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Enclosure Prototyping

I’ve made a lot of laser cut enclosures over the years. I typically make them out of 3mm or 6mm Baltic Birch plywood, and sometimes I even mix the two sizes, which is fun because you need to remember which tabs need 3mm and which need 6mm.

As much as I’ve made a lot of enclosures, I still occasionally screw up, or get things not quite right the first time. Typically I design the entire enclosure in software and then cut things out. If I’m smart I’ll first cut it using cardboard to prototype how it all goes together. Cardboard isn’t always the correct thickness, but it can often get you close enough and reveal flaws in your design that you can correct before you start cutting wood.

One of my recent discoveries is that if your cardboard is too thick you can squish it in the hydraulic press and it’ll stay pretty squished. There’s a little bounce back, but it’ll be thinner than it was originally.

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First Place Ribbon

For some reason I’ve been into making things with felt lately. It probably has something to do with the fact that felt is cheap and colorful and laser cuts nicely. The colorful thing is a bit new to me. I tend not to do really colorful things, so that’s interesting as well. The colors I used for this piece are sort of terrible (in my opinion) but I wanted something “terrible” as it were.

This ribbon was made for Dana’s annual Holiday Bingo Game which has prizes for the winners, and I offered to make a (somewhat sad) ribbon for the first place winner, so here it is.

I started as I usually do, in Inkscape, designing the piece by stacking up objects. You can see the fully designed piece in the lower left corner. (The grey version next to it is sort of an x-ray view showing some of the original parts.) The top row contains the four pieces we’ll cut with the laser cutter. The second piece (red) has a slightly larger diameter than the similar part on the first piece (aqua) to allow for me not aligning things perfectly.

Here are all the pieces in LightBurn ready to be cut. Each piece gets the same cut settings but I assigned them all different colors (layers) as they’ll all be cut separately from different colored pieces of felt. I’ve also started to use LightBurn’s Library feature which allows you to save settings for different materials/thicknesses, etc. I can just click on “Felt” and assign those settings to the layer. Nice!

I think it turned out pretty good. The only thing I didn’t care for (design-wise) is the “st” part of the “1st” on the ribbon. I sort of punted on that (this was a quick project) and I think I could have come up with a better solution. I wanted to connect the letters “st” to the “1” to make assembling the whole thing easier. I think I can do better next time, I mean, if there is a next time. (Who wants a ribbon?)

Overall, though… I’m pleased with the outcome. It helps to have a spray booth and bottle of Super 77 spray glue sitting right next to the laser cutter to make creating these things quick and easy. It’s nice to have an idea for a project and see it completed in under an hour.

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Hangers

Back in 2018 while at Brinn Labs I was tasked with doing a mobile activity (the kind of mobiles you hang, not the kind that are British cell phones) and I came up with an idea based on the work of Man Ray, specifically his Obstruction sculpture.

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I designed a hanger that could be fabricated at a small size (approximately 5″ x 1.5″) and could hang more hangers from the ends. Man Ray’s version used full size hangers that had wire hooks and holes on each end of the wooden part which made it easy to link them all together. Mine was a bit different with a simpler one-piece design. I assume the hangers Man Ray used could swivel completely around, which is an added bonus my version would not have. (But there’s always more than one way to do it.)

Here’s a hanger laser cut from 3mm Baltic Birch plywood. The nice thing about 3mm Baltic Birch plywood is that it’s easy (for me) to find scrap that is around 1.5″ tall and use it for this, which meant I had no real material cost as I could essentially create these from scrap.

I should note that I originally tried using corrugated cardboard, which is even more abundant than 3mm Baltic Birch plywood. While it sort of worked, it depended a lot on exactly where the corrugation was after cutting. I abandoned the cardboard version after a few tests. (If I had made larger hangers I think the cardboard version could have worked fine.)

Because the hanger was a simple 2.5D object I also created a 3D printed version of the hanger… like many of the things I create I tend to come up with ways others could make them depending on the equipment they have available. If you don’t have a laser cutter but do have a 3D printer you can still easily create a bunch of these.

In the photo above you see four versions. Version 1 is the plain Baltic Birch version; Version 2 is a sanded and stained Baltic Birch version; Version 3 is a 3D printed version using grey PLA plastic; and Version 4 is laser cut from clear 3mm Acrylic. Again, multiple methods and materials to choose from.

Since I was working towards making a lot of hangers for an event I just cut them all quickly on the laser cutter and didn’t pay much attention to quality, so the backs of the wood hangers got a bit charred from the honeycomb bed. This is the part where it shouldn’t matter, but sometimes things bug you… so later I ended up designing a small jig to hold the hangers so I could sand them and make them look nice. I don’t know why I torture myself… I hate sanding.

Designing the jig involved creating a slightly larger version of the hanger and then differencing it from a small rectangular shape, then 3D printing it. It worked well to hold the hangers in place while sanding them, but in the end staining them a darker color was much easier. (Again, I really hate sanding.)

When I made the hangers I sort of envisioned it as a game where one or more people would try to build the hanging structure without it falling. Sort of a reverse Jenga perhaps, or maybe more like Barrel of Monkeys though I’ll admit I was completely wrong about how you play Barrel of Monkeys, and this video shows the correct way.

Overall I’m fairly pleased with how this projected turned out. Oh, I should note that the hexagonal tops on the hangers were mean to mimic the hexagonal logo of Brinn Labs. they could certainly have been more rounded or another sort of shape. Who knows? I may redesign these hangers in the future after a bit more prototyping. As I mentioned, this was a quick project and once I got a working hanger I just kicked out a bunch.

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I hope I was able to create the “increasing confusion” that May Ray talked about in the instructions for Obstruction. It’s certainly a bit confusing when you are creating the structure, and at times I wished I had a helper to attach two hangers while I was attaching two hangers.

I’ll probably get around to releasing the files for this in case anyone else wants to do something with it.

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A Tiny Little Stocking for a Spider

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A few weeks ago Dana posted something on Facebook about this rather large spider that had taken up residence in our doorway. I did my best to avoid using that door ever again but while decorating for the holidays she said she wanted to do something for the spider’s little corner of the house, so I offered to make a tiny stocking for the spider. (I may not like spiders, but I like making things.)

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I started by looking at some photos of stockings online, then did a quick trace of one in Inkscape. I figured it would have three parts, the red stocking, the white upper part, and a dark colored letter “S” for “Spider”.

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Once I had the design I broke it out into the three parts. The little hanging tab on the upper left part of the red piece took a little work. For the first one I made it was way too small, and also lacked a hole for the pushpin to go into.

One thing that’s hard to notice here is that the white part is a bit larger than the red part it will get attached to. This was done using Dynamic Offset feature in Inkscape which will scale up or down an object proportionally.

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I brought the pieces into LightBurn for laser cutting, and set each of the three pieces to their own color to cut individually with different color felt, and made the little slot for the hanging tab another color as that would cut first before the rest of the red piece would cut.

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The green outline in the image above is the tab for the pushpin. It’s tiny. Really tiny. You can also see how I increased the size of the tab here. Fun fact, I originally made this at half this size (the final version is than 30mm tall) but that was ridiculously small!

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LightBurn also has a kerf offset setting which I used for the tiny little pushpin hole because it allowed me to cheat and make the shape just a little larger than it really was. When you cut this tiny it helps to account for the kerf.

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Here’s what I made. You can see the tiny little slot for the pushpin in at least two of them. Sadly the white part on the top of the stocking isn’t exactly white as I had no white felt so it’s sort of bluish-white, but it’ll do.

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Here are some spares on the bulletin board with gigantic pushpins holding them in place. They are just assembled using some spray glue. I thought about sewing them but I’m not that insane.

So yes, this is probably the most ridiculous and tiny holiday decorations I’ve made this year…

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Giant Laser Etched Banana

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We made a giant laser cut & etched banana and stained it yellow and put it on the wall. Why? I’ll tell you why. Because we’re artists and we have a sense of humor and sometimes enjoy social commentary. But wait, there’s more!

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You see, this specific banana is best know as being a piece of art created by Andy Warhol. Or maybe it’s best known as being the cover of a Velvet Underground album. Also, as we all know, Warhol was a thief. But maybe he was a thief in the way Steve Jobs was a thief. “Good Artists Copy; Great Artists Steal.”

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So I stole Warhol’s banana, but I really just downloaded a file that someone else created, which is fitting. Stealing is pretty easy nowadays. Thanks, Internet!

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But where did Warhol steal it from? Well, most likely an ashtray from Wing Corp. Do you like a banana? Enjoy Banana. Or maybe you should go to court and sue someone over banana. Art is ridiculous because life is ridiculous.

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Maybe you want to buy your own banana? You could probably do that, but you can’t buy our banana, because it’s not for sale! (I remain hopeful that someday someone comes into the office and actually recognizes the banana.)

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The banana was laser etched and then cut from 1/4″ Baltic Birch Plywood and it took about five hours. I think it should have gone faster but this was (more or less) a stress test for the laser cutter. It definitely etches (and cuts) stronger on the left side than the right. Good to know.

Becky is holding a Cutie (aka a “mandarin orange”) for scale. I forgot to bring a banana for scale. I should probably do that. There’s also a 12 ounce can in some of the photos, which is also for scale. I don’t know how many ounces the banana is.

Do you like a banana? See Also: MaKey MaKey Banana Pong, MaKey MaKey Banana Pong (code), The Art of Tinkering, and Bluth Family Stair Car.