My partner has loads of single-issue comics, so to help with storing them on the bookshelf I decided to make some customised magazine holder-style boxes. I've got access to a laser cutter at my local hackspace so decided to modify a basic laser cut box design to make the holder out of sheets of plywood.
This first one is for the series The Boys and features the logo on the front for picking it out on the shelf, and graphics from the series on the side panels. The laser engraved graphics came out a bit faint in the final product so if I were to make this again I'd either engrave at a slower setting (to get more depth) or stain the holder in a lighter colour so that the design is clearer.
This is a great project to customise with your own designs and is super simple to put together!
Step 1: What You'll Need
- Laser cutter
- Four A4 sheets of 3mm laser plywood, plus spares for testing and screw-ups
- Scalpel or craft / Stanley knife
- Fine grain sandpaper
- Sanding block (optional)
- Scotch wool (optional)
- White spirit
- Kitchen roll
- Dust sheet for protecting surfaces (optional)
- Wood dye (I used Colron Wood Dye in Georgian Medium Oak)
- Sponge, brush or cloth for applying wood stain and wax - I use lint-free Craftmen's Cloths to get a good finish, but they're quite pricey
- Thin tipped paintbrush
- Wax polish (the photo shows Danish Oil but after cutting out the panels I decided to use Fiddes & Son's Supreme Wax Polish)
- Wood glue
Step 2: Design the Holder
Create your cutting outlines
Start off by generating a box design using the online Box Maker tool at http://boxmaker.connectionlab.org/. The inside depth of the holder will need to be slightly bigger than the width of a single-issue comic book in a sleeve (approx 180mm). As I already knew which comics I was going to put in it I also had the inside width dimension (80mm), and I wanted to make the holder slightly shorter than the contents so that the tops of the comics are visible and to make it easier to grab them out of the holder. So after factoring in the thickness of the laser ply sheets I generated a box with the following dimensions:
- 86mm x 196mm x 226mm
Using Adobe Illustrator, I split each panel of the box in the resulting PDF out into a separate file and edited the front, back, left and right panels to flatten out the top edges (as the holder is going to be open at the top) and to create a sloping edge from front to back. The front of the holder is 100mm tall, sloping up to the full 226mm at the back.
As I was going to be engraving onto the front, left and right panels, I added alignment marks to these three files in order to match up the cutting outline with the engraving design when it comes to lasering the panels.
Create your designs
Create your designs for the front and sides of the holder in your software of choice. I grabbed images of the series logo and the front cover of issue 1 online, cropped and trimmed them in Photoshop to remove the background and make the side panel designs the same size and shape as the panels themselves, then converted them into two-tone images for engraving.
For the logo on the front of the holder I wanted to experiment with engraving at two different depths so I created one block-colour copy of the logo to engrave first, and a second outline-only design to engrave on top of it. As the logo outline has then been engraved twice it comes out deeper (and darker) than the fill, which creates an interesting effect.
Save your designs with the alignment marks from your cutting files so that you can match up the cutting and engraving designs during the next step.
My cutting and engraving designs are all attached here, but feel free to come up with your own!
Step 3: Cut and Engrave the Panels
Cut the back and bottom panels
- Import the cutting design for the back or bottom panel into your laser-cutting software (if you want you can save both designs into one file and cut them at the same time, otherwise do one panel at a time)
- Place a sheet of A4 plywood into the laser cutter. You should be able to fit both the back and bottom panels of the box onto a single sheet.
- Position the laser head. If possible, check the corners of the design to make sure it fits within the plywood sheet - some laser cutting software packages let you automatically move the laser head to each corner of the design to check that the boundaries fit within your cutting material, and as some of the panels of the holder will be quite a tight fit on a sheet of A4 it's important to check your positioning first.
- Configure your cutting settings. These are the settings I used on a 40W Full Spectrum Engineering Deluxe Hobby Laser on 15 milliamps power: 30% speed, 100% power, 1 pass.When cutting plywood, try to cut the design in one pass - after the first pass the cut is charred which makes it tougher to cut through again, so running repeat passes will cause more charring around the edges of the cut. Run some test cuts with these settings to make sure the cut is passing completely through the plywood, and adjust the settings to suit your laser cutter if necessary.
- Cut out the back and bottom panels.
- When the cutting's finished, take the panels out of the laser cutter and check the back to make sure all of the cuts have passed clearly through. If any of them haven't, cut through the rest of the plywood with a scalpel or stanley knife.
Cut and engrave the left and right panels
- Import the cutting design for the left panel into your laser-cutting software.
- Place a sheet of A4 plywood into the laser cutter.
- Follow steps 3 and 4 above to check the corners of the design and configure your cutting settings. If you're using my designs from the previous step, the red lines are the lines to be cut and the blue lines are alignment outlines. Set the number of passes on the blue lines to 0 so that they're not cut out.
- Cut out the left panel. After the panel is cut be careful not to move the plywood sheet or laser cutter head so that the engraving is properly lined up with the outline of the panel.
- Import the engraving design for the left panel into your laser-cutting software.
- Set your laser cutter to engrave and configure your engraving settings. This is what I used: 100% speed, 100% power on 15 milliamps. As I mentioned in the introduction, if I were to do this project again I would engrave at a slower speed to get a deeper engraving, so you may wish to run some tests first and lower the speed if you want to.
- Start the engraving. As the cutting and engraving designs have the same alignment marks they should exactly match up on the sheet of ply. Since you've already done the much quicker cutting part, you'll soon be able to see whether the engraving design matches up with the outlines of the panel, making it quicker to start over if you need to. Laser cutters are temperamental things so even if your material is in the exact right position the laser might have other ideas about whether it's going to match up or not: I've had problems before where the cutter has shifted the position of the design to avoid bashing the laser head against the sides of the enclosure while engraving, so you might come across problems like this and have to start over after readjusting your positioning.
- When the engraving's finished, take the left panel out of the laser cutter and check the back to make sure all of the cuts have passed clearly through. If any of them haven't, cut through the rest of the plywood with a scalpel or stanley knife.
- Repeat all of the above for the right panel.
Cut and engrave the front panel
- Import the cutting design for the front panel into your laser-cutting software.
- Place a sheet of A4 plywood into the laser cutter.
- Follow steps 3 and 4 above to cut out the front panel.
- If you're using my designs from the previous step, import the box_front_logo_full design into your laser-cutting software.
- Follow steps 6 and 7 above to engrave the logo design
- Without moving the panel, import the box_front_logo_outline design into your laser-cutting software
- Repeat steps 6 and 7 above again to engrave the logo outline a second time. This will give the logo design an interesting two-tone appearance as the outline is deeper than the logo fill
When the engraving's finished, take the front panel out of the laser cutter and check the back to make sure all of the cuts have passed clearly through. If any of them haven't, cut through the rest of the plywood with a scalpel or stanley knife.
Step 4: Check That the Panels Fit Together
Before doing anything else, do a quick check to make sure the panels fit together properly! They should be quite snug, but you shouldn't have to force them together.
Step 5: Apply Wood Stain and Wax
Prepare the panels for staining
Sand down both sides of the panels using fine grit sandpaper and (optionally) scotch wool. Try not to sand the engraved design too much in case you remove some of the features - if you have a sanding block this would be a good time to use it. Take special care to sand down the edges, especially if you had to finish off any cuts with a craft knife.
Rub both sides of the panels with white spirit to remove all dirt and sawdust, and dry with kitchen roll.
Stain the panels
I used Colron Wood Dye in Georgian Median Oak to stain the panels. Cover your work surface with a protective cloth or kitchen roll and use a sponge, brush or lint-free cloth to apply woodstain to both sides of the panels. Apply the woodstain using long, even strokes in the same direction to ensure an even finish. You might want to test your woodstain on a spare piece of plywood beforehand to see how much stain you want to apply: you can apply multiple coats to achieve a darker or more intense finish.
Use a fine-tipped paintbrush to apply woodstain to the engraved areas of the panels.
Leave the woodstain to dry according to the instructions on the bottle, preferably overnight. The designs will look a bit faint at the moment but when you apply the wax it'll really bring them out (the second picture shows the stained panels before applying wax).
Finish off the cards with a very light sanding with fine grit sandpaper or scotch wool, then apply a layer of wax with a lint-free cloth. I used Fiddes & Son's Supreme Wax Polish. Wipe off any excess wax with kitchen towel, and leave to dry according to the instructions on the tin.
Step 6: Glue the Holder Together
Apply wood glue to the edges of the panels (except the top edges which will remain open) and clamp them together. Place scrap pieces of cardboard between the clamps and the sides of the holder so that you don't scratch or mark the panels with the clamps.
While the glue is still wet, wipe away any excess that has seeped out of the joins when you clamped them together.
Leave to dry overnight, then you're finished. Enjoy!