Tag Archives: typography

20: Leather Key Fob Strap

It’s the big 2-0! Jennifer worked on some leather a while back, but when our dear friend Brenn needed an elegant way to attach one of his new key fob to some spare keys, I volunteered to try my own hand at some fairly riveting work.

Prototypes, including a rivet I positively smashed before realizing how to hammer them.
Prototypes, including a rivet I positively smashed before realizing how to hammer them.

It didn’t take long to determine the leather to use based on the size of the opening available. I didn’t spend much time doing preliminary measurements, so you can see from the iterations that both length and rivet hole placement changed often. While I wasn’t ready to rivet with the first three pieces, I had better luck with hole placement on the fourth. Unfortunately, I discovered that you can hammer a rivet too hard and it got crushed at an unpleasant angle. Thankfully, the final strap had better luck with the hammer..

My second rivet attempt worked wonderfully.
My second rivet attempt worked wonderfully.
This leather cleaner and conditioner is an extra step, but totally worth it.
This leather cleaner and conditioner is an extra step, but totally worth it.

I was determined to etch “Brenn’s Spare” on the leather, but the etched surface was hard to see.  Thankfully, when I cleaned and conditioned the leather (mostly to get rid of smelly laser scorched edges) some of the rub brightened up the letters significantly. I hope they retain some of that brightness over time.

The leather conditioner brightened up the etch considerably.
The leather conditioner brightened up the etch considerably.

The trickiest part of this project was entirely due to my disinterest in doing some measurements beforehand. I just grabbed a piece of leather, decided on four inches to start, and went nuts. I was thrilled to discover that I had enough space to fit some nicely laid text on instead of trying to squeeze it in. I was also lucky that it only took five tiny bits of leather to get it right.  Now finished, I’m left wondering if Brenn’s main set of keys can feel envy.  Perhaps they should be given the custom treatment, too!

I positioned the rivet so that there would be little space for the ring to slide around.
Lookit that swanky set of yet unkeyed key fobbery!

10: Tiny Things

A few weeks ago, I was planning to visit an artist friend of mine and wanted to bring something laser-made to show off. I settled on some very small, very fine etched-wood versions of some of his recent grayscale artings. Making the art look good on the surface was tricky, and while I had a feeling this would lead into a 52lasers project, I didn’t get pictures before I left.

Tiny wooden Bookman and Gotham vie for attention!
Tiny wooden Bookman and Gotham vie for attention!
I used this amazing loupe (thank you, Mom!) to inspect the finished pieces.
I used this amazing loupe (thank you, Mom!) to inspect the finished pieces.

Oh well! This week, I decided to give micro engraving another try! As part of Abecediary (game and typography stuff!) I have several square alphabet designs made; they are highly detailed shapes that proved to be great initial tests. The feature I really wanted to test with this project was the highest available Image Density as described in the Laser Interface+ software. While I usually etch things at an entirely respectable setting of 5, cranking it up to 7 offers a much higher amount of lines per inch. It takes much more time and is often overkill unless you’re etching incredibly fine detail into small things. Funny, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do!

Nice view! You can see how the etch ran counter to the woodgrain.
Nice view! You can see how the etch ran counter to the woodgrain.

While it’s hard to see in the wooden pieces (cut from the same lightly finished wood I cut the Triforce lapel pins from), the few abecediaries that were cut out of acrylic gave away an issue that I didn’t even realize until I took some nearly-macro photographs. If you don’t have an appropriate Universal Tuning setting, your etched lines will look interlaced. This happens because every line etched leftward is slightly off from every line etched rightward. This issue manifests as slightly zigzaggy vertical lines in designs, and when the setting is really off, you can end up with design elements that look like they’ve been duplicated side-to-side, almost certainly ruining the designer’s original intent.

The four miniature abecediaries all stacked up nice.
The four miniature abecediaries all stacked up nice.
You can see how the laser cut outline dug into the C a little bit.
You can see how the laser cut outline dug into the C a little bit.

Another mishap eagle eyes will spot is the incorrect kerf adjustment. I regularly create an offset path of about .05″ in order to account for the laser’s width. For these positively tiny applications the laser’s width is relatively much more significant, and I can see now that there should have been more space offset so that the outline cut didn’t dig into the letters as much, especially compared to the tighter inside etching.

This Mario is tiny! He's only about 4mm across.
This Mario is tiny! He’s only about 4mm across.

I’m a Nintendo kid at heart, and while the SNES still holds the top spot in “greatest video game consoles ever” for me, the NES is where I spent my single-digits, and it’s easily my nostalgia weak point. I’ve got quite a few NES-related things planned out for future projects, but for this micro-engraving job, I took a few cartridge scans—only edited to black and white and contrast adjustments—and shrank them down to under an inch wide.  One trace-job later for the outer cut and I had my very own tiny little Game Paks.

A row of SMB3 copies. I feel like I'm in a rental store again.
A row of SMB3 copies. I feel like I’m in a rental store again.

These were difficult. The halftone feature of my laser hardware got sloppy when I maxed out the density and used a grayscale photograph to etch from. In the first attempt, not photographed, the rubbing alcohol I use to clean lasered materials ate away what was left of the black cap immediately, leaving me with a tiny little pure-white copy of Super Mario Bros. 3. Several additional cuts at various universal tuning settings gave me many copies of that game, but there was another material that Jennifer really wanted me to use for a tiny NES cart.

Three different Legends of Zelda.
Three different Legends of Zelda.

Thus, micro Zelda was born! The messiness of the etching is unfortunate, and I had to adjust the relative brightness of certain elements quite a few times to get results that vaguely resembled the original cartridge. Still, these are so much fun to look at with a nice shiny light nearby that I feel I’m going to have to revisit the miniature Zelda cartridge after I can spend some real design time on one rather than using a Google Image-sourced cartridge scan.

My understanding of the limitations of the 2.0 laser lens suggests I could invest in a collimator and a High Power Density Focusing Optics lens to get better fine etching results. Maybe some day!

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