As an Apparel Designer, my confidence in furniture building was initially rather low. When I started looking at flat pack and laser cut furniture, I realized that it wasn't as intimidating as I originally though. Essentially, laser cut furniture was a series of flat patterns that fit together. If you can make a dress, you can build a dresser.
Step 1: Visual Research: Create a Reference Board
I find it particularly useful to find examples of what other people have done to accomplish similar projects. Going into it with a blank canvas and no visuals can be overwhelming and disorienting. You'll get better results learning from other people's successes than you will going at it from zero.
Pinterest is one way you can create a Reference Board for your own visual research. Here's an example of my board for this project. I like to consider a few things when making a Reference Board:
- Aesthetics (How it looks and how that looks creates impact.)
- Construction Details (How the materials come together.)
- Processes (How the object was made, using what kinds of tools, and to what level of involvement.)
It also helps to set goals for projects. For this project, my goal was:
- To make a set of drawers that I could use as storage.
- Build a piece of furniture using Plywood, the Laser Cutter, and Solidworks. This was a personal learning objective for me. It also set up some design parameters.
- Keep it simple. I wasn't trying to prove that I was a masterful woodworker. I wanted to make a simple piece of furniture that matched a function and aesthetic that was desireable to me.
Step 2: Measure the Thicknesses of the Plywood You Will Use
Measuring the thicknesses of the plywood is critical to sketching up an accurate model of your dresser. The first time I did this, I took measurements off the Home Depot website. I caution you against this. When I arrived in the store, their available goods were different than online, despite having checked for availability. Unfortunately, this probably means two trips to the store for this project. You can estimate, but you won't know exactly how much plywood you'll need until you finish your model.
Step 3: Model Your Dresser in a CAD Software of Your Choice
I chose to use Solidworks, which was available to me at the time. However, it is also possible to use programs like Onshape, which is a free cloud-based version of Solidworks. You could also use Autodesk's Fusion 360.
After you model the shape you desire, with plywood thicknesses in mind, go through each panel and draw in your finger joints (aka: box joints). These add stability to your piece and are a simple and beautiful way to do laser cut joinery. Make sure that the finger joints match at connecting edges.
Step 4: Export to DXF and Cut
Export each of the panels to DXF. Then nest them into your workspace. In this case, I had a full 4' x 8' workspace.
Step 5: Assembly
Once the parts are cut, assemble away.
For this project, I used a little bit of wood glue and 1 or 1 1/2" wire brads to hold everything together.