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Laser. Cut. Wood.

Milwaukee Makerspace Medallion

Since the dawn of time, man has battled against wood… no, that’s not right. What I mean is, since we got the Laser Cutter at the Milwaukee Makerspace, I’ve wanted to cut things out of wood with that powerful beam of light.

And now I have… mostly. Sort of. Yeah.

Boxy

My first (failed) attempt was when I cut a box, and tried to use whatever scrap piece of 1/4″ plywood I had lying around the house. (For you metric folks, that’s just over 6mm thick.) Since it was typical crappy plywood with layers and glue and stuff, it made some nice burns, but couldn’t cut through it.

Milwaukee Makerspace Medallion

Well, here we are, with a nice piece of wood cut by the laser. This piece of wood is 3mm thick. (For you non-metric folks, that’s about 0.118110236 inches thick.) The Milwaukee Makerspace logo is etched into the wood, which makes this piece of laser cut wood at least 125% more awesome.

Craft Plywood

And what kind of wood is this? It’s not crappy plywood I found in the basement. I ended up going to the hobby store and buying a nice piece of wood, which you can see on the label, says it’s 1/8″x4″x12″ craft plywood. It wasn’t too expensive at $1.25, but I can’t really get larger pieces than that at the hobby store, so I’ll need to look elsewhere. (Oh, the receipt listed it as “Baltic Birch Plywood” which is what I want. (Baltic Birch is what they use for MakerBot frames. If you’ve got a recommendation on where to get it, especially local to Milwaukee, let me know!)

As my previous post mentioned, the laser cutter is just 25 watts, not super-powerful, and it may need a good cleaning, but if you’re willing to make a few passes, or a few passes plus a dozen, you should be able to cut the right type of wood, if it’s not too thick.

In my next post I’ll talk about preparing the file, as well as some tricks for multiple passes with the laser cutter.

Stay Tuned!

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Lasers and Boxes

Since we’ve got a laser cutter at Milwaukee Makerspace, I wanted to test out the BoxMaker and cut a box out of wood.

BoxMaker

BoxMaker is a sweet little web app that lets you put in the dimensions and spits out a PDF file with what you need. I wanted a box 3″ x 5″ by 2″ and for the material thickness, I got out the digital calipers and took a measurement. (Take note of this! The material thickness is important later on…)

BoxMaker

So here’s the PDF file I got. Depending on the size of your material (or how much you want to waste) it may make sense to move the pieces around. Since I imported the PDF file into CorewDraw (which is what the laser uses to cut things) it was fairly easy to rearrange the pieces. I also deleted the text that describes the box. I could have just made it a color the laser cutter ignores, but I figured I had the info in the original PDF file.

Wood

Now, our laser cutter is 25 watts, but since it’s old and may need some cleaning, it might not be outputting 25 watts, so when I put my thin piece of wood into the laser cutter, MattN mentioned that it wouldn’t cut it. I figured I’d give it a try, and yeah, even though I did multiple passes and tried to refocus the laser, it just couldn’t do it. I kept checking the depth of the cut, but it just wasn’t “cutting” it. (Pun intended!)

At this point I was fine with the failure to cut wood, and I knew the laser cutter could handle acrylic, so I grabbed a piece of that…

Cut Acrylic

The laser got through the acrylic just fine, as it’s done before… but wait, what did I say about the material thickness before? I said you needed to measure it! Since the acrylic was thinner than the wood, I should have generated a new file, but I didn’t. So this is what I got…

Finished Box

Here’s my box, with the tabs way too big, which gives it an interesting look I suppose. Not exactly what I was after, but at least I know that it works… mostly.

I also want to try a box with the T-joints like the MakerBot uses. Box-o-tron looks like it will work, if I can get it running. (Any other suggestions?)

Also, I had a fun time trying to photograph clear acrylic, so it wasn’t a total loss. :)

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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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Emma’s Owl

owl

You know, I don’t think I made anything that spectacular this weekend, so I’ll turn the spotlight on my daughter Emma who managed to create this awesome piece of artwork for one of her siblings.

She didn’t want to reveal it until it was complete (which I totally understand, because I sometimes do the same thing) but she did need my help doing just one thing… cutting the piece of wood. Other than that, I didn’t see it until it was done.

She got an owl pattern online as a starting point, and then cut out pieces of paper, glued them down, and mod-podged over it all to seal it.

I think it turned out awesome!

OK, I’ll claim one more part of this… I always tell my kids to “make” something for someone it the family when they have a birthday, as I don’t think kids should have to feel like they need to buy gifts for one another, so really, she took my advice. (File under “proud“)