3D Miniature Chess Pieces Made With a Laser Cutter





Introduction: 3D Miniature Chess Pieces Made With a Laser Cutter

I'll show you step by step how I made minature chess pieces (~3 cm tall) by laser cutting acrylic. For this project I used an Epilog 40W Mini 18 laser cutter. Most cuts were done at 100% power and 3% speed. I attached the PDF files of the vector profiles I used.

Epilog contest: If I won the Zing laser I would put it to good use! I make a lot of videos with small mechanical objects (e.g., pens, toy guns) as the subject. The laser cutter would be super useful for making custom stands and jigs to hold parts together. I would also use it to replace opaque pieces or housings with clear acrylic so mechanical movements can be made obvious.

Step 1: Start With an Acrylic Bar 3/8" Thick

Step 2: Cut the Profile of the Piece.

Step 3: Cut Out a Box That Completely Surrounds the Piece.

Step 4: Remove Everything Within the Box.

Step 5: Examine the Part You Just Cut.

Step 6: Lay the Piece on Its Side.

Step 7: Remove the Top "padding".

The bottom padding holds the piece level. The top padding is not useful and only add more material for the laser to cut through.

Step 8: Place the Piece Back Into the Cut Out Box

Step 9: Cut the Profile Again.

Step 10: Remove the Piece Out of the Box Again.

Step 11: Enjoy Your New Miniature Pawn.

Step 12: Use the Same Procedure to Make the Other Pieces.

Step 13: The Front and Side Profiles Can Be the Same or Different.

Step 14: Several Views of the First Cutting Step of the Pawn.

Step 15: Several Views After the Second Cutting Step of the Pawn.

Step 16: Bishop // 1st Cut

Step 17: Bishop // 2nd Cut

Step 18: Queen // 1st Cut

Step 19: Queen // 2nd Cut

Step 20: King // 1st Cut

Step 21: King // 2nd Cut

Step 22: Rook // 1st Cut

For some reason I did not remove the padding before taking these photos.

Step 23: Rook // 2nd Cut

Step 24: Knight // 1st Cut

Step 25: Knight // 2nd Cut

Step 26: Etch the Surface of the Pieces to Create a Frosted Look.

I made these pieces in 2012 when I was a grad student in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Many thanks to my then-advisor Prof. Jennifer Lewis who always let me explore my creativity even it clearly had nothing to do with my graduate research.

Epilog Contest VII

First Prize in the
Epilog Contest VII

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Second Prize in the
First Time Author Contest



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    36 Discussions

    Ultra Cool, Steve... Can hardly wait to see the tetrahedron and cube!

    Wow! It took me a second to rap my head at what you did here. That's remarkable and creative :D

    1 reply

    Coooool!!! I totally loved your work. Please dont mind my very silly question but I want to ask you that did you cut the acrylic manually or you cut with a programmable laser cutter? Because I cant do this precision cut manually. Thanks again.

    2 replies

    It's programmable. I drew the profiles in Adobe Illustrator, exported them as PDFs and used the Epilog software to control the laser. I can't imagine doing this manually!

    This is so cool! I think I might scaled this up a bit and go with 1/4 inch. If I try it I'll be sure to post. Thanks for this!

    3 replies

    Awesome! An issue you might run into: The laser beam begins to diverge pretty significantly through thicker material. You may have a problem with getting the sides flat. I used the standard (1 inch?) lens for the Epilog. You might want to use a lens designed for cutting thicker material (but sacrificing resolution in terms of beam width). Really want to know how it turns out!

    I don't know about your particular laser,but the Trotec that I use here at work has multiple focal lenses.I would suggest that if you have access to it,use a 1.5" lens for 1/4" acrylic.If you are going 1/2",you should definitely have 2" lens or you will have a significant slant to your cuts,as in the sides aren't perfectly vertical.

    They make a rotary attachment for the zing lasers that is intended for engraving wine glasses and other things. This makes me think that instead of engraving on the center of the object you could offset the laser point and then have it cut on the edge. You could start out with an acrylic rod and use the laser like a lathe to get something perfectly round.

    2 replies

    I tried using the rotary attachment but it didn't work like I expected to. By default when the rotatary attachment is installed the laser cutter will only etch -- not vector cut. I had a conversation with someone – sadly, I can't find it so I can't give credit :( – but he did what you're suggesting. He found it worked ok, but the resulting pieces were very rough and not as even as he hoped.

    Yeah, I would expect that it would take some hacking and creative thinking to make it work. Maybe this is something for Epilog to consider in the future. Awesome job on yours, though.

    I like it! I may make a set. Do you "frost" one side to make them different from the other, or use different plastic?

    1 reply

    All pieces are using the same cast acrylic. The frosted look is achieved by lightly etching certain faces of the piece. You can use it to create decorations on the pieces.

    Great tutorial. I never thought to use this technique for 3-D output, but I am excited to try it now. Thanks for the tip!

    1 reply