Whenever I see a papercraft project online that involves a lot of precise x-acto blade cutting, a part of my brain usually reserved for laying out SNES SimCity towns activates and taunts me, “Oooh, you could do this hour long cut in like one minute! You should totally make one of these!”
Thanks to the vector sleuthing work of those X-ACTO wielding warriors before me, setting up the cut and score lines was a much simpler task than if I had to figure the shape out myself. I spent much more time aligning two sides of the design to create an opening chest similar to “yetanothrs” neat Zelda project. When you open the card, the lid lifts up and the heart “rises up” out of the chest. It’s a subtle effect, but totally worth the extra time spent getting the alignment between the outside and the inside right.
When they were first announced, I knew fairly quickly that I wouldn’t be attempting to collect amiibo figurines. Being a fairly stalwart Nintendo fan, though, I knew I’d be picking up a handful of the tiny Nintendo characters. I certainly didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to get a hand on some of them, though.
Neither did Josh, a local friend and fellow Nintendo fan, who recently discovered the fun of hunting down these NFC-capable toys. Soon enough he had over a dozen amiibo figures and needed a way to display them, so he designed a display stand that would fit neatly beside his Wii U and could hold the collection he’d amassed.
Since his design called for five flat layers of material, Josh knew it could be made well with laser cutting and got in touch! His design was already well thought out and his files required very little adjusting to prepare for laser cutting, so once we settled on a material—1/4″ red oak plywood—we started experimenting with ornamentation.
The prototype was a single-amiibo version that I could iterate a few times without a lot of design adjustment and material used up. The extra holes were meant to help determine the exact width of dowel rods that would be used to align the five layers of the final piece. The space for the amiibo was labeled with the name and Smash Bros. series logo matching that character. I even experimented with inlaid brushed gold aluminum on the logo, though you can see some damage to the surface from a sanding mishap—Jennifer thinks it looks cool even if it was a mistake! Because of the issues that popped up when we had to assign positions for each figure, Josh opted not to decorate the stand with names or logos. That way he can move characters around as his collection changes.
The final display stand was made from five layers, one for the base and four that held five amiibo figures each. With the dowel rods, keeping the layers aligned while clamping them down was much easier. Wood glue is not my favorite adhesive and without the rods’ help things might not have turned out quite as pretty. With everything glued, dried, and the final sanding around the dowel rods, all that was left was a thorough oiling and the platform was ready for characters!
Josh’s design proved itself immediately: we realized that many of the characters were in some ways larger than the circular bases they sat on, so I was relieved to see that enough space was given between each seat on the platform.
The project was a thorough success! Josh got his nice new amiibo display platform and I got to scan his figures into my copy of Hyrule Warriors!
“I think you picked the most ambitious first time trying to inlay project ever,” wrote Jen, fairly certain that I’d bitten off more than I could chew. While I could already tell by then that l I was in for a lot of delicate work, I reassured her of my expert mastication and went back to peeling tiny bits of plastic off of tiny bits of plastic.
“Nutters.” was her final judgment anyway. Now, that I can’t really disagree with, even if the direction of this week’s project was entirely her fault.
Once upon a time, local friend and fellow video game nutter Caitlin saw my lasery doings and donated a small plain mirror with a giant plain wood frame—something IKEA-made, surely—suspecting that it would eventually be a great laser canvas. While this was years ago and the mirror has been sitting patiently at the side of my desk since then, she turned out right!
At first, I wasn’t sure what to do with the mirror, but I knew I’d eventually be giving the piece back to Caitlin, so I wanted to make sure it was something she’d totally dig. Earthbound came to mind first, and I spent a fair amount of time unsure of how to best represent the series etched into a mirror. It was around this time that I decided against etching the mirror itself; while I already know not to etch the front surface of the mirror (thanks, Monica!) I just wasn’t comfortable etching the back surface without any scrap to test on first.
Obviously I had plenty of wood surface to test on—the back of the frame—so I went to town with some ABCD etch depth tests and later a 3D print featuring art by the immensely talented Sires J. Black. It wasn’t until I etched the Earthbound logo with a really deep outline stroke that I realized an inlay was possible. You can see the first inlay test there, using “brushed aluminum” acrylic. I still couldn’t decide on how exactly to represent Earthbound on the frame, so I ended up stalled. Battle background graphics weren’t nearly as interesting when not in motion, and character sprites really needed better than one color representation.
“I was thinking about Zelda. Caitlin has that Zelda-branded Wii U gamepad,” offered Jen, “and you’ve still got the Triforce eagle design files.” It was a revelation. While the gamepad’s decorative borders weren’t as interesting as I’d hoped, I rediscovered the awesome design used on a limited edition 3DS. A later discovery on Reddit sealed the deal: Reddit user ProjectOxide had already vectorized the design from the 3DS and was offering to share the data freely. A few layout adjustments to accomodate the mirror’s aspect ratio and we were good to go.
I etched deeply for all of the outlines, and in the spaces marked with orange on the above layout I gently etched the wood surface to give it a slightly darker appearance. The idea was to give the impression that it was a different, richer wood also inlaid between the faux metal inlay. The depth was almost perfect, but there were a few spaces, particularly the seams between each side of the wooden frame, where the depth wasn’t deep enough and needed some tender loving gouging. I filed away which bits needed filing and then it was on to cutting the “metal.”
It had to be gold, obviously. I had most of a sheet of flexible, thin acrylic with a brushed gold foil cap. It even had an adhesive back pre-applied! I took the deep etch vectors from the frame layout and positioned them so that they’d fit on my cramped gold sheet and made sure to give them a slight stroke offset so that the laser width wouldn’t cut the pieces too small. I also rotated a few pieces so that the brushed look would be a little more random, but that ended up nearly invisible on the final piece.
Because of the way the vector data was traced, every single cut was unique; even though two ocarinas, two harps, and many little filigrees looked mostly the same, they wouldn’t fit in their twin’s holes, so I had to be meticulous in keeping track of which piece of inlay was meant for which etch. It made for some very slow work.
The tiniest pieces of inlay were so small that half a dozen of them fell
into the honeycomb support system and were, essentially, lost. I eventually had to cut duplicates and carefully fish them out of the blank material to make sure every deeply-etched spot on the wood frame was filled with gold. Because I gave the inlay vector path a slight offset, the cut pieces fit snugly—sometimes too snugly—in their grooves. One piece of inlay actually cracked in two places while being hammered, but they’re very difficult to see. I had to use a tiny rubber mallet to hammer most of them in place, and then I used a brayer to aid in flatness. While most of the material is flush with the wood frame, there are enough rough spots that I wish I would have etched just a little more deeply.
With the final piece complete, all I had left to do was break out the camera and the sun and head to fancy photography town. The piece is presently hanging out post-shoot in my photography box, but its final resting home is sure to be near other similarly Zelda-themed hardware. Thankfully, I’ll always have all of these super-sexy shots of the finished piece to admire.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!