Introduction: End Grain Cutting Board Using MC Escher Tessellations

During my residency at Pier 9, I decided to do a project using the Coherent Metabeam Laser Cutter. I've been fascinated by MC Escher tessellations for a while, and in lieu of seeing so many end-grain cutting boards being made, I decided to take it to the next level by making an end-grain MC Escher tessellated cutting board. I chose the lizard pattern because they had a recognizable beauty and complexity of shape that would allow me to push the limits of the end-grain cutting board using the Metabeam Laser Cutter. This is a time and machine-intensive process, but with gorgeous results. I encourage you to find an easier way to to this!

Tessellation Theory: MC Escher developed tessellations after viewing a pattern in The Alhambra and using inspiration from Penrose Tiling. They are based off of a repeating hexagonal shape, where a piece is taken from the inside of the hexagon, and rotated/slid to the adjacent side. This pattern can be repeated until you have a tessellating lizard! View a video of the process here.

Step 1: You Will Need:

1. Maple, Cherry, and Walnut 2x2in 3 foot lengths. I got mine from MacBeath hardwoods in Berkeley. They've got a vast selection of woods. Material cost was roughly $70

2. Titebond 3 Wood Glue, under $10 from MacBeath

3. Coherent Metabeam Laser Cutter

4. FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer & Bags

5. DMS 5 Axis-Router, Bridgeport Mill, or CNC Shopbot

Step 2: Laser Cutting Tessellated Lizards

This was a tricky procedure. I wanted a 1/2 in cutting board, and only the Coherent Metabeam 400W would cut it (pun intended). The software is very antiquated and it took some time to figure out the right offset. Tessellations are difficult, because any variation will either cause the whole thing to have slack, or as you add more, it'll lock up on you. Trial and error is the only way to do this. Cut 9 with one offset, and cut another 9 to see the difference. Iterate, Fail. Burn lots of wood.

Testing The Tessellations:

This needed to be taken into account when testing the offset. The shape was MUCH tighter on one side than the other. I found a .045in offset on the whole lizard allowed them to lock together sufficiently.

Next, I needed to cut 3 different hardwoods, each with different densities and flash points. It took a lot of trial and error to get the power and feed right.

Lasers are a high-precision tool, but have a kerf width that is shaped like an hourglass. This is very apparent when looking at the reverse side of the assembly, as the gap is completely closed. I had to use a .2in focus offset to get it to burn through.

Making A Jig:

I cut a jig out of acrylic to house the 2x2in squares. I used the DXF from the jig and placed a lizard within the file, and repeated the pattern. Please Note: Don't move the jig, and make the lizard within the same file, so that the origin stays fixed. Or make alignment holes so that the cuts don't fall out of alignment. I made this mistake and it took quite a lot of work to manually find the right orientation.

Production Run:

Once the jig is aligned, and you know your laser settings, it's time to do the production run. Lay out your blocks within the jig, and modify the final cut file to accommodate the number of blocks you are working with. Sit patiently as the lizards are cut out, keeping an eye out for fires or the cuts running off the wood.

Step 3: Filling the Cracks With a FoodSaver Vacuum Bag

Once the lizards were assembled, I needed to glue the cracks. The kerf width didn't allow for a completely flush fit on both sides, so the options were to either glue and assemble the piece manually, or let vacuums do the grunt work. We had a FoodSaver in the test kitchen, so per fellow AiR Robb Godshaw's suggestion, we put it in.

I diluted the glue so that it would seep into the cracks, poured it in, and let it sit for a few days. Air bubbles would pop out from between the lizards. Letting it cure for a week was optimal, as the glue became tacky due to the presence of the air bubbles.

There was a surprising negative volume between the cracks, so it took two packaging runs to get the board whole.

Step 4: Planing the Board on a DMS Router

I needed to plane the board, which had a 1mm thick layer of wood glue left over from the gluing procedure. I couldn't use the planer in the Pier 9 Workshop, because the bit would take chunks out of the end grain, and shatter the board. I also couldn't use the Supermax drum sander, because the wood glue would ruin the sander.

We have access to a DMS 5-Axis router at Pier 9, and I had taken the class earlier that day, so why not get some practice on it? I used an end-mill bit to perform a facing operation manually. I could have programmed something, but it was much simpler to use the manual jog in the X and Y axes to perform the facing.

It's just like mowing the lawn, with an incredibly precise machine. It might have been overkill, but I couldn't find a simpler way. You could use a Shopbot, or even a Bridgeport mill. The trickiest part was mounting a vice with parallels to keep the wood where I wanted it.

Lessons learned: Never plunge when using an end-mill! I stepped down in the Z axis with each pass, but should have gone more slowly with each pass. The end-grain chipped a tiny bit and it took a bit of sanding to fix it.

Step 5: Hand-Finishing & Sealing the Piece

It took a bit more manual glue to fill all the cracks, so that had to be sanded off. I took an orbital sander and sanded it smooth on both sides using 60, 80, 120, 220 grit successively. Then I used a sander block to round the edges.

I sealed it using mineral oil and a rag. And it made it pop!

It's so pretty, i'm not sure if I want to cut on it...yet.

Comments

author
msh1353 (author)2014-11-30

thanks for sharing it here. that's very nice and professional. have a good time.

author
Berkana (author)2014-07-20

I recommend sealing with walnut oil and sanding the surface with ultra fine steel wool a few times before using mineral oil. Walnut oil will actually cure into a solid varnish and actually seal the wood. mineral oil doesn't cure into a solid coat.

Unlike linseed oil, Walnut oil cures somewhat slowly and isn't yellowish when cured.

author
drobertson123 (author)Berkana2014-07-29

Also look at Tung Oil, the real stuff, not Tung Oil Finish. Mix the Tung Oil with Lemon Oil solvent (about 50/50) and soak the whole board in it. Then let it cure for a week or so. You can then do a layer or two of straight Tung Oil if you want, but I don't think it is necessary.

It makes the grain really pop, it is food safe, easy to find at woodworking stores, VERY waterproof and you can later use any food safe oil you want on it to touch it up. Over the years I have fallen in love with Tung Oil for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that it is one of the best finishes for stabilizing wood against swelling. I live in Florida and that is a huge consideration for me.

I think it would be great for your cutting board.

author
estebansensei (author)2014-07-28

Congrats!
What a wonderful job you have done, :)
I´m also a Escher fan, reading about tessellations I´ve done many drawings but
Eschr´s lizzard always was elusive, even following the vid on Youtube.
Illustrator files are already downloaded, thanks for sharing. By the way... do you have nore Escher´s animals or tessellations into .ai files to keep sharing?
fmorocho@yahoo.com

author
rogergreen (author)2014-07-20

Dear Light_Lab, regarding "word to the wise". M C Escher knew of the Penrose stairs, created by Lionel Penrose and his son Roger. Roger Penrose was inspired by Escher's work, which he came across in 1954. The pair came up with the Penrose triangle, or impossible triangle. Roger then developed the never-ending staircase, using more than one impossible triangle. He presented it to his father who then produced more variants on the theme. They eventually published their work in 1958 in the British Journal of Psychology because Lionel Penrose knew the editor. The Penroses sent a copy of the article to Escher who wrote back to the Penroses in 1960. In that year Escher produced Ascending and Descending - his famous never-ending staircase and in 1961 Escher produced Waterfall clearly using 2 Penrose triangles. Escher was clearly inspired by the Penroses work, so they both inspired each other. Incidentally, the impossible triangle and stairs had been previously invented by a Swedish graphical artist but the Penroses, & Escher, were unaware of this at the time.

author
Light_Lab (author)rogergreen2014-07-27

Thanks for reminding me, I have been working so long with Roger's work I had almost completely forgotten completely about Lionel's work. I knew Escher had interacted with other mathematicians but I was not aware of the connection with the Penrose family; thanks for that information. Nevertheless it still remains that Penrose Tilings are named from Roger's magnificent work on asymmetrical, non-repeating tilings.

I confess to being more involved with developing algorithms than history or biographies; but you have sparked my interest. From which reference did you obtain your historical information?

author
iiianydayiii (author)rogergreen2014-07-22

Thanks for the added dimension. Much appreciated.

author
Klimskady (author)2014-07-24

Trouble I would have is that I couldn't use it for its intended purpose and it would be on show! Lovely.

author
ccrome (author)2014-07-23

Oh! I don't believe it. Nicely done! I had this idea in the back of my head since I did this: https://www.instructables.com/id/Make-an-MC-Escher-... and this: https://www.instructables.com/id/Wood-inlay-MC-Esch...

But you beat me to the punch! My problem is that I don't have a laser that can cut that deep.

author
hammer9876 (author)2014-07-22

Gosh, I wouldn't want to cut on it. As a M. C. Escher fan from way back, I would mount it on the wall to admire, not cut. Beautiful work.

author
bittybit (author)2014-07-21

This is absolutely awesome. I taught math for 16 years and loved teaching about
M. C. Escher and tessellations. I WANT ONE!!! LOVE IT!!

author
mkinoma (author)2014-07-21

Lots of great practical experience here. (I love learning from the mistakes of others. :) ) Not having access to a 400W laser I don't think I'll be making this but I enjoyed reading your process just the same. And I wish I had a cutting board like that.

I would be interested to see how it held up under practical use, washing etc.

author
thepaine (author)2014-07-21

Beautiful and awesome. I'm sure as 3D printers and laser cutters become more commonplace we'll continue to see more and more creative uses for them. I love the discussion spawned by sheME's comment.

Make on!

author
dirizary (author)2014-07-20

Could the Coherent Metabeam Laser Cutter, DMS 5 Axis-Router, and Bridgeport Mill, be replaced with a hand drill and a file?

Great project, looks nice, but...

In all seriousness I feel that instructables should have a separate category for what is effectively light manufacturing. When an instructable requires $10,000 of machinery it's kind of a different deal.

example: "how to make a cherry slurpy"

required:

- Omcan Mygranita-3s Commercial Triple Granita Slush Machine

- Cherry Slush Mix 1 Gallon 100% Fruit Juice Frozen Drink Mix

Instructions:

Use drink mix in machine per manufacturers instructions.

Rant over.

author
RanaRavens (author)dirizary2014-07-21

I agree. I love seeing these projects - I find them inspiring - but it would be nice to have some way to sort projects that can be done in your craft room from those that require professional-grade working space.

I can figure out hand tools, but I don't have access to the big industrial stuff, so projects like this remain in the area of inspiration rather than how-tos for me.

author
cfuse (author)dirizary2014-07-21
Could the Coherent Metabeam Laser Cutter, DMS 5 Axis-Router, and Bridgeport Mill, be replaced with a hand drill and a file?

There's nothing that the laser did that couldn't be replicated by a scroll saw (and if you were mass producing these that's probably what you'd use - just with a very thick piece of wood that you'd shave whole boards off of after assembly and bonding).

People have made highly intricate wooden objects for thousands of years - it's just the case that those skills are pretty much lost to us these days.

The reality is that people are making instructables using expensive machinery because there is widespread access to them, not in spite of it. Any makerspace is likely to have a reasonable collection of machines for any member to use.

As xenobiologista says, and I agree with, more nuanced ratings on instructables could be a way to address the issue.

author
XTL (author)dirizary2014-07-20

You could cut the pattern with a scrollsaw in lighter wood. Then tile them and lay them all out on a thicker base wooden board. This would not require so much cost.

and off course a scroll saw can be replaced with a handheld jigsaw. Now you are trading time for money:)

author
xenobiologista (author)dirizary2014-07-20

Maybe not herd them off into a separate category, but do like what some other how-to websites do and have ratings at the top of each project for things like:

- Difficulty

- Time

- Material cost

- Equipment cost

author
sheME (author)2014-07-20

I would not use this as a cutting board, I would use it as art or decoration in my kitchen. so pretty and unique!

author
miwin1000 (author)sheME2014-07-20

I would use it as a bread board...then there are no cut marks, yet the thing of beauty is still functional...and will last a lifetime and beyond. Nice heirloom piece.

author
miwin1000 (author)miwin10002014-07-21

So don't use the PVA....Glue it together with some kind of wood glue...like Elmer's, and then use mineral oil and bees wax to cure it.....how hard can that be?

author
naught101 (author)miwin10002014-07-20

If you don't mind a bit of PVA and mineral oil in your food...

author
cfuse (author)naught1012014-07-21

You can eat either without any real harm. PVA tastes pretty bad though.

author
tesaeed (author)sheME2014-07-20

I second that

author
seamster (author)2014-07-17

I love the end result!

I'm half tempted to try this with my scroll saw, but I'm not sure I could do it as precisely as needed. It would most likely end in a lot of frustration with a pile of fairly similar lizards..

author
rootyb (author)seamster2014-07-18

How thick can scroll saws cut? If you could stack three pieces of wood and cut all three simultaneously, I think you could do it.

Print out the design (with all of the pieces in-position where you'd want them. No gaps), and glue it to the top board. Stack all three boards together (maybe glue them with a piece of paper in between each to make separating them later easy), then cut along the lines. You're basically making three uniformly-colored tessellated cutting boards, but since you're cutting them all at once, any differences with one will be on the other two as well.

When you're done cutting, separate the pieces (if you glued them together with paper in between, a chisel and a little tap should be enough), and swap out the different colors as desired.

Boom. Three fancy tri-colored tessellated cutting boards.

Hope that made sense. :)

author
cfuse (author)rootyb2014-07-21
How thick can scroll saws cut?

That depends on both the machine and the blade. Industrial machines would easily cut through very thick pieces of wood with high accuracy, hobby machines are going to have a much harder time of it.

author
seamster (author)rootyb2014-07-18

I've cut up to 2" with my scroll saw, but that was soft pine. What you suggest may work with harder woods though, especially if the pieces were a little thinner than what was done here in this cutting board.

Good tips!

author
totokan (author)seamster2014-07-20

Make a bunch of them, decide which one is the 'master pattern', then use a router with a pattern(sometimes called a template) bit to match the rest to it. Just make sure you cut a little wide of the lines, the router can't magically add material!

author
maxkrippler (author)2014-07-20

would a water jet cutter work on end grain wood?

author

I don't think the water and the wood would mix well. Esp with so much end grain exposed. The wood will soak it up and swell, perhaps enough to break apart. Certainly enough to not fit together well, if at all.

author
Redhaed (author)2014-07-21

Looks awesome!!

author
vbanaszak (author)2014-07-21

I really like this. I love Escher's art work.

author
MrChay (author)2014-07-18

I think that there is a better way to construct this. Rather than cutting each tile seperately, an extrusion should be created with the shape of the lizard tile. This could be achieved with a CNC or for mass production a custom dowel shaper cutter (ot 4 of them!). Once the process is established to create lizard-cross-section dowel, it it easy to cut this into slices. These will be absolutely square (no hourglass shaped burnout) so the end product would be tighter.

author
Naugas (author)MrChay2014-07-20

An extrusion? Of wood? You cant use a router to do that anyway, since there are big outward bends and turning curves that needs to be done. Look at the shape where the tail goes in, and in between the right arm and head.

author
immaculatelation (author)Naugas2014-07-20

Obviously he means extrusion in the visual sense--not the manufacturing sense. That wouldn't make...sense. The laser is the perfect solution to this, but I see what he's saying. Take three different square planks of different wood types, clamp them down, and run a band saw and or router down the plank, lengthwise to form the design. It would be possible, but very difficult to cut out the part where the tail goes in, if you had a thin band saw blade. If you glued the planks end to end, you could ensure uniformity, but you'd need a super-long band saw to make it all the way down the length. Also, as the design was cut more and more intricately, the piece would become more fragile and hard to clamp without damaging. If you made it through that, then you would simply slice off your tile pieces at a preset thickness. Ultimately, it would be a lot of painstaking work and luck getting the design completed just to maybe find out that the fit is not quite right and you wouldn't know until the work was completely done and you couldn't do much about it. With a laser, you can make two pieces, try to fit them in multiple locations, and tweak the measurements if needed; then make several more at a time and see how they fit further across the board. Minimum effort, possible minimum waste, maximum payoff. But I don't have a $2,000,000 laser either. I know they're not that much, but they might as well be.

author
immaculatelation (author)Naugas2014-07-20

Obviously he means extrusion in the visual sense--not the manufacturing sense. That wouldn't make...sense. The laser is the perfect solution to this, but I see what he's saying. Take three different square planks of different wood types, clamp them down, and run a band saw and or router down the plank, lengthwise to form the design. It would be possible, but very difficult to cut out the part where the tail goes in, if you had a thin band saw blade. If you glued the planks end to end, you could ensure uniformity, but you'd need a super-long band saw to make it all the way down the length. Also, as the design was cut more and more intricately, the piece would become more fragile and hard to clamp without damaging. If you made it through that, then you would simply slice off your tile pieces at a preset thickness. Ultimately, it would be a lot of painstaking work and luck getting the design completed just to maybe find out that the fit is not quite right and you wouldn't know until the work was completely done and you couldn't do much about it. With a laser, you can make two pieces, try to fit them in multiple locations, and tweak the measurements if needed; then make several more at a time and see how they fit further across the board. Minimum effort, possible minimum waste, maximum payoff. But I don't have a $2,000,000 laser either. I know they're not that much, but they might as well be.

author
immaculatelation (author)Naugas2014-07-20

Obviously he means extrusion in the visual sense--not the manufacturing sense. That wouldn't make...sense. The laser is the perfect solution to this, but I see what he's saying. Take three different square planks of different wood types, clamp them down, and run a band saw and or router down the plank, lengthwise to form the design. It would be possible, but very difficult to cut out the part where the tail goes in, if you had a thin band saw blade. If you glued the planks end to end, you could ensure uniformity, but you'd need a super-long band saw to make it all the way down the length. Also, as the design was cut more and more intricately, the piece would become more fragile and hard to clamp without damaging. If you made it through that, then you would simply slice off your tile pieces at a preset thickness. Ultimately, it would be a lot of painstaking work and luck getting the design completed just to maybe find out that the fit is not quite right and you wouldn't know until the work was completely done and you couldn't do much about it. With a laser, you can make two pieces, try to fit them in multiple locations, and tweak the measurements if needed; then make several more at a time and see how they fit further across the board. Minimum effort, possible minimum waste, maximum payoff. But I don't have a $2,000,000 laser either. I know they're not that much, but they might as well be.

author
IamTheMomo (author)MrChay2014-07-20

I once did that with a small stylized elephant shape whose pieces were fastened head-to-tail for a necklace. It worked very well. I carved the shape with my Dremel tool, then cut slices with my little 4" Dremel table saw. This cutting board is stunning!

author
DIY-Guy (author)MrChay2014-07-19

MrChay your idea has sparked my imagination!
Please tell us more, with pictures if possible. It's a beautiful solution in concept. I haven't the experience to know how easy or hard that would be to accomplish.

author
bungee- (author)2014-07-20

I have one question. Why did you make single tiles for lizards and not cut tessellated pattern? It would be really easier to take them apart then and material loss would be minimal.

Oh and thank you for your idea, project and video for tessellation.

author
immaculatelation (author)bungee-2014-07-20

If you cut the whole thing at once, you cannot get the gaps between pieces any smaller than the width of the laser cut. If you cut them separately, you can play with the size of the pieces to get them to fit together more snugly, depending on the resolution of the hardware.

author
Chuck Stephens (author)2014-07-20

As someone who has fooled around with Escher tessellations in various materials over the years my hat is off to you!

author
tgdavies (author)2014-07-20

What kerf width did you end up with cutting this wood?

author
rishichavda (author)2014-07-20

Really nice chopping board, love it.

author
Sharkseatmore (author)2014-07-20

This is an amazing work of art! Very impressive. If I send a blank check could you make one for me?? J/K

The only thing I think I could suggest is to use a jack plane to smooth it instead of the router and sanding done to finish it. Otherwise I am completely stunned.

Great job!

author
goldie1471 (author)2014-07-20

Now that's a board, i wouldn't use it for chopping though - would make a great cover for a mac-book or laptop - Very nice, would be easier to use wooden laminate sheets and a solid edge frame

author
heelercjwww (author)2014-07-20

Great work and that's just about the sexiest Cutting board ever. Very impressed

author
billbillbill (author)2014-07-20

love it!

author
countrybumpkins (author)2014-07-20

Wow

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