Angels and Devils: Making A Smoking Man Candle Holder

Second Sketch of Angel and DevilEvery year is build a big Christmas project.   Usually I get started on those projects right after Halloween, but this year I started way late.  At Thanksgiving, I was sitting out on my sister’s porch and  finally managed to sketch something that I liked enough to build.  The problem with such a late start was that I kept thinking, “I need to keep it simple, and depend more on excellent design rather than absurd complexity.”   This would have been great if I hadn’t eventually let the “keep it simple” part fall to the floor.

Devil SketchIn Germany, they have Räuchermänner (smoking men), which are little wooden figurines that have a small compartment to hold an incense cone. The burning incense smoke comes out of figure’s mouth.  I’ve always wanted to make one.   I considered traditional figures like a hunter, and wackier ones like a dragon, but eventually I decided it might be fun to make a devil with smoke coming out of his mouth.  A lot of German Christmas decorations have angels on them, so I thought a candle-holding angel and a smoking devil would make a nice contrasting pair.  I started some sketches and paper cut-outs, and I finally started designing the thing in earnest on Dec.  5th.   That was an epically late start.

I still had some 1/4″ mahogany plywood left over from the Egyptian labyrinth project, so I decided to use that for the devil.  This turned out to be a big mistake.   The devil wing design had very thin spars that would have been trivial to cut out of 1/8″ plywood.  If I had used 1/8″, the laser could’ve been cutting quickly enough that I wouldn’t have problems with the wood heating and catching fire.   Since I had committed to 1/4″,  I had to develop an entirely new technique where I cut the devils in three passes, using a syringe to put water into the cuts at each wing tip and pointy corners that would otherwise smolder during the subsequent laser passes.

Devil Parts On Laser Tail PitchforkThis worked, and it gave the devil an interesting burned look, but having to develop this technique burned a lot of my laser time. Christmas was fast approaching, and every minute on the laser was precious. I found myself sprinting back and forth to the bathroom with syringes of water.  Not good.  I also discovered that if you’re cutting multiple passes in wood, it’s best to orient the cuts so they are perpendicular to the direction of the compressed air blast at the cutting head.  Otherwise the compressed air can blow along the cut and fan any sort of smoldering wood you may have left in your wake.

Laser Cut Oak BaseI really do not like multi-pass cutting.  The wooden bases for the project were thicker than the devil wood, and I was able to cut them very, very cleanly in a single pass.  It’s oak, and the tiny holes you see are vessels that form in the spring.  You can see how they’re not blocked by sawdust and the radial rays are clearly visible radiating out from the center of the tree like spokes on a wheel.  I cut this at 300 pulses per second, and you can see the tiny grooves left by the pulses.  There is no charring or need to sand the edges.  It’s lovely, but I was careful not to have any thin sections or sharp points in the outline of the base.

Devil Smoke Hole MiterThe devil was hard to cut, and he turned out to be somewhat tricky to assemble as well.  I had to hand miter the top edge of the curved side pieces.  I also had to glue a paper smoke dam into his neck since the top of the devil’s body had to be airtight to prevent leakage of incense smoke from his neck.  The first two devils that I assembled still leaked a thin stream of smoke from that seam. In later versions, I suspended the assembled devils upside down and dabbed white glue down into the peak with a long stick to make sure the seam was sealed.

Devil Body Assembly Another way that the devil was much harder to assemble than the angel was the slanted back. The angle forced me to hand sand a bevel on the base. The curved sides made it tricky to attach the front since I needed to push the sides out to get them into the curved groove on the front face, but without disturbing the anchor pieces, and without knocking the bottom plate out of whack. So it was an exercise in white glue octopus wrestling.  If I applied too much clamping force, the slanted back would cause the base to come squirting out and whole process would begin again.

Devil Heads
By the sixth devil, I was quite adept at this, but the first few had some unenviable gaps, which thankfully were not visible from the outside.  I like the way the devil’s beards came out.  They’re the hidden shape of a swooshing bat.  I did some hand wood burning on the horn segments to make them a bit more interesting.  The biggest disappointment with the devils was that when I finally applied the clear coat, the contrast between their faces and the facial hair dropped unexpectedly, and by then it was far too late to switch to black walnut or something else.   

Devil Hands To GlueI like the way their gnarled little fists came out.  Complete with thumbs! They’re made from three stacked segments glued together and then glued to the devil’s front.  Here you can see the pieces ready for some dabs of glue.

The first two devils I cut had some burning on the inside corners of the belly door.   This was because I hadn’t realized those corners also needed some water injection.  Later devils didn’t have that problem, but to cover the first two I hastily designed some little feet  I could glue on over that area.  This design change is why you don’t see any feet in my original sketches.

Devil DoorPartsI also had to punt on having a tiny flame theme around the incense holder because there simply wasn’t enough room, so I switched to a simple ring.  The copper pan that the incense sits in was cut from a 1/2″ copper tube cap.  I used these both for the incense cup and the candle holder.

I chucked a piece of 1/2″ copper pipe in the lathe and used that to hold the end caps so I could cut them off at two different depths with a parting tool.  The only annoyance was that removing the remaining ring of metal from the 1/2″ was hard to do.   The parting operation squeezed the copper rings so they were hanging onto that pipe for dear life, and I had to pry them loose with a giant flat-head screwdriver and a lot of elbow grease.  Good thing I only had to  do that twelve times.

Devil Door In PositionOnce the feet were on and the door was done, the only thing left to glue on the devil was the head of the pitchfork.  I always glued that on last because it’s cut from thin sheet, and there’s no way to orient the grain of the wood to make them strong along their whole length, so they’re quite fragile between the tines where the grain cuts directly across those narrow sections.

Angel Going TogetherThe angels were comparatively simple to assemble. I carefully positioned them on the maple board so the maple’s figure would form the folds of her skirt and sleeves.  I used different wood for her face, neck, and hands.  I used a layering effect with  the hair to try and keep her head from looking too much like 2D extrusion.  I was going to try layering the area with her ear back one layer to make it even more 3D, but that would have required some more hair fragments, and a bit of iterating on the laser to get the ear size just right. Eventually I punted on that plan. So her head is a bit more of an extrusion than I would have liked.  Oh, well.

Angel Wing Mount ClampI did have to have a slightly tricky clamping rig to glue on the top wing mounting bracket.  I used a laser-cut scrap to match the shape of the bracket and make the clamping possible. Then I used some clothes pins to keep the scrap aligned while I tightened up the other clamps.

The only materials disaster I had with the angels was that the 1/8″ plywood I used to make the wing spars was defective, and some of the spars had their topmost layer of wood just fall off. I had to re-cut a bunch of them.  I’d never had that happen before.  I used clothes pins to provide even clamping force when gluing the spar to the feather veneer.

Wing Parts Test Assebly   Wing With Clothes Pins

Glued Angel WingI had originally thought about using white paper angel wing feathers and black paper wing membranes for the devils, but when I was shopping for the figured maple board I used for the angels, I found some lovely dark figured veneer.  I realized it would look SO much better than black paper on the devil.  I already had the veneer I needed for the  angels, so after I’d sprung for the devil veneer, I switched the angel over and never looked back.  I’m glad I did.

One Winged AngelI did end up having to sand a slight bevel onto the very bottom point of the wings to keep them from clonking into the angels bustle, but other than that they were really easy to put together.  The wings are glued to the top bracket, but they are just slid into the bottom bracket.  That keeps them from getting pried off by differential wood expansion of the body and wings.

The only serious annoyance I had with the angels were their faces. A face is so important, and I’d really sweated the design. I ended up trying to keep it super simple. Just a few lines.  However, as I was assembling the angels, I realized that from a lot of angles the laser-etched faces were very hard to see.

Angel With Halo On Graphite Bleed face.Faceless angels are a bit creepy, so I knew I had to do something. For the first two, I used black acrylic and a fine paint brush to darken the lines after the clear coat had been applied.  That was a pretty ticklish operation to do on otherwise finished pieces. It was no fun at all. After that, I simply highlighted the face details with a mechanical pencil. That was nice and easy, but when I used a brushed on clear coat the graphite ran and gave their expressions a somewhat haunted look. I spray coated the last two angels, and their faces came out the best. Nice clear details from any angle.

Angel Face DownOne of the design details I’m proud of is that I wanted a little cleavage V in the front aligned with her hands, but I knew that would look weird on the back. So I positioned the wing mounting bracket so it neatly trims that off, making it look more like a normal dress back.

I wanted to make halos for the angels.  I went wandering through the hardware store to see what kind of rings or loops I could find.  I purchased a few different kinds, but eventually settled on some straight knurled brass lock nuts.  As the giant monolith of Christmas rolled inexorably toward me across my calendar, I decided to punt on the halos.  No one would miss them.

Boring Halo On the LatheHowever, during the Christmas break, I had a change of heart (and a  bit more time), so I decided to make the halos even though that meant giving out a few “halo retrofit” kits.  The alignment holes for the halos were in the original design, so adding them was just an insertion and a dab of E6000.   Simple pimple.  To make the halos, I used a boring bar on the lathe to machine the threads out.  No self-respecting angel goes out in public with a halo that looks like it screws on.  I then had to drill a tiny hole part way through the halo to mount a piece of piano wire.

Drilling A Halo HoleLuckily, I already had the tiny center drill for the job, and I set up a depth stop on the drill press.  Then it was just a matter of clamping and drilling the six golden rings. Four calling birds, Three french hens, Two turtle doves…  Wait where was I?

Halos DrilledHalos With Wires Glued

I used a bit of JB weld to glue lengths of piano wire into the holes.  I glued each wire to the halo at a jaunty angle so the angel would not look like she was balancing a book on her head at Angel Finishing School.

Outdoor AngleThe piano wire feeds down through holes in both the upper and lower brackets on the back of the angel, and a dab of E6000 cements  the wire to the bottom bracket in a slightly springy but tenacious way.  Then it was just a matter of mounting each angel on a base, and adding a candle cup made from another 1/2″ copper pipe cap.

The devil is mounted using T-shaped pins that pass through his floor plate and into matching holes in the base.  The angel is simpler.  She just has two pins on her bustle that align with slots in the board.

I managed to have two sets completely done by Christmas Day, and I finished up the other four sets a bit into the new year.  Overall I’m very happy with the way this year’s Big Christmas Project turned out, especially considering the late start.   I’m marking it down as a success.

Devil With Pitchfork

Devil Incense   Devil With Black Card Smoke

Angel Devil With Narrow Depth Of Field Angel Devil Two Shot With SmokeAngel And Devil Outside angelAndDevilWithSmokeSmall

Making the Gandalf Costume

Pioneer wanted to be Gandalf The White for Halloween.  I had made Gandalf’s sword, but I still needed to make his cloak and hat. In the run-up to Halloween, I’d spent most of my time working on Simon’s King Cobra costume, and then I got sick. In the end, I had to design and sew together Pioneer’s Gandalf hat and cloak in 4 hours on Halloween Eve. I couldn’t even work late into the night because I was still recovering. Thankfully, I’d already purchased the fabric to make the costume. So it was strictly an evening of Design & Build. I set up a folding table in the guest bedroom to act as my sewing room so I wouldn’t have to commute over the hill to TechShop. TechShop is awesome for sewing projects because I can spread out on three tables and there’s good lighting and an ironing board and iron. I still use my own sewing machine because that’s what I’m used to. So working upstairs wouldn’t be that much of a step down, and hopefully I wouldn’t have to iron.

Gandalf Costume PatternI decided to go very simple. I only made two paper patterns. One was for half of the arm and another for the back, which doubled as the front sides. Only two pieces of paper! Simple Pimple. Ok, there were also two piece of paper for the hat. The advantage of working at home was I could actually size the thing to Pioneer’s body instead of snagging a shirt/pants and sizing from that.

Gandalf Costume PinnedI cut, pinned, sewed, and hemmed like crazy. The only things I put on the cloak above the bare minimum were some belt loops, a sword loop, and an extra layer across the back in the shoulder blades area. I’m not even sure what that’s called on a cloak. I should have double-checked the sword loop height because that ended up being a bit low, and the sword was going to be dragging its tip. Thankfully, the belt loop was big enough to double as the sword loop and the dragging sword crisis was averted.

Gandalf HatI had designed the hat with two intersecting cones of paper. Making the inner cone was trivial, but attaching the brim cone piece at just the right position so it wouldn’t kink the inner cone ended up taking three attempts. This was complicated by the fact that I was also pinning in a hat band, so the actual pinning was stupidly time consuming. Finally I got it just right. Before I sewed the hat together, I took one last look and realized that I had pinned the inner cone in inside out! Horror! I was going to have to pin it again, or the seam allowance would be on the outside of the hat. Not …. enough ….. time. I made an executive decision. I sewed it up the way it was, trimmed the seam allowance very close to the seam, re-inverted the hat and did another seam. That way it looked nice both on the inside and the outside, and the only evidence of my mistake was a little bit of cloth sticking out in the hat band area. Later someone told me this was called a “French Seam.” Funny that I made that up as a time-saving measure.  I really should take some kind of sewing class.

Pioneer looked good in his costume.  Perhaps the hat could have been a bit bigger and stiffer, and the sword loop should have been higher, but basically it came out fine.  Mission accomplished.

PioneerAsGandalf  gandalfDrawsHisSword

GandalfShowsOffGlamdring  GandalfNoHat

Pioneer insisted that I take a photo of him falling into the pit with the Balrog.   Here is the photo after massive amounts of photoshop fiddling to make it really look like he is falling.   Maybe I should have tried a bit harder…  I also avoided mentioning that Gandalf the Gray was the one who actually said “You cannot pass!”  It’s best not to contradict the  wielder of the flame of Anor.


Dyeing Flowers

During Teacher Appreciation week, we wanted to have some fun flowers for Pioneer to give out at school. He had a book that mentioned that you could make multicolored flowers by splitting their stems and putting the ends in dye. The dye gets sucked up to the head of the flower and, voilà, multicolored flowers.

Stem CuttingWe decided to give it a try. I got two dozen white carnations and put them to the sword.  Actually I used an Exacto knife to split the bottom two inches of stem. Pioneer worked away putting a loop of scotch tape around the stem above the split to keep the split from propagating. Then we cut down 4 plastic cups so the split stems could reach all the way down to the bottom of the cups.

Dyed Flowers HangingWe put different colored food dye and water into each of the 4 cups and used a loop of yarn to lash the flowers to a kitchen cabinet. Then I performed the somewhat ticklish task of getting all the flower stems to span the 4 cup boundaries. Once that was done, we just let them sit in the water over night.

In the morning, the flowers had taken on some of the colors. The colors weren’t super dramatic. I guess if you started with shorter stems or let them sit longer, you might get more color. I thought they came out looking good. Since I had left the stems quite long, we were able to just hack off the stems above the tape and presto! Colored flowers.

Blue And White FlowerI was really worried about the dye getting all over the counter. I put a plastic bag under the cups, and I’m really glad I did. In the morning, quite a bit of dye had found its way out of the cups and onto the plastic. I had to very carefully lift the bag up by the corners and carry it to the sink. Thankfully the plastic bag didn’t have any holes in it. If I do this again, I will put all the cups in the bottom of a glass casserole dish so I won’t have to play Food Dye Bomb Technician during clean up.


Making a Pop-Up Card

When I was growing up, I did a some bike touring with my dad. My uncle joined us on some of those trips, including one summer the three of us spent biking around the British Isles. We slept at youth hostels and biked around England, Ireland, and Scotland. Sometimes when I lagged behind, my uncle came circling back and said something like “Oh no! A honey dipper truck turned over in the road. I had to turn back.” to jokingly explain why he was coming back to ride with me and keep me company. I really appreciated that.

When I heard he was seriously ill, I booked a flight to go visit him. With my flight 4 days away,  I thought I would make something small to give him. I figured this might be the perfect chance to try my hand at making a pop-up card. I remembered one time in Scotland we zoomed down an hill and suddenly come across a lot of sheep in the road. None of us crashed, but there were several close calls. I guess a big dose of adrenaline helps make a lasting impression.

Making the card was going to be a race against the clock. If I could design and laser cut all the parts after work on Wednesday night (the night I have free to go to TechShop and use the laser cutter), I could spend some time Thursday night gluing the whole contraption together to have it ready to take on the plane with me Saturday morning.

Graph Paper SketchThe first thing I did was a quick sketch of the idea in my notebook.  I put in a mountain, some foothills, a tree, my uncle on his bike, and a sheep.  I figured that would be enough layers to give the final project some depth without having to design too much stuff.  I also did a quick diagram of the various depths of the things and the road my uncle would be biking on.

I made a few notes about what colors of paper I’d need, and then I headed to  the store.  When I got there, the woman at the counter told me I had five minutes before they closed!  Oh no!  I rushed into the paper section and started grabbing sheets of colored card stock.  In my mad rush to get paper, I ended up buying nearly $20 in paper sheets.   It turned out to be a good thing that I didn’t spend too much time choosing paper because my laser reservation was at 10pm and still needed some design time before that.  I snagged a quick dinner at Clark’s and headed back to work.

Illustrator Bike Card Design

I went back to my desk and fired up Illustrator.  I started with the bike wheels.  I knew that with the laser I could cut all those impossibly delicate spokes without even breaking a sweat, something I’d never try to do with an razor knife.  I also designed the spacers and hinge flaps that would anchor the parts and allow them to fold.

I used dotted lines to perforate the sheets where the paper needed to fold.  At 9:30pm, I headed over to TechShop so I’d be there for my laser reservation, but I took my laptop along since  I still wasn’t done with the design.  I knew I could cut single sheets of paper at the machine’s maximum speed, but I had to do some test cuts to determine what power and pulse rate to use.  I was able to get some settings that didn’t burn the edges of the paper much.  With a low enough pulse rate you can even get the paper to be sort of microperfed, but not fully cut, in in some spots.  This can be handy because the compressed air and blowers clearing the air in the laser can make your tiny pieces of paper get sucked into the exhaust system as soon as they are cut free.

Jumble Of PartsI spent the first hour of my reservation frantically finishing the design. The second hour I worked on the laser cutting, swapping sheets of paper into the machine to cut.  I finished just at the stroke of midnight. I took my pile of laser-cut paper parts home tucked into my notebook for safe keeping.

At this point, I needed to make some decisions about glue.  In the past, I’ve used 3M’s Super 77 spray glue for paper, which works well, but doesn’t give you much chance to position parts once they’re in contact.  So that was out.  I’d used decent quality glue sticks, but those were far too blunt an instrument for something like my super tiny bike tires.  Strike two.  I’ve used white glue for some fairly stiff card stock, and although it is very strong and has a decent working time, it causes wrinkling if you use it on a larger area.  I had to figure out something else.

Two Glues

I did some reading online, and the next day at lunch, I bought two kinds of glue:  Zip Dry and Tombo Mono Multi.  Both where supposed to work well with paper.  I ended up being glad I got both.

Zip Dry is like super-refined rubber cement.  It even smells like rubber cement.  It has enough working time to fine tune the part positions. And cleanup is super easy.  You can rub excess away cleanly and all you’re left is a pile of rubbery crumbs that can be brushed away.

The Bike Glued Together With Zip DryThe Mono Multi is white but supposedly dries clear. It gave me enough working time to position parts and set up fairly quickly with a strong bond.   The big down side is that it’s far worse in terms of cleanup. Excess glue has to be skimmed away immediately or you get an ugly, sticky patch which can not be cleaned away without damaging the paper. It doesn’t much matter that it’s “clear” at that point.

An overnight test of the two glues showed that Zip Dry is not as strong as Tombo Mono Multi.  When I peeled apart the pieces of paper I’d glued, the Zip Dry parted at the glue line while the Tombo Mono Multi delaminated the paper.

This turned out to be just the right combination of glues.  The Zip Dry worked for things like delicate tires on spoked wheels, and the Mono Multi held together the flaps and hinge pieces that needed extra strength.

Paper Roy On BikeHere is my uncle on the bike fully assembled.   I also completed the sheep and glued up the tree and the mountains. It was time to start assembling the card proper.  My main concern when laying out the card was that the objects must be at least as far from the front edge as they are tall so nothing would poke out from inside the card when it was folded up.

I also wanted to add some struts behind each object, forming a parallelogram between back of the object and floor of the card.  This parallelogram is what lets the object fold down flat and pop up when the card is opened. I know real popups use other kinds of tricks to make things unfold, but I didn’t have time to do any research into it. Just the basics!

Bike Flaps Glued Under the RoadOne thing I did do right was to pass the bike’s white hinge tabs down through small slits I made in the road surface, and then gluing the tabs to the under side of the road.  The white tabs from the wheels would have stuck out like soar thumbs if they were visible. It made the bike look like it was really standing up on the road surface. I wish I’d also done that for the sheep’s feet, the tree trunk, where the struts glued to the foothills, etc.  That would have looked a lot nicer.

I started assembling the final card.  My layers were mountains, foothills, tree, bike, and sheep.  Each object had tabs at the bottom and struts that push/pull the object when the card opens and closes.  The object and the sky on back of the card  had to be parallel, and the struts had to be parallel with the road surface bottom of the card.

Hill With HingesI glued on the mountains, then the foot hills.  I discovered that the strut for the sheep was impractically long.  I thought it would bow when pushing, so I improvised a little vertical leg half-way along to help it stay even.

The exact positioning was somewhat improvised since I had had to rush the design and wasn’t able to spare much time for the actual mechanism.   If I’d had another 30 minutes, I could have laid out slits in the road/background that would have hidden the various glue tabs and made the positioning exact.  I would definitely do that next time.

The loosy goosey by-hand approach made me use a somewhat tricky system where I would glue the object down, glue the strut to the back of the object, and then put a dab of glue on the other end of the strut and fold the card shut.  This method forced the tab to be glued in the correct position and ensures that the card can close fully.

Glue ScrewupHowever, if I put too much glue and there was glue squeeze out, the card would glue itself shut.  Not good!  I carefully worked through gluing the mountains.  Fine.   The foot hills.  Great.   The sheep.   No problem.   Then I put the last two dabs of glue on the bike and the tree.  The card was almost finished!

Disaster!  On the very last action of making the card, I accidentally folded the struts up  instead of down when I was closing up the card. The two struts glued themselves to the sky!   NO!  The Tombo Mono Multi sets up fast, and I wasn’t able to detach the two sheets without tearing some ugly rents in the sky. Oops.

At that point, I was too exhausted to quickly design some clouds, birds, or UFO’s to cover the mistakes.  Thankfully, I still had some more of the blue- lined paper, and I was able to hand cut a patch.  The horizontal lines do a good job of hiding the fix, and for the most part no one can see it unless I point it out.  *Phew!*   The card was done.

I shot a quick video of the card opening and closing.  There’s also some footage of the bike being laser cut.

Sadly, my uncle died before I could give him the card.  I don’t regret making the card though.  It was nice to have spent that time thinking about him and our trips together, certainly much better than spending that time waiting and worrying.  I did give the card to his son.  Now I’m the only one who remembers that wonderful summer.  I wish I were a better keeper of the past.


Using the Sun to Make Glass


Pioneer squirms on the hot driveway.

Have you ever wondered if you could use a magnifying glass to melt sand into glass?  I have a very large Fresnel lens that a coworker gave to me when I worked at SGI. Using it is kind of scary.  I keep it covered while I’m carrying it around so as not to accidentally set something on fire.  I’ve used it to burn wood, but I wasn’t quite sure if it could melt sand.  My son Pioneer had been begging me to try it out.  This morning we went to the beach, and he insisted on bringing home a bucket of sand.  It was time to give it a try.

The first step was to unearth the lens.  Pioneer was a bit confused when he first saw it because he thought it would be round with a long handle ready to be gripped by an eight-story-tall Sherlock Holmes. I had to explain how a Fresnel lens works, including how it lets you have a big lens that’s not eight inches thick at the middle.  Then we spent a while washing it off because it was quite dusty from years spent under the house lonely and unused.

burnedPieceOfWoodI put a small chunk of wood out so we could have an easy and spectacular target to use for lens-aiming practice.  I put a steel plate under it to protect the driveway.  Once we’d  mastered our  half-blind welding helmet and giant lens ballet, we were ready for the big show. Ok, I admit it was more like the Hokey Pokey than ballet.  “Put your right arm down. Put your left arm up. Put your right arm in and stop shaking all about. You do the Hokey Smokey and you burn wood on the ground.  That’s what it’s all about.”

theTwoOfUsHoldingTheLensI was a bit worried that we wouldn’t have any sort of fluxing agent to lower the melting point of the sand, but my wife had just been experimenting with different low-allergy washing combinations and she had both borax and washing soda on hand.  What luck!  Time to give it a try.  We put a few spoonfuls of sand/washing soda/borax on the end of a soda can, donned our welding helmets, and fired it up.

lightOnTheCokeCanPointing that much sun at things can be pretty spectacular.  You can burn, melt, and pop things.  It’s easy to get all Gallagher.  In contrast sand is quite good at taking the heat.  Instead of a big plume of smoke or a loud popping sound  you get a very slow and silent melting action. In the end, we managed to make some smallish green globs of glass.  I think Pioneer was disappointed, but we were really limited by how long we could stand there with our arms in the air.  If we wanted to make more, I’d have to make some sort of frame to hold the lens flat and pointed at the sun.

globOfGlassStill I think it was a success. We did manage to make some glass, even if it’s not ready to go in a chandelier.

Making Cute Puppies with the Laser

puppySketchMy 5-year-old son came to me asking me to make him a wooden doggy.  I started drawing doggies on the back of an envelope.   He kept rejecting them.  Finally he told me that he really wanted one with a “mouth like an upside down Y”.  At least he was specific.  Finally we got a sketch that met with his approval. I assumed I’d make the doggy on the bandsaw and put details on using my trusty wood-burning pencil, since I’ve done a number of projects like that.  It’s always fun to semi-free-form cut on the bandsaw and improvise the shapes.  The width of the blade forces you to use broad curves, and the actual cuts in the wood are often nicer then the pencil lines you drew.

puppyPartsOnLaserFor the past few weeks, my Tech Shop night has been spent on a super-complex laser cutter project. The kind of project that won’t be finished for months with rounds of test assemblies. I realized that a purely aesthetic micro-project in the form of a cute puppy dog might be the perfect counterpoint to such a technical project. So I abandoned my original bandsaw plan.   I could get some finished objects with only about an hour of Illustrator time and some scrap 1/4″ plywood.  I could even glue them up while my next round of complex parts were being cut out, so I wouldn’t be  stealing too much time from my other project.

puppysNotFullyCutThroughThere was a bit of a glitch in that laser power output was a bit lower than usual. Wood is not an entirely uniform medium, so if you don’t have enough extra power going in, you end up with some uncut fibers.   Some of the pieces dropped right out, but a few needed to be cut free with my trusty Swiss army knife.  The tough fibers also tend to make the edges not a perfectly uniform burnt-wood color. If you care, you can touch those up after the fact with a wood-burning pencil. You can also sometimes get the pieces to come out cleanly if you sand the back of the sheet.  That way you don’t have to touch up the sides, but it’s a lot of sanding. And isn’t the best solution for plywood since you run the risk of sanding through the top ply.

puppyTwistThe nice thing about purely aesthetic pieces is you can glue them together any way you want.  That gives each puppy their own personality and lets you discover fun combinations.  I used some plywood that had one face a bit darker than the other.  I figured that would make puppies have a nice light underbelly.  The only down side is that they look a bit strange from the back.  I guess if you really wanted to make a bunch of these things, you could  cut the back legs/belly piece from plywood that was lighter on one side, then cut the head/forepaws parts from more uniform wood.

puppyBackAndSideBlueI knew that the pups would be a bit head heavy, but I thought when I glued them up, I could adjust the exact position of the hind legs so they would slightly lean back.  The only problem with that plan was that the two main contact points are only 1/4″ apart so they are  a bit tippy.   I considered scuffing them on sandpaper to give them a firmer foot hold, but then their paws would have bright flat spots on the bottom.  So I decided not to bother.   Puppies are tippy. That’s just the way they are.

threePuppiesWithBlueWallI glued one of the pups with his head down low, so he’d be the runt of the litter.  For some reason that also makes him seem a bit fatter.  I rather like this idea of cute parts that can be glued together in different configurations.  These have happy tails, but they could just as easily have sad ones.  This micro-project had a great effort-to-fun ratio.  Simon really loved his little wooden doggy: he loves the burn wood smell and thinks it’s cool that it was cut with light. He took it to school to show his friends. I haven’t really told him his pup has some brothers and sisters.  Here’s a family photo.  I could have sanded them to give them a crisper look, but I like the smudges and burn marks.  It gives them a bit more personality and it’s less work too.