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.)
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.
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!