posts tagged with the keyword ‘wood’


Pen Holder

If you remember reading about my Turndrawble, the turntable-based drawing machine, you may remember that I use Fine Point Sharpies with it. The last time I used it in public I just had the pens in a jar, which is not ideal.

The original design was going to have the pen holder built in, but I changed things and decided against that, so I needed something else, and this is it.

If you want to see this thing in person, and make some art with it, I’ll be at the Hidden River Art Festival at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts on September 19th & 20th, 2015.


The wood pieces are cut from 1/4″ Baltic Birch plywood. The blue parts are set to cut before the black parts. You usually want to cut the insides of things first. (Often this leads to many colors if you nest objects.) Not all laser cutter software requires you to do this manually. Some software is smart enough to always cut the inside objects first.


I also cut some rectangular acrylic panels to go on the inside. Two red, and two black, to match the Turndrawble acrylic colors used.

Pen Holder

I glued the wood pieces together with wood glue, sanded them, and did a stain and polyurethane coat. (Next time it would be better to sand everything completely before assembly. The sanding removed some of the burned wood look, which I wanted to preserve.

Pen Holder

The acrylic pieces fit nice and snug, but just to be safe I put a few small dabs of hot glue on the before putting them in place. There’s also four rubber feet on the bottom to prevent sliding around on the table.

Pen Holder

Pen Holder

(You can read more about this thing on the Turndrawble project page..)


QWERTY Keyboard Rendering

I’ve always been fascinated by typewriters. I find them to be curious machines, and their history is no less interesting. (Go on, take a look!) Of course I’m also fascinated by digital technology, and how it empowers people to creating things. Above is a rendering of a QWERTY keyboard, and below is an actual QWERTY keyboard I created using digital fabrication and a tiny computer called a microcontroller functioning as the “brain”.

QWERTY Keyboard

The keyboard is fully-functional. Plug it into the USB port of your laptop or desktop computer and you can start typing. Of course you can only type the letters Q, W, E, R, T and Y… but it does work. Like all of the things we use, it has limitations. Like all of our technology, it doesn’t do quite all of what we’d like it to do.

QWERTY Keyboard

The QWERTY Keyboard is made from wood. (Just like the early prototype of the Sholes, Glidden & Soule typewriter seen below.) My father was good at working with wood, and his father before him was probably even better at it. I am not that good at working with wood, but I am good at creating things digitally. There is perhaps an inverse skill scale at work here. Are we losing the ability to craft real-world objects in exchange for creating digital objects? Maybe digital fabrication is the answer, bridging the gap between the two.

Sholes, Glidden & Soule typewriter

The Sholes, Glidden & Soule typewriter is a weird looking device, as is my QWERTY keyboard. I think there’s a place in the world for both of them, and perhaps a place where the two can meet.

QWERTY Keyboard

For more information on this piece, visit the QWERTY Keyboard project page. There are more thoughts and more photos, and as always, I welcome your comments.


The Hammer of Futility

The Hammer of Futility

The Hammer of Futility

The Hammer of Futility


We use tools and machines to extend the reach of the human body. Our expectations do not always live up to our dreams. The Hammer of Futility is a kinetic sculpture created from laser-cut wood that consists of a hammer attempting to hit a nail, and failing, repeatedly. The piece was designed with software, and cut from wood using a laser cutter, then hand assembled, and wired for motion.


Stabuilt Blocks

I’ve been looking into press-fit construction techniques for a while now, and I stumbled across this 1917 building set “The Embossing Co Stabuilt Blocks” yesterday. (Nice font, eh?)

Stabuilt Blocks

It consists of a bunch of wood blocks with round round holes and pegs that hold them together. (I know you’re probably thinking I’m a big fan of LEGO, or maybe TINKERTOY. You’re half right. I’m more interested in the design of these things, and in making my own than I am in building things with them. I’m weird like that.)

Stabuilt Blocks

I didn’t examine all of the pieces, but one of the longer pegs looked a bit off with the cuts on the end. Maybe many were off like that? It almost gave it a DIY look. The DIY aspect is what I liked about this set. You could (somewhat) easily make one of these yourself if you had access to a basic wood shop.

With digital fabrication techniques you can easily create your own press-fit set. In fact, it’s a thing. For MIT’s “How To Make (almost) Anything” class one of the assignments is press-fit construction.

Vincent Chow's Desktop Organizer/Decorative Art Piece

There’s not a good master index, but you can browse through some of the student work from the past years and stumble across their press-fit assignments. (2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, etc.)

If you don’t get lost in all the documentation of other interesting projects, check out this Fab Academy page about press-fit construction, which has even more links at the bottom.

I’ve got a few projects for 2015 that will rely on press-fit pieces, so if you’ve got any good links, send them my way!


Pegs and Pieces

I’ve been working on a project that involves stacking of laser cut pieces of wood to create blocks. In theory the laser cutter is a precise CNC machine that has an (almost) negligible kerf. (The kerf is the part that gets cut away. With a saw it’s the width of the saw blade, and you need to account for it.)

Height Difference

Typically I’ve been using this 3mm Baltic Birch plywood from Woodcraft, and it’s been pretty darn close to 3mm, at least within 0.1mm. For most projects this is fine. Even at 3.2mm things will fit together, though perhaps a bit snug. You can always sand things a bit to make them fit.

Stacking presents a new problem though, because the extra height adds up and throws everything off. For the last batch of blocks I assembled I wasn’t aware of the issue, even when the pegs wouldn’t fit. I assumed I screwed up the peg slots, so I just sanded the pegs down a bit until they fit. Even then, they were not the right height in the other direction.

Height Difference

After assembly I noticed that the blocks were different heights than the first batch I created! I went back and measured the sheet of wood and it was 3.4mm. I checked a few more and got ranges between 3.0mm and 3.4mm. The image above shows what happens if you use 3mm wood and 3.3mm wood to construct the same block. At just four layers you’re already off by 1.2mm. For small things that can make a huge difference.

So what’s the solution? I can attempt to sand the sheets before cutting, or partially assemble the blocks and sand them to the proper height before the final step. A colleague suggested getting one large sheet of wood assuming the height would be consistent across one piece. I may try all three solutions, but will probably start with the first, and apply the second solution if required.

So yeah, even with digital fabrication, and laser cutters with almost no kerf… Measure twice so you only have to cut once!

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