Tag Archives: nameplate

40: Commemorative Book Stack Marker

John F. McKeeThe Aurora Public Library is getting ready to move from it’s long time home in the Carnegie-sponsored library building to a new and modern structure, the Richard and Gina Santori Public Library of Aurora.  The new library  should be completed early in 2015 and marks the new era of library service in Aurora.

While it’s exciting to build something new, it’s also good to remember the old.  For the last 110 years, Aurora, Illinois has taken pride in its original Carnegie Library.   Carnegie helped build nearly 1700 libraries in the United States  between 1880 and his death in 1919, and even established trusts for his work to continue after his death.

Built in 1904, the library has served the community well.  While it has been expanded, gotten a facelift, and spawned several branches, it is still the core of the Aurora Library System.  Frank Patterson wrote a great history of the library you can find on the Aurora Public Library website.

The Aurora Public Library, as built in 1904.  The image is for the collections of the Aurora Historical Society.
The Aurora Public Library, as built in 1904. The image is from the collections of the Aurora Historical Society.
During the 1969 renovation, which cost as much as erecting the building in the first place, the library tripled in size and got a new, unified facade.
During the 1969 renovation, which cost as much as erecting the building in the first place, the library tripled in size and got a new, unified facade.  Image is from the collections of the Aurora Historical Society.

Carnegie revolutionized and modernized libraries; I thought it was fascinating that he basically ushered in the era of open stacks!  Before the widespread Carnegie libraries, books were held under lock and key, and a librarian would get you one that was specifically requested.  What would a library be without browsing?!

The is the inside of the 1904 library, open stacks visible behind the desk.  Photo from the Collection of the Aurora Historical Society
The is the inside of the 1904 library, open stacks visible behind the desk. It practically looks the same when you are on the main floor!  Photo from the Collection of the Aurora Historical Society

The ability for patrons to browse is actually what is bringing you this post today.  The library has numerous artifacts from the early days, including the book shelves behind the librarians in the above photo.  If you go there today, the shelves are marked with the same cast brass label holders they used in 1904.

Book stack plate from the 1904 library
Book stack plate from the 1904 library, photo taken 10/3/2014!

They are a gorgeous piece of Aurora Library history; heavy and very turn of the century.  They definitely tickle my love of historic design – which is why I was so excited about this project.  We were approached by the library to help them fashion the book stack markers into unique plaques for generous supporters of the new Library.  This plaque in particular was for John McKee, long time Aurora and Kiwanis member.  The Kiwanis Club of Aurora wanted to honor him for the charitable work he has done, including helping the club raise $100,000 for the Children’s Services area new library. 

On the book stacks, they simply fasten with two almost invisible screws along the bottom of the frame, and the librarians could slip a piece of paper behind them.  To create a presentation piece, we needed something a little more long lasting.  Thin acrylic, only 1.5mm deep, sat perfectly in the back of the frame, and was flush to the back.

Backside of the casting.  Lovely patina!  and it gives you some idea of the depth.
Backside of the casting. Lovely patina! Hopefully you can get some sense of depth.

We choose white capped black because of the classic literary took – nearly all books have black text on a crisp white page.  There was brief discussion about using almond topped dark brown, to give it a more aged look, but I thought it would complete too much with the lovely brass frame.

W wanted to covr the entire opening on the back.  /the little feet are on there because there were some shallow areas in the casting we had to work around.
We wanted to cover the entire opening on the back. The little feet are on there because there were some shallow decorative areas in the casting we had to work around.

One of the things I was most happy with (especially when it came to assembly) was the fact we chose to make the engraved piece big enough to fill the entire back opening, which is much larger than just the front.  Not only did this help finish the piece (the back was just a solid, flush sheet of acrylic), making sure the text was aligned was a breeze too!  We had to adhere the plate while the frame was face down due to depth.  If we had cut the inscription to just the opening in the front, the chance I would have glued the names in a bit cock-eyed would have been much, much higher.

I enjoyed helping the library to make their recognition of John McKee something unique to their history and their mission!  A bit of the old helping usher in the new.

37: Controller Tags

I was thrilled when Brenn commissioned something I hadn’t done before: acrylic labels for a Nintendo Wavebird controller.  I’m a huge fan of the Super Smash Bros. series of games and have three well-worn Wavebirds of my own, but in this case I would be making a name label for Alex, or “Killer Noodle 2.”

A template cut from cardstock helped determine shape issues.
A template cut from cardstock helped determine shape issues.

Aesthetics came about a little by accident: Brenn suggested a car racing theme, but the checkerboard flag pattern I made ended up looking far more like a zipper than a flag. We decided to couple the zipper design with a Gamecube logo approximation font called Gamecuben.

The shape took a few tries to get right. That was mostly because I was too lazy to do precise measurements, but I did use some laser-cut cardstock to get a feel how the final acrylic piece would fit between the D-pad and the thumb buttons. Compared to the cardstock prototype, which wrapped down around the Start/Pause button, I cropped the final acrylic piece a little farther up so I could avoid obsessing over following the controller’s curved shapes as much as possible. It helped balance out the length of the username printed front-and-center, anyway!

Engraving through transfer tape didn't work so well.
Engraving through transfer tape didn’t work so well.

I used some 1/16″ Silver/Black foiled acrylic with an adhesive layer on the back. This made adhering the final pieces a snap. A long time ago, I ran across a conversation on a laser engraving forum suggesting that, with the right power settings, one could laser engrave certain 2-ply acrylics through the transfer tape, resulting in a clean engraving with no blow back thanks to the tape. Well, I tested that with this project and while I didn’t experiment with every power and speed setting available, I did give it a handful of shots. The results were almost universally sticky and inconsistent. A pity!

A matching tag for the Wavebird's receiver.
A matching tag for the Wavebird’s receiver.

A simple rounded rectangle with an LED window was made to fit on the Wavebird’s receiver unit. It used the same stroke effect and type as the main controller piece, so it was also quick and easy!

This was a fun project, partly because of my fondness for the hardware involved, and partly because collaborating with Brenn came easily, the design snapped together without much trouble and required few prototypes, and the final acrylic really stands out on the controller. Frankly, it might stand out too much, but I’m fond of it anyway!

The completed set: one Wavebird game pad and one receiver!
The completed set: one Wavebird game pad and one receiver!

08: 3D Etching

This week I decided to give 3D etching another shot. I have just once before played around with the 3D settings available on our laser, but I haven’t really explored the process until now.

Normally, the laser interprets shades of grey by preparing a halftone map and etching that at whatever singular power I have set. With the 3D feature enabled, the firmware will adjust the power of the laser depending on the darkness of the grey: white is ignored, black is etched at your selected power. Because of this, all you really need is a depth map and you can 3D etch straight away.Just remember: white is shallow and black is deep!

ABCD 3D
The Abecediary logo with the core etched away

Back when I first tried it out, I just used some sample depth maps available in Google’s image search, but this time I created my own typography-themed art. I had to use Photoshop to create some raster effects to create the sloping edges I wanted because there isn’t an easy way to create shape-burst gradients in Illustrator, but this wasn’t a problem because, while the laser won’t cut anything that isn’t proper vector data, it’ll etch even raster graphics with impunity.

ABCD Layout
The blurry edges are where the 3D happens.

I often use the simple Abecediary logo as a sample design when testing new materials. Even though the white melamine-coated MDF I used wasn’t a new material to me, I felt it appropriate, so I created a black version with a white inner glow. The thin red line is the vector cut that created the final shape of the letters after I hollowed out the core. Because I etched five passes at a fairly strong power, the finished piece had too steep a slope; you can hardly see that it was a slope and not just a really deep etch, but it’s there! I swear!

Etaoin in MDF
The whole piece; the depth is hard to capture without appropriate lighting.
Etaoin in MDF
The slight lip on the edge was made by skipping a few lighter levels of grey.

The second piece, ETAOIN SHRDLU, was based on a fun part of newspaper lore and set in Colonna. It was etched opposite the ABCD: the letters were left untouched while the outer space was etched away. I chose a thicker gradient stroke so that the slope would be gentler. I also only etched the bitmap four times. The contrast between the white letters and the resulting grain of the MDF’s innards is profound. It almost looks like the letters are sitting in a bed of sand that has settled over years.

Etaoin in Black
The black acrylic Shrdlu is a little hard to read without the right light reflected!

The final piece was cut from quarter-inch black acrylic. For fun, I created an offset path so that the letters would be cut out more tightly than the MDF version’s square border. Even with six passes at full power (and half-speed) the etch didn’t quite reach half-way through the material.  The result is a little hard to read (maybe I should have used a capped material!) but certainly looks neat.

Etaoin in MDF
The slight lip on the edge was made by skipping a few lighter levels of grey.

The amount of passes necessary to create a good 3D look takes a lot of time, but there’s a whole lot more that can be done than just beveling the edges of pretty type faces. I’ll definitely be playing more with the 3D mode as we go on.

Etaoin in MDF
The sand blows away, revealing pure white type!

01: Christian Baldwin

Picture of TOOTIE name in wood
Anthony’s nickname in wood

I cut my laser teeth on baby names. For my great nephew Anthony, the word TOOTIE was carved out of some oak ply. A large stroke of unetched material held the letters together, and the resulting block of text is sturdy enough to stand on its own.

Ella Lyn Baldwin's name in wood
It looks a little like a train, right?

The second nameplate was for Ella Lyn Baldwin, a great niece. Her entire name was to be used, so I chose some lean type. The etch was reversed, leaving the long letters standing atop their shadowy stroke. Some feet were added so that the piece could stand on its own despite the middle name descender. The result reminds me of a locomotive. Ella Lyn’s nameplate was mounted on the wall above her door, but her new brother Christian’s door was sadly unadorned. So for the first week of 2014, I set out to fix that.

His name, set in Buckingham, was wrapped in some sourced Celtic knot corners and carved into a  narrow plank of salvaged wood. The wood is unique in its batch because it’s already been finished, and a light cleaning with a multi-surface cleaner brought an amazing shine to the letters, especially compared to the etched surface.

Such high tech tools!The prototype stopped there, but I wanted to experiment with some wax metallic finishing paste that we’ve had lying around for a while. I coated the unetched surface in black marker first, and then wore that away slightly with some isopropyl to leave a faint purple hue. It’s very difficult to see in the pictures.

Apply sparingly with finger or soft cloth.

Naturally, this particular instruction on the paste tube wasn’t followed. Despite my best intentions, a great many gobs were left on my cloth and I still haven’t been able to get all of the grey off of my fingers. The result looks great, though!

I really enjoyed how the marker only partially wore away with isopropyl; it’s hard to see in the images, but the letter surface has a cloudy texture to its sheen.  I’ll certainly be playing with this material and the Rub ‘n Buff a bit more.

Christian Baldwin Nameplates
A close-up showing the shine from the wood’s finish