medical squadron cap badges

Medical Squadron cap badges

Posted Posted in Signage, Wood

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.

Cask ends

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.


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How to personalise drumsticks

How to personalise drumsticks

Posted Posted in Wood

A customer knew someone who was going to be playing at the Electric Fields festival at Drumlanrig Castle with their band. She wanted to have some drumsticks personalised for the occasion.

This is the story of one of my most demanding jobs so far.

How do you engrave a drumstick?

Drumsticks are a challenge to engrave for two reasons.

Firstly, it’s important to have as flat a surface as possible to engrave. This ensures that the laser can maintain good focus on the surface of the material, important for high quality results. For this reason, I suggested that the artwork should be long and thin so that it could be engraved down the length of the drumsticks. This would also allow the engravings to be seen whole. Engraving around the circumference was out of the question.

Secondly, drumsticks can roll as they’re long and cylindrical.  They would need to be held securely in place so they don’t move in the machine during engraving. Any movement during production would make the engravings look out of focus.

engraved drumsticks

What size can the artwork be?

My customer wanted the logo of the band on the handle of one drumstick and the festival name on the other. Both sets of artwork could be set up to for engraving down the lengths of the drumsticks. Perfect.

As the drumstick diameters diameters were 15mm, I decided that the both engravings could be 8mm high maximum. Any taller, and the engravings could be out of focus at the top and bottom. At 8mm high, the engravings would be 60 – 70mm long, making them easy to read.

Laying out the artwork

My customer wasn’t sure how she wanted the artwork to appear on the sticks.

I suggested that if she held a stick in each hand like a drummer, it would look best if she could read the text on both sticks as in the picture above. If both engravings appeared in the same layout on each stick, one engraving would be upside down when held by a drummer. It wouldn’t look right.

When the drumsticks arrived in the post, they had the maker’s logo printed at the handle end. To avoid them being seen with the engravings, I decided to position the engravings at 180 degrees to the logos for a clean look.

Engraving curved surfaces

One of my secret weapons for engraving curved surfaces my 100mm focal length lens. It’s more forgiving than the shorter focal length lenses and wood is a forgiving material to engrave.

I secured the sticks in the machine with Blu Tack, lined them up with the laser and engraved using a slow speed setting. This made the engravings sharp with some depth for contrast. Both engravings looked great and completely in focus, and my customer was delighted.


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branded wooden tags for waiata

Branded wooden tags for waiata

Posted Posted in Jewellery, Wood

nga waiata is a jewellery designer from New Zealand who lives and works in London. I’ve worked with her for several years now, helping her to brand her distinctive rings and necklaces.

Last year, she rebranded her company’s name from her own full name, ‘nga waiata’ to just ‘waiata’ to make things simpler and easier to pronounce. ‘nga’ is pronounced ‘na’, but waiata is pronounced ‘wayata’ as it looks. When we first started working together, I asked nga waiata about how to pronounce her name and if the letters were all lower case, which they are!

New brand artwork

nga wai sent her new logo and a packet of wooden discs to engrave. I made up an artwork proof, and once she approved it, I was ready to start work.

First, I checked with nga wai what orientation she wanted the discs engraved in. All of them had a pinstripe wood grain. Obvious options were to have the grain going from side to side or top to bottom. nga wai asked me what I thought, and I suggested top to bottom as the logos were horizontal, so that’s what we did.

Engraving tiny wooden tags

All the wooden discs were around 22mm in diameter and appromimately 1mm thick. Being so small and light, it was very important to keep them secure in the machine during engraving. If left unsecured, the discs would just blow around in the machine under the compressed air jet that keeps the machine lens and the item for engraving clean and cool.

BluTac is a wonderful thing, and is perfect during jobs like this. I set up each piece individually for best results, and use a slow engraving speed that helps achieve sharp results on small, detailed engravings. These logos are only 16mm wide.

And as nga wai wanted a nice depth of engraving as well as good contrast, a slow engraving helped. As the dwell time of the laser was several times longer than my usual settings would allow, the engravings were deeper with a lovely tactile 3D effect.


nga wai was delighted with the new tags, and she drilled the holes and finished them herself. Branding items like jewellery and furniture can be challenging, and it’s important for makers to have their mark on their work.

I love seeing pictures of nga wai’s new work with the tags on. The fluorite necklace above was sent to the Caribbean a couple of weeks ago. Fearne Cotton has also been one of nga waiata’s customer’s recently!


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Panda and Sons marquetry

Panda and Sons marquetry

Posted Posted in Furniture, Wood

Furniture maker Jamie Fraser fitted out Panda and Sons‘ cocktail bar in Edinburgh. He asked if I could help him with three parts of the project, the most challenging of which was creating two marquetry panda pictures for the wall behind the bar. They were a both to be a bit bigger than A4 size at 320 x 250mm.

As Panda and Sons was designed as a speakeasy with a barber shop frontage, one panda was a barber and the other a barman.

Making the artwork robust

First of all, Jamie emailed the artwork through. Most of it looked fine. The background, the pandas’ walnut bodies and ears and sycamore heads all looked chunky and robust. But some areas needed work because the detail was too great or joins were too small to make the pieces strong enough.

As a rule, I suggest to customers that any small pieces and joining sections should be at least 3mm wide on thicker, stronger materials. These marquetry pieces would be extremely fragile and would have to be easily identified and capable of being handled.

For example, the eyes had too many small detailed areas less than 1 x 1mm. I knew that they would become charred dots in the bottom of the machine that would be useless. Jamie beefed up the dots and join them up into stronger shapes so the sycamore pieces could be seen from a distance.

There was also too much detail in the scissors and the cocktail glass. They got the same treatment to make them chunkier and bolder, as did the borders of walnut around the cocktail glass and cuffs.

Finally, each shape needed one continuous line around the outside to cut it individually and cleanly. The ears had to be separate lines from the head which had to be separate from the body as the pieces would be cut out from different veneers.

Once the artwork was complete, we had to get our heads around handling the veneers themselves.

simplified artwork

Working with veneers

Wood veneers are very thin and prone to cracking, warping and splitting. It was challenging enough cutting lots of diamond shapes for the bar top, but marquetry would be even trickier because of the detail and irregular shapes involved.

Jamie had initially suggested sending veneers as they come in thin strips. Once I’d seen the artwork, I suggested gluing the veneers to thin pieces of mdf to make the pieces stronger. This would also keep them flat which would help during cutting, and prevent them warping and cracking.

As the pieces would be posted back to Jamie in Edinburgh, we knew that the delicate veneers not only had to withstand production, but two journeys in the post. Jamie agreed, and thought it would help him during assembly of the pictures too.

Laser cutting panda eyes

After Jamie’s laminated veneers arrived, I got to work. First, I cut out the picture backgrounds. This gave me the rectangular shapes of the pictures with panda shaped holes.

Next, I cut the bodies and buttons, ears, eyes and noses from the walnut. Just in case little pieces went missing, I cut extra eyes and buttons. I left the smallest sycamore pieces until last, fitting them into the pictures as they took shape. All the pieces fitted perfectly. The photo at the top was taken at this stage, before Jamie finished and varnished them.

I wrapped the pictures up securely to protect them in the post together with the spare pieces. Thankfully, they all survived the journey and Jamie was delighted with them. In the picture above, you can see bartender panda in all his varnished and framed glory.


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Medals for Blackhouse Watersports

Medals for Blackhouse Watersports

Posted Posted in Other, Wood

Tiree Surf Club and Blackhouse Watersports hosted the 2017 Gathering of Clans surf competition in September this year. Iona from Blackhouse Watersports asked if I could make some medals from plywood for the winners.

Medal design

Iona wanted the medals to be 50mm in diameter with their logo in the middle. ‘The Gathering of the Clans surf competition, Tiree, 2017’ was to be engraved around it, and a hole made for the ribbon.

Blackhouse Watersports sent me their logo for engraving some signs earlier this year. I set up the artwork so that the logo was 30mm wide in the centre of a 50mm circle. As the small text at the bottom of the logo (cold water surf Hebridees) was too small to engrave clearly, Iona agreed that it was to be expected when reproducing the logo at such a small size and said that it wouldn’t be a problem.

Holes for the ribbons had to be at the top of the medals, so I arranged the text with a space at the top of the medal that was a perfect fit for the ribbon hole which I made at 10 x 4mm. My artwork software allows me to fit text to chosen pathways, so I used the diameter of the medal. Text point size was chosen to make it the right size for a good fit. Then I centred it so the text was symmetrical.

Gathering of the Clans winners

Making the medals

Iona approved the artwork proof I sent to her, and we agreed that 3mm plywood would work well. The most vulnerable part of the design was the ribbon holes. Plywood is so good so work with because it’s so strong as it contains laminated layers of wood, so I knew that they would be robust enough with 3mm between the holes and the circumference.

Once I had the go ahead, I made 40 medals and sent them to Tiree. The competition was a huge success, the weather was great, and everyone had a fun day!


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Orkney Museum table top game

Orkney Museum table top game

Posted Posted in Designers, Wood

Rhona Jenkins is a designer in Orkney. At the start of this year, she was working with Orkney Museum to create new Viking and Medieval galleries. She contacted Ken Boyd from FifeX as she wanted to create interactive exhibits. One was to be a large tabletop game, and Ken asked if I could help him as Rhona wanted the detail laser engraved.

Constructing the table top

Ken knew that there are limitations on the sizes of pieces of wood that I can cut and engrave, and on thicknesses that I can cut through.

He wanted the table to be chunky and thick. As the maximum thickness of ply that I can laser cut is 9mm and thick ply is slow to laser cut, we decided that it would be best if Ken sourced the plywood. Then he could choose the look and thickness that he wanted, cut it to size and finish it. Then he would bring the relevent pieces to me for engraving.

As the table top was to be made of two layers, this gave us lots of flexibility. Ken could make the table base the size that he wanted. There would be four large engraved pieces that would sit on top of the base along with the square game pieces. All these parts would be engraved and he could be made at sizes to fit the laser. You can see the two layers in the pictures.

Medieval game detail

The centrepiece of the table was to be a large map of medieval Kirkwall covered with geographical features like rivers, the natural harbour, the site of the town and the new cathedral. Ken designed it to be 1174 x 794mm so it fit the laser bed. It took a whole day to engrave due to the size!

Surrounding the map at the edges of the table are three long panels describing aspects of Kirkwall life and the trades of the people, all beautifully illustrated. Each of these pieces was 1170 x 166mm.

Finally, I engraved the game pieces with symbols of the local tradesmen including barrels, musical instruments, fish and leather hides. Ken cut and prepared the counters and attached them to two small boards so I could engrave a grid of 5 x 5 symbols on each set.

These pieces were all cut to size by FifeX and I engraved them which saved a lot on production costs. Ken provided all the artwork as black and white vector files.

Finishing touches

FifeX assembled the table. When it arrived in Orkney, Rhona arranged for colour wash to be applied to the sea areas of the map. It looks lovely, and I love the illustration. The exhibitions opened during the summer.

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