Acrylic is a versatile material that comes in many colours and thicknesses, so it was perfect for this ‘plastic surgery’ project.
Funbox is the show of Anya, Gary and Kevin, the stars of The Singing Kettle. It’s all about silly songs and family fun. Their show features Bonzo the dog and the funsters Flossie and Fluffy (pictured) who live in the Funbox. They tour around Scotland dressed up as mermaids and fish, pirates and princesses and kinds of things.
Kevin contacted LaserFlair because they needed help with certain parts of Fluffy and Flossie’s costumes. They’d made Fluffy’s yale key eyes, Flossie’s padlock nose and both sets of skeleton key teeth from a material that clearly wasn’t up to the rigours of touring. After only two shows, they were drooping, curling and delaminating, not a good look! They hoped to make replacements out of 5mm acrylic which would be tough, rigid and colourful with a much longer life.
Acrylic eyes, teeth and noses
Kevin found artwork for key and padlock shapes that they liked for the eyes and nose, and other skeleton key shapes that he wanted to base the teeth shapes on. He also sourced the acrylic for the eyes and noses because he wanted to use particular colours. He brought everything to the LaserFlair workshop and together we edited the artwork to make everything the right size. We also created holes in convenient places so the parts could be stitched onto the costumes. Acrylic is a great material to laser cut, so we soon had a colourful pile of eyes, noses and teeth.
Unfortunately, acrylic don’t last forever. So eighteen months on, LaserFlair performed laser eye surgery for Flossie who needed new green yale key eyes. She needs to look at her very best as she tours the country keeping the nation’s kids entertained!
Jo Black Designs received a commission for oak menu boards from Illicit Still, a bar and restaurant in Aberdeen. Jo, a furniture maker based in Edinburgh, made the boards from oak. They were about 5mm thick and felt nice and chunky. Each one was unique because of their rich grain and knots patterns.
Illicit Still wanted their logo engraved onto each of the 50 boards and Jo asked if I could help.
Resizing the artwork
Jo supplied the customer’s artwork, a beautiful and intricate Celtic style logo, as a black and white vector file. When she brought the boards to my workshop, we set up the artwork to the size she wanted and decided where to locate them on the boards.
Vector files are perfect for resizing as image quality is not lost during the rescaling process as it is with pixel based images like jps and pngs. Unwanted pixellation can occur around the image and if this is engraved by the laser, product quality is reduced.
Dark and brooding menu boards
Next, I performed some test engraves to work out the best power and speed machine settings. They affect the depth and colour of engravings. Jo she wanted a deep, dark engrave to achieve the look her customer wanted, and the oak she supplied gave a very dark mark that suited the mysterious logo perfectly.
Once Jo was happy with the result, I engraved the rest of the boards. She then took all the boards back to her workshop to finish them before shipping them to her customer.
They look fantastic! An oak offcut that we used for the test engraving is on the workshop wall and it always gets lots of compliments from visitors.
Angela Davies and Mark Eaglen from Studio MADE in Denbigh asked if I could help them to create some bespoke rubber stamps. Studio MADE were holding an interactive printing workshop and exhibition for the Denbigh Alphabet project, celebrating the Welsh language using the Welsh and English alphabets.
They created the Denbigh Alphabet using local people’s photos of historical items and local environmental features in the town to form letters from the English and Welsh alphabets. You can see them below. Angela and Mark wanted to use the outlines of the shapes to create the letter shapes for the stamps. There would be 26 English letter stamps and 28 Welsh ones.
As the project budget was tight, I suggested that cutting the letters out would be faster and therefore cheaper than engraving out the unwanted areas of the stamps.
Mark converted the letter shapes from the photos into vector files so that the laser could cut the shapes out. I could see that some of the letters were very thin and detailed, so I shared my vector artwork preparation blog to warn of the pitfalls with small detailed cutting projects.
Then they arranged the letters in rectangles so that each letter or pair of letters would be cut out of rectangles of rubber. This was clever, because it meant that each set of letters created two stamps – the positive and negative imprints as you can see in the stamps above and the prints below.
The robust and the fragile
Once the rubber sheet arrived, I cut the letters. Even at 1.5mm, rubber is pretty robust. Most came out well and the letters and their surrounds were perfect for use as stamps. I had to be careful to keep the insides of the letters (a, b, d etc) as they would be needed to complete the negative stamps.
There was one shape that was so fine that only its negative could be used effectively. Can you see the rope-like shape cut out next to the N? You can see how fragile it was, even when the artwork had been beefed up.
I used the same rectangle shapes to cut blocks of 9mm mdf to the same sizes as the stamps. Angela and Mark stuck them to the backs of the stamps, making them easier to handle during printing. They were careful to glue the letters on the wrong way so that the printed letters would be the right way round when printed.
Assembling the stamps
I sent all the pieces of mdf and rubber to Studio MADE and they assembled the stamps. You can see them all in the picture at the top of the post. All the grey shapes are rubber, and the beige areas are the mdf blocks behind the rubber.
Studio MADE posted pictures in their Instagram feed of the prints strung up on lines to dry after the workshops. I love how colourful they are and how the letter positives and negatives work together. And the letter forms are so interesting and beautiful. Participants used the stamps to spell out words in Welsh and English. This project was supported by Denbigh County Council, Denbigh Museum and Menter Iath Dinbych.
I learned a new word last week – diorama. Dioramas are miniature three-dimensional scene in which models of figures are arranged against a background. They were used by Victorians as a theatre device and can be used in film animations.
Hooperhart creates magical little wooden worlds in boxes and pictures. Cal also makes jewellery, pop up kits and decorations, and embellishes them with hand painting and screen printing. She got in touch to ask if I could laser cut her miniature pieces from 3mm plywood.
Miniature pieces for miniature worlds
As Cal needs lots of small shapes for her scenes, she only needs one sheet of plywood shapes cut at a time. She sends new artwork depending on the shapes she wants, filling the sheet with little trees, deer, boats, clouds and mountains to get as many pieces as possible. Even the offcuts make me smile!
Stand up kits
Cal wanted a couple of stand up kits in her first order, so I needed to test the slots to make sure they would fit neatly. Plywood thicknesses are nominal, and the 3mm ply that I source is typically between 3.1 – 3.3mm thick. If the slots are created at 3mm, they are too tight and the kit doesn’t work!
Cal sent me two pieces of artwork to try. One was too tight and the other was spot on.
Fragile – handle with care!
Cal’s mountains, bears and moose are very robust as they’re chunky. Some of the trees, plants and deer are very fragile though. Look at the tree trunks in the picture at the top. Their trunks are only a few millimetres thick, so I pack them very carefully and they arrived with Cal in one piece.
Thankfully, plywood is inherently strong. 3mm ply typically has 3 layers of wood laminated together which helps, but it wouldn’t take much to break them.
Cal loves arranging her pieces in pleasing formations, known as knolling, another new word I’ve learned from her. She creates some of her pieces in this way, and her Instagram feed is a great place for her to play!
Karen Elwis of The Learning Cauldron became a friend through Fife Women in Business. She tutors students in English, German and French from her home. Recently, she asked if I could engrave a sign with her logo so that pupils would know where to come.
She had also been short listed as a finalist for the Perthshire Chamber of Commerce awards for 2018 and wanted the sign in place when the judges paid her a visit. This increased the urgency of the request considerably!
The Learning Cauldron logo
When Karen had her logo designed, she wanted it to look like as though it was written with chalk on a blackboard. The Learning Cauldron text is all white on a black background, except for the TLC letters which are all in chalk colours.
Laser engraving can’t be done in colour. The laser either engraves or doesn’t engrave, and the engraved surface of wood is a shade of brown. This is darker if the wood is darker and a higher power setting is used during engraving.
I suggested to Karen that there would be two ways of engraving her logo. It could be done so that the black square would be engraved and the letters unengraved. This would look closest to her logo. Otherwise, I could engrave the outline of the square which would be left engraved, and the text. This way, the logo would be recognisable with minimal engraving. Both options would look great depending on what she preferred.
What does engraved wood look like?
It was important that Karen knew what to expect. Most signs have small engraved areas like text. Karen’s logo was different to most that I’ve worked with as the engraved area would be much larger.
I showed Karen samples of how engraved oak would look. It’s such a beautiful wood with a lovely grain which would show through the engraving. Engraved areas would be slightly recessed into the wood, and growth rings of different densities would engrave to different depths. After engraving, varnish, stain or oil protect the wood, evening out and enhancing the engraved areas and improving the contrast between engraved and unengraved areas. You can see the difference it makes if you compare the picture above with the lead picture and video.
Karen was keen to have the sign looking as close to the logo as possible, so opted to have the square engraved. She asked Frazer Reid of FAR Cabinet Makers to make the oak sign. He dropped it off at my workshop and I got to work.
This piece of oak was less dense than some I’ve worked with, and the engraving had a nice depth to it. And the wood grain rippled like a wave across the surface and this was pronounced in the engraving, enhancing interest in the area. As there was so much engraving, a lot of dust was created as it is a burning process, so I gave the sign a good rub with an old sock and then gave it a hoover for good measure to remove as much as possible. Karen was delighted with it and decided to varnish it herself.
The challenge in this job arose unexpectedly as Karen finished her sign at home. While she was varnishing it, black specs from residual charred dust stuck to the brush and spread across the sign. It also contaminated the remainder of the pot of varnish I gave her from engraving my own house sign. Usually when engraved areas are small, the brush doesn’t contact the bottom of engravings and this problem doesn’t arise. In this case, a quarter to a third of the sign surface was engraved and it was a problem that I hadn’t even thought of. I learned something new that day!
Karen rang me up and we chatted over how we could sort it out. She removed the affected varnish from the sign using solvent and sanding as she thought best. Once all of the engraved areas had one complete coat of varnish, it was sealed.
A splash of colour
Karen wanted her sign to look as close to her logo as possible, and enlisted her friend Claire Brownbridge’s expertise. She mixed some acrylic paint to match the chalk colours in the logo and painted the T, L and C. Varnishing the sign first made it easier to remove stray paint from unwanted areas. Then Karen completed the final coat with a clean brush and a new pot of varnish.
Karen’s sign is now proudly mounted outside her door for judges and pupils to admire!
Sergeant Gordon Fullerton recruits medical personnel for 152 Medical Squadron based in Glenrothes.
He contacted me because the troops were refurbishing their mess area. They wanted their cap badges engraved on four oak cask ends to hang on the wall and wondered if I could help.
Cap badge detail
Gordon sent me artwork for the four cap badges for the Medical (RAMC), Nursing (QARANC), Logistics (RLC) and Staff and Personnel Support (SPS) corps. They were all very intricate with lots of detail, particularly on the crowns and the snake on the RAMC badge.
Gordon wanted them all engraved at 250 x 250mm. As all the badges were different widths, we decided to make them all 250mm high to keep them the same size as all the cask ends would be displayed together.
Gordon had found four different looking cask ends that he wanted to have engraved. You can see the cask end in the video has very irregular wooden boards. As the troops wanted the tops of the barrel staves to be part of the cask ends so it would look as if barrels were sticking out of the walls, Gordon used metal hoops to hold the stave ends securely in place.
Engraving the cask ends
Gordon wanted the boards of the cask ends to be vertical, and he’d allocated one end of each as the top for hanging. Once I positioned the cask ends in the laser in the right orientation, I found the central points and lined up the laser with them. This made sure the engravings would be centrally located. Then I started engraving.
I used my highest power setting to get as dark engraves as possible. We wanted the engravings to show up as well as possible against the oak. All the detail came out very well. The engraving looks a bit fuzzy on the video as lots of dust is created when engraving wood. It dusted off easily after production.
Gordon rubbed some Antique Oil over each cask end when it was finished. This brought out the richness of the wood and enhanced the engravings. He managed to install them in the mess before Remembrance Sunday so that the troops’ families would see them. I’m so please that the troops are delighted with them.