and in order to get the sharpest beam possible they need to be focused just like you need to focus the lens of your camera to get the sharpest image. With my old engraver this was done by adjusting a lens. But there is no lens with the LP, it is fixed focus. The LP has to be around 8″ away from the object being engraved or the laser won’t be properly focused. They include a ruler to make it easier to measure. If you’re working with the tripod you need to adjust the feet and use the ruler to get the measurement right. It can be a bit fiddly but working with just the tripod isn’t really a problem.
If the LP seems like something you are interested in, I strongly recommend you get the bare bones version that comes with just the laser head, tripod, power supply and safety glasses. You absolutely do not need the autofocusing stand. Now that I have the thing I wish I hadn’t bought the stand. Yes, it makes it a bit easier to set the height properly and it is pretty slick. But I’ve had some problems with the auto focusing stand that I’ll come to in just a bit. And in any case, it adds $200 to the price of the Laserpecker. I really don’t think it’s worth the money. Fiddling with the tripod is a minor nuisance, but once you do it a few times and have some practice with setting it up and getting the distance right it’s not that hard to do.
The other optional accessory that comes with the Laserpecker Pro Deluxe version that I got is the safety shield. That’s it below.
This shield is really slick. It’s made up of 4 glass panels made of a material designed to protect your eyes from the laser. Those metal strips along the edges are magnets. The whole thing just clips together. You can move the panels around, adjust the shape, leave one corner open for venting, etc. It is very, very handy and I like it a lot. Those 4 panels are available separately and sell for $90 at the moment. Now that may sound like a lot of money but actually it isn’t that bad. Protective glass panels for lasers are expensive if you want to build your own. At least the good ones are. When compared to high quality protective shielding panels available elsewhere, these are actually pretty inexpensive. You could get along without these, but remember that the LP is designed to be easily carried around and used anywhere. Quite possibly with other people present. Do you have protective glasses for everyone in the room when you’re using the thing? If not you need some kind of shielding, and these do the job. IMO the $90 price is worth it.
Now let’s look at the auto focusing stand. At first I liked it a lot, but as I’ve used it more I’ve come to think that going for the “Pro” package that included it was a waste of $200.
That’s it up there, and it is very, very nice. (Or so I thought at first.) Well it had better be nice considering it costs almost as much as the Laserpecker itself. It is undeniably very well made. But the more I worked with it the less I liked it and now I think it isn’t worth the money.
As I said it is very well made. Fit and finish is absolutely flawless. Obviously a lot of very high end engineering went into designing and building this thing.
Instead of plugging the power pack into the Laserpecker, the power pack is plugged into a connector on the stand, and a short cable then goes from the stand to the LP itself. Up on the top are 3 buttons. The two left buttons move it up and down. The right button starts the autofocusing sequence. It activates the LP’s laser to put a spot on an object below and then moves up or down automatically until it is properly focused. And it works pretty well.
No, let me correct that. It works pretty well when it wants to. Here’s the biggest problem I’ve run into with this thing. Sometimes it just – just stops when I engage the autofocus mode. It will begin the process, start to move the stand up or down, and then everything, the stand, the laser, all of it, shuts down completely and won’t restart unless I unplug it, wait about 10 seconds and then plug it in again. Here’s a video showing it doing just that.
It starts doing the focus routine, begins to lower into position, and then just shuts down completely. All the lights turn off, fan turns off, it and the Laserpecker itself shuts down. All of it is completely dead until I unplug it and plug it back in again. I have no idea why. It doesn’t do it all the time. Shortly before this happened in the video I used autofocus on a variety of different sized objects and it worked every time. Then I unplugged the unit, moved it to the other workbench, started making the video and bam, it died again. I suspected the problem might be that the power supply is too wimpy to handle the load of running both the laser and the motors of the focusing mechanism at the same time. One of the advantages of being a packrat like me is that I have all kinds of stuff laying around so I found a 5V 3A power supply and tried that. And it did exactly the same thing. A bit later I tried it again and guess what? Autofocus worked just fine. Then the next day it went through the shutdown thing again. Sigh…
The other problem is that fan up there next to the buttons. It shouldn’t be there at all. It serves no useful purpose except to blow the smoke generated by the laser all over your house. Smoke and fumes are a serious issue with these things. They can produce a lot of it depending on the material being engraved. Lasers work, after all, by burning. Smoke of any kind is not healthy to breathe. And when burning and melting various plastics and other materials some of the fumes given off can be downright toxic. Plus there is the significant risk of setting off the smoke detectors in your house, apartment or workshop. You absolutely, positively must have some kind of smoke/fume extraction system when you’re working with these things. That’s mine below. It’s home made and may look a bit crude but it works quite well.
There is a 4 inch flexible dryer vent pipe going to a piece of scrap plywood cut to fit the window opening just above my workbench. The pipe is caulked to that hole. At the other end is a ducted fan I picked up off Amazon for $27. I’ve been using it for some time and it works very well for things like smoke from lasers, fumes from soldering, etc. But that stupid and utterly useless fan on the top of the LP’s stand makes things more difficult. My extractor is trying to draw smoke across horizontally while that fan up top is trying to blow it up towards the ceiling so unless I get my pipe right up close to the object being engraved it doesn’t work very well. If I keep using the stand I’m going to cut the power going to that fan and possibly build some kind of container for it to make extracting the smoke easier.
So why is that fan there at all? Cooling? Nope. The laser doesn’t need cooling. The bare bones LP works just fine without any fan at all. And the fan’s in the wrong place to cool anything in any case. From what I’ve been able to discover, once upon a time LP was going to offer some kind of filter that would sit on top of the stand and the fan was going to pull smoke from the laser up through there. Only there doesn’t seem to actually be any such filtration system for sale on the LP website. At least not one that works with that dopey fan. There is a sort of an attempt at some kind of filtration system, but that’s an entirely different system that is a complete enclosure that won’t work with the stand at all. And while there’s a fan in that little box over there, there don’t seem to be any actual filters in it. It seems to just suck the smoke up and blow it out a vent in the side.
Let’s get to the important part, though. Is it any good as a laser engraver?
The answer is that it is quite good. It does exactly what it’s supposed to do, engrave stuff, and it does it well. That’s the disc the machine was engraving in the video and it turned out pretty well. It takes about 4 minutes to do one of those with is actual a bit faster than my old engraver was. And the resolution is better.
I’ve done quite a few engravings with it, mostly on wood, and all of them have turned out very well once I got the settings dialed in properly. Most of these lasers have setting to adjust the power the laser uses expressed as a percentage, from 100% being full power, to lower power settings. Also a ‘depth’ setting which actually is how long (I think) the laser remains in one spot before moving on. The ‘deeper’ the setting the slower the laser goes. Sometimes it takes some fiddling with the settings before you get the settings right for the material you’re working with.
People are always asking if you can engrave curved surfaces and the answer to that is sort of? It depends on how severe the curve is because a laser has to be properly focused in order to work well. But as you can see from the logo engraved on the bowl over on the left it handles curved surfaces reasonably well.
It does fine detail well also. I haven’t experimented to see just how small I can shrink down an image before it loses definition, but I suspect the LP will handle that pretty well also.
So that covers the hardware. Now we come to the software that drives the whole system.
The Laserpecker runs on proprietary software available only for Android and iOS devices. In other words it runs only on cell phones and tablets. There is no software for the Laserpecker 1 for PCs of any flavor. There is software for PCs to control the Laserpecker 2 but that is an entirely different machine that doesn’t seem to be available yet. It is not compatible with any other software.
The program can be rather clumsy and awkward to use at times and I don’t like the user interface at all, but that’s personal preference. The software does work well to control the LP but there is certainly room for improvement.
You download it from whichever app store you use (Apple or Google) and then you have to go through a registration process in order to get an unlock code that will let you actually use the LP. This took longer than it should have. I spent half an hour fiddling around with this thing. It took at least six or seven attempts before it finally sent me the the unlock code via email. Why does it need to be “unlocked” in the first place? I bought the thing, the software will only work with the Laserpecker hardware, what the hell do you need to unlock it for?
You then need to enter a pin number (they call it a password) which the software will ask you for repeatedly. Now I can understand needing a pin number because you wouldn’t want your eight year old to start messing around with this so it does need some security.
Then you can get ready to start lasering stuff. First you need to turn the LP on and connect the software to it via Bluetooth. That was painless and fast.
The Examples takes you to a library of a few dozen cutesy little black and white drawings you can engrave.
The Creation option takes you to a very simplistic editor that lets you enter text to engrave or do some doodling on the screen with your fingertip. Photoshop it ain’t. The text option is useful, but the drawing app is, IMO, completely useless for producing anything useful. Even a professional artist would have trouble using that thing to make something that didn’t look like a child’s bad doodle.
And if you look at that screen shot over there you’ll see the software has given it a name, filename8.bmp. This implies that the software is going to be saving that drawing somewhere and you’ll be able to use it again. Don’t worry about someone ever seeing your alleged attempt at artwork and causing your family to disown you in shame or anything like that. It doesn’t. Save it, I mean. As far as I can tell that file goes absolutely nowhere. At least nowhere I could find. It doesn’t save it on my phone, doesn’t save it to my iCould, doesn’t save it to my photo library. It just vanishes after the engraving is done.
That brings me to the two biggest problems with the software.
The ads for the LP imply that you can import .jpg, .bmp, .png and other graphics files into the software. It also implies that you can even import gcode files. Only you can’t. The only thing the software has access to for import options is the photo library on your phone or tablet. You can import an existing photo from your phone’s photo library, and that is it. Nothing else. If you want to use an image you found somewhere, use artwork you’ve created yourself, etc. the only way you can import it into the software is to take a picture of it with your phone and then import that photo from your photo library and use the programs bare bones editor to crop it and adjust some visual parameters before you engrave it.
And once you’ve done the engraving, all the work you did importing that photo, cropping it, etc. just vanishes into thin air because the software has no provision for saving any of it. So when I do something like create a logo for a business or just some artwork I’ve done in Photoshop, the only way I can get it into the LP software is to take a photo of my computer screen and import that from my photo library, fiddle around cropping it and adjusting the few parameters the software lets me change, and then do the engraving. And then the next time I want to do that same engraving, I have to start all over again. Grrrrr….
The rest of the software is pretty basic but it gets the job done. Once you’re ready to engrave something you go to a screen that lets you select power level, depth of burn, the number of repeats necessary, the usual stuff associated with using a laser engraver. And then send it to the Laserpecker to actually do the engraving.
There is an option to select various materials that are being engraved which then sets the power levels, etc. automatically based on the material. Those presets generally aren’t very useful. The single best way to set the various parameters is to take a piece of scrap material and try that first and adjust the parameters manually to get the best look.
So let’s sum this all up.
The Laserpecker itself, that little round box, is a great piece of equipment that works quite well. The relatively small size of the engraving it can do, 100mm x 100mm isn’t going to be much of an issue for most of us. It just does a good job all the way around.
The software isn’t the best and has some serious drawbacks, but it does work and you can work around the drawbacks.
Considering the bare bones version of the Laserpecker sells for $250 or so, the price is pretty darned good for this thing.
The accessories that come with the “Pro” version, well, that’s a different story. The autofocusing stand is neat, but it costs darn near as much as the Laserpecker itself and I don’t think it’s worth the money. And as I noted earlier I had problems with it just shutting down and making me reboot the whole thing when trying to use it.
The clip together shields are neat and genuinely useful, but you don’t need to go for the “pro” version to get them. You can buy them separately for $90 if you want to get them.
The device is completely portable. You can set it up anywhere. The laser head can be adjusted on the tripod so it can engrave vertical surfaces or things at an angle if you get it adjusted properly. It can even run off one of those power banks that are used to recharge phones as long as it can provide 5V at 2 amps.
It isn’t the fastest thing in the world but none of the laser engravers in this price range are. Doing that 2 inch disc with the shop’s logo on it takes about 4 minutes, which is pretty reasonable. But some of the test engravings I’ve done took half an hour or more. It depends on the size of the engraving and the settings of the laser. It’s at least as fast as my old engraver.
Smoke and fumes can be a serious issue, but that’s true for all laser engravers. Using this thing for extended periods of time without proper venting will set off smoke detectors and possibly give off dangerous fumes. But that’s true of all laser engravers.
Remember this thing is not a toy! It is a potentially dangerous device that can cause some serious problems if it is not used properly.
Now, the most important question of all. Can it engrave a banana?
Yes, it can.
If you’re in the market for an inexpensive laser engraver, definitely give the Laserpecker a look. But stick with the $250 bare bones version. You definitely do not need the over priced autofocusing stand. The glass shields at $90 are something you should consider as well.
Now you’ll see promotions for the Laserpecker 2 floating around out there, and it looks really, really nice. But it doesn’t actually seem to exist yet. At least not for the average consumer. If you want to buy one you’re looking at a delivery date of at least December of 2022, almost a year away. But that being said the LP2 looks really interesting. Interesting enough and possibly useful enough that in a year or so I might look into getting one of those. But for the time being I like my little LP1 and I’m quite satisfied with it.
So, let’s talk about chainsaws. Specifically the DeWalt XR 12 inch in that photo up there. I bought it back in March and promised I’d talk about it after I’d had a chance to use it, and then forgot about entirely. So here we are, five months later, and I finally remembered. Better late than never, I suppose. But one good thing about the delay is that I’ve had a chance to use this little saw a lot over the last few months and, spoiler alert, I like it a lot.
Not everyone needs a chainsaw, but there are times when you just can’t get a job done with any other tool. I have a gas powered chainsaw that I use for bigger jobs like whacking down trees. But for simply trimming off a few limbs, cutting up some bits of wood for the fire pit, cutting up a fallen branch, or trying to trim down a nice piece of wood to fit on the lathe, well dragging out a noisy, dirty, smoking, leaking, oily gas saw is a pain in the neck. And in the shoulders and hands. And in the ears… Well, you know what I mean.
For small jobs like cutting off a six inch limb or cutting off a 4×4 that’s too long and things like that, these little battery powered saws do a pretty good job. They’re light weight, quiet, don’t require you to mix oil and gas, make less mess and are generally a lot easier to handle.
There are downsides, though. They generally have a smaller cutting capacity than the gas powered saws, have less power, often a lot less power, resulting in the motor stalling out or bogging down, and often battery life is simply woeful. But not all battery powered saws are like that.
So, the DeWalt. I picked this one because it uses the same batteries that all of my other DeWalt tools use, the 20V Max power packs. I was a bit anxious about that because I didn’t think a chainsaw would be able to run very long off one of those batteries, even the larger 5 Ah batteries I use. I was pleasantly surprised, though.
This thing will set you back about $150 without a battery, or a bit over $200 with a 5 AH battery and charger. That may sound like a lot, but in the world of chainsaws that is cheap. You can easily drop $600 or more for a good gas saw these days.
Build quality is pretty good. Yes, it’s made almost entirely of plastic, but these days, well, so what? High quality modern plastics are incredibly tough, almost indestructible, and that’s the kind of plastic the outer casing seems to be made of. If you look at the first photo you can see from the bar that this thing has been used a lot since I got it, but the case looks nearly as good as the day I got it. This thing has been dropped off a table, had wood dropped on it, at one point got hit with a flying piece of wood weighing about 10 pounds when I was splitting up some wood, and while there are a few scuff marks on it, it still looks almost new. Well, it would if I’d bother to wipe it down.
Using it couldn’t be easier. The only controls are a safety lock that has to be depressed before the trigger will work, and the trigger itself, and that’s it. It automatically oils the chain so you don’t even have to worry about that. And there is a safety shutdown system that all new saws have, of course, that’s the big paddle directly in front of the top handle. Push that and it stops the saw instantly.
It still requires the chain to be oiled. If it didn’t do that it wouldn’t be long before the chain would seize up entirely from lack of lubrication. But unlike my old Poulan gas saw there’s no manual pump to keep pressing with my thumb, the DeWalt takes care of that automatically. It should be able to use any decent quality bar oil. Just make sure to thoroughly clean the area around the filler cap before opening it so you don’t get sawdust in it and plug something up. Bar oil consumption seems to be no worse than other saws I’ve used.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from people who have battery powered chainsaws is that they lack power. That doesn’t seem to be a problem here. I cut a two foot tall, 20 inch wide block of wood straight down the middle with this saw with the entire length of the bar embedded in the block. It complained a little but as long as I didn’t put too much pressure on it, it made the cut without stalling out. In normal use no one is going to do something like that, of course. So a lack of power is definitely not an issue with this saw.
Basically this saw is easily capable of doing the job it was designed for.
Now, as for battery life, that was surprisingly good. See that big pile of cut up bits of wood in that photo? I did all of that with two 5 AH batteries. Oh, and the second battery still had enough life in it that I used it in my string trimmer to trim around the house and gardens.
I did have one issue, and that was my own fault. It was a really hot day, temperatures well into the high 90s, and I was sawing with it, and even though I could feel it was getting hot I kept on sawing and finally it just shut down on me completely. Basically it overheated and it shut itself down. I went in the house, got some lunch, cooled down for a while, came back out and it started right back up and I went back to sawing.
Adjusting the chain isn’t hard at all, and doesn’t require any tools. New bars and chains are readily available if you need them and aren’t expensive. Standard chain sharpening tools will work just fine to touch up the saw, which is something you will need to do.
This is most definitely not the kind of saw you’re going to take into the woods to make firewood all day long or whack down full size trees. But it isn’t made for that. It’s made for occasional light duty use like trimming a few branches off tree, cutting the occasional 4×4 or 6×6 when building a deck, cutting up downed limbs, and that kind of thing. And for those kinds of jobs it works very well indeed. Run time with a new, fully charged 5 Ah battery is, at least in my opinion, surprisingly good.
I did manage to overheat the saw on one occasion, as I said. That was my own fault. I was working on a day when the temperature was in the high 90s, and I was cutting at the maximum capacity of the saw for way too long, and it got hot enough to shut itself down. It recovered quickly and started back up as soon as it cooled down. That was the only glitch I experienced while using this saw over the last four months.
Overall I like this little saw a lot. I’ve had to sharpen the chain twice now, but considering how much it’s been used that’s normal. I haven’t had to drag out my gas powered saw since I bought it.
Endnote: Sometime yet this year a tree service is coming in to take down the big ash tree in the backyard. We’re going to keep the wood because A) it’s cheaper than having the service deal with it. A lot cheaper. B) We have a nifty heavy duty stainless steel high tech fire ring thingie we bought last spring and we need stuff to burn in it, and C) I might get some more wood to feed the wood lathe.
There is no way I’m going to be using the little DeWalt on that beast. The trunk is probably close to three and a half feet thick and the main limbs are bigger than most of the maple trees around here. And I doubt my elderly Poulan can deal with it either so I might end up still having to get a new gas powered chain saw this fall.
I wanted to talk a bit about the Kenwood TS-2000 now that I’ve spent a couple of weeks actually using it. This isn’t a formal review, you’ll find enough of those out on the net, along with specifications and all that other fun stuff. I want to talk about what it’s like to actually use it, something that gets lost in the mix in formal reviews.
The 2000 is an impressive piece of equipment straight out of the box. I’m used to consumer grade electronics which are generally so badly made that it’s lucky if they survive being unpacked. The build quality of the 2000 is so far beyond what I’m used to that I am still impressed by it. The knobs and keys are rock solid. The knobs are silky smooth in action, with no side play at all. The keys are extremely well fitted and solid as well, with positive tactile feedback. Everything about this radio is extremely well made with tight tolerances, with excellent attention to detail.
The display is reasonably well laid out, if a bit cramped. It’s generally easy to read, although a bit intimidating and confusing at first as all of the different functions come into play. Fortunately the manual has several pages devoted to just explaining what in the world pops up on the display. Although a bit confusing at first, it doesn’t take long to get used to.
There is an SWR meter built into the unit, but you can’t see it here. It appears over on the left side of the display with the other meters and seems to only appear when you hit the button to activate the internal antenna tuner (yes, it has a built in antenna tuner). Unless I’m missing something (which I admit is entirely possible), the SWR meter appears only at that time, and is only active during the actual process of tuning for the antenna. Considering that this takes all of about 2 seconds, during which time the meter jumps around all over the place as the unit works on acquiring the best SWR reading for the antenna, you’d better keep an eye on that thing when you hit the antenna tuner button or you’re going to miss it.
By the way, the antenna tuner and SWR meter only work on HF.
Once I got used to the control configuration, the radio isn’t hard to use. It can be a bit intimidating, though, because all of the keys have multiple functions. A quick press does one thing. Press the key and hold it down, and it activates yet another function. Press the FUNC button, and the keys now activate an entire different group of functions. It may seem confusing at first, but I got used to it quickly, although I found it necessary to keep the manual handy. But once I started to use it seriously, everything started to make sense with control groups laid out in a logical fashion.
There are 2 HF antenna connectors on the back and 1 VHF, both 259 style connectors for standard coax. The UHF antenna is an N style connector (which means that to use UHF I’m either going to have to get a separate UHF antenna or cobble together adaptors to feed my multi-band VHF/UHF antenna). There is also an antenna jack for HF receive only if you want to go that route. (There is a lot of other stuff back there that I’m ignoring because I don’t use any of it, except for the CW key jack).
On the VHF side the transceiver is being fed with a Comet VHF/UHF vertical antenna that seems to work pretty well. On HF it’s hooked to a Comet 250B vertical because a) I’m really lazy and the 250 is real easy to put up, and b) it’s the middle of winter and trying to put up complex antenna systems with 3 feet of snow on the ground and -10 wind chills is no fun at all.
Actually using the 2000 is pretty straightforward, with no glitches or nasty surprises. Everything works exactly the way it’s supposed to and I’ve had a lot of fun with it.
I did replace the included hand held mobile mike with a desktop model.
There are some minor irritations, like the numeric keypad. I find the buttons too small for my short, stubby farmer fingers. I also question why I have to press the ENTer button before I can enter a frequency directly. I understand the need to have multiple functions for keys, but the thing most users are going to use that numeric keypad for is entering frequencies (or at least that’s the case with me), not using the functions associated with the keys. But the ENT button has to be pressed first or you’ll end up selecting various functions you don’t want. Even after having used the radio for a couple of weeks I still find myself trying to punch in frequencies without hitting that blasted ENT button first.
Having the dual receivers is fantastic. It lets me monitor my favorite repeater frequencies up on VHF while I work on HF on the other side. In the photo you can see that the main receiver on the left is down on 14.27 mHz while the sub receiver is on 144 mHz. Since the photo was taken, I’ve programmed the memories in the radio with a dozen or so of the repeaters I use on a regular basis, and generally I keep the ‘B’ receiver on the left scanning those frequencies for activity while I’m down on HF with the main receiver. If I hear someone I want to talk to on VHF I just hit the ‘SUB’ button to the right of the main tuning dial to transfer the transmit functions over to the sub-receiver and away I go.
VHF-wise, the radio has been fantastic. Even with transmit power dialed down I can hit the local repeaters with no trouble at all.
On HF the results have been mixed. Not because of the 2000, but because of the antenna I’m using. I’m not going to go into detail about the drawbacks of a multi-band HF vertical antenna because you can read those anywhere. Let’s just say that the Comet 250 isn’t the most efficient antenna in the world and leave it at that. At best it is a compromise for someone like me who wants to get on the air on HF fast and easy.