Pastry Cutter Final Results

backingPlateCloseUpAfter finally getting the last parts cut on Dec 23 I had to go into a fabrication frenzy.  I was constantly ducking out into the garage to do the next round of glue and/or paint.   One of the real tricks with these cutters was getting the push plate positioned really accurately inside the cutter walls.   There was no positive alignment when I glued the cutter walls to the top plate.  If the push plate was off by much the plate would bind against the wall and stick.   Here you can see the system I came up with.  I glued up everything else, and positioned the backing plate on a scrap rod.  Then I just put in a few drips of solvent on the backing plate, and plop on the push plate.  I had enough time to position it exactly and then let the solvent do it’s work.  I left the protective paper on the under side of the backing plate so there was no danger of a stray drip of solvent fusing the backing plate.  This system worked great, but it did  mean that the parts weren’t interchangeable.  That really didn’t matter much.

moominSpringI cut some springs/push rods.  I needed them to be just the right lengths so the spring would still exert some upward pressure when fully up, but would bottom out before the push plate could be pushed all the way out of the cutter housing.   That protects the assembly and makes it hard to apply a lot of sideways or pulling forces on the push plate.    I used 1/8″ tubing instead of rod so the glue could bind to the inside of the tube a bit.  It also makes it so you can fill the hole with glue, and when you insert the tube the extra just goes up inside the tube instead of squirting out all around.  I chose stainless over brass to be more food safe.   The springs aren’t stainless though, so they really shouldn’t spend too much time in contact with water.

Moomins ClampedOnce I had assembled and glued the cutters they had to be clamped to keep the springs from tearing them apart before the glue was fully cured.   Here you can see a two Moomins clamped in the jaws of a big Jorgensen Clamp.  Don’t worry.  I was gentle.   I managed to get them all done in time for Christmas *phew*  but I did end up having to give them away 100% untested.  Eek!

moomintrollCutResultsThe day after Christmas I finally got to take them for a test drive.  I had had to make the cutting walls a bit thicker than I would have liked, in order to have enough surface area for the solvent welding.  That made it so you have to push down a bit harder than with the comercial cutters, and give a little bit of a twist or your Moomins end up with a paper thin fringe, but ultimately they worked fine.  Giving gifts I hadn’t fully tested was a  bit hair raising, but it all worked out in the end.

The details were crisp, and after some baking so were the Moomins.  Mission accomplished!


Paper Lanterns for Mom’s Birthday

redLampWhiteBackgroundSmallerThe other day my son Pioneer brought home a paper lantern from preschool.  Around that time we also got some pastries in an interesting paper to-go box that had four sides and folded up into a nice curved shape.   That got me thinking that I hadn’t done any paper projects in a very long time.

As a kid I had access to a few super useful project resources.   There was scrap wood out in the shop, the pile of used twine loops in the neighbors barn, and a drawer that had a never ending supply of 8.5″x11″ paper.   These were great resources because they could be used on a whim to make anything I wanted.  I once even tried to stretch a piece of paper around the outside of the house buy cutting it into a very thin spiral strip.   I only made it about 2/3 of the way.  Paper cranes, paper palm trees, expanded paper mesh, paper chains, paper, paper, paper.  It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized our miraculous bottomless “drawer of paper” was closely tied to the fact that that my dad was a high school teacher.

So early on I did a lot of paper projects.  In high school I got into origami, and did a lot of book driven Origami projects.  Probably the best book I built out of was John Montroll’s Animal Origami for the Enthusiast.  Then my work with paper more or less ceased for a long long time.   So suddenly seeing Pioneer making a paper lantern made me think back to all my early paper cutting/gluing days, and I realize that the laser cutter at TechShop would be an incredible paper cutting tool.   I resolved to make some paper lanterns for my mom’s up coming birthday.

The first prototypes with a few sheets of legal paper and some scissors.

GreenAndYellowSillyLampSmallI initially thought I’d make a lantern a bit like the one Pioneer had made, but with much more detailed cut outs. I produced a few little prototypes out of construction paper.  I didn’t get a picture of the better  lighting bolt themed one, but I did take a picture of this green and yellow one, but wasn’t satisfied with the way they looked kind of spindly. So I thought maybe I’d make a more enclosed lantern a bit like the to-go box I’d seen, but with nice patterns formed by using two layers of paper with the pattern only cut into one of them.   I experimented with various patterns, and also started looking for the right overall shape.  With paper, scissors and tape I made a number of 4 sided prototypes, and then a 6 sided one.  That seemed more pleasing, and I second 6 sided one that I eventually went with.

It’s a joy to do prototyping with paper.  Want symmetry?  Just fold it over before cutting.   Want three exact copies?  Just stack the paper up before cutting it out.  Wrong  position?   Unstick the tape and try again.  You can try out a lot of major design changes in a twinkling.

whiteBackgroundPrototypeSmallI knew I didn’t want to deal with actual candles, and thought LED candles would be excellent replacements, without the risk of fire and design constraints that would impose.  I found Pier 1 Imports selling 4 small LED Candles for $5, so that’s what I went with.   When folding up the various paper lantern shapes I realized it was important to do that with a light inside the paper so you could see the patterns that the paper overlaps where forming.   I eventually made a prototype where the overlaps formed a flower, but because I was later constrained to some fairly opaque paper for the colored layer of my lantern I didn’t take that prototype any further.

I did however decide on some nice flared fins on the outer edges both because they looked nice, and because I was starting to have fantasies about the lanterns spinning in the breeze.

Paper paper who’s got the paper?

I went to the local art store and found nice colored paper, but it was all very opaque.   Not ideal for fairly dim LED Candles.  I looked a bit on-line, but it’s nigh impossible to determine a papers opacity from a web page.  The only paper listing opacity was Shoji paper (used for Japanese screens) but it didn’t seem to be available in bright colors.  So eventually I just went with the art store paper even though it meant that the lanterns weren’t going to be as bright as I’d hoped.  I did buy vellum for the inner layer of paper to at least maximize the amount of light getting out though that part of the lamp.

Multi Colored Laser Cut Confetti.

laserCuttingTime was running out, so I did a quick pattern design based on a leaf, and thought I’d get cutting/gluing in no time.   However I ran into a problem.   The super detailed pattern took about 30 mins on the laser at it’s highest speed.  (Enough pieces for two lamps)  I thought I could avoid this bottle neck by stacking up a bunch of paper and cutting it all at the same time.  However the massive amount of air flow in the laser chamber and the direct stream of compressed air at the cutting point made it so the paper would not all lay perfectly stacked up, they’d puff apart and chads would fly, and all this mayhem made it ineffective at cutting more then two sheets at a time.   I ruined 3 extra sheets of paper on that first run because the lower sheets were somewhat cut, but not well enough cut that the chads would drop out.  It was horribly time consuming to try and hand poke/trim out all these suck pieces, and so I decided I really could only cut two sheets at a time.

I had to reserve the laser for extra time to try and make up the difference.   I’d originally wanted to do 20 lanterns, but only ended up making 14 because of these problems.

Two kinds of paper and three kinds of glue.

glueGunBigSmallThen I had to assemble things things.   For each lantern there were 6 pieces.  Three patterned colored outer pieces and three vellum inner pieces.  I used a glue stick to attach the inner and outer pieces together in pairs (only gluing at the top/bottom).    I did this because glue stick doesn’t cause the paper to wrinkle/warp the way Elmer’s glue does.  Then when I had 3 pairs glued up, I’d glue the base rings of the 3 together with yellow Elmer’s wood glue.   (for strength) I’d glue the LED Candle to the center of this stack with hot glue.  (Quick, and with good gap filling.) Then after that had set up I did the final gluing of the upper sections.  (again with Elmer’s)  The final glue step was the most painstaking, but not too horrible.

Pivots at the last possible moment.

My friend Ken pointed out that the lamps would look nice either sitting up, or hanging upside down.   And with them up-side down they could spin in the breeze.   The trouble is that I was having trouble tracking down the fishing line pivots I’d imagined using for this, and I was running out of time. I had struck out at K-Mart.   As luck would have it on the 4 hour drive to Cambria (where my mom’s birthday party was going to be) we pulled off the highway to get some coloring books for the kids, and I dashed into a sporting goods store, and finally managed to find the swivels I’d been looking for.  I used some chain nose pliers and gold colored wire to bend up nice hangers for the lanterns as we drove down.   We arrived in Cambria with the Lanterns done without a moment to spare, but they were totally untested.

Thankfully they spun easily in the light breeze in the yard.  Success.  *phew*

Here is a video of some of the lanterns spinning in the breeze about half an hour after we got down to Anne’s:

Here are some photos of the process:



And a few photos of the final results:






I ended up making quite a few of these lanterns in a short period of time and I was pleased with the results.   This last photo isn’t mine, it’s one by Laura Mappin.  I have a bunch of other shot-in-the-dark photos, in groups, and not, but this one seems to just have a nice glow. I’ve been toying with building a bigger led lamp based on this design using more powerful leds and and Arduino.   My friend Lawrence and I have done some interesting software prototypes for a virtual candle based on info we’ve collected from actual candles.   Hopefully I’ll get around to writing that up some day.


The original page in the Internet Archive.

Moomin Cookie Cutters from the Garage

I enjoy making things which help to make other things. There’s something kind of empowering about it.  From lathe attachments to custom waffle irons these projects keep popping up.  Give someone a custom waffle and they enjoy it for one meal, but give someone a custom waffle iron,  and they can enjoy the waffles when ever they like. The big drawback to the waffle iron project was that it was a LOT of work to make.  So I tried to think of things that were a lot simpler to make, but had that same flavor.  The kind of gift were someone can go through a little ritual, and end up with something unique that reminds them of you.

The idea strikes

So one day I was poking around in a cooking utensil store when I happened to spy some cookie cutters.  Perfect! How simple is that?  On closer inspection I realized that most cookie cutters are made from a strip of sheet metal. Commercial cutters all seem to be made of either copper, stainless, or galvanized steel. The strip is bent into the desired shape, and either spot welded or soldered shut.  The edge of the strip away from the cutting edge is folded over which adds tiffness, and also keeping that side from being sharp when you press on it.

All you need is some sheet metal, tin snips, and some lead free solder.  Heck I had all that stuff at home. Now all that was needed were a few designs for some custom cookies.

To work on designs I took some aluminum foil and made a strip that was as long as the pieces of scrap copper I had around.  I folded the top edge over, and started in shaping the piece.  This is a good way to prototype because it can tell you exactly where along the strip the bends have to be, how long a strip you’ll need for various designs, and you can start over again and again until you get the shape you like.  Very handy.  Here are a few things I tried to keep in mind when making the design:  Keep a strait-ish place on the design for the metal overlap to go.  Don’t do too many tight turns and twists  That  will make it too hard to bend the sheet, and don’t leave sections of the resulting cookie so thin that they’ll either burn or crumble.

Moomins enter the picture

My first design was to make a cookie cutter shaped  like a Moomin.  The Finnish author Tove Janson wrote  some great children’s books about a family of Moomins that live in Moomin Valley. They are wonderful books, and I thought that Moomin shaped cookies could be iced up to look like any of the main Moomin family members.   I’m not sure if anyone actually sells Moomin shaped cookie cutters commercially, but I rather hope not.

Once I had the first design worked up in aluminum foil it was time to cut some strips of copper and see how hard they were to shape.  I cut some strips, and marked a line about 3/16 from the rough edge. I figured it was fine to have the uneven cut side folded over inside where it wouldn’t affect the final cutter, and use the nicely cut strait side to form the actual face of the cutter.

I folded the 3/16 strip over by clamping the piece in the vice between a piece of angle iron, and a board with just the 3/16 edge sticking up.  I hammered that over using a piece of wood and a hammer.  Then I unclamped it and just hammered the strip the rest of the way over to form the reinforcing bead of the cookie cutter.

Then it was time to start shaping.  If you have tight double backs it’s best to locate and fold those in first while you can still get at them to hammer them flat.  After that I just used a system of gentle bends done by hand, and tighter bends done between two metal rods that I had clamped into the vice vertically.  That mostly did the trick. Once I had the shape closed I soldered it shut with lead free solder.  A little bit of soap and water, and project complete!  Amazing.

Show me the cookies

I also made a cookie cutter in the shape of a key, so that mom and Stan could make “CookKeys”  Stan used to be a lock smith, so it seemd apropos. I gave them the untested cutters for Christmas. I was a bit worried that the little Moomin feet would burn, but it doesn’t seem to have been a problem, and I’m sure they’ll be fun to nibble on.

I think the cutest bit about this project is the set of images mom took of her first batch of cookies made with the cutters.  Legions of Moomins piled high on the counter.  What a hoot!

Cutter in action

Fresh from the Oven

Final Mountain of Moomins

The original page in the Internet Archive.