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Dana is right.

Dana is right.

This year for Christmas I got my wife the one thing every wife wants… an admission that she is right.

But not just any admission that she is right, but a wooden plaque with the words “Dana is right” laser etched into it.

I made it a few weeks ago at Milwaukee Makerspace on the Laser Cutter we have there.

So whether it’s an argument discussion about the name of some actor, what we should have for dinner, or whose car we should take, she can just tell me, and point to the sign. What could be easier!

(I’ve already been told I may need to make one that says “Doctor Prodoehl is right” that she can take to school and put on her desk. It should make dealing with students easier. Also, I may be able to go into business making these for all my friend’s wives. Although doing so could negatively affect the number of friends I have.)

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Fire the Laser!

I finally got some quality time with the Laser Cutter at Milwaukee Makerspace, and I have to say, I’m fairly pleased with the results!

Milwaukee Makerspace Logo

I started with the Milwaukee Makerspace logo (in SVG format) in Inkscape, and exported it as a DXF file. (I also kept the stroke of the width just 1 pixel for all the lines.)

Once I had a DXF file, I was able to import that into CorelDRAW, which is what the PC that controls the Laser Cutter uses to do the work. There’s a bit of trickery in CorelDRAW between raster and vector artwork, but doing it this way with a DXF file at just one pixel wide seemed to force it to work in vector mode, which is what I wanted.

Laser Etched Wood

Knowing the power and speed settings for the Laser Cutter are tricky, and require a bit of experimentation based on if you are etching or cutting, and how deep you wish to etch or cut. The nice thing is, as long as you don’t move whatever your material is, you can run the Laser Cutter multiple times to go deeper, or complete a cut. In many cases this may be the way to go… (More on that later!)

It’s worth noting that some materials should NEVER be cut. Since our pals at PumpingStation: One already have a list, I’ll point you to the NEVER CUT THESE MATERIALS list on their their wiki. The also have this cool list of laser settings. (Yeah, we’re working on that as well. We have a different laser, so we need to start from scratch.)

Laser Etched Wood

Here’s a close-up of the etching into wood. I ran it a few times. If you’re doing a vector cut, it just traces around the outline, and goes super-fast. If you are using raster artwork, it’ll behave like an old dot-matrix printer and go line-by-line and take forever. Shane did this Periodic Table and it took almost two hours. (It does look pretty amazing though!) I’m still not 100% sure what CorelDRAW does with each format. I tried to import an SVG file but it seems to convert it to raster format. The DXF kept its vector format, so I’ll stick with that for now.

Laser Etched Plastic

After I was satisfied with wood, I moved on to plastic. When I say plastic, I mean “plastic” and I don’t know if it’s acrylic, or plastic, or what kind of plastic, or anything else, so I’ll just leave it at that for now. (And yes, we’ve got a nice scrap pile of plastic at the Makerspace to experiment with.)


Laser Etched Plastic

This is just an outline of the logo, but we should be able to use a filled-in logo (in raster format) and create the effect of frosted glass, and then we can do this Floating Glow Display project from Make with our laser-etched plastic. Hmmm, it looks like I just gave myself another project to tackle!

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Frickin’ Lasers!

Lasers

I’ve got a laser. Sure, you probably have one too. When I was a kid, lasers were crazy big expensive things you would never own. They involved tubes of gas and high voltage power supplies. Today, you can hold a pretty powerful laser in your hand. The future is now!

Right, but really, I’m just talking about a laser pointer. We’ve all used those. I got one years ago for less than $8 and had fun making the cat chase it around. It was a tiny little laser with tiny little batteries. It was bright for a few minutes, and then got dimmer, and then when the batteries died I found out that buying new batteries cost almost as much as the laser pointer itself. Bummer.

As chance would have it, I was in need of a laser for some crazy top secret science experiments I can’t discuss yet, and did a little bit of research into lasers. Those folks at Wicked Lasers seem to have quite a variety, and they appear to be of pretty good quality as well. There’s cheapo lasers on ebay, most of which tell you the output, which is about 10 times the actual output of the laser. A laser with a high enough output will allow for things like burning or cutting. You’re typically not going to see that in a hand-held laser pointer, and you probably shouldn’t!

The Wicked Lasers Core Series (5 milliwatt) starts at $29.95, which isn’t too much… but after adding the $18.98 shipping costs you’re paying almost $50 for a frickin’ laser! Off to Amazon…

The <50mw 532nm Astronomy Powerful Green Laser Pointer comes in under $12, add $7 for shipping and you’re still under $20 for a frickin’ laser!

Now, this is not a 50 milliwatt laser. In fact the name of the product says “<50mw” which I assume means “less than 50mw” or something. The description does say “True 50mw factory tuned green laser pointer” and “Output power: 50mW” but some of the review suggest it’s probably between 5 and 10 milliwatts, which is fine with me.

This laser is bright. Green lasers will appear much brighter to the human eye than red lasers, and if you point it at a wall and stare at the dot it makes for too long, it’ll start to hurt your eyes. Disclaimer: Lasers are dangerous! Don’t point it at eyes, planes, or vehicles. If you’re careful and treat it responsibly, it’s fun to experiment with.

As for those crazy top secret science experiments I can’t discuss yet… Hopefully we’ll have some future posts about those. Off to the lab!

Blogging Nerd Note: I was wondering why WordPress added a ‘-2’ to the post URL, but then realized I wrote a post titled Frickin’ Lasers! back in 2006. Funny, eh?