Tag Archives: Abecediary

79: Hanging Your Laser Cut Designs

This week we decided to tackle a nagging question: what is the best way to hang laser cut signs?  If you come to my house, you’ll see a lot of most blank walls – hanging things is not my specialty.  Hanging laser cut pieces adds another layer of difficulty – they are generally 1/4 inch thick or less.  Hardware all seems to require screws, and there aren’t very many screws or nails smaller than 1/4″.  If you did find them, are they secure enough?  I just wasn’t confident in that.

Tim, left and Ryan, right, conferring over ideas.  I love the artwork!
Tim, left and Ryan, right, conferring over ideas. I love the artwork!
It looks like I work here!   I'm flipping through framing hardware catalogs.
It looks like I work here! I’m flipping through framing hardware catalogs.

We decided to consult with a professional this week, Tim Frederick of If These Walls Could Talk.  We’ve worked with Tim on several occasions, and they do great work!  And he totally let us come in and pick his brain for a couple of hours, so that’s always high marks.

D-Ring Hangers or Strap Hangers

ITWCT (11 of 15)These little guys are the first thing that Tim popped out of his hardware bins.  Generally, D rings are used on framed pieces to hold wire strung between, but in the case of the Abecediary we brought with, a wire would have interrupted the design.  In cases like that, you hand the D rings straight on 2 screws on the wall.

To attach D Ring hangers, you really can’t use the screws provided – they are too thick for the wood.  As I mentioned before, our laser can only cut 1/4″ deep.  Luckily the signs are relatively lightweight, so simply adhering the two parts together with adhesive will work!  Tim suggested two part epoxy, the kind that you mix before using (you can see examples by Loctite here).  Wood can expand and contract, depending on the atmosphere around it.  Epoxy will hold strong, yet still be flexible enough to allow the wood to do its thing.  Super glues, while strong, are not flexible.  I can attest  to this fact; every time I glued on hardware with superglue, it popped off eventually.

The D-ring is a little big to fit here and be hidden.
The D-ring is a little big to fit here and be hidden.
Moving the D ring strap to the back of the K hides it much better.
Moving the D ring strap to the back of the K hides it much better.

Tim also mentioned that there are smaller D ring hangers than pictured here – they just don’t stock them at If These Walls Can Talk.  Smaller ones would be good for the “K” area of more intricate pieces – the strap is a little long on the ones they had in shop.  A work around would be to put the second D ring in a bit on a larger section, but still level wit the first one.  This works because it’s hanging on two nails; it doesn’t need to balance on one.

Ledges or Plugs

Time made up this ledge out of balsa - perhaps we could fashion something on the laser?
Time made up this ledge out of balsa – perhaps we could fashion something on the laser?

I’m not sure if this hanging technique has a name, but the idea is that you add a plug of wood on the back that has a small cut-away to catch the head of the nail in the wall.  It’ s like a little ledge to hang from.  The extra thickness gives a big advantage: you can use a longer screw.  The ledge effectively doubled the thickness of the piece.  Of course, glue would still work too.  Both would make it twice as secure!

bumpers!
bumpers!

If you do use the ledge method, you should counteract the thickness at the bottom with rubber bumpers, which you can get at any hardware store.

So, hopefully this is helpful to other laser cutters out there!  These methods are classy alternatives to simply hanging it on a bare nail.  Maybe this will convince me to get a few more things up on the wall!

We made up a sign, 17 x17, of the If These Walls Could Talk logo.  All the brainstorming on how to hang it will come in handy for Tim!
We made up a sign, 17 x17, of the If These Walls Could Talk logo. All the brainstorming on how to hang it will come in handy for Tim now!

30: Tokens & Templates

Once in a while I come across a job where I’ve got a handful of pre-cut shapes and I’ve got to etch a design onto them.  This can be tricky for any number of reasons, but the issue I run into most often getting the alignment between the etch and the shape it’ll be on just right—it’s called registration.  I don’t have one of those fancy lasers with camera-aided registration systems, so I’ve got to do it by hand. Most of the time the job is small enough that I don’t mind just sliding one shape at a time up against the x- and y-axis rulers, using the corner for quick edge registration, but sometimes you’ve got so many items to produce that this becomes inefficient. That’s what at template is for!

The bamboo tokens, resting comfortably in their template pre-etch.
The bamboo tokens, resting comfortably in their template pre-etch.

In this case, several dozen leftover pieces of bamboo from Jennifer’s super-awesome hex pendants were lying in stacks, wondering when they would themselves become useful.  I like to stick tiny little free things in orders received at my Etsy shop like the wooden triforce eagle insignia that were cut a while back, but I’ve been out of random tiny little things for a while, so I decided to design some hex-shaped “tokens” with the Abecediary logo and my email. You can’t redeem anything with them, but having an email address for any custom laser geekery you have in mind has got to be pretty handy, right? I suppose they’re like tiny business cards, but cuter and slightly less useful.

The template itself is just a rectangle of material with a hex pattern cut out.
The template itself is just a rectangle of material with a hex pattern cut out.

There were a lot to cut though, so I took a piece of spare acrylic and cut a hexagonal grid into it, paths offset, allowing Jen’s leftover bamboo hexes to fit snugly inside. I made sure that the hex grid matched the layout of the design I would be etching into the surface exactly. I had long ago decided that this acrylic was scrap, but you can make a template with just about anything and most people prefer to use much cheaper materials like cardboard or chipboard.

A close-up of the heads side shows off the ABCD logo and a fairly random line design.
A close-up of the heads side shows off the ABCD logo and a fairly random line design.

The design itself was mostly achieved through light vector etching, with only the text and the ABCD logo being raster-etched. The result was cleaner than if I had used a deep raster etch on either side, and it afforded me a chance to get more familiar with using hairlines in design rather than relying on solid blocks.

All of the tokens, sitting inside the template.
All of the tokens, sitting inside the template.

If you’d like one for yourself, go nab an abecediary or a dialog box from the shop! There’ll be an extra tiny little bamboo token tucked inside. Unfortunately, I can’t fit the template in any of the envelopes I use for shipping so that’ll stay here.

The tokens are less than an inch big, taken straight from Jen's hexie pendant leftovers.
The tokens are less than an inch big, taken straight from Jen’s hexie pendant leftovers.

24: Transfer Tape

Most suppliers I use for laserable materials ship those materials with transfer tape applied to either one or both sides.  I didn’t really learn to appreciate this until I made a bulk order of melamine-coated MDF from a large home improvement chain; they don’t assume you’re going to be firing a laser at their product so they ship the boards without that kind of protection. I did some lazy-bones “research” and determined that my own roll of transfer tape was too expensive, so I tried to use the material without any. Unfortunately, the MDF is 1/8″, too thick to cut with a laser without some serious scorching. That scorching meant surfaces too damaged to be presentable, so I sorted the stacks of MDF to the back of my materials pile and left it to collect dust.

The roll of transfer tape, medium tack!, and one set of numerals.
The roll of transfer tape, medium tack!, and one set of numerals.

Jen, awesomeness incarnate, did some proper actual research and discovered the right roll of tape at the right price. Our very first very own transfer tape roll arrived, and it was glorious. I pulled out some gray melamine MDF and whipped up a design I’d been thinking about for a while: a number pad. I’ve been a little obsessed with Clarendon lately thanks to some flyer design at work, and its numerals fit so well! Design finished, I applied some transfer tape to both sides, totally overdoing it by using a brayer and everything, and left one section without tape so I could show off the difference.

The top surface, where white is tape, gray is melamine, and yellow is unacceptable!
The top surface, where white is tape, gray is melamine, and yellow is unacceptable!

I use a manual air assist solution with my laser, which means I hook up an air compressor though an accessory that funnels said air through the laser’s path. This prevents a lot of scorching when cutting any materials, but is almost essential when cutting thicker woods as the heat can build up and wood can actually catch on fire if you’re not paying attention. For all it’s worth, it still can’t completely prevent scorched edges. With the air assist active during the entire cut, I cut four sets of numerals, one completely nude. The transfer tape did its job, shielding the melamine surfaces front and back from the laser’s super crazy heat.

Cleaning off all of the resin from the material's back surface is awful. Go transfer tape!
Cleaning off all of the resin from the material’s back surface is awful. Go transfer tape!

The back surface in particular is a mess. The air assist does a great job of pushing all of the heat downward as the laser lases, keeping the surface mostly clean. However,  the somewhat dirty downdraft cutting table—that’s the metal honeycomb pattern you’re seeing—and all that air being pushed around means the back face gets pretty grimy. It’s a huge pain cleaning that much sticky woodish residue off of any surface, let alone one with many curved edges that you don’t want to get wet.

Look at all of those messy bits of mess.  Thankfully, it's all lifted away with the transfer tape.
Look at all of those messy bits of mess. Thankfully, it’s all lifted away with the transfer tape.

That’s not the half of it, though! When I’m removing the cut pieces from the remaining material, every charred edge is full of soot that adheres to the nearest finger, tool and surface. It’s so much happier a process when I don’t have to daintily handle each piece while wiping down the sides to avoid dirtying the surfaces. With the transfer tape applied, I just brush the soot away, care not where it mars the taped surface, and then peel it all away!

The biggest issue, though, isn’t just a matter of inconvenience when finishing laser-cut products. Even after all of the cleaning is done, the laser just does too much damage to the tapeless surface. It might not be a big deal to some people, but the kind of surface damage seen below drives me crazy, so I couldn’t think of selling that to someone else (via Abecediary on Etsy).

The number three here and his twin show off the difference between a taped surface (left) and an untaped surface (right).
The number three here and his twin show off the difference between a taped surface (left) and an untaped surface (right).

There are so many ways to use transfer tape beyond protecting a material’s surface from the laser beam’s blast. I’ve used transfer paper in the past to etch various designs into acrylic surfaces to prevent discoloration, even if that can mean hundreds of tiny little paper Tetris pieces to peel. I have yet to laser-cut vinyl, so I’m not really that knowledgeable when it comes to using transfer tape to keep discrete vinyl bits aligned properly when applying them to something. Those are just two examples; if you’ve worked with transfer tape before—with lasers or otherwise—let me know in the comments below and share your own examples!

The final piece, full of implied maths.
The final piece, full of implied maths.