Introduction: LED + CNC Fractal Headboard

Here's how to make a headboard based on the Pythagorean tree fractal and backlight it with LEDs. This instructable can be modded to make similar CNC lightbox silhouette effects. If you don't have access to a CNC machine, you can also do something similar - albeit smaller scale - on a laser cutter.

My bed frame has a 57" space that my pillow would always recede into. There was only one thing to do...

Step 1: Materials

Main Materials:

Odds & Ends:

  • Wood glue
  • Wood pre-stain, stain, finish (polyurethane)
  • Sandpaper
  • 1/4" x 2" Bolts and 1/4" Nuts (14)

Tools Used:

  • Shopbot CNC router (or laser cutter if smaller project)
  • Belt Sander (optional)
  • Drill (optional)
  • Glue gun (optional)

It's important to get high-quality plywood. Cheap plywood will have many gaps, which will be exposed after CNCing.

I did most of the work at TechShop SF.

Step 2: Getting the Files

[optional background] To create the design, I used Paper.js, a JavaScript library for generating SVG in an HTML canvas element. I scripted Paper.js to make the tree fractal. If you're curious about generating fractals on the web, you can find the files below, just unzip and open index.html in your favorite browser.

I've included to Adobe Illustrator file that I used to create the headboard below. The dimensions of the Illustrator file are exactly 98" x 48", the size of a sheet of plywood. I used a software called VCarve Pro to turn this Illustrator file into G-code for the Shopbot.

The plywood is cut into two main pieces, making the FRONT and BACK of the headboard. Instead of using joints to give the headboard depth, I opted to CNC a "frame". That's what all those thin slabs are in the Illustrator file. They've been marked with numbers that match the edge of the FRONT piece (note: the bottom edge is cut into two slabs for support: 5 and 6). For each edge, there are two identical slabs, each a half inch thick, which stack on top of one another. This makes the depth of the headboard = 4 * .5" = 2" (FRONT, BACK, and two layers of slabs).

1/4" holes are drilled through the edge slabs and the FRONT and BACK. Bolts are placed through the holes to line everything up and support the structure. This ended up being better than making joints, which would cause small gaps when CNCed and expose the endgrain.

There is a small difference in the frame where 4 and 5 meet from where 7 and 6 meet. At (4,5) the frame creates a perfect seal, while at (7,6) the frame has an opening to give power to the LED strip.

Step 3: CNCing

I used a 1/8" endmill bit for the detail on the fractals, and a 1/4" endmill bit for the outer profiles and drilling. Then I sat back and waited for 4 hours while I machine did all the work.

I was inconsistent with the tabs. I found all but the smallest cutouts should have 1-2 tabs, because if a piece falls during drilling, you'll have problems as the bit may try to laterally drill through them. The more tabs though, the more sanding and filing you'll need to do after to get rid of them, which is very time consuming and prone to error. Please leave a comment if you know a good solution around this!

Step 4: Make the Frame

The slabs fit together to create a frame. I glued them to the BACK panel with wood glue, keeping the panels bolted down while the glue dried. Don't forget to wipe away those glue beads so you don't need to do as much sanding later.

After the wood glue dried, I glued the LED strip around the inner periphery of the frame with a glue gun and cut the LED strip to fit.

I also used a drill with 1/2" Forstner bit on the backside of the BACK panel around the drilled holes to keep the nuts flush with the back of the panel (picture has wood already stained, sorry).

Step 5: Sand & Stain

I suck at this part, so comments appreciated. Staining was hard because I didn't want to get any stain on the endgrain of the fractal part. Using a brush it's very easy for it to drip down onto the endgrain, so I used a cloth to rub the stain on, which gave me more control, but ended up being blotchy (even with pre-stain). Comments would be helpful if you have a good idea here.

Lots of sanding (especially all along the endgrain, a belt sander helped for this)

1 coat Minwax prestain

3 coats of Minwax Dark Walnut

3 coats of polyurethane spray.

Step 6: Add Diffusive Paper

I cut out a single sheet of vellum to fit the profile of the FRONT. I attached it with masking tape. Rocket science.

I haven't played around much with other papers, like wax paper, parchment paper, etc. Let me know if you think I should try something else in the comments!

Step 7: Done!

I can read without leaning to the side of the table lamp awkwardly now. The light intensity can also be made very low for a calming effect. You can also get a sound-reactive module for the LED strip, though I found it to be insensitive.

Currently, I'm making metal brackets to wrap around the bed frame and support the headboard so it doesn't fall on me. I'll update this instructable when they're done!