Laser Cut Acrylic TARDIS




Introduction: Laser Cut Acrylic TARDIS

I'm a big Doctor Who fan and I've always wanted to own a TARDIS.  My maker skills aren't good enough to build a real one or a large scale model so instead I decided to settle for making a small TARDIS ornament that can be displayed in several ways: just as a simple ornament, or one with a fading light, or with light and movement.  My TARDIS is made using acrylic cut on an Epilog Helix laser cutter.  The finished TARDIS is approximately 2" wide and 4" tall. I made this at TechShop in Menlo Park.

Step 1: Acrylic Parts for the TARDIS

To make the TARDIS, you will need the following materials (available from TAP Plastics or any plastics supplier):
  • For one TARDIS you need:
    • Blue acrylic 9" x 5" x 1/8" thick 
    • White acrylic 3" x 2" by 1/8"
  • If you get a 12" x 18" sheet of blue acrylic and at least a 3" x 2" sheet of white acrylic, you'll be able to make seven - lots for your fellow Whovians.
  • Any color 9" x 5" by 1/4" thick acrylic for the template that will you align the parts as you cement them together.
  • Acrylic cement (pictured below) - I used #16 Weldon Cement
  • Fine tip for the cement tube
Laser cutter (I used an Epilog Helix laser cutter).  I assume in this instructable you know how to use a laser cutter.

Step 2: Cut the Parts

I used QCAD to make the DXF files for the TARDIS design.  I imported the DXF files into CorelDRAW, added the engraving around the doors and the "Police Box" lettering.  There's no need for you to redo the design, the CorelDRAW files are attached to this step:
  • single TARDIS-top-and-back-layer-blue.cdr will cut the blue parts for one TARDIS
  • single TARDIS-back-layer-white will cut the white parts for one TARDIS
  • seven TARDIS-top-and-back-layer-blue.cdr will cut the blue parts for seven TARDISes
  • seven TARDIS-back-layer-white will cut the white parts for seven TARDISes
  1. Using the laser cutter, cut the parts using the attached files.  The laser cutter I used was a 45 watt Epilog Helix laser.  Below are the settings I used for cutting - you may need to use different setting depending on the laser cutter you are using.
    • 1/8" acrylic:
      • Raster: Speed 50, Power 80
      • Vector: Speed 10, Power 90, Frequency 2500
    • 1/4" acrylic:
      • Raster: Speed 50, Power 80
      • Vector: Speed 6, Power 90, Frequency 5000
  2. Discard the inner parts from window and panels in the top layer of the TARDIS and the top blue square in the back layer so you are left with the parts in the first photo.
  3. Peel off the protective paper from both sides of the acrylic.  Try to not touch the faces of the pieces as you will leave finger prints on the pieces.  You can leave the protective paper on the engraving on the front piece as shown in the second photo or peel it off and the pieces will look the the third photo (closeups in the fourth and fifth photos).
  4. The sixth photo shows the template that is cut from the 1/4" acrylic.  You will use this part to align the pieces when you cement them together.  It's up to you whether to take the protective paper off or not. I left it on to reduce the glare while taking the photos.

Step 3: Cement the Parts

Now it's time to glue the parts together.  A couple of words of advice and caution.  First, don't use a lot of acrylic cement: a thin bead will work just fine to bond the parts together.  Second, the acrylic cement is not very viscous - it can be runny - so be careful when you apply the cement - you don't want it to ooze out of between the parts.  Third, the cement dries quickly, so have all the parts ready to place into position before you start cementing.
  1. Place the front piece face down into the template as shown in the first photo.
  2. Using a fine nozzle on the cement tube, apply the cement to the piece as shown in yellow in the second photo.  Don't over apply the glue - a thin bead will be fine. Keep the bead of cement in the middle as shown.
  3. Place the back piece on top of the front piece as shown in the third and fourth photos.
  4. Place the white piece in the opening behind the windows.  See the fifth photo. Try not to get fingerprints on the side facing down.
  5. Allow to stand for five minutes.
  6. Gently lift the template off the TARDIS as shown in the sixth photo and flip the TARDIS over.  Your TARDIS will look the seventh or eighth photo.
Voila!  You now have TARDIS ornament!

Step 4: Hacking Your TARDIS - Adding Light

Your TARDIS is now perfect if you want to use it as a decoration or an ornament but why stop there?  In this optional step, we'll add some light to the TARDIS.  The hole in the top of the TARDIS is the perfect size to fit a 5mm LED (by design of course).

Here are the parts you'll need for this step (see second photo):
  • 555 Timer
  • 5mm LED (preferably blue or red)
  • 1/4 watt 33K ohm resistor
  • 1/4 watt 470 ohm resistor
  • 100 uF 25 volt electrolytic capacitor
  • BC547 NPN transistor
  • 9 volt battery
  • 9 volt battery clip (not pictured)
  • thin solid wire (don't use stranded wire) - I used 22 gauge hookup wire
  • Breadboard and/or Radio Shack printed circuit board (#276-159)
You'll also need a soldering iron, solder, wire strippers/cutters.

The third photo shows the schematic for the circuit.  I used a breadboard to check verify that all the parts work.  The fourth image shows how to wire up the breadboard.  The fifth photo shows the completed breadboard and the sixth shows it when the LED is illuminated.  The working circuit can be seen in this video:

A breadboard is a great way to try out the circuit but isn't very rugged - a soldered circuit is the way to go.  The seventh photo shows how to wire the circuit on a Radio Shack printed circuit board (#276-159).  This diagram is looking down from the top at the board as if you had X-ray vision and could see the etching: this makes it easier to understand how the circuit is implemented.  When you assemble this it will look like photos eight and nine.  This video shows the fading LED in the TARDIS:

How to mount the circuit board and battery is up to you!

Step 5: Hacking Your TARDIS - Adding Movement

In this optional step, we'll add movement to the TARDIS. 

Here are the parts you'll need to for this optional step:
  • Hobby Servo
  • Microcontroller to drive the servo (I used a Pololu Micro Maestro 6-Channel USB Servo Controller but you could use an Arduino, Basic Stamp, or your favorite microcontroller)
  • Power supply (wall wart) for the servo (match the voltage with what your servo requires)
  • Velco to attach the TARDIS to the servo horn
Mounting the TARDIS on the servo is very simple:
  1. Cut the bristly velco pad into two halves and attach to the servo horn as shown in the second and third photos.  Don't cover up the screw that attaches the servo horn to the servo: this will allow you to easily remove the servo horn and reuse the servo in the future.
  2. Attach the soft velcro pad to the back of the TARDIS as shown in the fourth photo.
  3. Now attach the TARDIS to the servo, program your microcontroller to move the TARDIS back and forth and you're done! 
Here's a video showing the TARDIS with the LED on solid (not fading) moving back and forth:

Enjoy your TARDIS!
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    4 years ago

    Cool Project, just getting ready to hit the laser. But, the template for gluing the parts together, Is that a seperate drawing or should I extrapolate it from what I have?


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I modified the tardis shape a little and cut it out on clear acrylic. Then I put it on a maple base and put that on a metal base that held all my wiring and LEDs facing upwards into the acrylic. Very cool nightlight!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    how long is it supposed to take till the light starts fading in and out? and why is my 555 timer so hot?


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I just powered mine up to check. It should start fading in and out almost immediately (within 2-3 seconds). I let mine run for a half an hour and chip got slightly warm but not hot. I would suggest that first you check to make sure you have the chip installed properly. If the chip is correctly installed, then check the wiring.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    okay i got it to work.. I have a question.. i would like to put two white 10mm LED's on the circuit instead of the one 5mm LED. Do you have any recommendations for white size of battery to use.. or should i change some things on the circuit...


    8 years ago

    Can you put up or get us a better list of components for the Pulsing light. I want to use this but the voltage on the capacitor isn't listed.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    The voltage rating on the capacitor is 25 volts.


    8 years ago on Step 2

    Man, I wish I had a laser cutter.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Bruce, great project. We laughed at the video "with movement". Great job.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Ha ha that's fantastic. That servo gives the perfect motion for it :D