19 February 2018
This was a new, clean honeycomb first thing this morning, now at the end of the day it's as dirty as ever. Wood is inevitably messy but it's also a little warped so you need the steel honeycomb so you can hold the wood down with magnets
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 19 February 2018 10:06 PM
18 February 2018
I tried the same style again
but this time I used an outline to show me where to paint the colours and I ended up with a slightly nicer colour wash. The grain of the tree is also 90 degrees out from the grain of the backboard which is a nice effect.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 18 February 2018 02:19 PM
16 February 2018
I saw a discussion about how to make these kind of tree cutouts with multiple leaves, it inspired me to give it a try. I've included the process in photos below. People seem to use this style for wedding gifts and family trees. I tried to add some graded paint effects, I think I used a bit too much paint to start with before I started watering it down and spreading it to the edges. The next one will be better.
Start by cutting out the blanks for painting, I also cut out the tree trunk because it's going to be a different colour.
Paint the blank and the tree trunk, I tried for a colour wash effect so that there is some colour gradient across the piece.
Put the painted blank back into the laser cutter and cut the shapes from it, you can see I have already switch the red tree trunk for the brown painted one.
Tape the cut shapes back into the board so that they can all be lifted out of the laser as a single piece.
Glue the back of the cut shapes being careful not to get any glue on the frame.
Finally secure the glued,cut parts onto the back board and carefully remove the frame to reveal the finished item.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 16 February 2018 01:24 PM
13 February 2018
I've been wanting to make an interesting clock variant for some time now and I thought it would be cool to have each digit represented by an analogue gauge, so here is my design for an alternate clock. The top two dials represent the hour (in a 24 hour format) and the bottom 2 dials represent the minutes. The whole system is run by an Arduino
connected to an I2C Real Time Clock module
and an I2C PWM Servo Driver
. Having both the RTC and the Servo Driver on I2C
, is definitely a bit of overkill for this simple project but it does leave a lot of IO free for future expansion and the servo control is exceptionally steady (no jitter)
The dials are made from a combination of laser cut wood (stained dark) and perspex. Each dial has a white perspex backing which has been engraved and infilled with acrylic paint to achieve a high contrast on the numbers. There is a second piece of clear perspex over the front of each dial to enclose the pointer and stop small fingers from touching the moving parts. The dials are mounted on a 6mm plate which is tilted backwards about 10 degrees which makes the whole unit fairly sturdy. The electronics are mounted onto the back of the board using small self taping screws on the appropriate mounting points for each module (svg here
The software to drive the whole thing is rather simple, Adafruit supplies lots of lovely sample code for both the RTC
and the PWM
driver so it was just a matter of tying those together. The simple plan was to be able to set a number between 0 and 9999 onto all 4 dials by working out the minimum and maximum range for a dial and subdividing by 10. That didn't quite work out and I had a little detour into the realms of PROGMEM
to map new values into the servos in a way that didn't consume any additional RAM (again thinking about the expansion possibilities). I found the PGMWrap library
was a very useful tool which allowed me to store my static map of values into the flash memory instead of in RAM. Full Source code is here
and included below.
I'm using fairly generic 9g micro servos
to drive the pointer on each dial. Although all 4 servos came in the same batch there appear to be two different types with differing time ranges. All 4 servos were sufficiently different in accuracy that I ended up having to map the exact positions of each of the dial numbers onto corresponding PWM values for the servo driver. This again had the added bonus of being very exact when moving to each position although it was a little time consuming to set up. The pointer was glued onto a modified servo horn and screwed into place before the clear perspex was added. It's a bit glue heavy and not particularly repairable so hopefully it won't break any time soon.
I left the setServoPosition function in the code so that I could easily use the dials for a hit counter or other number display. I never did find out how to declare and use a 2 dimensional array from the PROGMEM so if anyone figures out how to do that I would love to know please, it would simplify the mapping just a little bit more and much more streamlined code because the PWM servo driver is technically capable of handling 4 of these displays at once.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 13 February 2018 11:57 PM
I made a prototype dial for another project and it all came together well. It's mostly Birch ply, stained dark brown. The pointer is 1.5mm ply painted black and attached to a cut down servo arm. The backing is 3mm white acrylic, infill painted with black acrylic paint. The whole thing has another layer of 3mm clear acrylic over the front to act as a protective layer. It's a standard 9g servo behind it and connected to an arduino to make it easy to drive.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 13 February 2018 08:28 AM
12 February 2018
I made this gauge with white acrylic and a black paint infill to bring out the numbers, although I engraved through the protective layer and used it as a mask I think it's probably easier to just engrave the material without the mask because the paint wipes off the plastic pretty easily, now that I'm using airbrush paints.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 12 February 2018 11:05 PM
08 February 2018
I've also been working on a bunch of these rotating rings, they can be used in all sorts of cakes. Most turntables are solid but because these have a hole in the middle you can build cake right through them. I've made 4, 5 and 8 inch versions but failed to take any 8" photos. Useful for cakes like this
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 08 February 2018 10:20 PM
DNS is essentially a naming system
for computers and services connected to a network. It's a way of mapping an IP address to a name and keeping that connection even if the IP Address Changes. You could visit google by going to http://22.214.171.124/
but it's much easier to remember and type http://google.com/
into your browser instead. So far we've been accessing our ESP device by typing http://192.168.4.1/ as a URL but there is a way to set up a local DNS server on the device so that it too can have it's own named URL.
For this tutorial we're going to go right back to the basic access point
code. This code creates a local access point with a simple user name and password and responds to the browser with a simple piece of text. Being the wonderful arduino environment there is already a library written to enable you to do this with just two lines of text, the first to include the library and the second to tell it which URL you want.
Voila, now when you go to the browser and visit http://esp.local/ it takes you to your device.
All is good, in theory. It can't be that simple though other wise I wouldn't be having such a dilemma about DNS. The trouble is this only appears to work from my iPhone. When I go to my android phone or my laptop I can't access the device in the same way. This is also part of the problem with arduino, we're only using the libraries we don't really understand how they work. There's usually some workaround though and in this case there is a second DNS library readily available which appears to do the same thing so lets look at that.
The DNSServer library is a bit more involved (but still not a lot). The header file has to be included, an instance of the dns server declared, the server needs to be set up with the domain name (and DNS port) and finally it needs to be called in the main loop to ensure the requests are processed.
This has the rather disappointing effect that it doesn't appear to work on either iPhone or Android so it seems like a funny thing to include it here. Well the DNSServer library does have one interesting feature that actually proves to be quite useful. If you do not specify a domain name and instead use a wildcard, '*', it is supposed to be able to capture all requests and direct them to the correct URL. This is know as a captive portal and public wifi spots use them to direct your browser to their own login pages. The captive portal functionality finally allows us to connect to http://esp.local/ on the android (and laptop) device. In fact we can connect to anything we want it all goes to the same location.
The trouble is it doesn't work on the iPhone, and here is the dilemma. With the two obvious DNS libraries neither of them actually does a complete job. The world is not ending though, it is possible to use both libraries at the same time and between them they seem to cover all bases. So that's the little work around for now (full code here
Arduino being open source, it is actually possible to delve deep inside these libraries and figure out how they work, what they're doing or not doing in the specific iPhone/Android cases and it should be perfectly possible to fix one of these libraries to work with both systems, that all takes time though, I guess I know what I'll be doing next week.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 08 February 2018 06:46 PM
07 February 2018
I have learnt something new, the collective nouns for Owls is a "Parliament".
I have made a whole box full of owl heads for a course Dawn is running in Amsterdam
this weekend, and also the reason for all the cars
I made last week.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 07 February 2018 09:59 PM
03 February 2018
While I still try to get my head around the two different DNS servers I thought it was about time to write another tutorial. In this tutorial I'm going to discuss the use of the Serial Peripheral Interface Flash File System
(SPIFFS). This handy library lets you store files on the flash memory of the device. So instead of having to construct a HTML string as a response to a request we can serve up a standard web page.
To use SPIFFS you need to include the file "fs.h" at the top of the program and in the setup function you need to start the SPIFFS library using the 'begin' function. This initialises the library and allows you to access any files that are contained within the flash memory. For the purpose of debugging I tend to loop through the file system to list all the files contained on the device. The following lines of code retrieve a reference to the directory structure and then outputs all the files names to the serial port.
Finally we need to put this file system to use. The web server library is able to serve web pages directly from the file system rather than having to construct a new response each time. In this case we instruct the web server to respond to a root request with the index.html page directly from SPIFFS. Using this method you can write a web page in sensible editor, test it in your browser all without ever having to connect to the ESP device.
Here the complete code for a simple web page server, the next issue is how to get the files onto the device in the first place. ESP8266FS
is a tool that can be used to create file system images and upload them to the ESP device. It integrates with the Arduino IDE so it's easy to use. To install the tool you simply create a folder called 'Tools' in your arduino sketchbook directory, and unpack the zipped file
Now when you open the Arduino IDE there should be an additional option in the 'Tools' menu system. ESP8266 Sketch Data Upload. If you create a folder called 'Data' next to your arduino sketch, then the tool will convert any files in that folder, into an image and send them to the file system on the device.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 03 February 2018 11:27 PM
02 February 2018
I put the vacuum former
to some serious work this week. I had a good run of making car body shells and owl heads, a little bit of practice and I could turn round each new sheet pretty quickly. Obviously making the owl heads and cars themselves has taken up a little bit longer and it has delayed the next ESP8266 tutorial while I try to figure out DNS. In other news I managed to turn my kitchen into a parking lot.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 02 February 2018 06:24 PM
31 January 2018
Eli had to make a stone age scene for his homework, he opted to make a model A frame hut similar to the one recently built on Primitive Technology
. We laser cut a base to hold it all together and make it easy to line the sticks up and we laser cut all the palm fronds from crepe paper to go over the top of it. It took all day but he really enjoyed it.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 31 January 2018 10:21 PM
28 January 2018
The next incredibly useful feature for the ESP8266 is the ability to program it directly over the Wifi. This would allow you to build devices that didn't even need a usb serial connection and you can easily update any devices that have been sent out to people already (would have been very handy for me this week).
The HTTP web updater
is actually part of the standard arduino core and it's incredibly simple to set up. We're going to build upon the web server tutorial
but this functionality can be included in all future programs.
Include the ESP8266HTTPUpdateServer.h and declare a new instance of the class for use in the program. The only other thing required to make this work is to tell the update server which web server it should be working with. This is done just before you start the local web server.
The arduino environment is able to prepare a new image to upload to the device. In the menu system you can go to "Sketch->Export Compiled Binary", this will be all the information about your program contained in a single file.
Now when you connect to the device via wifi you should be able to navigate the browser to "192.168.4.1/update", this will load a page that allows you to select a new image to upload to the device. Select the binary image from your sketch folder and click the update button, you should see the status of the upload displayed at the bottom of the page.
If the device has successfully updated, you will receive an message informing you of it's completion. It says the device is rebooting but the wemos D1 needs to be manually restarted using the reset button.
Once the device has actually rebooted you should be able to connect again to the wifi and load the root page to see that your changes have taken effect. For this demo I used the update to change the basic text response from 'Hello World' to 'Wifi Updated'
Here is the complete example code,
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 28 January 2018 03:24 PM
25 January 2018
In the previous tutorial
we set up a simple web server and responded to incoming HTTP requests with a static web page, this time we're going to have some interaction between the web page and the device. We'll set up a simple web page with a button and when you click that button we'll toggle the LED on the ESP8266.
In the setup function we're going to add some additional handlers for incoming URIs.
Instead of serving up a simple 'Hello World' text response, this time we're pointing the root URI towards the servePage function, in which we'll create a more detailed HTML response.
We've added a second handler for the /args URI and pointed it towards the handleArgs function, this will be used to process the incoming data.
Finally we've added an onNotFound handler, this should respond to all other URIs and direct the browser back towards the root homepage.
The servePage function still only creates a simple response for the client, but this time is is written in HTML. The sample creates a button and wraps it with a link to change the location of the browser when the user clicks the button. The new URI contains some arguments that tell the ESP8266 what is required. In this case we would like the LED to be toggled. This additional data will be sent from the browser to the web server on our device and the web server can interpret it accordingly.
The handleArgs function looks a bit more involved but the actual core is still pretty simple. The first four lines are just included to aid debugging, they create a string of data that lists all of the incoming arguments to the web server and they send that string to the serial port. This makes it very easy to see what was actually sent by the browser.
The middle of the function contains a for loop which iterates through all of the incoming arguments. There may be multiple arguments coming from the browser and they could be in any order so we loop through them all comparing the argument name against the value we're looking for, in this case 'led'. Once we have identified the argument we look at the value of the argument to decide what to do with it, in our case the value is 'toggle' but it could easily be 'on' or 'off'. If both the argument and it's value match then we toggle the state of the built in LED (don't forget to set up the LED pin as an output at the beginning of the program).
Upload the code and connect to the wifi network created by the device, point the browser towards http://192.168.4.1/ and you should see a simple page with a single button load. When you click that button the LED on the ESP8266 should toggle between the on and off state.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 25 January 2018 11:39 AM
24 January 2018
I've clearly started something now and I was asked to make some TNT blocks
, these blocks are predominantly red which leaves some issues for laser cutting. I could have used a red wood but the engraved areas would be a darker red, not the white colour required for the label. The solution was to mask a sheet of poplar and then paint key areas of it red, I used an airbrush to ensure that the colour didn't bleed under the masking. This gives me 3-4 different colours to use, all of the detailing was done with line artwork so that it stood out as a strong black.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 24 January 2018 05:40 PM
23 January 2018
The previous tutorial
showed how to create a wifi access point but the ESP8266 didn't do anything once a station was connected. In this tutorial, we build upon the previous access point to serve a simple HTML web page in response to a request from a connected station.
The ESP8266 Webserver library
implements a basic web server that allows the ESP to respond to incoming HTTP requests without needing to worry about the low level details of the response. Include the library at the top of the sketch with the line
Next we need to declare a new Web Server object using the HTTP port number, 80. This is the default port that a browser will use.
The ESP web server needs to be continually polled to see if anything is trying to connect to the device. This is done with a single call, placed inside the main loop code for the device
Now we have set up a web server to respond to HTTP requests we need to tell it what to respond with. These last few lines create a function that replies to a root ("/") request with a simple text response "Hello World!". It is possible to add other URI responses to the webserver, to serve different pages depending on what is requested.
Putting it all together gives us this sample code.
Compile the sample code and upload it to the device, you should be able to connect to the wifi network created by the ESP chip. The default IP address for the device is 192.168.4.1 so open a browser and navigate to "http://192.168.4.1/", a page should load showing this response
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 23 January 2018 09:28 PM
While I was in a minecrafty mood
, I thought I'd take a look at some of the other blocks to see what could work on the laser. These oak blocks came out ok, I let the grain of the wood do the hard work as the detailing. It amuses me somewhat that they're made from illomba faced poplar ply instead of real oak. The lettering is done with negative engraving and the font could be a little thicker to make it stand out more.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 23 January 2018 09:27 AM
22 January 2018
In the previous tutorial
we covered the very basic function of most micro controllers, blinking an LED, but the whole reason we're interested in the ESP devices is their ability to establish a WiFi connection. There is a library for this and it's very easy to set up.
The ESP8266 WiFi library
has the ability to operate in a range of modes. It can act as a station where it would connect to an existing Wifi network, it can become an access point where it creates it's own wifi network and it lets devices connect directly to it. Finally it can operate in a mixture of both modes which is useful for forming mesh networks
The internet of things is a brave new world where people are putting all kinds of things online
, even simple things like lightbulbs
can be hacked and turned against the owner, because of this I've written all of my software in access point mode. I'm sure simple common sense could secure these devices on your local network but it's one less thing for me to worry about this way round.
I've written a very basic sample to initialise an access point with a predefined ssid and password.
The sample initialises the serial port functions before starting the wifi, the serial port is useful for debugging the application. In this instance the serial port sends details of the exact ssid and password being used to create the wifi network. The network name is created by combining a fixed string with the unique Chip ID, that way if I have more than one device turned on at the same time they'll both generate different network names.
In reality the sample boils down to two lines of code,
"WiFi.mode(WIFI_AP);" which sets up the device to operate as an access point.
"WiFi.softAP(ssid, pass);" which sets up the wifi with a given name and password.
It's worth noting that the ssid should be at least 8 characters long and less than 64 characters. If you want to set up a wifi network without a password just leave the password field blank.
Now when you open up a list of wifi devices from your laptop or mobile phone you should see the wifi network available to access.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 22 January 2018 11:46 PM
21 January 2018
These little tokens are made to look like the chests from Minecraft. I made a whole batch for someone as part of an incentive system, each token collected allows 5 minutes of play on Minecraft.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 21 January 2018 06:18 PM
19 January 2018
With my wooden mould complete
I was able to use the vacuum former to create a plastic shell that matches the shape of the owl heads. I'm going to cast that shell with a silicone compound to make an exact replica of the wooden mould and I'll be able to make two shells from a single sheet of material.
I used a large block of foam to fill some of the void in the middle of the cast, this reduces the amount of silicon I have to use. Last time I tried this though I forgot that the foam would float in the silicon. This time I laser cut a base board for the mould, once filled the foam will float up against this and be held in place. I put some pour holes in it so that I can fill it from the reverse, but due to a combination of the foam obscuring the holes, the holes being in the wrong place and me being generally rubbish at pouring I ended up making quite a mess of the board. It was all good fun though, you can see that the silicon copy came out well and has been already pressed into service (cornflour makes an excellent mould release)
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 19 January 2018 10:08 PM
17 January 2018
I needed a new vacuum forming mould for the owl heads, as there are a few workshops coming up over the next month it makes sense to do it properly.
The basic shape was made up with a mix of 6mm and 3mm ply, there is a sacrificial layer in between the two which will be replaced with a larger disk to create the lip in the middle.
3 bolts were placed through the middle of the mould to help them stay together. The larger bolt in the middle was used to hold the mould in the pillar drill. This allowed me to sand all the layers down and make it nicely rounded. The laser cut edges are really useful here, basically anywhere still displaying a burnt edge hasn't been sanded smooth yet.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 17 January 2018 10:34 PM
I already mentioned that I would be using Arduino
to program these boards, Arduino is an open source hardware and software project that speeds up development on a range of Arduino compatible devices. Most of the hard work has been done already and provided in a wide range of libraries making this kind of embedded electronics accessible to almost anyone.
Download the integrated development environment (IDE) from the the Arduino website
and install it on your machine. This package comes with information about a wide range of devices but we will need to add the ESP8266 specifically before we can create a project for these devices.
Once installed, open the program and go to File->Preferences.
Add the following URL in the Additional Boards Manager text box, this will tell the Arduino IDE how to find the files it needs to run the ESP devices. Click the OK button to accept the changes. http://arduino.esp8266.com/package_esp8266com_index.json
Now we need to add ESP devices to the list of available boards, go to Tools->Board:Arduino->Boards Manager. It'll be the top entry at the list of devices.
Use the search bar at the top to find the ESP library, as you type it'll narrow the selection down. Once you have selected ESP8266 a box will appear that allows you to install a version of the library. Select the most recent version and click "install". A progress bar will update while the libraries are installing.
Now when you go back into the board selection (Tools->Board:...) you will see a new section and several new entries for ESP8266 devices.
Select "WeMos D1 R2 & mini" from the list, this will set up the compiler to target the board you're going to be using.
Connect the device to your computer using a USB cable and allow the PC to establish a serial connection with the device.
Go to Tools->Ports to select the newly established Com port from the list of available com ports.
Now your ready to test the device.
Here is some simple Blink code, you can see that in the setup function the device sets up the LED pin to be an output and in the main loop it toggles the value between high and low once a second to make the LED flash.
Click the Upload button (arrow pointing right) to send the code to the device, if all is successful you should now have a flashing LED on the device.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 17 January 2018 09:42 PM
16 January 2018
It is my intention to launch some new products in the near future and redo some existing ones so I'm taking the opportunity to tweak my logo. While it's functionally the same the whole text is now done with a single line font and the cat is also a single outline with whiskers. The redesign will undoubtedly save me seconds each time it is cut so I'm sure it'll pay for itself in just a matter of years.
The logo can also be engraved to a similar effect simply by converting the stroke to paths and filling in the gap, useful for when I want to make larger logos.
I also spent some time playing with the kitty to produce some interesting effects,
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 16 January 2018 11:03 PM
I've spent a lot of time recently working on various cakes for Dinkydoodle designs
working on a range of moving cakes
that are headed for mass production. The Cars
, Droid heads
and Owl head
, are all essentially the same thing, a controller and a few servos. Like most projects I work on now I started to look at the arduino range to for a controller and software, there are lots of compatible devices to suit every budget and a lot of the libraries are well established for all the basic functionality. The car needs some wireless control though which ultimately led me to the ESP8266 chips
. Given my lack of recent laser cutting blogging I thought it would be sensible to share some information about this work in the hope that it might help someone else.
The ESP8266 is a low-cost Wi-Fi microchip with full TCP/IP stack and microcontroller capability produced by Shanghai-based Chinese manufacturer, Espressif Systems. Which is to say, they're capable of creating a wifi data link to your phone/laptop/other device, they can serve html web pages and a whole range of other useful things and are currently available from as low as £1.20 each. I jumped straight in and purchased a few ESP-01 devices (pictured) and waited for them to arrive. Obviously I should have done a bit more research before starting because I bought the wrong thing.
The first lesson I learnt is that there are a lot of different types of ESP chips, they've had a fair bit of development over the years and some significant improvements. There is nothing wrong with the ESP-01 device, it's the cheapest of the bunch and it's fully capable and functional but you will need a programmer for it. If like me you have a few old arduinos floating around, it's possible to wire one of those up to reprogram the device
. I followed this route to stop me waiting on more parts to arrive but the two rows of pins make it a pain to put on a breadboard. If you want to use these devices I would really recommend buying a programmer
especially as they only cost £0.65. But read on before doing either of those things.
The ESP-01 is an older device, it has some quirks and most notably only 4 usable GPIO pins. The ESP12 is the much more recent device and has 9 GPIO pins, it's also available for the same price per module. As you'll notice from the image though it's not particularly breadboard friendly. If you're incorporating it into your own pcb you can treat it like any other smt device but for quick start you're probably better off buying it already built into a development module. I ended up going with the Wemos D1 Mini
which you can get for <£2.00 a time and it has the Serial device built into it. The whole thing can be powered off USB and it's relatively easy to attach your own things to it.
The ESP12 also comes in a range of different boards, the wemos typically comes with ESP12f but Espressif seem to be up to ESP12n, from my view point I've not seen a notable difference between them but newer is probably better right? This website
offers a fairly comprehensive review of all the different modules, modes and boards that you can get the ESP devices in. Next up, I'll talk about getting started and the infamous blink led sketch.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 16 January 2018 11:09 AM
03 January 2018
I picked up a cheap tablet stand from Ikea today, being bamboo I knew it could be personalised and my wife loves anything Pusheen. I ran some tests on poplar to dial in some settings and test the style (the lines are wide and out of focus), obviously I should have been testing on bamboo. As soon as I started the first engrave pass I realised that the engraving turned the wood white and my colours would be out of whack. I quickly swapped the files and layers around to engrave the laptop and not the Pusheen.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 03 January 2018 09:27 PM
22 December 2017
I found some time today to make a full version of the new advent calendar. I assembled it with all the doors in order but they can be put in any order you want. I view this as a base for a real calendar, a little flourish across the top or a winter scene and it would make a nice product. You could also change the door knobs easily and size for extra customisation. This version is just large enough for quality street chocolates, obviously I have 22 days worth of chocolate to eat tonight :) (svg here
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 22 December 2017 05:02 PM
20 December 2017
I made an advent calendar
5 years ago and despite requests to start selling them, I could never get them into a sensible time frame or budget. This year the discussion of advent calendars came up again and I decided to take another shot, this is how I would make a calendar now. The handles are made using wooden push pins (they need trimming), the doors are hinged by the wall sections and they rest upon the verticals to stop them being pushed in too far. There is enough friction in the hinge to keep them open during use. Obviously I've missed most of December now but I'll draw up the full 24 door version so I'll be well ahead for next year.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 20 December 2017 10:42 PM
15 December 2017
I have a couple of LED strips that I use as Christmas lights
. This year I mounted one above the other and I needed some connectors to space them equally across the length. These little hangups were made from 5mm acrylic and allow the strips to slide in and out and clip into place (by squashing the silicon sleeve slightly)
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 15 December 2017 11:19 AM
14 December 2017
I made a mistake while cutting the last set of Carcassonne tiles
, I had a magnet
too close to the tiles and it didn't cut cleanly. Unfortunately the files for Carcassonne have all the tiles split into two sets and all the tiles smushed together, there is no easy way to recut a single tile. This means it's time to redo the whole set and correct all the other things that have been niggling me. The original files were drawn in 2013 and over the last 4 years I've learned a lot more about inkscape so can do things better.
The new file will use layers to allow me to easily turn parts on and off, and more colours which can be set up as operations in Lasercut.
Several people have asked for tile sets without the grass, these tiles are generally used as guest books at weddings, no grass leaves more areas to write on.
Roads and buildings never quite touched the edges of the tiles. It was close enough not to worry about but I knew it wasn't 'perfect'.
Lasercut takes a long time to convert vector lines into an engrave, to speed up the process I used inkscape to create a bitmap of all the engraved areas.
During laser cutting materials have a tendency to shift with heat and wood warp. The original tiles pushed up against each other and cut along the middle but this leaves little defects as the material shifts. The new tiles will all be cut individually. It will take 20-30 seconds longer but I can live with that on a 2 hour cut.
It's a slow process and I still have other work to do but slow and steady and I'll get there.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 14 December 2017 10:54 AM
10 December 2017
Craft time for the whole family, we're all at home so decided to make some wrapping papers. We started with simple brown paper and carved some potatoes to make printing stamps. For a second sheet we drew a single black line across a page and then finger painted a string of lights onto it, these should provide enough wrapping for a good handful of presents.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 10 December 2017 04:29 PM
09 December 2017
If we were making a Jurassic world cake
and we already make cake cars
we'd be a bit foolish not to make a Jurassic world Jeep. The jeep had a custom version of the car base to lift the vehicle a bit higher up but the mechanics are all essentially the same, meaning the car base can actually be quite versatile. Dawn covered the platform with cake and icing and did all the difficult decorating parts that actually make it look like a car, it's a very impressive job that I believe was completed at stupid o'clock the morning before the event.
There's even video of the car driving through the gates (the car determined the size of the gates). I'd like to point out that I wasn't there though because friend don't let friends take vertical video.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 09 December 2017 05:21 PM
It's been a busy week getting these cars into production and after a late night last night I finally finished a batch of 8 cars ready for workshops this weekend. I delivered them to Nottingham first thing this morning and as far as I know it's all going well which means I get to sit back and work on some other projects this weekend (Like catching up on some blogging). In the meantime here are some pics of the completed cars.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 09 December 2017 04:19 PM
08 December 2017
The remote car cakes
have a layer of plastic between the cake and the electronics. This needs to be shaped to fit the wheels and provide enough space for actual cake to go onto the car. The vacuum former
is the perfect tool for this. I started by taking a mould of an actual toy car about the right size, this ended up being a one shot deal as the toy car melted on the second pull.
At this point I had a sheet of plastic in roughly the right shape and a strong desire not to mess up a second time so I scrabbled around the garage to see what my options were. I found a bag of plaster of paris and decide that casting the mould was a sensible way forward.
The plaster of paris was cast, the kitchen was turned upside down, nearly every available surface turned into useful space full of junk, at least I had a few hours to tidy things up again. It was all a bit impromptu but good fun. The plaster of paris former was cut into separate parts for the cake. The middle section will become a mould for the cake part of the car, the nose and bonnet will house the electronics.
The plaster of paris parts were shaped, padded and mounted upon a base to hold them in the right places. The wheel arches were built up to allow ample room for the wheels. This new mould served well for the first half dozen cars, it was a bit of a struggle to remove the mould after it was formed and it started to show signs of wear which led to a mould rethink but that's for another day.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 08 December 2017 01:14 PM
07 December 2017
The remote control car cake
design was refined to a point where we could run workshops on it, allowing other people to make them. This means small production runs of parts, last night I sat and assembled 32 wheels, each one made from 5 layers of material and then I squeezed rubber tyres onto them. It's mindless work but it needs to be done and at least I get to watch TV at the same time.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 07 December 2017 11:56 AM
04 December 2017
I cut some more wound point counters tonight, but this time I used air brush paints to fill the lettering. It's thinner than normal acrylic paint, offers great coverage and dries quicker. I definitely recommend it for infill effects.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 04 December 2017 11:26 PM
03 December 2017
I had the pleasure of attending a Dinkydoodle Designs
cake making course today, it was great to go along and learn how to make the cake that goes around the droid heads
I've been making for the last 2 years. Because BB9 has a flat top I had to rebuild the whole mechanism to make it fit into the available space, I took the opportunity to make some needed improvements, such as vacuum formed heads and bearings for the moving parts. I also decided to add an ESP8266 into the mix so that the whole thing could be controlled from my phone. I had a great day and would really recommend it for anyone who is looking for something different to do.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 03 December 2017 07:58 PM
02 December 2017
Eli drew a picture of a small present he wanted to make for Santa. He measured the size of the bag to find the right scale and he drew the design out on inkscape with a little bit of help. I set up the laser to cut on a small piece of illomba faced poplar ply that he picked from the scrap pile and 45 seconds later we had the item made.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 02 December 2017 04:05 PM
30 November 2017
The control box
I made the other day was destined to be connected to this set of Jurassic World Gates. The gates are modelled after those in the film, the LED lights flicker like real torches, the gates open and close (and stop at the limits of their travel) and the whole thing can play the Jurassic World theme tune. This framework will head off Dinkydoodle Designs
to be covered in cake and icing.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 30 November 2017 11:06 PM
27 November 2017
I've been working on a cake this weekend, bit of a rush and I'll be able to reveal the whole thing before the end of the week. For now I put together a quick electronics box to give it a polished feeling. The most recent version of inkscape comes with a lot more choice of Hershey text so I opted for a rather nice font on the switches to denote the functions.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 27 November 2017 08:44 PM
24 November 2017
The school asked me to cut a selection of santa keys for their Christmas fair. It was a simple drawing and cutting keys from my mdf scraps. (svg here
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 24 November 2017 04:26 PM
23 November 2017
The basic car framework
needs a food safe covering to go between the cake and the electronics. Thankfully when I bought my vacuum former
this project was already on the cards so it's a perfect excuse to use it. I laser cut a basic mould from ply and assembled it as a mould to form over. The cake needed to clear the wheels and provide turning clearance for the steering. These covers came out pretty well, the trouble is that vacuum forming works best with a 3 degree angle on the edges and the laser cutter cuts perfectly vertical so it was a bit of a struggle to get the mould out. This was when I introduced an air pump to the vacuum former. Applying a bit of positive pressure after forming releases the mould a little and made it easier to remove.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 23 November 2017 09:19 AM
22 November 2017
As well as making my own cake
for cake international, I've been rather heavily involved in making these remote control car cakes. Once you add sugar paste icing and a large chunk of cake these things start to weigh quite a lot so moving them round becomes quite a tricky challenge. This car has been through a few iterations before it will go into product development, this is the first version.
I decided to use the ESP8266 wifi chip to function as a controller on these devices. They're able to act as a webserver and deliver HTML pages directly to your own device without the need for any kind of app. As most of the people in the cake world seem to use iPhones and I have android seemed the easiest solution.
I wanted the car to keep the traditional Ackermann steering mechanism, so I used a servo to directly drive a linkage mechanism. The little 9g servo just about coped with the turning forces but it needed to be enlarged once all the cake was put on top of it
Two motors controlled the rear wheels, these were directly attached to the drive wheels. Wheels and motors were bought as a single and designed to be connected together. The motors were driven by an L298N dual H-bridge chip.
This iteration was functional as you can see in the video but it all needed beefing up a bit to provide any kind of longevity. I'll discuss more of the design in the next post and try to keep you all a bit more involved while I'm stuck in development mode.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 22 November 2017 09:28 PM
18 November 2017
I bought some cheap LED clock kits
a few years ago, they were good fun to assemble and left me with a perfectly serviceable clock for the kids rooms. I opted not to buy the (nasty plastic) case because it was laser cut and I could make my own, move forward a few years and today seemed like a good time to actually do that.
It's a simple wooden box really with holes in the correct places, the clock module slides in loosely from the front and wedges in place with some foam. The plastic panel slides into some grooves along the front of the box. It's transparent grey plastic
so the LED's can shine through it. The grooves on the front mean that the burnt side is out on the top of the clock, I should have masked it to reduce those marks. Being wooden I can easily glue it to the underside of my shelves next to my hooky hooks
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 18 November 2017 04:44 PM
16 November 2017
This is one of those little projects that didn’t need to be done, or could have been done very simply. Despite a lot of feature creep, everything just came together at the right time, and I’m really pleased with the results.
Firstly, a bit of background. My mum celebrated her birthday a couple of months ago, and the present my sister bought her was a geode that she picked up on a recent holiday to the United States. Not just a regular geode, though, but one that had a hole drilled out and a light attachment that went inside so it glowed nicely. Well, it would have glowed nicely, except that the US bulb was rated for 110v, not our full strength 220v electricity. So the millisecond it glowed nicely for was followed by a loud bang and the bulb turning black.
As I was there to see this, I figured I could easily get a light fitting and bulb from Ikea and we’re all good. Then I wondered if LED lights might be a better idea. At the same time, I was starting a project for the RC2014 involving a ESP8266 wifi enabled micro controller. Coincidentally, I’d just bought a couple of WS2812 based Zip Sticks. So, you can guess where I’m going with this, right? Yup, use the ESP8266 to set all the LEDs to a nice shade of blue, and job done!
Well, that would have been within my programming abilities. However, I wondered if anybody else had controlled WS2812 LEDs from an ESP8266. Would you believe they had? And not only that, but I found McLighting from Toblum on GitHub which enables wifi control from your phone or computer to not only set the colour, but a whole stack of pretty effects.
Time to fire up KiCad and get a PCB designed. I’d taken the rough measurement of the hole in the geode, and had a 40mm diameter round PCB to fit everything on. With a mixture of through-hole and surface mount components, and using both sides of the board, everything went on well. Because I only needed a very small run, OSHPark was the obvious choice. And at only $11.25, it was a real bargain!
A few days later and 3 lovely purple PCBs arrived. It wasn’t long before I got the soldering iron out and started to assemble them. I assumed that my selection of every single value of surface mount capacitor would have contained what I needed, but sadly it didn’t even get close, so I had to resort to bodging in a couple of through-hole electrolytic caps. I also noticed that I hadn’t indicated the +ve or -ve power terminals. A rookie mistake, but not the end of the world. Once it was all together, though, it worked just great!
A quick test, and a run through of the settings and things were looking really good. But would it fit the geode? Time for a trip down to my parents house and try it out.
The PCB went in to the geode with no problem at all. If anything it was slightly undersized, but I’d prefer it to be a little bit too small than too big. A plastic ring that was a snug fit held it securely in place.
In the daylight, it looks absolutely awesome!
By night it looks even better… although getting a good photograph isn’t so easy!
by Spencer at 16 November 2017 12:29 PM
12 November 2017
As is their right, the blood and oil guys decided to go with acrylic for their counters
. The acrylic is a bit trickier to glue together and all of the lettering has to be done with infill techniques
. I decided to opt out of the assembly process for these and instead supply bags full of parts :)
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 12 November 2017 10:19 AM
11 November 2017
I made this simple, magnet free version of a score tracker for Blood and Oil
. I used 0.8mm birch
for the front and back panels and 3mm poplar for the middle layer. The lettering was done with Hershey text to make it as fast as possible and the emblem is a combination of engraving and outlining. The idea was to make these as quick as possible for a batch order but I also liked the super skinny style.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 11 November 2017 10:12 AM
07 November 2017
A family of large meeples from 12mm plywood, coloured before cutting. I really should mask the reverse or clean my honeycomb to make them look better after cutting.
A customised start tile for Carcassonne. Somebody wants to use a set as a guest book for their weddings, having the guests write messages on the rest of the tiles.
A quick stencil for painting some fabric. It's for a cosplay costume, possibly one of the super hero suits?
Finally here is the days orders, a mixture of marble machines, kits and other custom parts (like the meeples)
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 07 November 2017 06:36 PM
03 November 2017
Around three months ago I found out I was going to be exhibiting at Cake International
this weekend, I've been before and as well as the usual demo stalls and retailers there is a vast array of stunning cakes presented as competition entries. I thought I might as well throw my hat in the ring and join in with an entry. I've been working on it almost solidly for the last two weeks, so here it is, an edible version of my marble machine
'Cake' is rather a loose definition based on most peoples understandings, these are mostly decorative exhibits and the competition itself is heavily categorised, each with different rules about what is and isn't acceptable. Some exhibits must contain cake, some can use dummies instead, some can use internal support structures and some must conform to a theme, you can see the whole categories here
. I aimed for category M, 'Pushing the Boundaries' where pretty much anything goes any medium, internal supports and wiring could be used. I wanted to make my machine 100% edible but that gave me the widest range of fall back positions (after all I didn't know how I was going to do it when I started)
I had intended it to be a simple build, laser cut myself some gingerbread
and assemble the parts. I ran some initial tests and I was able to make functional gears, I could rebake the cut gingerbread and get it to sink into a spiral shape and it all appeared to be going well. A few days later however I had noticed that the gingerbread parts had all sagged. I baked more gingerbread without any leaven ingredients I doubled and tripled the baking time but to no avail. I had to go back to the drawing board and find a new medium to work with.
I tried more tests on a wide range of materials, gum paste, sugar paste
, royal icing and different biscuit recipes, I finally settled upon Massa Ticino
sugar paste, mixed with a healthy dose of tylo powder to harden it. Once left to dry it hardened enough to span the distances I required. That left a problem of timescales, I couldn't wait 36 hours for each part so I had to borrow a food dehydrator
to speed up the process. 8 hours at 50C seemed to work well and I could wake up to fresh parts each morning. All the parts would be cut by hand from rolled sheets, often using laser cut wooden parts for patterns. The edges of all the part were painted brown to made it look as though they were laser cut.
Each exhibit needs to be presented on a base board, like all my projects I decided to set the backdrop to be the same as my kitchen bench (I've seen comment elsewhere on the internet that somebody knew a project was my work because of the bench backdrop). There are lots of good tutorials about making wood grain patterns so I just followed one of those. The base board gave me something to build upon and to figure out where to put things, I always knew this would be a double sized machine
The next significant part was the spiral itself, this was always going to be too big to fit in the dehydrator so it would have to live in the airing cupboard for a few nights. The spiral had to be built in place upon it's vertical stands so the framework had to fit around all of those parts. A spiral was glued down into wooden frame and then cut into 4, each loop would now be supported and once dried the frame could be removed in sections. This ended up being incredibly useful to ensure the item didn't break during transport to the event.
While the spiral was drying I made the vertical panels that hold the main gear in place. The gears were going to be heavy and all that weight would be put through a single point of the panel so I decided to double up the wall thickness in strategic places. The spiral attached to the top hole and was glued into place using sugar glue. The secondary rail was also glued into place and supported at the other end by one of the verticals on the spiral.
The gears were made with 3 layers of sugar paste to make them 20 mm thick (wide enough for a ball bearing). The larger geared weighs nearly 1 Kg which is a lot of shear force to put through a small disk of sugar paste held on with sugar glue. The solution lay with dried spaghetti (the cake only has to be edible, not tasty). Strands of spaghetti were pressed through a stack of disks that formed the axle stubs, liberal amounts of glue was placed between the layers in the hope that it would strengthen the joint and finally the whole stub was painted with edible shine, which is kind of like varnish for cakes. The inside of the hole was also varnished with the hope that the two smooth surfaces would produce minimal friction.
I used a fresh piece of sugar paste to make small end caps to the axles and hide the spaghetti. I also glued the handle onto the smaller gear, at this point it had to go through the second vertical panel. Both pieces were now awkward and couldn't be placed flat upon a surface so I quickly knocked together a jig
to support the weight while keeping the ends safe. The teeth of the gears were also varnished to add strength and reduce friction. After some initial testing (and videoing) the whole machine was reassembled on the day at the venue.
The edible marble machine obviously can not be motorised so most of the time it's going to be static on display (I can't let random members of the public crank the handle because they'll break it). To add some motion to the exhibit I also made a small wooden marble machine with a motor. This smaller machine was an exact replica of the new cake version, reinforced in all the same places. It was placed on a wooden board next to the cake board along with some text describing the arrangement and inviting the judges only to use the machine.
Day 1 is now complete, the Judging phase is over, as soon as I have some results I will let you know how I fare.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 03 November 2017 11:15 PM
02 November 2017
My current large project (details soon I promise) has produced some large and bulky parts that can't be laid flat on a surface but need supporting fairly equally all over. A quick run to the laser and I have parts that support in all the relevant places. I left a lot of gaps around the edges so sadly they would be better if they were a tighter fit. Next time I should check and measure rather than guesstimate but they will do the job and they only took 10 minutes. Now, back to my video editing....
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 02 November 2017 01:15 PM
01 November 2017
Every day is a learning day here where I try new things and make something new. Makevember
is encouraging people to make one thing every day, I don't know if I'm going to be able to do that (especially when I'm exhibiting at the NEC for 3 days
this weekend) but I would hope to start using some of my newer tools a bit more. In the meantime I thought I'd just post some of the things I've made today. This is a selection of all the things I'm allowed to show you, I've actually spent most of the day working on a large project (more details on Monday).
One of the important things about doing this every day is that you learn something from everything you do, I'll also briefly describe what I learned from these things.
Pictured above are some car shells for remote control cake cars. These were vacuum formed from 1mm HIPS and I learned a lot considering I haven't formed anything for a few weeks. Plastic sheets come in multiple sizes, buy them too small and they won't fit in the former. Plaster of Paris moulds absorb moisture and go mouldy unless you take extra car of them
I laser cut a whole bunch of stencils from mylar, these are going to be used in classes to teach airbrushing for cakes. I created artwork and ran them through the laser, I learned about how small details disappear and how deceptive it is working at zoom levels in inkscape. 12 sets were made in total and packed into bags.
For the fairy scene the image was broken into small parts so that it can be built up into a full picture. There are too many stencil islands on something like the dandelion so the main stem is made first and then a dozen seeds can be added after.
Once the brick wall has been painted there is going to be some graffiti added afterwards. This Wham sign has some simple bold colours but there is a lot of detail in the black sections. The star outline can be done in a single stencil but the word outline needed to be split into two separate stencils, one for the top half and one for the bottom.
Once the first graffiti was done, the second one was much quicker. I had worked out the kinks and how the lettering needed to be split so this was just a matter of following the same process.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 01 November 2017 10:39 PM
30 October 2017
The laser is good for personalising any item, this pull along toy made of wood is a prime candidate. There are a whole range of toys that could be done like this perfect for little ones.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 30 October 2017 11:17 PM
29 October 2017
I had a visitor come round and look at my laser cutters, he also bought some samples with him to see what could and couldn't be engraved. It's always fun to find new things to go in the machine. This purse was made from Poly Urethane, I set the power light and the speed fast and it lightly marked the surface, it's subtle but effective.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 29 October 2017 11:11 PM
12 October 2017
The vacuum former came supplied with a wire mesh in the bottom of the bed. This lifts the item you're forming off the bed stopping it from blocking the vacuum hole. I decide to make myself a new vacuum bed that fills the area snugly and has a more uniform arrangement of holes. Thankfully the laser cutter is very good at making sheets of holes. I cut it out of 5mm acrylic, a sheet full of holes was held aloft on smaller dots that allow plenty of air flow under it. My thinking was that although the acrylic will eventually warm up I'm only heating the plastic for a minute or two and the plastic sheet provides a perfectly smooth surface. I was wrong, after I vacuum formed half a dozen items at once the sheet ended up pretty flexible and started to warp so I ended up remaking the whole thing in 6mm mdf instead. That's currently working very well but if it shows signs of degradation I'll just send off to have one laser cut in metal instead.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 12 October 2017 08:37 PM
I was inspired by the Colibri Hummingbird Automata
to make this flapping wing version of my own automata. The flap isn't quite so good but the mechanism is a little simpler and it will suffice as a prototype for now.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 12 October 2017 09:59 AM
09 October 2017
About 2 months ago I was talking about getting some parts vacuum formed so I had a quick look on ebay to see how much vacuum formers were and found one very local that was going cheap (comparatively). It needed to be gone by Monday morning, I found it Saturday morning, and it was a big industrial beasty that would probably need a van with a tail lift to move it. A few quick emails/phone calls later and I'd booked a van, spoken to the sellers, found a friend to help and things were all set for Monday morning. I'd gone from thinking about vacuum forming parts to owning a machine in the space of a few hours.
Moving day was fun, the machine is indeed big, heavy and very industrial. The machine had been unused for a while and the previous owner had it wired directly in to the wall because high currents kept blowing fuses. It was fair to say I was nervous about what I'd just bought but worse case I could just sell it again on ebay (and not being in a rush I would probably make a profit on it with a proper auction).
I ignored the warnings of the previous owners, whacked a plug onto the loose wires, ensured I had a 13A fuse fitted in the plug and connected it directly to the wall. The machine crackled into life literally, the heating elements were getting warm and making plinky plunk noises. The heating tray slid nicely back and forth, the lift mechanism was good and it seemed to form a seal around the plastic sheets. While we were out collecting the machine some plastic sheets had arrived and I was ready to vac form something. Thankfully I had a laser cutter to hand so could quickly and easily make a mould.
It's a sad design but if I'm going to be posting photos to you lot then I might as well remind you who I am. I fiddled and faffed with multiple sheets of plastic, cursed at failed attempts to pull a mould, discolouration of overheated plastic and ultimately came up with something that vaguely looked like the mould that was under it. The plastic is clear 0.5mm PETG, if you heat it up too much it turns milky white, if you don't heat it up enough it doesn't pull down over the mould.
Success, or at least enough of a success that I couldn't return it to the seller with complaints about it not working. The machine was functional, I had questions about the effectiveness of the vacuum pump but sorting all that was just down to my skill and time so it did nothing else for a bit. It takes up a lot of space in the garage and it took a week or two to jiggle things round and find it a new home (This was also the time I decided to lay the wooden floor
With the vacuum pump not performing particularly well I was still hedging my bets on reselling it. I showed a few visitors and then while I was explaining my woes to my father in law he reminded me that he actually works with vacuum pumps. A quick hour climbing around under the machine he had pulled the pump apart, checked all the pipe seals and given it a thumbs up. He also noted that cleanliness is very important and any piece of grit around the plastic seals would allow air into the mould. All the lips and edges were sanded free of grime and wiped clean, the next pull would be as good as it gets and determine the fate of the machine.
A vast improvement, there's life in the machine after all. The machine was staying, the rest was all down to my ability and with vacuum forming jobs already creeping out the woodwork it wasn't going to be long before it was earning it's keep.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 09 October 2017 09:40 PM
07 October 2017
I have recently been inspired by the work of Diego from the Engravers Dungeon
(brought to my attention courtesy of the Laser Cut Stuff blog
). He's been doing some amazing engraving of custom artworks, he's really managed to bring out the best of the wood using different colours but what really caught my eye are the two significantly different colours of laser cut. The large areas are engraved to create the typical 'brown' engraving where the wood grain can show through. The details however have this amazing 'black' engraving effect, he's understandably protective of his methods but it got me thinking about how it's done.
The laser cutter has 2 main modes of operation it can trace out a shape and cut it out or it can engrave an area where it moves over every 'pixel' within an image and puts a single dot onto each spot. Fancy laser cutters are able to vary the power of this spot to produce greyscale images, the Leetro controller (what I have) is only capable of doing on/off engraving. The burn mark is either full power or off, this produces the 'brown' engraving seen here.
There is technically one other option with the laser that I love and have used to great effect many times before. I use it for Line art
, it's a cut operation but with a very low power that only marks the surface of the material without cutting all the way through it. This would appear to be very similar to what is happening here, large areas of seemingly 'black' engraving. The stuff I have previously done is much more for outlining objects but I thought I'd give it a try anyway.
First things first, I needed a suitable image to work with. I showed Diegos work to some of my friends and one of them told me that Vesalius
made some anatomical drawings that would work well in this style. A quick search led me to some works of his that were recently digitised
, 5 minutes on there and I had some suitable skulls to work with. I vector traced the first one and cut it (image above) and it kind of works. The skull was painted white, the brown areas are engraved and there is lots of line artwork that is starting to look correct. It works particularly well when the lines are close together but it fails on the big gaps, I needed some method for filling the gaps.
Normally when I want to engrave in greyscale I have to convert the image with a halftone effect
, this varies the dot densities to produce a grey engraving effect (like how newspapers used to work). More dots make a darker area and a pattern like this fills the whole area so would be better for this line art. I converted the original image using a halftone plugin
, most raster editors have a method for doing something similar and GIMP
is my suggestion if you're not using windows.
If you zoom in to the image above you can see the lots of little dots that make the image appear grey. It was natural to assume that if I drew around each of these dots I would get a similar half tone effect but done with 'black' engraving rather than 'brown' engraving. I imported the image into Inkscape
and traced the image
which left me with vector artwork for a halftone image. I set this up to be a very low power cut and gave it a whirl. (svg here
As you can see the result is very effective, as a proof of concept goes it is definitely one method to achieve these kind of results from any laser cutter. The engravers dungeon
clearly spends a lot more time waxing, oiling and finishing their artwork which accounts for most of the difference. I love their final pieces and am seriously tempted to own an original.
This isn't the end of the story though, if you look closely at the piece I created it looks very badly burned. Where the lines are close together it acts like a normal engrave cutting the whole area away and it looks a mess. There are many different methods to create halftone images so there are probably other ways to get the base image. As an Inkscape user I'm keen to keep everything in Inkscape so I followed this tutorial
in order to make a halftone image
using tiled clones. I have to admit it wasn't the easiest thing to do, the tool seems to max out at 250,000 clones (500 x 500) and it takes a long time to do but I persevered and created an appropriate image.
This image is full of little circles that don't overlap. My thinking was that they might be dense but at least the machine won't be cutting the same location over and over. Inkscape runs on a grid pattern so next time I would rotate the image 30 degrees before converting it so that the output is less 'griddy' (rotate the output back again before cutting). The result looks very effective from a distance but very 'digital' close up. (You can also see I keep adding embellishments with every cut). (svg here
This is the point where I got carried away and shared my intermediary success with the laser engraving and cutting forum
, received a dozen requests to show my workings and ended up writing this blog post (wordy for me I know). There are more things I want to try with this method....
1. This halftone effect
would probably work well, instead of lots of dots the noodle shapes would outline well.
2. It is apparently possible to make halftone images using filter methods in Inkscape
these look like they would create more suitable images for engraving.
3. The Eggbot
from Evil Mad Scientist
using hatch filling
to colour in regions on their pen plotter, this would be another way to fill a region and worth investigating.
Finally the main reason my 'black' engraving looks horribly burnt is because I have a 100W laser cutter than doesn't offer particularly fine control at the low end. If I had an RF tube like Diego I would have better control over the beam power. The Glowforge laser cutter
is also showing great potential for this kind of line artwork, sadly it looks as though they're about to announce another long delay on international shipping otherwise I would have mine already and I'd be able to try it out (2 years delayed and waiting)
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 07 October 2017 09:05 PM
From my little bits of wargaming experience it appears that each of the models sits on a small base which needs decorating which can be done with little disks and there are trays to move whole units of models around at once (even if just for display). My idea was to combine those two things together and make bases and trays where the pattern continues, as though the whole unit were on a marbled floor. Not sure if this is a desirable thing, let me know.
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 07 October 2017 09:22 AM
06 October 2017
Eli wanted to dress as the Grashopper from James and the Giant Peach
to celebrate Roald Dahl day at school this year. We put together a paper mache mask based on a balloon and cut about to achieve the desired shape. He's very slowly writing an instructable about the process but I thought I'd include it her for the meantime. We did laser cut a monocle for it, which either counts as overkill or finishing touches. He was very happy with the finished result and I got to play with my new airbrush for various paint effects.
by email@example.com (Martin Raynsford) at 06 October 2017 06:56 PM
Another wargaming build, it amazes me how much variation there is in the way of trays and arrangements and models. It's no wonder there are dozens of companies already doing these things and yet people still ask me for something different. These 25mm trays have a hole in the bottom for a 2mm magnet which helps the models stay in place. 5 slots holds a single squad at a time. (svg here
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Martin Raynsford) at 06 October 2017 09:09 AM
02 October 2017
Last Friday, I went to the ACE Study Day ‘Aspects of Publishing: Guide and Souvenir Books’ at the Geffrye Museum. We’re in the process of redeveloping our guidebook at work, and it was interesting to see how other organisations and museums had come to their decisions about the kinds of books they produce, and who they are for.
It was great to hear people speak openly about what had and hadn’t worked in their institutions, and how they dealt with external factors, such as placement within their shops and ticketing areas, and the ways that staff help sell them as part of a visit. It was also interesting to hear people speak honestly about the tensions between commercial and curatorial needs within the institution, and the strategies for overcoming them. The title of this post comes from a response to a question about the needs of museum shops to ensure they make money while maintaining the voice of the institution.
The range of publications was wide, and raised a lot of questions about where we might go with our guidebook, what its function might be, and who it is for:
- Does it need to act as a guide? Is its main function to help guide people around the exhibition and interpret the pieces on display? Does it need to contain a map? Is the intention that the book is used while at the centre?
Our current guidebook has a spread for each of our galleries, with key objects to see, as well as a map, and information about our other business activities, such as Education, Venue Hire and Weddings. We were shown examples of books which offered ‘A quick look’, and ‘containing 10 trails’, which were specifically intended to guide the visitor on the day.
- Does it need to focus on the collection and exhibits? Should the book be specifically tied to aspects of the collection and the exhibits we have in the space, or should it be used to open up wider themes?
In the case of the Space Centre, could we use impressive images from Hubble or NASA’s archive to frame themes we address in the exhibition, rather than focusing on objects we hold or display? This potentially gives the guidebook a longer life, as the exhibition changes over time.
The National Trust recently published Prejudice and Pride, which celebrates and focuses on LGBTQ Heritage across the National Trust sites.
By focusing on a theme in the context of British heritage, the book is not a guide to a visit, but rather a resource that reflects on hidden or previously untold histories as part of a wider discourse on heritage and what that means.
- Who is it for? Should the guidebook be aimed at the reader who wants more in-depth information to supplement their experience at the centre? Should it be a visually led document that triggers memories and discussion about the visit? Is it aimed at all visitors, or targeted at a specific reader? Is it for kids?
Our current guidebook is a mix of all of the above, which over time (and with incremental changes) has become a tangle of information, voices and intention. One of the triggers for this new redevelopment has been the recognition that we need to focus the guidebook and ask who and what is it for.
- Do we need more than one? Does it make sense to divide the guidebooks into separate smaller pieces which can appeal to different readers, uses and price-points?
We were shown great examples of institutions’ range of books, from text-heavy interpretations of the museum, to pocket-sized books selling at £5, to kids’ activity books, which were created in response to audiences needs.
A great example is the National Portrait Gallery’s 100 Portraits book, which is small (150mm x 150mm), image-focused paperback, and retails for £6.95. It sits within a range of other publications from the National Portrait Gallery and is the kind of thing that would make a great gift or souvenir.
As we approach our new guidebook, these questions will help us form our ideas and work out the best way forward. I’m hoping that eventually we will develop a range of books which enable us to tell our stories in different ways and appeal to different audiences with a credible and confident voice.
by Gareth Howell at 02 October 2017 02:52 PM