Playing with the Laser Cutter

I’ve been experimenting with the Epilog Helix 24 the last week or so.  I picked up several new types of wood, including some 1/8, 5mm and 1/4″ plywood.  My flooring vendor also gave me a whole bunch of samples/discards.  I also acquired a few narrow pieces of pine (?) when my wife ran a cheap cutting board through the dishwasher. It came apart in 3 or four pieces.  Oh well… more for me to play with!

I figured was a good place to pull some sample objects. I’ve used it before for Makerbot items.  It had a lot of items tagged with Laser keyword and I grabbed several…

I liked the Business card caliper by alikins (thingiverse thing=782) and picked up a couple packs of paper metalized paper to try it out. The result was not quite satisfactory, although I only did one test. The author did not include settings information and I found it cut more than it etched, and it didnt etch everything I thought it would. Still it was a cool first test. More experimentation is needed!

Thing 892: Laptop Stand with Hokusai Wave by langfordw

Then I tried the Laptop Stand with Hokusai Wave by langfordw (thing 892).  It looked pretty cool but is only available as an SVG file. Rendering on my laser requires using Corel Draw.  This meant importing it and trying to print.  I grabbed a 24×18″ sheet of 5mm plywood from Home Depot (cut from 2×4′ using laser) and used the wood-eigth-inch settings provided by Epilog.  Woops – nothing printed, and job finished REAL fast.  Looking at things, I realized the settings were vector only and importing into Corel treated everything as a raster, so I edited the file to make the cut lines ‘hairline’ width. I also stuck ‘’ on the base. Then I ran it as a combined setting.  This time it rastered out the wave lines and cut the edges – dead center of the 24×18″ board, lots of waste there.  It didnt go very dark on first pass, so I ran it again. The waves got darker but the lines still were not cutting all the way through.  I left if and went on to other things, but came back today with more success. I realized that 5mm is more than 1/8″, closer to 1/4″. So I started off with the wood-quarter-inch settings, and made it combined vs vector only. It worked !!  Only problem is it wont hold my mac book pro 17″.  The mac book has a curved underside, and it slides right over the ‘lip’.  I found a variant (thing:1391) that is bigger and works for 15″ macbook.  I might try this soon.

Laser cutting the rocket parts

Old School Space Rocket... 2.0 by syvwlch, with horses

Next up I tried Old School Space Rocket… 2.0 by syvwlch (thing 202). This is a cool object resembling the model airplanes I built as a kid, with ribs and spars made from balsa wood.  I selected a 12″ square of nice plywood from Woodcraft.  Again the original file is only available as SVG, so I had to tweak thinks to make them hairline. I also had some weird problems this time with only parts of the file actually firing the laser. Other parts moved the head as if to cut, but no lights!  I dont know why it did that, but I tried again the next day with a fresh bit of wood and reprinting. This time it worked! well, almost. The cuts didnt go all the way through (even running it 2x) in some places.  I decided to use a razor knife rather than burn more of the support shelf. The result looked pretty good as a sheet.  I popped out most pieces without a problem, but one small spar snapped in two at a spot that wasnt quite cut through. Drat.  Well after fumbling with wood glue,  I managed to get the whole thing together.  It looks pretty cool!!  Horses werent sure what I was doing and asked for more carrots.

Turtle on old jeans, after washing. Umm a bit to much?

I’ve got a whole bunch more from Thingiverse to try but it was time to get back to the Maui Makers Turtle… I had a couple different things to try etching.  First I had seen the laser do jeans, so I grabbed an old pair and Fired The Laser. It looked like it worked well, but when I washed the jeans the truth was there to see. I guess the power was up too high or whatever – maybe it works best on new denim? I’ll have to give that a try… when I’ve got some denim to test on…. new jeans are a bit too expensive to burn through.  Still the turtle looks pretty cool like this.  Its on the bottom of one pant leg.

Thinking I had success with the jeans (before washing).  I grabbed a t-shirt (I got lots of em) and fired off the laser. I had a harder time getting the

Turtle on T-Shirt didnt work so good either

material to lay down. At one point it stopped lasing and I realized the extra material was blocking the incoming laser — and burning up!!  Well a quick Stop button + rearrangement worked fine.  The result again looked pretty good as it came out of the laser.  However when I washed the shirt it was obvious the settings were very wrong.  I dont know if the t-shirt idea would work at all on other settings.  I got a whole lotta em to burn through so I might do more experimenting here.

Maui Maker turtle engraved on brazilian slate from Maui Stone

Next up I had some pieces of slate and other stone given to me by the former tenant of my house (before I bought it).  April owns/operates Maui Stone down in Kahalui and I had stopped in to say hi.  I happened to have one of my floor cut samples with me and she thought it looked very nice.  She gave me several different types and sizes of stone tiles to play with.  I first tried a really big tile of light colored stone.  After 4 passes, you could just barely see the image if the light was right.  Not enough.. So I switched to some polished brazilian slate.  The result was MUCH more satisfying, although I dont understa nd why the laser cut out and left some streaks. The URL doesnt show up well either, but its a good example.

Then I had heard/seen that a gray scale image could be used to raster different depths.  Ben Ward had sent me a copy of his new Maui Labs logo as a smallish raster.  I enlarged it a bit and test fired it on one of the bits of former cutting board.  I liked the results, except for the aliaising effects.  Need to try this again with better source material.

Maui Labs logo shows 3d effect of gray scale

The 3d effect was encouraging but I needed to get some calibration and examples of different depths.  So I made a sample file using a gradient fill in Corel Draw.  I etched the result in some fine grain floor samples (labeled Tiger) that Jim from Wisteria Lane had given me. I ran the etching in 3 places. Once using only a single pass, once with two passes, and once with three passes.  The results definitely show the gradient depths, although I think the deeper depths also show a lot more carbonizing and its hard to tell depths. The results are promising, so I’m going to start looking around for a good gray scale image and see how well I can etch a photo.

Gray scale One Pass

Two passes etching gray scales

Three passes etching

Free live online class on Arduino and Processing

O’Reilly and Creative Live are offering a 5 week (one session/wk) class “Processing and Arduino in Tandem: Creating Your Own Digital Art Tools” .  The class is free if you can make it to the live version – tuesdays starting Aug 31 at 3pm PST (Noon Hawaii time).  The O’Reilly description says you dont need programming or electronics experience, although you do need to have an arduino and some other parts.  O’Reilly sells a kit ($75) with all the parts.

It looks like a good opportunity to learn the basics.  I’m not sure how useful this will be to those with programming and electronics experience, but I’m planning to watch the live classes.  Mostly I hope to learn about teaching with the Arduino and Processing.  I’ve done a bit of experimenting with the Arduino and toyed with Processing.  Both are aimed at making it easier for non-techies to use computers to create interactive applications.

  • class info on O’
  • class info on
  • Arduino home
  • Processing home
  • Arduino on Wikipedia
  • Processing on Wikipedia