Introduction: Periodic Table of Coasters

About: Analog maker dabbling in digital manufacture. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made via links on these pages.

I recently organized a discussion weekend of BC inorganic chemists, and it being the International Year of the Periodic Table, I decided to make all attendees a coaster with an element on it as a souvenir. This was a much easier making task than my 3D Periodic Table, and if you have access to a laser cutter, you can duplicate this project no problem at all. All cut files are freely provided. Make some coasters, and celebrate the #IYPT2019!

Step 1: Design and Materials

I planned to cut the coasters out of 1/8" plywood, which is an easy material for a laser cutter to work with. Design was straightforward - I picked a nice bold font (Eras Bold ITC) and extracted the data I needed (I used names, number, symbol and atomic mass, in that order) from WebElements. I used Powerpoint to assemble each label, playing around with relative font sizes until I got something I liked (attached to this step). For anyone wanting to reprise this in another font: be aware that Praseodymium is the longest element name and Americium (Am) is the widest element symbol, and you have to account for the fact that a few elements (Mg, Ag, Hg, Sg, Rg, Og, Dy, and Np) have descenders that will interfere with text below the symbol. I solved this by moving the atomic weight text to the left rather than leaving it centered. Compare silver (Ag) and gold (Au):

Layout of the coasters was done in the sketch mode of Fusion360 (a 5 × 8 grid of 100 × 100 mm ~ 4" × 4" coasters with filleted corners), and exported as a .dxf file to Corel Draw. I copy-pasted the PowerPoint symbols to Corel Draw, scaling them up 190%, and arranged them using alignment tools. The coaster lines were colored red and of hairline thickness, so the lasercutter software would recognize them as cut lines. The text was left black for etching.

Step 2: Files

The three cut files are attached as .cdr, .pdf and .ai. They've been optimized for a Trotec Speedy 360 laser cutter, but can be scaled up or down to suit whatever laser cutter you have. Coaster size is non-critical! There are 118 elements and I had room for 120, so I added a bonus BeEr. Because, you know, coasters. You're welcome; cheers!

Note that the elements after 71 are not in numerical order, because I did the lanthanides (57-70) and actinides (89-102) after the rest of the periodic table.

Step 3: Cut

The exact settings you use on your laser cutter will depend on the power of the laser, the speed of the cutting head, the cleanliness of the mirrors, the age of the laser, the thickness of the material, etc. So I'm not going to give you settings - you need to tune them according to your particular machine.

Note that if you go for a really deep etch you'll get a lot of deposited smoke on your coasters. This can be sanded off, but it is more work. Go for whatever you look you most like - I tried to get a prominent etch while leaving no cleanup to do.

Step 4: YOU CHoOSe

This project makes for easy quick customizable gifts for the scientist in your life. Some people have names perfect for this, e.g. AlBErTeInSTeIn (there are web tools for making this easy - try, for example). But even if they have intractable names (like my own!), there are lots of fun options. The classic BeEr is pictured - other drink-related possibilities are BOURbON, ScOTcH, BReW, CHeErS, WINe and WHISKY.

Step 5: Finish

Lots of options here. Because I was making so many, I opted for a quick coat of polyurethane on each side. But you have a ton of options. Etch more deeply then sand afterwards. Paint first then cut and etch. Cut from plexiglass for water-proofness. Cut from cork. Post a picture if you make some! I'd love to see them.