Tag Archives: geometric

19: Fire Flower Vase

My first attempt at etching glass was a hint of things to come.
My first attempt at etching glass was a hint of things to come.

“Well, that didn’t work,” ended my first foray into laser etching glass. I tried to create a design similar to the mesmerizing microscopic pattern found on the back of the Nexus 4 smartphone, this time on the glass back of a spare iPhone 4 that my nephew graciously donated for the cause. The resulting pattern was too big and the laser settings weren’t appropriate, making each vector line look more like a coincidentally straight shatter line rather than the light-reflecting divot I’d intended. I’ve shied away from etching glass since, and after this week’s project, I’ve realized I’ve still got a lot to learn!

Make sure to level the surface you want to etch!
Make sure to level the surface you want to etch!

While I’m doing general graphic design at Eagle Engraving in St. Charles, IL, my coworker and fellow laser ninja Monica is often etching all sorts of designs into glass. I’ve been envious lately of her knack for making designs spring forth from glass, and while I don’t yet have the rotary attachment necessary to etch round objects—like pilsner glasses—I did have a square vase conveniently made of mostly flat glass. Because the sides of the vase were tapered, I had to prop up the bottom side so that the surface was parallel to the laser plane. I ended up using a box of dialog boxes and a handy level to double-check my work.

The two designs chosen for etching were, perhaps, too many shades of gray.
The two designs chosen for etching are another sign of my Nintendo upbringing.
The lightest halftone didn't etch consistently. It almost looks like frost.
The lightest halftone didn’t etch consistently. It almost looks like frost.

The first etch was cut with the default raster etch density (5) and the grayscaled art above. I went with full power and full speed just to see how it would turn out, and the lightest halftone didn’t play well with mostly flat glass, only mostly etching. Apart from that, this turned out to be the single best contrast out of the set of four etches I made. The second etch, at maximum density, was overkill; the raster lines were so close together that wiping down the surface flaked away a lot of the glass, as shown below.

Etch glass at too high a density and much of it will chip and flake away.
Etch glass at too high an Image Density and much of it will chip and flake away.


The lower image density didn't help prevent chipping. Maybe the halftone was too dark.
The lower image density didn’t help prevent chipping. Maybe the halftone was too dark.

My third fire flower was etched at a lower image density. While this prevented chipping, some tinkering with the halftone patterns resulted in even more chipping in a much more widespread way. While the contrast was improved from etch two and nearly as good as etch one, the damaged areas really stand out. Who can guess where many of these tiny glass slivers are?

I had to cut at least one Super Mario World flower.  I settled on the default image density again after the tweaked results were poor, and while he’s still hard to see thanks to haphazardly adjusted gray levels, you can still see how much more personality he has. That just won’t do—he’ll only last another game or two, anyway.

Look at that smug bastard.
Look at that smug bastard.

I might have to table glass etching again for a while; I was unable to achieve satisfactory results on this particular piece. Still, I’ve since had a chat with laser ninja Monica, about her own tricks for getting better results on glass, so you can be sure you’ll be reading more about it here in the future!

14: Box Joints

I’ve done box joints before, just once, for a 3D picture frame celebrating a newborn baby. It was a harrowing experience back then because I didn’t really understand how the width of the laser beam affects the ability of two pieces to fit together and because I was using a thick wood that just didn’t want to play nicely. The piece did turn out fine, but the procedure was such a mess that I haven’t really considered box joints since.

Three tetriminos with etched surfaces.
Three tetriminos with etched surfaces.

That changed this week, because Tetris was still on my mind. At some point while laying out hundreds of tiny tetriminos for the NES etching project I realized that it shouldn’t be too hard to recreate those popular shapes in 3D if I could just get over my box joint demons. Wood was out; I selected varying colors of 1/8″ thick acrylic for my material this time.

The darker shapes were the tricky ones.
The Blue J / Orange L. The darker shapes were the tricky ones.

Figuring out the shapes initially took no time at all.  I settled on 1″ squares to form the basic tetrimino shapes and made sure that the box joints (the teeth shown above) were the same thickness as the material, 1/8″. When I began on the Cyan I, there were no inside corners and the design went incredibly smoothly. Because Yellow O, unpictured, is just a fatter version of the same shape, adjusting the cut was trivial.

When I got around to Blue J and Orange L, I had to get through a few bad test cuts before figuring out how to adjust two shapes to account for the inner corner. Once I discovered how it should be shaped, the same inner corner treatment could be applied to Red Z (shown here) and Green S, as well as the unpictured Purple T.

The trickiest part of layout was the inside seam shown here at center.
The trickiest part of layout was the inside seam shown here at center.

With that design puzzle solved, more test cuts were spent discovering the best kerf setting for this material. After cutting a few box-jointed pieces that wouldn’t fit together and a few that fit together so loosely they’d require glue, I discovered that the laser’s width burned away 0.0064″ of material on each line, which could be solved with an offset path setting of 0.0032″. The resulting graveyard of pieces shows many cracked edges, but the final pieces fit together so perfectly that they’ll never fall apart by accident.

The graveyard: Paper unpeeled, incorrect shapes and cracked joints.
The graveyard: Paper unpeeled, incorrect shapes and cracked joints.
The difference between Orange L and Blue J here is paper: lots and lots of tiny paper tetriminos.
The difference between Orange L and Blue J here is paper: lots and lots of tiny paper tetriminos.

Speaking of accidents and graveyards, don’t soak transfer paper in Goo Gone. One of the fun little extra steps I took during this weekly project was to vector etch a pattern of tiny tetriminos over top of these big 3D pieces. Well, when you vector etch a sheet of acrylic that is covered with transfer paper to prevent burn issues, you end up with hundreds of tiny little paper shapes you then have to remove by hand; you can see them here in the comparison between Orange L and Blue JI thought I’d save time by liberally applying Goo Gone to the paper surfaces and then leaving the pieces overnight. I figured I should be able to just wipe away the paper, its adhesive dissolved.

This gelatinous goop is an incredible pain to remove.
This gelatinous goop is an incredible pain to remove.

The end result was horrific: the Goo Gone did make the paper very easy to remove, but it left the adhesive on the acrylic, which had become a horrible, gummy mess. Way too much time was spent using more Goo Gone, some isopropyl alcohol, and some plain liquid soap to slowly remove the residue from the etched pieces. What a mess.

The Cyan I, everyone's favorite tetrimino.
The Cyan I, everyone’s favorite tetrimino.

Most of my tetriminos were cut out of transparent colored acrylic, though some pieces (shown in the graveyard pictures) were opaque. The Cyan I was the most fun to look at, thanks to the “Ice Blue” acrylic used. It didn’t have much visible color looking at the surface of the material, but the cyan color really shines through the etches and cut edges. It appears to glow, even when placed next to the other transparent tetriminos.



Plenty of tetriminos stacked in ways they shouldn't be stacked.
Plenty of tetriminos stacked in ways they shouldn’t be stacked.


05: Rock Band Drum Covers

I spent a lot of the 90s listening to my brother John beat on the drums. He would blast Rush tunes like Tom Sawyer and Red Barchetta and was so good at keeping up with the likes of Neill Peart that I was regularly awestruck. I spent enough time just sitting in the room listening to his music to damage my ears. John helped me try to figure out the rudiments once upon a time, but I was so frustrated by making my legs and arms do what I wanted to at the same time that I never really went far with it. I’d still sneak in from time to time and drum along to—I kid you not—F-Zero’s “Big Blue” and “Death Wind,” tracks I’d recorded onto cassette tapes.

Rock Band LogoI’ve always been a big video game nut, so when some arcade games like MTV’s Drumscape and Konami’s DrumMania happened I was thrilled, but it wasn’t until Rock Band that I was really able to get into a drum game. Sure, Rock Band was more than a drum game, but it was the drum portion of the game that elevated it beyond “great, another Guitar Hero” for me.  It also taught me the limb independence I just couldn’t figure out back when I was an impatient little kid. The game’s drums had some hard rubber surfaces that weren’t great to hit, and despite the second iteration improving on these materials considerably, I still sought out some aftermarket alternatives.

Fake Advert
A fake billboard for GoodWoodMods, a company who specialized in aftermarket rhythm game hardware.

There was a pretty big aftermarket for Rock Band hardware thanks to the positively shoddy first run of instruments and the moderately improved second run. One of those aftermarket suppliers was GoodWoodMods, who originally made high-quality mesh drum head replacements with wooden frames. They replaced the wooden frame with a molded plastic frame to simplify replacing mesh as it wore out, and that’s the set I installed on my Rock Band 2 drum kit.

A comparison of the GWM stealth head mod and the original Rock Band drum heads.

The best thing about this aftermarket option was that mesh heads are incredibly quiet compared to the original drum surfaces. Sure, they have much more rebound, making playing the drums much more natural and fun, but the silence is why they were branded “Stealth Drum Kits” in the first place. Of course, they’re only silent when you’re well-practiced and can avoid hitting the hard plastic frame surrounding that wonderfully bouncy mesh. Otherwise, the resounding clack of hitting off the mark is even louder than the original drum heads.

Solving the Problem

The Original Felt
A plastic drum head frame sitting atop natural felt.

A while back, I picked up some 8″ squares of thick natural felt, thinking that I should be able to cut some covers for those offensively loud plastic frames. It wasn’t until this week that I got around to trying this out! GWM’s new ABS plastic was precisely machined, and thanks to some clever transforms in Illustrator, the twelve screw holes were easily made equidistant.  So the design was no trouble at all, but the material certainly gave me a headache. The initial test cut fit great on the drum heads, but the felt itself didn’t do as much to dull the thud as I’d hoped. Furthermore, laser-cut natural felt stinks like burning hair, and it lingers. This is a solvable problem, but since I wanted to pick out some better colors to better match the original drums’ design, I decided to pick up some new synthetic felt to avoid the problem altogether. While I was out shopping, Jennifer found some interesting foam that might improve the felt’s noise-dampening qualities.

Bits of Felt
Many leftover bits of the felt/foam combination.

Some multi-purpose spray adhesive was used to bond the four new felt strips to the foam back, and after a short drying period, I did some tests to confirm new, much lighter laser settings. It seems that synthetic felt cuts more quickly than natural felt; it also smells a lot less like hair mishaps. The four finished pieces were cleaned of all of their tiny cut-out bits (look at all of those screw-hole cut-outs!) and attached to the drum heads. The natural felt was a decent thickness that didn’t stand too far above the mesh surface of the drum, but the synthetic felt/foam combination does sit just a little taller and has me worried that I’ll be prone to hitting the sides more often as a result. This shouldn’t be an issue at all, though, because the foam did its job: hitting these are much quieter than the natural felt was! Even when the drum stick impact centers right over one of the screws (which are exposed to keep mesh replacement simple) it’s fairly dulled by the surrounding felt. Mission successful!

Green Drum Closeup
A closeup of the green drum and its felt lip.

I had some trouble deciding whether to use a temporary or permanent adhesive for attaching these fabric covers to the plastic drum frames at first. For now, I’m using some glue dots, but I’ve found that they just don’t hold as strongly as I’d like; I figure I’ll be trying some new adhesives in the future.

The Whole Kit
Head on shot of the entire kit. Please don’t mind the Rock Revolution pedal!