A Family of Cut-Out “Art Boxes”

A family of 5 two-inch square wooden boxes featuring gears, vines and Celtic knots

Well, this all started as a small experiment which I didn’t expect to work.  Originally, I had conceived of the “Vine” box on the lower left as something to etch onto a series of rather banal boxes that I’m making.  In a sudden fit of “Oh, what the hell,” I decided to put our 60 watt laser-cutter to the test and actually cut out the shapes, rather than etch them.

The first Vine Box didn’t turn out so well, but the idea was there and I went home to further tweak the image so that it would cut out properly.  Once I achieved success, images, questions, and potential swam around my head.  What else could I cut?  How fine could I get it?  Does Ashton Kutcher really think that “Dude, Where’s My Car?” is a good movie?

More experimenting followed and the results of said experiments are pictured above.

Ultimately, I will be making these and other Art Boxes for sale to the general public on Etsy, but in the mean time, I’m testing out further designs so that I’ll have a full product line up when it comes time to open the store.

How to Breed Giant, Artificial Pumpkins….

It's a giant pumpkin, carved out of foam insulation that's been painted white with gold accents

Isn’t this how Attack of the Killer Tomatoes started?


I was approached by Jason H. who, himself, had been approached by someone looking for a custom-made, giant, white & gold pumpkin for their wedding.

I modeled the pumpkin in Blender, then cut out the profile in 1″ wide sections of standard insulating foam using the makerspace’s CNC router. The pieces were then hand-finished and a couple of coats of Durham’s Rock Hard Water Putty were applied to strengthen it and seal the foam (because foam melts in a really cool way when you apply spray-paint to it). :D

Jason H., the maker who approached me with the project, helped in the finishing, painting, and decorating aspects.

More Laser Cutter Shenanigans

Several laser cut boxes and a 2 inch diameter calendar stone all cut for my mom.

Testing the limits of our laser cutter….

Well, Raster had posted a while back on this fantastic online box template generator and I’ve been meaning to give it another go.  It’s loads of fun to play with and gives accurate files to cut from.

I’ve been wanting to do cut-out work, similar to what you’d get with a jigsaw, so I experimented around with various settings, both in Illustrator (CS5) and the laser cutter.  Since I am a conundrum, I couldn’t wait to make a box that would fail to hold anything you put in it.

The box on the right was drawn with a stroke width of 5 and that seems to be about as narrow as I can go with our current setup.  The tiny calendar stone there is 2″ across and was etched with 50% power and 100% speed.

All of these pieces were made from Baltic birch plywood and, moreover, I made them for my mom (she loves ’em).  It just so happens that I got them done in time to show them off for Bay View Gallery Night–an amazing experience in and of itself.

Just an Average Day Here at the Makerspace….

A laser cut image of an Aztec or Mayan Calendar

Just Another Day

This was based on an image that I found online.  I brought it into Illustrator and, for the first time ever, I was very satisfied with the results of LiveTrace.

Both the speed and power of the 60watt laser cutter were set to 100%.  I wasn’t paying attention, but I believe it took between 45 minutes and an hour to etch this into 3mm Baltic birch plywood.

…Now I just need to figure out what to do with it….

Gradient Reference for the 25 Watt Laser Cutter

A map of how deep and/or dark the laser cutter etches based on the percentage of power and percentage of speed.

So, I was just getting in to the ‘Space when Jason G. and I started talking about the laser cutter.  I had planned on doing some simple tests to determine the level of shading that I could get for an as-yet unnamed project when he mentioned that he (and others) were talking about doing a full map of different settings and the results.

I thought that I might as well give it a shot.  The set up was interesting.  I created a grid of rectangles in CorelDraw (oh, how I hate you!) and then used the preferences dialogue in the laser cutter driver to adjust the speed and power for each little square.

I should explain that the driver recognizes 8 colors and for each color in your image you can assign different settings.  It was a little trying given that the grid is 10×10 but, eight at a time, I assigned the appropriate colors, then settings and let it cut.

After the charring became significant on the low speed/high power settings, I decided to omit the rest of them because, honestly, who wants their project to turn into charcoal?  If you can’t read the Olde English font, it says, “Here Be Fire! (not suitable for etching).”

As you can see, there is a very nice gradient that results from many of these settings used in conjunction with one another.  I also left the tar/smoke-damage on because I wanted people to know what their project would look like immediately after using these settings.  I suspect that most of that can simply be sanded off.

I had forgotten my camera, but a big thanks to Kevin B. for taking a few shots and emailing them to me via his phone.

Next, a cutting template similar to this one.  Oh, and a gradient rainbow.  Yeah, a monochromatic, smells-like-a-forest-fire rainbow should do the trick.  Maybe I’ll even make it a double. :)

Column Progress Update III

Well, I’m still working on them, but with what I’ve learned from the first two columns, it appears that the second two will dwarf the stylized look of the first ones.  In essence, it is clear that I learned a lot about column-making and I will make far neater columns in the future.

A set of 4 columns, two of which need the capitals created yet.The second two still need feet, and I’ve only mudded just the one, but I’ve designed the capitals for those two outer columns and today, when I get down to the ‘Space, I’m going to cut and assemble them.  The hardest part will be judging where to cut off the cardboard tubes so that all of the columns will be the same height, after the capitals are added.

I’m still undecided on what I’m going to use to bridge the gap across the tops….

Column Progress Update II

A picture of a fully assembled column.  I hesitate to call it "Doric," but that's close enough.

So this is the column, fully assembled.  I used 3M putty to fill in some gaps due, largely, to my less-than-average woodworking skills.  It is fully sanded and now it needs the one thing that the Makerspace doesn’t have time for…Primer.

In a couple of weeks, I’m going to order the sandstone textured spray paint and this first column will be finished.

On a completely different topic, the makerspace now has a fully automated buffalo-maker:

A silhouette of a buffalo, cut out of quarter-inch MDF, then painted with black and yellow caution stripes.

This is Barry, the “Caution Buffalo.”  I have some interesting plans for this one….

Column Progress…

The molding and detail for a set of columns.  Lots of curves and steps.

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to build some columns.  I know, this is not a “traditional” project, but the reasoning is sound: I’m going to be living in student housing for 4 years whilst I earn my GIS degree at UW-MADison, ergo, I can’t paint, I can’t put up crown molding, and I can’t knock down walls just because I damned well feel like it.

That being the case, I’ve designed several projects that will let me bring some architectural detail into my apartment in a non-destructive fashion and I’ll be bringing you blow-by-blow accounts as things progress.

The columns themselves are just large cardboard tubes, much like the ones carpet is typically spooled on (thanks, Rich).  Everything else, well, that had to be designed and custom manufactured here at the makerspace…

I’ve become thoroughly enamored with our DIY CNC Router, care of Ron and Tom.  After giving a demo on the wonders of 3D profiling, I thought I should delve into waterline routing which is the technique that I’ve used here.  The detail that you can achieve is pretty remarkable, although there is a significant amount of hand-finishing required for that craftsman look.

Tonight, I cut the main pieces for the base and the capital of the column.  Once I have this first one more-or-less done, I’ll know enough about the workflow that I can build the other three with less trouble.  In the end, each column will have a space in the top for a pot so I can train my philodendrons down and around them.

3D Profile Cutting Class This Sunday @ Noon!

An example of a flower, cut with our CNC router

The much anticipated 3D profiling lecture/demonstration will be held at the Makerspace this Sunday at noon!

Learn how to take a model made in any 3D program and bring it to life!

I’ll be going over the basic workflow starting with exporting 3D models as .STL files, various CamBam settings, and finishing with a cutting demonstration on the CNC router, hopefully before the Packers kickoff at 3.

All are welcome!

Experiment in Shapes 1, Helium

This started off as an overzealous doodle, inspired by my refusal to doodle squares.  After a fashion, I decided to turn it into a Windows icon via Illustrator…

An Abstract image; Yellow proto-square with spheres and other shapes.

It still haunted my dreams, so I used the Makerspace’s CNC router to create a variant in real life MDF….

I had a certain amount of trouble with getting the yellow enamel paint to dry fully before I added another coat.  This led to scaling of the top coat which was most ugly.  Tom suggested using a 100-watt bulb in an enclosure, to ensure that the piece was at the proper temperature to allow the paint to dry.  His suggestion worked perfectly and I now have a new art piece hanging on my wall.

Oh, the name.  Originally, this was “Art…with a Handle,” but that seemed to lack imagination.  Next, it was “Dream Explosion,” but that was a bit much.  After allowing the name to percolate a bit, “Dream Balloon” came through and this led to “Helium.”  So there.