Introduction: Lasercut Little Wood Boxes

About: I'm an Italian freelance structural engineer, graphic designer and photographer, now I'm teaching physics in Waldorf high-schools. I always investigate electronics, robotics and science in general, I'm a passi…

Sometimes you need to make a container for some tools or a present.

If you have access to a laser-cutter machine I think a beautiful solution would be to make a joints plywood box. If you make a search on the web you could find a very good tool by Florian Festi.

Step 1:

Among his projects you see there is a page ( made in Python where you can obtain plans for almost every type of box. I believe it's one pf the best tool you can find for this purpose.

If you follow links on the bottom you can also download a Pyton source and make your own improvements.

Step 2: Universal Box

Possibilities to personalize your box are almost infinite, but we can see in detail some of the best features I really like. Let's start with "Universal Box" menu. This section lets you choose many types of top and bottom edges, so it includes great variety of boxes.

You probably want to set dimensions as first, depending on the use you need the box for, and on the wood board size and thickness, and laser cutter size you have. Here X is width, Y is length and Z is height in mm. You can imagine if one size is too short and thickness is low you will need to reduce finger joints dimensions, and if the box is big and thick you have to increase them.

Remember that thickness has to be measured with a good precision, and you have to test the joints on a pair of small parts, so that they stuck together hard without breaking. I always used a little hammer to wedge them in, enough to avoid the use of any glue. There is also the useful "burn" parameter, which is actually the thickness of the laser beam, if you increase it you will have tighter fit, standard is 0.1 mm.

I used 3, 4 and five mm thick plywood boards for this tutorial, but you can also choose 8mm or 10mm plywood. 80 watt laser cutter works great also on 10mm boards.

Step 3: Bottom Edge

Then you can choose the type of bottom edge. You can see in the image main differences between three types. Edge and Stackable are more robust than Finger Joint, but this last one has the peculiarity to have the same appearance than other edges, and it's useful if you want to use the box as case, maybe with no standard orientation.

If you choose Stackable and change some parameters it will also be a nice base with four little foot and a better stability.

Step 4: Top Edge

If you intend to stack multiple boxes remember to choose "Stackable (top)" as top edge. Other choices are really interesting too. We have "Click on" and "Edge for slide on lid" which are probably better for Plexiglas boxes, but you can try them o a good quality plywood.

On second picture you see a cool solution to make hinges, a little washer with a rectangular hole, where the door pivot will joint. The washer rotates accurately in its same seat and the hinge has a very accurate movement. Actually I suggest to remove the lines which connect the washer seat to the external perimeter of the piece, and to add a third colour to determine the cutting order (cut the inner holes first to avoid pieces fall before you cut them).

Step 5: Top Edge

Cabinet hinges are really pretty and effective too. Among the other settings you find the number of hinges for each side, four or five is a good choice, since three leaves too much clearance, but I only tried it with 3mm plywood, so you have to give a try with other thickness.

You can choose to add an additional lid on your top side. Standard value is "none" but if you set "flat" you will have another flat side to glue on top, and if you choose "chest" the software will design for you a beautiful rounded chest cover to glue on top. We'll see in next step how it could be obtained.

Step 6: Boxes With Flex

Although flex is used in Universal Box to obtain a rounded chest cover, you can use it also on edges and as lid hinge. Flex is indeed a creative solution to obtain curved surfaces with plywood and other materials.

Rounded box for example is a rectangular box with vertical edges rounded. You can choose the radius of the corners, and also every parameter for the joints. Top can be closed (useful if you need a case for a circuit or similar, where to add holes for display or buttons), with a lid or open with an hole.

Flexbox and Flexbox2 are interesting boxes where lid is made by a curved surface. In Flexbox bottom side is curved too, like a sort of pochette. Here you can set any parameter to change appearance and behavior of the flex part, depending on the material and thickness. Usually default settings are really good to start with, and you will not need many changes. Oddly this box is designed as if the grip side is on top, so the Y parameter is the height of the box and H is the length, X the width.

Step 7: Typetray

There is also a section to automatically design type-trays with every dimension you need. At first look it appears that there could be some bug if you set asymmetrical rows, but if the design is symmetrical like the one in picture, the result is awesome.

Step 8: Plans

Now you got an image in your browser, with the full plans for your box. This is an .SVG file which can be saved on your computer. Just click with right mouse button and "save image as". This type of file is a vector image, that means lines are made not by pixels but by coordinates. A vector file can be converted in .DXF and used in laser cutter machines, let's see what you need.

Step 9: Convert Plans to .dxf

I used Adobe Illustrator to convert vector files to .dwg, which is format needed in the Laser Cutter sofware. There are other solutions, like Inkscape, and there are also many online free converter services but none of the five or six I tested works.

Just drag the .svg file into Illustrator, check that plans are centered on the page and there is nothing else. If you see only white area, zoom out (ctrl+"-") until you see the objects. If also a big number in present as in my case, double click on it, then click again to select it and delete. What you should have now is only the plans, select them and drag them to the center. Zoom selected (ctrl+"0") and you should see plans as in this image.

Now File -> Export, choose .dxf and save it. Use options as in the screenshot, 1mm = 1 unit is essential.

You have now a .dxf file which can be opened in Autocad or other software to check dimensions and to place parts according to the plywood board size and shape, also you could make some customization for special projects. You see there is a rectangle on the plans lower part, this rectangle has to measure exactly 100mm length. If not use the SCALE/REFERENCE command in Autocad (click scale, select objects and center point, click R like reference, then select start and final points of the rectangle length, and digit 100, click enter) on the full drawing which is still a block. Explode the block and you can start placing parts and make customizations.

Remember to save it as .dxf again.

Step 10: Laser Cut

Depending on the type of material you have to insert different parameter values in the Laser Machine. With a 80W laser of the MakerSpace WeMake in Milan I could set a speed of 80 and a power of 50 to cut my 3mm plywood. There are also some paramaters as acceleration and minimum power which I set 3000 and 20. But this is only an example, of course you must have a set of parameters right for your machine. To avoid pieces come out from the frame I lowered the minimum power to a very low value (4-6). If everything works good you have now your set of pieces to be assembled.

Step 11: Assemble It!

The funny part is of course assembling the box :-)

Think about the right order if the box is a bit complicated, then place part one wedged on the adjacent one, and go on. At the end check that dovetails are all aligned and use an hammer to struck everything hard. If you set up right thickness and burn parameter you won't need glue.

Step 12: Integrated Hinge Box

This box is beautiful and works great! Thanks Florian!

Step 13: Double Door

This is an Universal Box with "straight edge with hinge eye (both ends)" top edge. It's really nice and the touch feeling on the non-slip part is awesome.

Step 14: FlexBox2

This box is a FlexBox2 with a narrow side. Flex is so interesting to show to friends, that you will be very satisfied.

Step 15: RoundedBox

This is a RoundedBox (boxes with flex) with both ends closed. I needed it as case for the display of a 3D printer.

Step 16: HingeBox

This is a little HingeBox made from secondhand plywood.

Step 17: FlexBox3

This FlexBox3 is made with 5mm plywood.

Step 18: Customize and Enjoy

Of course you have infinite possibilities of customization now, just remember that you can make a plywood box for almost everything! And don't forget to give thanks to Florian!

Box Contest 2017

Participated in the
Box Contest 2017