Tag Archives: laser

102: Aurora Public Library’s Makerspace

Back in June, the Aurora Public Library finished and opened their new Santori building. The most personally exciting addition to the library within the new building is a public makerspace, with plenty of gadgets for making things (and some just for playing around) that I knew I’d want to spend some time with.

A small layered wooden sign was my first project on the Epilog Mini 24.
A small layered wooden sign was my first project on the Epilog Mini 24.

In November, I accepted a part-time position at the library helping patrons learn how to use the hardware available both in the makerspace and also in other locations like the media studio. Now that I’ve had a few weeks to become familiar with the new hardware, I wanted to take a moment to discuss what new tools we have available. With that in mind, this week’s project is less about a single physical item and more about the differences between laser manufacturers and some quick exploration into other hardware.

The Epilog Mini 24, 40 watts of power very nearly equivalent to my home unit.
The Epilog Mini 24, 40 watts of power very nearly equivalent to my home unit.

My obvious first stop is at the APL Makerspace’s laser, an Epilog brand Mini 24. It’s 40 watts, so beyond the slightly shorter 12″ Y axis, it’s equivalent to the Universal Laser Systems VersaLaser 4.60 I have at home. The power and technology may be similar, but the actual hardware and software are pretty wildly different.

The Mini 24's front button panel, with approximately 573 more buttons than mine.
The Mini 24’s front button panel, with approximately 573 more buttons than mine.

Featured on the front of the unit is a LED readout and a bevy of buttons that allow the user to issue lots of commands from right there in front of the laser. Compared to the VersaLaser, which only has five buttons, I can move between jobs in internal storage, activate the red dot pointer at any time, and even temporarily disable the motor control on the axes so that I can temporarily move the lens out of the way without needing to turn off the machine.

One unique feature of the Mini 24 is this auto-focus plunger.
One unique feature of the Mini 24 is this auto-focus plunger.

Another clever addition is an autofocus “plunger” which can automatically find the surface to be engraved and calculate the appropriate focus without any user intervention. Despite these and some other nifty perks of the hardware, I was shocked to discover that the software solution provided, Epilog Job Manager, does not have any way to estimate the job time prior to processing the material. It’s a serious minus for anyone who needs to let their customers or patrons know an estimate for how much their job will cost.

Materials for processing in the laser are available for purchase on-site.
Materials for processing in the laser are available for purchase on-site.

The laser isn’t the only fancy piece of kit in the makerspace. They also have a Roland-brand vinyl cutter. This was a bit of a surprise to me, since my previous experience with Roland hardware was restricted to digital drum kits. It’s a fairly diminutive piece of hardware, looking a bit bony next to the huge laser printer and positively tiny next to the oversized plotter printer.

A Roland vinyl cutter. I thought they only made instruments!
A Roland vinyl cutter. I thought they only made instruments!
A large format plotter printer. Did I mention it's large?
A large format plotter printer. Did I mention it’s large?

The plotter printer is so big that it can print four-foot wide banners, and it’s fed by rolls of paper, the actual length of which none of us have yet to discover. Thankfully, it’s very intuitive to use as long as you know how to prepare your documents as PDF files on thumb drives. Anything else and you might need a manual.

A comfy station for playing around in the Oculus Rift.
A comfy station for playing around in the Oculus Rift.

Sitting next to the entryway is a really comfortable chair and a large screen, the latter of which isn’t really meant for the person at the station—it’s more for onlookers’ benefit, because the typical user will have their eyes wrapped in vaguely unfinished plastic. While the Oculus Rift station doesn’t yet help patrons make anything, it’s definitely an attention-getter.

Three 3D printers, which we named Picard, Riker and Data.
Three 3D printers, which we named Picard, Riker and Data.

Along the back wall (and overlooking the excellent art installation in the back entryway) are a trio of 3D printers. They’re Cubes, by 3DSystems, and they’re regularly the most active pieces of maker hardware in the space. There’s a reason we have three of them, and it’s not just the popularity: 3D printing can take a very, very long time. While it’s super neat that these printers can print from two colors in a single job, I have to admit I’m not sure how much of the trouble I’ve had with extrusion tips jamming and work plate misalignment are just the learning curve.

The Aurora Public Library Makerspace is really cool, and if you’re in the area, it’s a great way to come check out not only a really sleek laser cutter but also 3D printers, vinyl cutters, a VR headset and a lot more. The space is open from noon to 8:30 pm on Monday through Thursday, noon to 4:30 on Friday and Saturday, and for some small period of time on Sunday that I don’t immediately recall. Stop by and learn how to make stuff!

P.S. Please disregard the awful automatic patching on the featured panorama. Trust me, the Santori building is not nearly that broken looking in real life!

101: Pincushion Rings

Time to make presents!  Having become acquainted with some many sewers of the past couple years, pincushion rings were on my radar – question was, how to make them with lasers?

Pincushion rings and bracelets are very useful for quilters and people the use a lot of pins because it holds pins close – no need to find a pincushion nearby. I decided to attach the pincushion to a laser cut frame, much like my pendant frames.  I put together a couple designs and made a deep frame front, and solid thin back.

Laser cut frames
Laser cut frames

My biggest mistake in making these was sizing them for rings, not sizing them for usefulness.  The smallest ring, a 1 inch circle with a little over a half inch center, was pretty impossible to make a cushion.  The bigger circle is 1.5 inches, and I think it could go up to 2 inches.

Tight fit with fabric.
Very tight fit with just  a tiny bit of  fabric.

I originally wanted to use the cut out circle in the frame to attach the pincushion to, with the intent that it would sit snuggly back in the frame.  I learned two things attempting this – 1) hot glue doesn’t work on wood and 2) the laser cutting kerf isn’t big enough to tuck fabric all the way around – it barely squeaked in to get the corner in for the picture.  To make it work, I would have had to make the gap wider.

Pincushions (6 of 16)
For the second attempt I took a clue from this Instructables tutorial – sew a little pouch with a circle of fabric and filled it with cushion materials.  I used a mix of walnut shells and cotton batting.  A running stitch around the edges allowed me to cinch it up.

Pincushions (7 of 16)

E6000 is a crafters friend.
E6000 is a crafters friend.

I used E6000 to glue the frame to the cushion, and then to attached to the solid back.  Because I was gluing at the 11th hour, I didn’t actually finish the rings.  I wanted to let the E6000 cure fully before attaching the prefabricated ring back.

Cute little ring size!

Cute little ring size!

Pincushions (11 of 16)

100: Pyramid Holograms

The pyramid, taped and ready for the phone.
The pyramid, taped and ready for the phone.

A few months ago,  Jennifer had me order some unusually thin 1/32″ transparent acrylic to try out some kind of “phone hologram” trick she read about on the Internet. The material arrived in a shipment of a whole bunch of other inventory and was mostly forgotten, until just last week Eagle Engraving’s resident laser ninja Monica brought up the same concept and basically demanded I make it happen. So thanks for helping us reach the big 1-0-0, Monica!

A close-up of the pyramid.
A close-up of the pyramid.

The pyramid hologram uses four pieces of thin transparent acrylic taped together in order for it to be placed either on top of or below a display—in this case, a mobile phone. A specially formatted video is then played back and the image is reflected “into” the pyramid, resembling one of those old Sega arcade “hologram” machines.

There are plenty of templates out there on the net to make your own, but I followed the graph paper measurements from Demilked. The laser did the dirty work, replacing the most often recommended x-acto knife work on a CD jewel case. The finished plastic was very clean, but my questionable tape job connecting the four trapezoids left things just a little sloppier. Even with the pieces taped, the pyramid is a little wobbly, so I had to be gentle when balancing the phone on top.

Tiny minions make jokes underneath my Moto X.
Tiny minions make jokes underneath my Moto X.

While you can also rest the finished pyramid on top of your phone, I opted to set the phone on top so I’d see less of the originating video. There are several videos on YouTube to demonstrate this trick, and you need to choose “screen up” or “screen down” versions to make sure the hologram is displayed correctly. With the phone on top, I selected a playlist of screen down videos and set it going. Minions, anime girls, and a very motivational Shia Labeouf all appeared in my tiny pyramid and danced around. All in all, it’s a neat little trick, and didn’t take much time; perfect for a busy holiday season!

Hatsune Miku shows off a double image effect that's hard to avoid.
Hatsune Miku shows off a double image effect that’s hard to avoid.

98: Breaking the Interlock

One of the projects I’ve been working on this week involves some pieces of wood that are far bigger than my laser bed allows. While I’m not finished with the project yet, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about the front door on my VLS 4.60 laser and a fairly simple trick to defeat their magnetic interlocks in cases where you have to engrave something too long for the laser bed.  First, here’s some quick information about the project.

Here are some screenshots of the original box.
Here are some screenshots of the original box.

Those big long wooden pieces are for a custom frame design (by If These Walls Could Talk; check ’em out!)  meant to fit a picture of the Leg Lamp from A Christmas Story. The test piece given allowed me to perform a handful of engraving tests to determine how best to replicate the fragile (it must be Italian!) label on the Leg Lamp’s box.

Several engraving tests have convinced me that I need some spray paint.
Several engraving tests have convinced me that I need some spray paint.

One immediate issue was that the surface of the wooden frame pieces was darker than the inner wood, so even engraving at a high power and low speed to char the wood resulted in text that wasn’t appreciably darker than the wood, while the source material was black spray paint on lighter wood.

Color fill seeped under the masking paper too easily, so spray paint is my next test.
Color fill seeped under the masking paper too easily, so spray paint is my next test.

I then tried some paint fill, but the strong texture of the wood meant that my transfer paper wouldn’t prevent the color fill paint from seeping. My next step will be to try a light spray paint over another paper masked engraving; it should more closely approximate the look featured in the film.

The three edges of the frame I am to engrave. One is a tight squeeze, and two more won't fit at all without leaving the front door open.
The three edges of the frame I am to engrave. One is a tight squeeze, and two more won’t fit at all without leaving the front door open.

But the biggest trick here was figuring out how to fit those larger pieces of wood into the laser. When we were first looking into buying the laser, another laser owner mentioned how the front door interlocks could be defeated to allow people to engrave larger items—like boat oars—if necessary. I never heard from him how to do so and the manual doesn’t mention it at all. Doing this is considered a potential safety hazard, too, for quite a few reasons. The manual explains the following:

DO NOT OPERATE THE LASER SYSTEM IF ANY SAFETY FEATURES HAVE BEEN MODIFIED, DISABLED OR REMOVED. This may lead to accidental exposure to invisible CO2 laser radiation which may cause severe eye damage and/or severe burns to your skin.

The left interlock magnet, tricked by a badge magnet.
The left interlock magnet, tricked by a badge magnet.

With that in mind, defeating the magnet interlock is something you do at your own risk. Do your best not to look at the laser or stick any body parts in there. Also recognize that the exhaust system will be compromised to a certain degree as it’s no longer a closed system.

The right interlock magnet and some of the wood sticking out of the front door.
The right interlock magnet and some of the wood sticking out of the front door.

The front door is held by one magnet on each side, and there is a sensor behind each magnet that detects whether the matching magnet built into the door is present. While some of my weaker magnets weren’t able to trick the sensors, a pair of stronger badge magnets, positioned just right, were able to convince the machine that the front door was closed. My counterfeit badge magnets were attracted to certain parts of the laser body’s magnets, and when I let them slide into where they wanted to go, the sensor could no longer pick them up, so I had to arrange them sticking out (as shown in the pictures) in a very specific position. With this in mind, be very careful when processing your long materials, as nudging the magnet just a tiny bit can cause the laser to realize the door is open and stop the job immediately. For all the trouble that might cause, I’m certainly glad it’s designed to shut jobs down if the doors are opened mid-process.

I hope to write a follow-up post about this project once the frame is built around the Leg Lamp picture; I haven’t even seen the piece it’ll frame yet! Until then, have fun engraving longer materials, but be very cautious when breaking your laser’s interlocks.