Introduction: Trophies Made With Home-built Laser Cutter
Check out the video for an overview.
TL;DR Friends of mine needed some awards for a prize giving event - I used DIY know how and my homemade laser cutter to make them some unique trophies.
I'll go into more detail here because I'm better at writing than I am at talking.
First up I’m going to explain about the background and the design. If you’re not interested in that and just want to see the build, Skip on to the next step.
So the message pops up, "hey ah... we need like 30 trophies by the end of next week. Is that do-able?"
Typically when starting a project for someone, I start with some reference, some pintrest images or a photo they’ve taken or even some sketches. I then take that information and come back with a concept or concepts that I think are going to work.
So what does that realistically mean. Well, in the case of these awards, they wanted to incorporate the geometric patterns on a coaster set i’d recently designed. And so that triggered, maybe each category of prize could be a different pattern, this would make each trophy visually distinct but cohesive.
After some back and forth we settled on this design. Made up of 5 components The top plaque is the category symbol with room in the center for the winners name. The base plaque has the category title and the clients logo - both of these are made from 3mm clear acrylic. The base which is made from wood, and the two feet components which will be made with MDF.
Step 1: Cutting the Bases
Cutting with the table saw.
I'm starting with a 2x4 piece of pine lumber and I'm going to cut an angled slot across the top to fit the Top Plaque into.
I want the slot to be 3mm wide, but unfortunately my blade is only about 2.6mm wide so the fit would be too tight.
To fix this, I placed a strip of tape along the fence, ran my cut through, removed the tape and ran it through again. This makes a tiny offset of about 0.4mm giving me the total 3mm width that I need.
I then trimmed the bottom of the wood down so it was more like a 2x3" piece.
I then took that length and cut it into blocks using the cross cut sled. these pieces will be the main base.
And then a quick sand to remove any roughness.
Off camera I used a spray can of filler primer (the kind you get from the auto parts store) to prepare the surface for paint by filling the wood grain.
Step 2: Cutting Down the Acrylic
I need to cut down the large acrylic sheet into smaller pieces so it can fit in my laser cutter.
The best way I've found to cut down acrylic sheet is to use a circular saw.
If you’ve ever worked with acrylic sheet you’re probably familiar with the ol’ score and snap technique, while this is fine if you’re doing little bits, it’ll get out of hand as soon as you do larger pieces. Using a circular saw gives much cleaner more accurate cuts, and you don't risk snapping a chunk off in the wrong spot if you haven't quite scored deep enough...ahem. I’m just using a general purpose fine tooth blade - like what you would use for cutting laminates - and it works great as long as you take it slow. An extra insurance to stop the acrylic chipping while cutting is to set the depth of the saw to the shallowest amount that still cuts through, this makes the entry angle of the blade's teeth lower and less likely to grab.
Ok, let’s get into laser time.
Step 3: Laser Time!
If you’re not familiar with how laser cutters work, they basically bounce a super hot beam of invisible light from a glass tube in the back, through a couple of mirrors and then a lens, focused onto the material inside.
By using a lower power, the beam doesn’t travel all the way through the material and creates an engraving, if you ramp up the power it’ll then cut all the way through, leaving you with precise clean cuts.
This is a home built laser cutter based on the Chinese K40 platform, which all up probably still cost less than a Festool - Feel free to ask any questions if you would like to know more.
I'm cutting the Plaque components from 3mm clear acrylic and the two foot components from 4.75mm MDF.
If you don't have access to a laser cutter there is most likely a shop nearby than can cut these for you for a fee, just google around..
If you're outsourcing to a laser shop here's a couple of tips to get the price down.
- make sure your drawing files are ready to go straight to the laser machine, this will cut down any extra work they have to do. To do this I will do my drawing in Illustrator or CAD and then export it out as a .DXF as many programs are able to read this file type without any kind of scaling issues.
- Don't assume the 'maker' type shops will be cheaper, I've had better service and prices from local more 'industrial' shops because they're used to doing big stuff, so your order of a couple of items cut doesn't phase them at all. But if in doubt, just ask for a quote with your .DXF drawing attached.
Now that I started writing these I've just realized that this could be a whole separate tutorial in itself... so stay tuned for that in the future.
Step 4: Assembly
Ok so I’ve jumped ahead and finished lasering out all the other components.
We’ve now got the top plaque, the base plaque, the upper foot and lower foot cut. You can see on the lower foot I’ve added a registration mark so that they line up correctly.
So now I’m just going to glue those two together with some super glue. These can now be painted the same as the base piece we made earlier.
To assemble the final trophy I start by putting a small amount of UHU glue in the foot slot (don't use superglue here or chemical fogging will ruin your acrylic) then after removing the protective film from the base plaque, I insert it into the slot.
The base is going to be held to the foot with a combo of super glue and PVA, I’m doing the super glue on the edge furthest away from the plaque to avoid any fogging.
What’s going to happen is the super glue will stick down relatively quickly holding it all in place while the PVA dries properly. Putting a screw in from the bottom would be stronger but I just don’t have time.
Now the final piece is slotting the top plaque in, again removing the protective film and using UHU glue to hold it in place.
After letting it dry for a couple of hours the trophy should be good to go.
Step 5: Finished Trophies
I realize that for most people it's unlikely you'll need to make trophies like this IRL, but I wanted to show the process because someone might be able to learn something and apply it to their own work. Thanks for reading!
Also taking photos of crystal clear acrylic is incredibly difficult haha!