Introduction: Name Puzzle - Laser Cut

About: I run an online laser cutting and etching service in Australia. I am adding open source laser cutting designs for people use and be inspired by on Instructables.... Enjoy!
This is a great personalized present for a little one in your life. It is colorful, educational and very personal. Easy to layout, construct and paint. Laser cutting ensures a perfect fit every time.

Step 1: Inspiration

My friend's daughter is coming up to her first birthday, so what to get for a one year old? I wanted to give something personal and unique. I have one of those names that you just can't find printed on coffee mugs or novelty license plates, so I know how exciting is can be to have your name emblazoned across a product.

In the end I combined the above thoughts and decided to make a colorful name puzzle, laser cut of course! This is a great little present that is personal, looks great on a shelf and is also educational. Read the steps below to see how it was made.

Step 2: Initial Design

The Design for the name puzzle is very easy! I am using Corel Draw X4 but you can use any vector graphics package, if you don't already have a suitable program you can download some for free from HERE.

Initially you need to draw the outline of the block. I decided to make sure that the layout for this was going to fit onto a standard HiTech Antics 1/4 sheet (290mmx290mm) so the maximum width of my block was 290mm. Once you have laid out the block width and height, you will need to chamfer the corners. First convert the rectangle to a curve (Convert To Curves) so that there are no dangerous corners.

The main block is made up of two laminated layers of MDF. So once the initial block shape is drawn, duplicate it (Ctrl+D) and move the duplicate to a free space on the page. It is important that If you adjust either of the blocks that you duplicate again, if there are any differences this will show up when you laminate.

Laying out the text is the next step. Write out the name you want and start looking for an apropriate font. Idealy you need to pick a font that has rond soft corners and the thicknes of each part is even. During the font selection process I came accross several fonts that looked great, but would be too hard for a toddler who is starting to recognize letters to understand. Once the font has been selected, adjust the scale to fit the block.

I added the HiTech Antics logo to the rear of the lower block. Obviously you may want to add a 'From ....' message or something similar. This was added as a 'Yellow' filled layer which will be heavily raster engraved, allowing it to still be read through the paint. For more information about the specifics of laying out your vector file for HiTech Antics, look HERE.

Step 3: Vectorise the Design

Now we need convert the text to curves so that the laser cutter has a path to follow. Select the text and left click, select Convert to Curves from the drop down menu. Now that the text is made up of curves it is time to adjust any sharp corners. Use the path tools to add radius’s etc. to any sharp points.

In order to make the letters easy to pull out and push into the puzzle it is necessary to cut two separate lines around each letter. The width of the native cut performed by the laser will make the letters difficult to separate from the block. This will only be made worse once paint is added. To expand the shape of the letter, I used the Contour tool in Corel Draw X4, other packages will have similar tools. The image below shows the tool being picked from the toolbar. I set the contour expansion at 2mm, in retrospect this was too much, try 1mm instead. Obviously you will have to alternate whether the expansion is internal or external depending on which part of the letter you have selected (e.g. internal part of a 'D' or 'P' needs and internal contour.

Once the letter expansion is set there is only one more feature to add, the knobs. To make the letters easier to pick up, especially with small hands, I added small round knobs to the top of each letter. I set the diameter of these parts at 10mm. Draw the knobs with the circle tool and use the command boxes to set the dimensions. Now to make life easier when assembling the puzzle I added some heavy raster etched circles on each letter where I wanted to attach the knobs, this creates a locating feature when gluing together.

Step 4: Upload to Your Favorite Laser Cutter

Now it's time to upload your file to a Laser Cutter of your choice.

In the case of HiTech Antics you will need to select the material, thickness, sheet size and then upload the file, before paying.  Other services work in a similar way.

The parts will be made and shipped to you.

This project is based on 6mm thick MDF.

Step 5: Laser Cutting

Once the laser cutter receives your order we the will prepare the material and process the file within the CO2 laser cutter. In this case the material is MDF, so we will apply some transfer tape to both surfaces to protect from smoke damage that can occur during cutting and etching. There may still be some small smoke marking, but this is easily removed with a light sanding. In the photos below we can see the job in process. The raster engraving is performed first, then the vector engraving, finally the cutting is performed.

Step 6: Receive Your Parts

Your parts will be shipped to you in the original panel that they were cut from. Depending on the material chosen (6mm MDF in this case) there will be two layers of transfer tape covering the panel. One layer of tape was placed on the sheet before cutting, the other was placed over everything after cutting (to hold everything together).

Step 7: Remove Transfer Tape

Carefully remove the transfer tape from all of your parts. Press the cut sections out from the sheet, being carfull not to loose any small parts.

Step 8: Assemble Parts

Now you are ready to assembly your name puzzle. I used an glue specifically designed for MDF (Medium Density Fiber Board) but any wood glue will do (e.g. PVA). I initially laminated the outer section of the block to the base, aligning carefully and ensuring that the engraved section was on the outside. At the same time you can attach the knobs to the letters, using the etched area to align the knobs.

After the glue has dried from the initial session (overnight is fine) use the thin sections that surrounded the letters to align the inner sections of the letter correctly. Carefully remove the letters and scrap after aligning the inner parts of the letters, you don't want to glue the letter in place! Wipe off any excess glue.

Step 9: Paint and Seal

The puzzle should be painted with non-toxic acrylic paint. Start by sealing each piece with an acrylic sealer, this is needed because the MDF will suck up lots of paint and without first sealing the surface you will need to apply endless coats of color. After applying the sealer you can start painting. I have chosen simple bright colors, pink for the base block because this is for a girl, each letter is a different bright color. The inside of the pocket for each letter was painted the corresponding color of that letter to help the child with color recognition. Some dots were added to each letter to add a little interest, you could add other decorations to further enhance the personal aspect of this gift.

After all of the painting is finished the finaly product should be sealed to protect the surface from water, spill and the like. Here I used a spray on matt sealer (as seen in the photo).

Step 10: Files for Download

Ok, Here are the files in CDR (X4) and DXF format.  They would be usefull as templates, but obviously you will want to change the name!

Also, I would change the controur expansion from 2mm to 1mm for a better fit.