Intro to Fabrication - Week 3 - First Experiments with Laser Cutting
Important Note: HEY MOM AND DAD, IF YOU ARE READING THIS CONSIDER STOPPING NOW BECAUSE REALISTICALLY THIS WILL PROBABLY BE ONE OF YOUR CHRISTMAS PRESENTS. (thanks love you!)
The challenge this week was to create a project using the laser cutter while still maintaining some complexity in the actual process of construction. I was struggling to think of something that I felt really excited about because for me laser cutting becomes really compelling when you use 2D laser cut pieces to craft 3D objects, and I just couldn’t come up with anything along those lines. Instead, I turned to one of my tried and true resources for inspiration, my constantly growing album of photos on my phone into which I dump any images I have taken of things I find visually interesting. In this case it served me well, and I settled on a fairly simple ‘2.5D’ design which was actually inspired by a picture I took of a bathroom inside of a WeWork (nothing is too lowbrow for me!)
My design started as a fairly simple sketch of a tree with colorful blossoms, but without any real practical purpose. I then moved to Illustrator where I imported and them manipulated a couple of SVG files from the internet for the tree trunk and the flowers. My main addition was the ‘wireframe’ lines on the tree, which were inspired by the bathroom photo. However what I particularly liked about that look was that it gave the mostly ‘natural’ design a slight feeling of science fiction and, along with the screws I used to put it together, intentionally called a bit of attention to the manufactured/artificial aspect of the piece. In the interest of mitigating my waste created by laser cutting (especially with acrylic) for as long as possible, I was actually able to find all the materials I needed for this project in the shop. I was particularly excited to find the materials to make each flower out of two different kinds of acrylic and the trunk out of wood so that there would be a nice mix of textures in the project. I am also just particularly fond of the look of wood when it is etched.
This was my first time using the laser cutter, and while I was certainly excited, I was also definitely sweating a bit more than usual. I started out my session making a rough cardboard prototype to get a feel for the scale. I then started first with the larger flower shapes, and this was when I ran into my first stumbling block (or “learned my first lesson” I guess you could say).
Here is what went down: The acrylic I found on the scrap shelf has warped a bit, and so when I placed it in the laser cutter, there was actually only a single point of contact with the laser cutter bed. So when it started cutting, the vibration from the exhaust vent actually caused the acrylic to tilt back and forth, and the cut got all out of wack (something I didn’t notice until later). The acrylic had not cut all the way through, but when I attempted to cut it again, it did not line up at all. Luckily that I did notice right away, and so I stopped it before it had cut much at all. Even luckier than that was the fact that the initial cut had been so shallow that I was actually able to just flip over the acrylic and try the cut again (this time with it taped down) and it worked perfectly, with minimal indication that anything had happened.
The rest of the cutting went smoothly, and everything fit together exactly as planned. And the whole process ended on a high note because (thanks to some inspiration from my friend Elvin) I realized this piece would be a perfect Christmas tree ornament gift for my folks.