Tag Archives: bracelet

72: Bending Acrylic

This post resulted from Rebecca of Hugs are Fun asking if a thin piece of acrylic could be bent for a bracelet.  Challenge taken, and the answer is yes, it definitely works!


My first thought was to try to boil the plastic to heating, like they do to make toothbrush bracelets.  This seemed potentially messy (or scalding) so when I saw that Harbor Freight had low level heat guns for $15, I picked one up.  (Any excuse to get more tools, right?)

Bendycrylic (17 of 42)I happen to have a never used bracelet mandrel in the back of my supply closet, when I had big dreams of making wire wrapped cuffs.  I dusted that baby off and it was perfect for this project.  The biggest problem is that this thing weighs a ton. So it has to be a stationary mandrel – it’s not something I could flip around too easily and it might disfigure the warm acrylic if I laid it directly on it.

The materials:

For the test, I used 1/8th (3mm) acrylic. We had some extra leftover 3mm florescent acrylics we used for Ingress badges, and I figured if were were making cuffs, let’s go 80’s all the way!  I cut the blanks using the leather cuff designs from Week 3.  I made them 6.25 inches long, since it seemed all metal cuff blanks (that you can buy to stamp on) are 6 inches long.

bracelet blanks
bracelet blanks

The process:

We weren’t sure how drippy or gooey the acrylic would get, and how hard it would be to handle, so we laid the mandrel flat, propped up on a couple potholders.  We set the acrylic perpendicular to the mandrel, so it could drape around it as it melted.

Big heavy mandrel!

Heated acrylic
Heated acrylic
You can see where the bend wasn't quite right
You can see where the bend wasn’t quite right

This setup was very cumbersome, and took both Ryan and I to make it work.  The acrylic didn’t stay in place on the mandrel (it slipped off because of the taper), so it had to be held.  While Ryan held it, I had the heat gun.  I started at the low level, and slowly it heated up.  Because we had to continually hold it (and we like our fingers), the heat wasn’t even.  It created some lumpy / flat sides, and we had to flip the entire mandrel in order to curve the open part correctly, which required more heating.

Look, ma, no gloves!
Look, ma, no gloves! (we didn’t get any photos of the second and third cuffs – we had to work fast to keep the heat!  To fast to remember to stop and aim the camera 🙂
Parchment paper heating.
Parchment paper heating.

Second go round, I set the mandrel upright, and it stayed nicely on the sturdy base.  I heated the blank laid flat on a piece of parchment paper, sweeping back and forth slowly to make it even.  When it was pliable, we picked up the whole parchment paper and wrapped the bracelet around the upright mandrel.  It worked well, but the ends did lose some heat.  They weren’t pliable enough to wrap around and make the perfect cuff oval.  I didn’t think to reheat the acrylic when I got a little resistance, but instead pushed harder, and part of the intricate swirl design cracked.  Lesson learned.

The circle shows the crack - the florescent material made it hard to photograph!
The circle shows the crack – the florescent material made it hard to photograph!
The center row of beads is not in the center - it meltd before the outsides got fully pliable, and then cooled closer to one edge.
The center row of beads is not in the center – it meltd before the outsides got fully pliable, and then cooled closer to one edge.

The third bracelet, the triple strand, was heated up slowly on parchment (even slower than the swirly one, because the thin middle strand heated up faster than the outside ones and started to warp.  Keep that in mind for future designs!)  When pliable, we shaped in around the mandrel.  Instead of pushing the ends down, Ryan held the bracelet and I gave each one a shot of heat and pressed.  The resulting cuff was amazingly perfect.

In order from worst (right) to best (left)!
In order from worst (right) to best (left)!

Tips and Lessons learned:

– Go longer than 6.25 inches.  I think I would try 6.5 next time.  The cuff opening was a little too big for me.

– It didn’t smell awful, but it is warm plastic – work in a ventilated area.

– Pliable plastic is hot, but not instant burn hot (says the girl who started molding it with her bare hands, whoops).  That said, pot holders and work gloves did come in handy.

– You can leave fingerprints in pliable plastic.  That’s a novel way to sign your work 🙂

– Make sure your designs have even line thickness, or take special care not to melt thin areas before the thick ones are fully heated.

– The cheapie heat gun worked great, no need for anything fancy.


– The acrylic is flexible, but not overly so.  I was able to touch the open ends of a cuff together without cracking or stress.  Anything beyond that broke the swirly cuff.  Something to take into account with designs as well.

It broke on the thinnest part.
It broke on the thinnest part.

I’d love to hear what you think!  Is there a market for these?

03: Leather Cuffs

Ever since we got the laser, back in February 2011, I’ve been wanting to work with leather. It’s a versatile material that can be made into a nearly infinite number of things. My first exposure to leather craft was Girl Scout camp as a kid. The art shed was my favorite place and stamping on leather was the coolest thing! That, and the beading loom. Oh, and lanyard weaving…My mom would indulge my crafty whims, to a $$ point – I was able to purchase some belt blanks and a few stamps for use at home. There are only so many belts a person can make, and without good access to tools and leather, my new hobby went by the wayside. (Beading, though, stuck around, and I’m still making jewelry today!)

Fast forward practically 20 years: I own a laser cutter! So many less punches to purchase, less manual cutting, so many more possibilities!  I had ideas, but I’m a bit of a perfectionist and didn’t feel like my finishing skills were up to snuff.  I first heard about the Chicago School of Shoemaking in 2011, thanks to their booth at the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago.  After wanting to take a class for years, I decided a sandal making class was the perfect birthday gift.  It was amazing, the sandals are amazing, and I got to pick the brain of Sara, the master cobbler, to learn proper beginning leather working techniques and how to set snaps and rivets!  She was also interested in the possibilities of the laser, so I can only hope to collaborate more in the future!

TLDR, what you are here for?  Laser cut leather!  Bracelets seemed like the best way to start – simple, small, not much hardware required, and didn’t need sewing.  Time to use the bundle of scraps I picked up from The Leather Guy store!

I came up with 5 different designs to work with – plain, slits to make a neat fringe-y type bracelet, an intricate swirling design, and 2 different “string of pearls” type.  They were different types of leather, and the weights ranged from 2-3 oz (the light brown ostrich leather at the bottom) to 6-7 oz (the gorgeous burgundy red).

Here are the bracelets, pre-hardware.  Not all of these got finished, sadly.

What I learned when cutting leather:  The first several cuts turned out poorly; we assumed leather would be easier to cut than plastic.  Nope.  To get a nice clean cut, we had to use a higher power and go slooow – 5% speed. I also learned burning leather has an interesting and powerful smell.  And laser cut leather is incredibly sooty.

Types of things that went wrong when cutting
Types of things that went wrong when cutting – Top one was too close to the edge, middle didn’t cut cleanly all the way through, bottom bowed up, mid cut, creating the wobbly lines / not aligned circles.

The bracelets I designed to use with snaps went together easily enough, since the guide holes were cut right in (and thanks to a little internet setting refresher).  The red leather was a little thick and I had to shave it down to get them to set right (Alternatively, I could invest in snaps for thicker leather).  Snaps are standard for leather bracelets, but I’ve always felt they were a little chunky, not very elegant.  The fold over clasp is a good solution – or it would be, if I had right hardware!

To attach the clasp, I captured a jump ring in a loop of leather at the end of the bracelet, which I closed with a rivet.  I crimped on the clasp, and it looks fantastic!  I got one photo!  Then I tried to open the clasp, and the jump ring failed.

Looks good, felt solid, but when I tried to open the clasp, they rings turned into noodles.
Looks good, felt solid, but when I tried to open the clasp, the rings turned into noodles.

Try 2 involved a trip to the hardware store and investing in various sizes of washers.  The ones on the blue bracelet look fantastic, but they are just barely too small.  It takes a lot of determination to get the clasp through, as you can see.

The bracelet with the too small jump ring is wearable, but it takes some squishy and twisting and it's difficult one handed!
The bracelet with the too small jump ring is wearable, but it takes some squishing and twisting and it’s difficult to put on and remove one handed!

And any washer with a larger hole had a larger “collar” area.  The laser cut rivet holes were blocked and the clasp wouldn’t fit around. I really like this clasp, but I need to find a good source for 7mm wide, roughly 20 ga soldered jump rings.  But I’ll keep an eye out, and update when I have success.

The washer is so thick, I couldn't get the rivet in.  I could adjust for this, but the clasp couldn't fasten onto something this thick anyway
The washer is so thick, I couldn’t get the rivet in. I could adjust for this, but the clasp couldn’t fasten onto something this thick anyway, and I didn’t want to use different sized rings.  Prior noodle-ly jump rings visible in the background.

I love the finished result of these, and have actually taken to wearing them (and I never wear bracelets…except my Fitbit now that I got for Christmas.  Perhaps 2014 is the year of the bracelet?)  I have two favorites.  The plain cut is lovely because the texture of the leather is so gorgeous and I LOVE the English Point end (pointed a bit, like a belt).  My other favorite is the blue “string of pearls” bracelet.  The size between the large and small strips is based on the golden ratio, and the fold over clasp is nice and delicate – I just need better rings to make it easier to wear!

Seriously, one of the weirdest photos to get.  Thanks to Ryan who didn't mind getting cozy over my shoulder!
Seriously, one of the weirdest photos to get. Thanks to Ryan who didn’t mind getting cozy over my shoulder!