Introduction: Laser Cut Raven Steals the Sun Necklace
Native American mythology is full of interesting stories explaining various aspects of the world around. The art of these peoples also presents unique styles and imagery to complement these tales. One such tale is the story of how light came into the world. According to the mythologies of the Haida people of the Pacific Northwest, the sun was kept closely guarded by an old man. Through a series of transformations and tricks the sly Raven was able to steal the sun from the old man and thus brought light into the world. Obviously never heard of the clapper. This necklace attempts to capture that moment, where the Raven reaches for the sun with outstretched beak and snaps it up and flies away.
The purpose of this Instructable is not to allow you to create a copy of this necklace, but rather to show you the way such jewelry can be made and to allow you to design your own creations.
Step 1: Materials
The materials for a pendant such as presented in this instructable are quite simple. You need wood, wood glue, sandpaper, varnish, and a chain to hang the pendant on. Depending on your preference, you can use any wood you are able to find in thin veneer format. We have chosen to use contrasting wood species (birch and rosewood) to allow a dual sided pendant. On one side, the Raven is light colored with dark accents and on the other side the Raven is dark colored with light accents. This requires twice the laser cutting and twice the tedious gluing but the results are worth it. Just like a double feature of Look Who's Talking and Look Who's Talking Too. You could alternatively use the same species of veneer and simply stain one sheet a different color. You could do the same thing with different colored thin sheets of plastic rather than wood. It is up to you.
For tools you will need access to a laser cutter, steady hands, good eyes, stone-like patience, and tweezers.
Wood veneer in two species or two sheets stained in contrasting colors
Varnish or polyurethane
Chain to hang pendant
Good eyes or magnifying loupes
Thirst for punishment
Step 2: Design
Prior to assembling your necklace, you are going to need to design it. Brilliant! Since the laser cutter takes vector input files you are best off using a vector drawing program such as Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape (free, open source). You'll need some inspiration as well. So arrange for a vision-quest, a transcendent bowel movement, or similar and once you've procured said inspiration begin your design.
Draw your design with manufacturability in mind. Your laser cutter will be unable to produce extremely small wood flecks and you will be unable to manipulate them, so keep your feature sizes reasonable. Typically a minimum feature size of 2mm is good. Also the number of features will dictate how quickly you go insane and give up on the project. Probably less than 20 is a good rule of thumb. If "short attention span" is your middle name, first write your parents a strongly worded letter and then stick to 5 features or less for your design. The pictured design has about 26 pieces depending on how rough you are with the parts which is borderline for a ticket to the rubber room.
Once the design is finalized in vector format, you'll need to account for kerf. Kerf is the material wasted in a cutting operation. In our case, the laser follows the line drawn in the computer file and burns up a certain amount of wood on either side. Since we want a tight fit between two pieces of wood, we need two copies of the design, one offset in and one offset out to account for the wood wasted in the cutting process. The kerf will depend on a lot of factors, including laser cutter focus, power, and speed as well as wood species, the character of the wood being cut, the humidity of the wood, the phase of the moon, and so forth. Experimentation is key here. Probably you'll find that a few fractions of a mm will work. Having a slightly loose fit is better than a tight fit since the thin veneer will not tolerate being forced into place.
Step 3: Cut
With your design finished, offset for kerf, and prepared for your chosen laser system, the time has come to make some smoke. Take you wood veneer or plastic sheet or lefse or whatever and put it in the laser cutter and burn it. Depending on your material you will need to tune the cutting process (laser power, speed, frequency, etc) to achieve a clean and complete cut. The best setting is the one that cuts the material completely, but just barely. Meaning the lower the power and the faster the speed the better. However, with wood you will find that portions of the veneer piece may be denser or more difficult to cut than others. Having to coax out small fragile veneer pieces that were not completely cut out of the sheet using a scalpel and tweezers is not a fun task. Better to overburn the pieces to be sure that the cuts are complete. Also, due to the very small nature of the parts, you may need to disable any air assist your laser employs. Although a suction system to collect all your precious parts as they fly away into oblivion might be a great invention... (mental note, steal this idea)
Step 4: Assemble
This is where the proverbial chicken crosses the road. No wait, this is where the eggs are all in one basket, or where the bird is in hand.. Ah forget it. This part sucks. You will need to somehow extract the dozens of tiny fragile pieces from your laser system and collect them on a work space suitable for manipulating and assembling them without loosing or crushing them. If you are prone to sneezing or even breathing you may want to reconsider this effort. The slow steady reflexes, endless patience, and cessation of breathing inherent in zombification come in real handy here, so consider it.
The basic idea is to use a tweezers and some wood glue to attach the pieces to your substrate piece. See the pics. You will find yourself undoubtedly with a jumble of half charred and semi-recognizable pieces that you will be wondering where to put. Take a swig of hooch and dive in. You may find it helpful to apply glue to the substrate with a small paintbrush or cotton swab or to dip the small pieces into the glue directly. There are pitfalls to both as you will discover. Try it out and see what works for you. You'll want to glue up one side at a time if you are doing a double sided pendant, and while the glue is drying it will be helpful to press the part between something flat (like inside a book) to keep the pieces in place and prevent warping. Finally a use for that Thomas Friedman book besides leveling your toilet.
Step 5: Finish
Once you've glued the pendant pieces together to your satisfaction, you'll need to sand off any excess glue and prepare the pendant for finishing. Final sanding should be 320 grit or higher. Then blow any dust present out of the crannies between pieces and wipe the whole enchilada down with a lint free rag and some mineral spirits. Ready to apply a nice finish?
Not so fast.
Forgot to put a hole in the pendant for the chain didn't you? Well it has happened to the best of us. So get out your drill and fine bits and pick a spot on your pendant that looks like a likely place for a hole. Might want to pick a spot where you lost a piece or the glue job is substandard but also consider how the pendant will hang. Drill you hole gently so as to not split the wood or shatter your almost completed pendant and self esteem.
With a hole in place, re-sand, re-clean, and then get ready to apply a finish. You can use a number of finishes. Some people have good success with using super glue (cyanoacrylate) which is supposedly very robust, but it can be a pain to get a smooth surface. We prefer a good quality oil based polyurethane in satin applied by brush. Apply several moderately thick coats, with a little scuff sanding between. Then spray the final coat, potentially touching the shine up with steel wool as needed. Be sure not to full in your hole for the chain. If you do, you'll need to clean it out prior to mounting.
The final step is to apply your pendant to a chain. There are a couple of ways to do that, with a jump ring through your drilled hole (as shown), or threading the chain directly through the hole, or tying your chain in a knot around your pendant, or even gluing your chain into the pendant itself. The best method for you will depend on the type of chain and your pendant design. The presented design uses a jump ring and thin silver chain that is also used to suspend the sun piece. However the chain is glued into the sun piece directly.
Step 6: Final Thoughts and Sales Pitch
That is all there is to it really. A rewarding and challenging experience is awaiting any soul inspired to assemble such a piece. Good news though. For those less inclined to such feats of derring-do, we at Heartwood Deviants are here to serve. Instructables isn't a great place to try and sell things, but since we learned so much that helped us develop the skills to produce our jewelry here we wanted to give the community a look at our process and toss in a half-hearted sales pitch too. If you like what you've seen, take a look at our Etsy store and see what else we're working on. Lots. Or more accurately, some. We're actually a little embarrassed by the price required to justify the craftsmanship and labor that goes into these pieces but such is life. And we love life. Thanks for reading.
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