Introduction: The First Four Layered Drawing Board

About: Father of 2 small humans with crazy ideas that I have to make a reality.

Hi all,

In short, I design and build ideas that pop into my head. I always start with the basic pencil and paper and then move to a whiteboard and then onto 3d design and so on, and that's where one of my latest ideas came from.

What if I could draw a design that gives me different layers and in turn adding depth to a design?

That's where the Overl4y design came from. Four drawing boards all in one that can be removed and swapped around but with a difference, they are all made from clear polycarbonate meaning I can see through them all at once. I can build a full design in stages.

I started with a list of things i would need, both tools and materials, some of which i needed to source.

Step 1: A Four Paneled Drawing Board

The idea i had for this project was going to be too intricate for the tools i had at the time so i needed to get a new toy to make it happen.


The frame build - CNC machine - Ooznest

There is an awesome company based in Essex, UK who make awesome things! They have created something that EVERYONE who makes things would love to have in their workshop. A wireless CNC router kit. They make something called the WorkBee CNC and so i had to have one for this project and for every project going forward.

The machine i ordered was the WorkBee and the specs are:

  • 750x750mm Screw driven
  • Black anodised extrusion
  • Mount + Dewalt 26200
  • Mill kit
  • Dust Shoe
  • Wifi connected

The machine arrived a couple of weeks later in two huge boxes, all of the parts were labelled and in separate bags and boxes. It was soo easy to lay everything out and use the printed instruction manual to check everything was there and that I wasn't missing anything. The build was very simple, straight forward, and not really that time-consuming. The instruction manual has images as well as written instructions and a list of everything you need for each step, right down to how many screws you need. It even came with sweets in the box to keep my sugar levels up during the build process! Although the drumsticks didn't last too long!

I have had a CNC machine in the past but it wasn't anything like using this, the WorkBee has software that you simply upload a file too, home your machine and click go. It will even tell you if your machine will cut it and not let it smash into the sides like my last one did. Oh and its Wireless!!! Its a simple thing but not having to plug my laptop in is soo handy as it means while that piece is cutting i can sit at my desk and finish off the next piece i need to cut. I have used this machine on a number of different things already and will be using it for my next project and the next and everyone after that! Head over to and take a look. They have a number of different machine sizes with a load of extra's, OH and they also do kits for 3D printers!

Other than the WorkBee CNC i used general tools such as:

  • Gorilla Wood Glue
  • chisels
  • Sharp drill bits
  • Screwdrivers
  • A lot of sandpaper
  • Clamps
  • Other general tools

So, me being me, i wasn't going to use just any old material, even for the prototype.


The frame material - Timber - TimberSource

TimberSource is a website where you can get pretty much any type of timber, cut at the desired length, planed, sawn, made into a worktop, cut into tongue and groove or featheredged plus like 15 other options. The amount of choice when it comes to types of timber is actually quite impressive and so it was quite a while before i settled on 3 pieces of sawn Walnut.

They came relatively quickly and well wrapped and the most important part was, they weren't chipped, warped or cracked which made the job of cutting them with a CNC so much easier. I would highly recommend heading to and taking a look.

The Drawing board material - Polycarbonate - ThePlasticPeople

Polycarbonate is a material that is as clear as glass but is 200x stronger so is perfect for the application i need it for. Looking for this i headed straight to a website I have been aware of and bought from for a long time, ThePlasticPeople is a company that does a very similar thing to TimberSource but with a large number of plastics to choose from. From Acrylic to Aluminium composite they over laser cutting to CNC milling, basically if you have an idea get in touch. I got 4 sheets of Polycarbonate and they arrived within 3 days, packed well and protected, my biggest issue was resisting the temptation of slowly pulling off the protective film that came on them!

Considering you can order many different types of plastic and have it cut to any shape you need it, the prices are amazing. If you are going to be using plastic in any project head to FIRST!

I headed to the website, put in the material type, the size i needed and BAM! an instant price, this is what every website should do!

Smaller parts - used and not used -

So there are some parts that I will run through in the instructable that I didn't end up using but I wanted to include them anyway in case what I made is useful for someone even though it wasn't used in the final product.

I used eBay for everything else, such as the copper bar, bearings and screws.

The first step is a design.

Step 2: Step 2 - the Design

So my wife always does things in fours and over the years it has permanently sat in my head that stuff is better in fours so I naturally went, "ok I need four sheets of plastic". It can be done with 2, 3, 4 or 10 sheets, just have to be careful about the weight as when you have all the sheets in it will get quite heavy.

The main design was to have a nice thick frame with one side being open to allow me to add, remove and swap the four sheets when needed. The main design points were:

  • It needed to have four sheets of clear plastic so I can see the whole design as one even though it is split into four sections
  • The three sides needed to be strong enough to enable one side to be open and with only minimal support
  • The three sides need to have slots to act as rails for the plastic to slide in and out
  • It needed to have a hinge system to enable it to be mounted to the wall (i didn't use this in the end and table-mounted was going work better)
  • The frame needed to be made from solid hardwood with a good color pallet for aesthetic reasons

I started by drawing the basic design on paper and using this to choose the best way to go about joining the sides of the frame and the actual size of the project.

I decided that the sheets were going to be 600x400x5mm thick. The size is perfect but the sheets could have gone down to 4mm thick or even 3mm thick, i just wanted to make sure that the plastic wouldn't bend when pressing on it. Having the thickness and size of the plastic decided it then meant i could build around it and get the dimensions of the timber needed for the frame. I also decided that the joints for the frame needed to be either dovetail or finger joints but as im not a master of dovetails i decided to go with finger joints which i could do on the CNC machine.

I then headed over to a piece of software i have used for many years and will continue to use for every project i create. Sketchup which is created by a company called Trimble. Sketchup is a 3d design software which is so easy to use yet allows you to create some amazing things. I have created everything using this software, from the main concept of a project, to CNC file and 3d printer file. There is also a database called the 3D Warehouse which has hundreds of thousands of pre-made objects that you can download and instantly import into your current design file where you can then edit them. There is everything on there from small lightbulbs to whole cities. There is a button in the Sketchup software which will take you to the warehouse or you can head to this link, download what you want and drag and drop it into your file.

As with everything there are levels of software you can purchase and these have extra bits like different file types to export and some other features built-in however there is a free version of the software which is as good as, if not better than some other software products you have to pay for. Head to , download and start creating! There is loads of tutorials online via the Sketchup forums as well as loads of youtube videos. When you get started you will see just how simple it is to use.

Now that i had a basic 3d model created of the frame i then moved onto creating each individual part, modelling it on Sketchup and moving it into the vectric software. The next step shows how i created the rails in the frame and cut them using the WorkBee.

Step 3: Step 3 - Cutting the Frame Pieces

Now for the best part.

I took the first of the 3 pieces of walnut and loaded it into the WorkBee CNC. I intentionally ordered the walnut to be bigger than I need so I can get the correct cut from the CNC plus it allowed me to screw the board down onto the machine at each end meaning I didn't need to mess about making sure it wasn't going to move using clamps.

I then opened up the Vectric Aspire software, this software creates tool paths for CNC machining but its ridiculously clever! It not only will allow you to cut 3d shapes as well as 2d shapes, it gives you the option for two-sided machining, image tracing and many many more features which include being able to upload a vast array of file formats. Using this software makes it soo much easier. There is also a 3d view of your design which is created using the toolpath you choose. This is also where you can choose the depth of your cutting pass, speed, etc.

Aspire is just one of the software packages that Vectric offers, I also use a version for my desktop laser machine. Head over to and take a look.

So using this software I was able to amend my initial file to work with the piece of wood I had loaded and ready. This included adding the depth of each cut, creating the slides and making the finger joints possible with the machine but first I needed to clean up the walnut.

For this, I set the walnut on a flat surface and found the highest point of the piece, I then set that as the height of my material and created a rectangle the same size as my piece of walnut, created a tool path and took around .5cm off the top. This cleaned the whole of the piece up and so onto the other side. Once I had a nice clean surface on both sides I moved onto cutting the actual piece.

For this, I loaded the .DXF file created using sketchup into the Aspire software and got to work. Firstly I slightly amended the .DXF file in Aspire to enable the machine to create the finger joints. As a CNC machine bit will cut a small radius in the corners as the bit is round it means the corners arnt square and therefore won't accept the corner of the finger joint. By adding a small circle the same size as the router bit to the corners of the areas accepting the finger of the joint it removes the radius and allows the finger joint to work perfectly. I've added an image to show this, hopefully, that will help with the explanation.

I then created the toolpath saved it and uploaded it to the dedicated software for the WorkBee. The Workbee got to work and not very long after that the first piece was done. I then repeated the process for the other two sides of the frame. Id say after around 90mins and a very small amount of light sanding the pieces ware done.

Onto putting the frame together.

Step 4: Step 4 - Assembly

So now I had all the pieces cut it was quite simple putting them together. It included a lot of Gorilla Wood Glue, some clamps and some time.

Firstly, and I recommend this to everyone, I did a dry fit to make sure everything fits together and the frame was square. It all fit and was square so I added the glue and clamped the pieces to my workbench to make sure it would be flat and used a set square to ensure all the corners were at 90degrees.

But this still left me with a side missing. This is where the copper bar comes in. As part of the design of the top and bottom pieces of the frame, the is a 4mmx15mm section cut out to allow for two pieces of copper bar to be fixed into position. This gives a really good amount of strength to that side and allows the opening to be as big as needed and adds a hint of style into the frame.

Once the frame had dried and the copper bar had been attached using black button head screws I collected some of the walnut sawdust from the machine, added it to some of the gorilla glue, made a paste and started filling the small gaps that were left due to the way the finger joints are cut.

After that had dried and a bit of sanding you would never know. Now to the Polycarbonate.

Step 5: Step 5 - Cutting the Polycarbonate

So as mentioned before I got 4 sheets of Polycarbonate from ThePlasticPeople at 5mmx400mmx600mm which were perfect but I wanted to add something to them.

I spent a while trying to decide on how to enable me to pull them out. My initial idea was to somehow add leather tabs to the ends but I then thought that it would look a bit messy so I went with cutting the corner of two of them and staggering them. I'm so glad I did this as it adds to the design and looks and works great.

I then needed to add my logo so i cut this using the WorkBee CNC to the corners of the other two sheets. The effect looks amazing.

Once all this was done i simply slotted them into the frame.

Please note the images above show the sheets WITH the plastic covering on which is why they look so dirty.

No onto the extra bits

Step 6: Step 6 - the Extras

So the extras include a handle to be able to move it, a custom made hinge and feet.

I'll start with the hinge as I didn't end up using it. The initial idea was to have this mounted on the wall but then I decided not to (after I made the hinge) as I preferred the option of being able to move it around.

To make the hinge I used some of the off-cuts from the walnut, designed some small square blocks using Aspire, which would allow a small bearing and a shaft to fit inside and got the CNC going again. I then raided my bits box from an electric longboard build i had previously worked on (see it here and used a few parts that come with the motors, extra shaft and a couple of collett type things.

These worked perfectly and with the small bearings, it turned very smoothly. This is where i changed my mind and went with the idea of a handle and feet.

I had an old tripod style lamp which had nice silver mounts which i thought would be perfect for what i needed. These were hollow though and the internal dimension wasn't the same size as any of the drill bits i had so i needed to quickly make some plugs. I headed back to Aspire and the WorkBee CNC and created two plugs out of the walnut i had left. Quicky drilled two shallow holes into the side piece of the frame the two plugs fit in perfectly and stayed with Gorilla glue. These worked perfectly, and after slotting an 8mm round copper bar through it created a really nice looking handle.

The next part was feet.

I took the same style from the sides of the frame quickly created them in Aspire and cut them out using the CNC. Adding two of these to the frame finished the project.

Step 7: The Final Product

The finished product came out better than i thought and is currently being used. I have an idea of adding a screen in the back slider to be able to be connected to a laptop and used a screen for reference to give the option of using it in a presentation.

Thanks for reading. The links ive used throughout the instructable are all below for ease of finding them.

The WorkBee Cnc -

ThePlasticPeople -

Timber Source -

Sketchup software -

Sketchup warehouse -

Vectric Aspire software -

I'm happy to answer any questions

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