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Review of a Spectra-Physics 161B-060 Air-Cooled Argon Ion Laser

Nov 1, 2006
Spectra-Physics 161B-060 Air-Cooled Argon Ion Laser, retail $7,500.00* (www.laserresale.com...**)
Manufactured by Spectra Physics (www.newport.com)
Last updated 10-28-10

I've been wanting an argon ion laser for many, many years (since receiving a Metrologic ML-800 0.5mW helium neon laser in the early 1980s, and seeing an argon-ion laser at the California State Fair at about the same time), so when Federal Express showed up around 2:30pm PST 11-12-03 (or "12 Nov. 2003" if you prefer), I was very eager to rip open the package, because I knew what was in there!!! Inside, I found a Spectra-Physics 161B-060 air cooled argon laser head, and a Spectra-Physics 261B exciter (air cooled power supply unit)!

* This was the cost when new; you should be able to find these for under $1,000.00 on the used market now (05-22-10 {or "22 May 2010" if you prefer})

** Product is basically obsolete; I was not able to find any commercial retailers carrying this laser. The URL that I furnished is for an outfit that sells used laser systems.

To turn this monstrosity on, just follow these simple steps:

o Plug the very thick umbilical (cable) from the laser head into the large rectangular receptacle for it on the front of the Exciter (power supply unit) near the lower left...
O NOOOOO!!! There I go thinking about the metal band Exciter again!!!

o Look for a toggle switch near the meter, and set it to amperes (this is always a good idea, but omitting this step is kosher as long as you follow the next step to a "T").

o Turn the power output knob to about ¼ intensity (¼ of a turn clockwise from its lowest position).

o Flip the "local/remote" switch to the "local" position.

o Flip the "current/light" switch to the "light" position.

o Plug the exciter into a standard (in north America anyway) 110-130 volts 3-slot (grounded) AC receptacle (on a circuit that can supply at
least 16 amps).

o Turn the power switch on, and wait for the fans to come up to speed

o Finally, turn the key switch to the "on" or "lase" position.

The laser may emit several "clicking" sounds before producing a beam; this behaviour is fairly typical of older lasers like this and is nothing to be overly concerned about...the suggested "fix" is described farther down this post.

You may adjust the power output knob now too if you wish; though setting it really high is not that good for the laser tube -- I would recommend your doing so for short periods (a minute or two max!) only, and then decreasing it.

When you turn the laser off, you ***MUST*** turn the "emission" switch on the exciter off first, and allow the fans to continue running for one or two minutes or so to ensure the laser head is cooled off. THEN (and only then!!!) you can unplug it - first turning off the "power" switch on the exciter. There is a sticker near the power switch that reads "Operate fan until laser head cools", so you really can't forget unless you're very careless - and if you're that careless, you probably shouldn't use or own an argon ion laser like this, or larger argon lasers like Lexel 88s. If you forget this part, you could cause damage to the laser by having too much heat in there.

This product suckles (well, "guzzles" might be more accurate here) power from any standard (in north America anyway) 110 volts to 120 volts AC 60Hz receptacle, so I do not have to tell you which part to remove, huck down the basement stairs into the room crawling with thousands of hungry piss ants, and then rather emphatically tell you not to.

This is a laser with a relatively fragile ceramic laser tube, and not a flashlight meant to be carried around, thrashed, trashed, and abused - so I won't abuse it like I might abuse a flashlight in the name of science.

Having said this, the laser head did fall off a wheeled furniture dolly and onto a concrete sidewalk while I was moving in October 2004, but it was not damaged in any manner.

The laser head itself weighs about as much as a women's bowling ball (10-13 pounds), and the exciter weighs 3-4 times as much. Best guess, somewhere around 35 to 40 pounds on that PSU. I don't have anything handy to weigh them on, so these figures are only guesses.

The laser head was manufactured in March 1993.
I don't know when the exciter (PSU) was made; it is not stated.

To lower the tube pressure and restore proper operation, you may take the following action:

From Sam G. himself, comes the following little goodie:
If the laser doesn't start after more than a few ignition attempts, set the laser tube current to 8 amps (once it's fired up, of course; and using the meter on the face of the exciter to read this), let it run for about two hours, then shut it down and allow it to cool. If the tube pressure is a bit high, doing this should drive it back down closer to where it ought to be, and subsequent startings should be easier.

Does this web page look an awful lot like the web page I made for this laser?
Thought you'd say so.
That's because they're the exact same laser; this web page was designed like most of the other evaluations and informational web pages on my website that we've all come to know and love (or at least tolerate) over the last ten+ years. Plus there are four photographs on this web page that aren't on the original.

Beam photograph on the test target at 12".
Measures 18.6992mW on this laser power meter.

Beam photograph on a wall at ~10 feet.

Those colored graphics toward the left are my "Viva Piñata" posters, and that clock on the right that looks like a gigantic wristwatch is my Infinity Optics Clock.
You may also be able to see two of my SpongeBob SquarePants plush (Squidward Tentacles & Patrick Star) and a Digimon plush (Greymon)

Photograph of the beam itself.
Smoke was used to allow the beam to be visible.

This is a closer look at the laser's head, illuminated with a Fire~Bug flashlight.

Spectrographic analysis of this laser.

Same as above; spectrometer's response range narrowed to a band between 478nm and 498nm to help pinpoint wavelength. Color was left "on" because the trendline (thin red line) was still easily visible.

USB2000 spectrometer graciously donated by P.L.

A video clip on YourTube showing an unsuccessful ignition sequence.

This clip is approximately 38.556436732590 megabytes (38,784,420 bytes) in length; dial-up users please be aware.
It will take no less than one hundred ninety three (!) minutes to load at 48.0Kbps.

I cannot provide either one in other formats, so please do not ask.

This argon ion laser was provided by G.F. of New Hampshire at ~2:30pm PST 11-12-03 (or "12 Nov. 2003" if you prefer); in trade for a Z-bolt green DPSS laser pointer. Thank you, G.F.!!!

The power supply unit is not really an "exciter" in the truest sense of the word, but Spectra Physics tends to call all of their ion laser power supplies "exciters" whether they are or are not.

UPDATE: 00-00-00

MANUFACTURER: Spectra Physics
PRODUCT TYPE: Small-frame plasma laser
LAMP TYPE: Ceramic argon laser tube
BEAM TYPE: Very narrow spot (it's a laser, remember?

SWITCH TYPE: Rocker and toggle switches on exciter (power supply)
CASE MATERIAL: Plastic & metal
BEZEL: None (laser beam emerges from an aperture for it)
CURRENT CONSUMPTION: Unknown/unable to measure (advertised as 1,500 watts at 115 volts)

ACCESSORIES: Spectra Physics 262B exciter
SIZE (Exciter): 11.50" D, 12.75" W, 5.40" H
SIZE (Laser): 15.30" L, 5.00" W, 8.10" H
WEIGHT: 36 lbs (Exciter)
COUNTRY OF MANUFACTURE: United States (as far as I'm able to determine)


This is a vintage laser that is no longer manufactured, so conventional ratings will not be assigned to it.

Although this laser appears to be obsolete, they are still readily available on the used market, so this review should still be of use.
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New member
Dec 21, 2008
A very entertaining and informative review :beer:

Let's see... $7.5K for 19mW... reminds me of the $3.5K Motorola "brick" my company bought us for on-call duty back in '90... :crackup:
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Well-known member
Jul 17, 2009
A very entertaining and informative review :beer:

Let's see... $7.5K for 19mW... reminds me of the $3.5K Motorola "brick" my company bought us for on-call duty back in '90... :crackup:
If you need the characteristics of an argon, it's worth the expenditure...



New member
Dec 21, 2008
If you need the characteristics of an argon...
Ok... I'm always ready to learn something new, so please enlighten* me :)

*I would love to know which application today specifically requires a 19mW argon laser, thx!