Laser Cutter Build Night: Two Steps Forward and...

So tonight was really an example of the two steps forward and one step back rule, except that I am almost certain I went at least two steps back.  In regard to my two steps forward, I cut the final base for my laser cutter, so now have something permanent to attach things to.  I also attached the XY table and the laser stand.  This laser cutter (rather than one that moves the laser beam itself) is very interesting, as the laser is stationary and the material to be cut moves.  Thus, the laser diode has to be off-center relative to the XY table in order to cut the maximum area of space.
 Also, I made my first successful engraving!  I hard-coded a smiley face into my stepper, laser, & limit swtich test program using basic move X and move Y commands.  I am quite pleased with the results!  The only problem I noticed was a tiny bit of backlash in one cut (click on the image to enlarge and see the backlash on the right eye), but that isn't a big issue right now, as I have far larger problems...
Those are my two steps forward.  Attaching stuff and engraving.  Then, everything went really steeply downhill!  First, I noticed that my cutting area is not one normal sheet of paper, as I had previously predicted.  This laser cutter will actually be able to engrave/cut an area between 1/2 and 1/4 of the size of an 8-1/2"x11" sheet.  The reason is this: even if I have a lead screw for moving the axes that is as long or as wide as the paper, if the sled that moves along the screw and carries the paper is wider than a geometric point (i.e. no width), it will not be able to traverse the whole paper's length without coming off the screw.

To make this clearer, let's say I have a screw 11" long and the sled that moves the cutting table is 5" wide.  The paper's edge is placed at the beginning of the 11" and the 5" sled is at the home position- the paper's edge, the start of the screw, and the beginning of the sled are all in the same position right now.  Then, the sled moves as far as it can, also moving the paper.  It cannot actually move so that the edge of the paper is 11" from its starting position - that would require that the beginning of the sled be at the tip of the lead screw - in other words, disconnected.  So, in reality, the paper can only be cut for 6".  That is basically what happened with my laser cutter.  One step back.

Additionally (this is more of a problem), my laser broke!  I turned it on and it was very dim and intermittenly shone.  Ahhh!  After walking away to "cool down" for a bit, I took off the Aixiz housing.  The laser power wires came off as well.  It seems that whatever problem I had was caused by a soldering defect (me).  Tsk tsk.  One demerit.  Tomorrow I will reattach the wires to the laser leads and try it out again.  The laser may be unharmed, but it is most likely damaged.  I read somewhere that disconnecting the laser diode (or letting its power wires come off) from an energized driver circuit can fry the diode because of the electricity built up in the capacitor.  At least another step back.  :(

"Sometimes, life smiles at you and says, 'I like you.'  Other times, it give you a sneer and says, 'I hate yo' guts, boy!'" -me