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.
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.
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.
Trevor Coston is a freelance designer based in the Highlands. Bisque commissioned him to design and install a conference table for their London radiator showroom. They wanted their radiators illuminated through glass portholes in the tabletop as a focal point. Bisque loved the results.
Subsequently, the Zehnder Group commissioned him to design a coffee table around one of their own radiators. It would be one of the first things that visitors would see in their new multi-million pound Customer Experience Centre. Something special was required.
Making an invisible table
Trevor investigated about a dozen different designs using different models of radiators. He decided to suspend one of their Classic column radiators almost invisibly under a glass top. 9mm Perspex seemed the obvious choice for the legs, so he pared the shape down to the minimum required to hold the weight of the radiator and table top. The next challenge was to find a suitable supplier to make them, and he got in touch with LaserFlair.
I laser cut the table leg shapes from 9mm Perspex and sent them to Trevor. During production, I left the protective film on the Perspex sheet to protect the it from the heat of the laser. Heat makes it turn cloudy around the cut edges which detracts from the finish. It’s also useful to leave the films on Perspex products to protect them during shipping as Perspex can get scratched easily.
Another happy customer
Trevor said: ‘I found LaserFlair through a Google search. Instantly, I knew that it would be my first choice of supplier. It was a fairly local small company and very competitive on costs and lead times.
The components arrived on time, machined exactly as I requested. Once assembled, the table looked fantastic. I now have quite a few projects in mind that I would like to use LaserFlair for. It’s very exciting to think about what we could achieve together in the future.’
Catherine from The Upcycled Timber Company makes beautiful things from old whisky barrels. She started to make clocks from cask ends and used fillets of wood at the 3, 6, 9 and 12 positions to indicate numbers. Catherine asked if I could help her experiment with laser engraving as an alternative.
Creating the artwork
First, I had to create the artwork for the numbers. Catherine was happy with a simple bold font to complement the rustic nature of cask ends, so we chose the Arial font. I laid out the numbers on a circle sized roughly to match cask end sizes.
Cask end challenges
Unless cask ends are brand new like the ones I engraved for Diageo, they’re not usually regular circles. Edges wear down over the years, making the faces near the edges curved, and they’re rough and blackened in places. Individuality is part of the appeal of old cask ends, but it means we have to be flexible with the artwork to make it right for each clock. In this case, we reduced the size of the artwork to make sure that the numbers were far enough away from the edges.
How to reduce engraving time
I programmed the laser to engrave all the numbers individually. It’s much faster to do this rather than engraving each number at the same time as the laser has to scan across the whole cask end with each pass of the laser head. This reduces production time per unit. That’s why you see all the numbers coloured differently in the artwork. The colours are engraved sequentially.
Each cask end is different
Catherine brought the cask end round to the workshop and stayed while I engraved it. She decided that she wanted the clock raster engraved with the pieces of wood vertically aligned.
There was a surprise on the back of the cask end – a piece of wood perpendicular to the cask end pieces. As it would be unstable in the machine without extra support, I stabilised it with pieces of wood so that it wouldn’t wobble.
Cask oak is usually very dense. I engraved at the highest power setting to get the deepest, darkest engrave possible. This oak was particularly dense, so we engraved the 3, 6, 9 and 12 again for extra definition. As the 9 was on a darker area of wood, it helped it stand out more.
Catherine was delighted with the results. After oiling it and fitting the mechanism, she sent it to its new home in the United States. It was ordered as a birthday gift for a whisky lover who fell in love with it immediately.
Have you ever wondered how to laser engrave a bench? Garry Macfarlane from Freckle Furniture did. He received two commissions for benches with engraved pieces simultaneously! He asked us if we could help.
The bench in the picture was commissioned as a retirement gift. Colleagues wanted the logo of the fisheries organisation where they all worked together on the back top beam of the bench. For the front seat rail under the seat, they chose a Gaelic inscription – ‘Mur a bheil e agad, na cuir air tìr e’. Garry and I still don’t know what it means, so let me know if you do!
Designing the bench
There was no way that we could put the complete bench into the laser machine. It was far too large! When Garry was designing the bench, we discussed what dimensions of wood would fit into the machine when we were ready to engrave. Garry built the bench himself from oak. Before he assembled it, he brought the pieces to be engraved to my workshop.
Setting up the artwork
Garry supplied the blue and white SFO logo from the customer and he wanted it resized to 132mm. I usually ask for black and white artwork, but there was enough contrast between the blue and white shapes for the laser to detect which areas were to be to engraved.
I set up the Gaelic inscription. Text is easy to create once the customer has chosen the font and the size for engraving. Garry wanted a reasonably plain but classic font with something a little different, so we chose the Nyala font.
Size constraints and getting around them
The back top beam measured 1480 x 124 x 38mm and the front seat rail 1480 x 76 x 38mm. The maximum width we can fit into the machine is 1330mm, but as our machine has letterbox slits at the front and back, we can set up pieces with sections protruding through the front and back of the machine. That’s what we did with the bench pieces.
Engraving the bench
As all the wood sections would be lined up vertically in the machine, I set up the text and logo for engraving vertically too. Garry wanted the text and logo to be located centrally on each piece of wood. We identified the horizontal and vertical centres and made a small pencil mark that could be rubbed or engraved off.
When I positioned the wood in the machine, I set up the laser so that it was lined up over the pencil marks. Text length was kept within 800mm, the height of the machine bed, so that it could be engraved at one go. The text was easy to align as it was engraved on a rectangular section of wood.
But Garry had designed the back top rail into a curve with a point in the middle. This made things more interesting! We made a similar pencil mark to identify where he wanted the centre of the logo to be. Then I set up the wood in the machine in a similar way.
We did a nice heavy engrave for a good 3D effect. Having Garry there to give feedback during production meant that I could check each detail with him as we went along. He was delighted with the results, and returned to his workshop to finish and assemble the two benches.
Colin Semple Furniture Design got in touch with LaserFlair because Colin was looking for a way to brand his furniture. There aren’t many ways for furniture makers to leave a lasting mark on their pieces, and Colin had an idea of how he wanted to do this.
Colin wanted to have his logo engraved on shapes of wood that he could mount strategically on a range of items. And he wanted something that would look beautiful! He knew that solid wood would give the right look, and decided on oak which always engraves well. To make it easy to use them, he required regularly shaped pieces that would be easy to insert into holes for a flush fit. A 50mm diameter disc 6mm thick was settled on as a good size that would keep each piece robust and the logo readable.
The greatest challenge that this project presented to LaserFlair was getting the engraving right.
Colin’s logo is very detailed and in colour. Laser engraving works best with black and white (no greyscale) where the laser either engraves or doesn’t engrave. So to keep the detail while losing the colour, Colin wanted the C and S of his initials fill in engraved. The rest of his name engraved in outline so it appeared white inside. The tree trunk and canopy required similar treatment.
To achieve this, the logo had to be converted into a vector format made up of lines rather than pixels. This meant that individual elements could be picked out to be engraved in different ways. This stage was far more time consuming than the production phase, but it only needed to be done once.
Once Colin was happy with the prototypes, we made the first batch of discs. He sent me this picture of one that he had cleverly concealed in the side of a drawer.