During Fall of 2015, I decided I would take a laser cutting class at Portland Community College. After learning how to use the school's two different laser cutters (a 60W and a 30W), I took to Google for some project ideas. One of the first I came across was this laser cut music box: https://www.epiloglaser.com/resources/sample-club/...
I was intrigued by the idea, but felt that doing just a music box would be a bit banal, so I instead committed myself to making something that would function both as a music box, and a jewelry box. And, because Christmas had been approaching, I decided that it would be a gift for my mother. Since she loves the Wizard of Oz, I chose it as the theme.
Note: I had numerous missteps when attempting this project, which resulted in innumerable failures. This guide will be focused on the final/successful attempt. For more details on my process, see the attached PowerPoint presentation.
- Access to a laser cutter
- I primarily used a 60W "Universal Laser Systems" CO2 laser cutter
- Wood for cutting
- The kind I used was 1/8 inch birch plywood, which I got from the PCC Sylvania Campus Bookstore
- Attempts were made with 1/4", but the laser cutter had trouble cutting through it
- I have been told that 1/8" plywood may be found at Ace Hardware; The Home Depot typically does not carry such thin of plywood
- I used Adobe Illustrator, but Inkscape is a good free alternative (however, going back and forth between the two can lead to problems)
- I bought mine from Amazon
- I bought the parts from http://www.nationalartcraft.com (this requires a minimum purchase amount of ~$20)
- The parts I ultimately used were a t-bar key, a key extender, the "Over the Rainbow" 18-note musical movement, adhesive pads, and a container for the musical movement
- Or you may search "Musical Movements" on Amazon, I was unsure as to what I would need/use, which is why I opted not to buy from Amazon
Step 1: Design the Box
While you could completely design the box by hand, it is easier to have a program/website create an initial design that you can later edit as needed. There are numerous online box making websites. The one I used was www.makercase.com.
I chose 5.25" x 5.25" x 5.25" dimensions (outside), a material thickness of 0.118" (the actual thickness was closer to 0.120", but this didn't seem to matter), and finger edge joints with a slot width of 0.500". I then double-clicked on each side to label them. The labels were just so I knew what I was looking at when I edited the box edges from inside Adobe Illustrator. To delete them, simply drag and select one side, "ungroup" the selection, then delete the label.
Once you have your dimensions and everything correct, download the .svg file and open it in your vector editing program.
In order to make the box with a hinged lid*, I used Illustrator's "direct selection tool" to flatten the top edge of each of the sides and to square the top of the box. I then added a circle on the right side for the handle of the music player, as well as a rectangular hole in the middle of the bottom side to fit a base for a removable drawer insert*.
Note 1: Because the wood being used is so thin, it is not advised to drill the metal hinges into it. While I will explain in a later step how I glued the metal hinges to the wood, I felt it appropriate to provide an alternative in the form of a "living hinge". A living hinge is a design cut out of a single piece of wood that allows said wood to bend. There are numerous different living hinge designs that work to various degrees. If you decide to go this route, combine the top and back sides of the box, then search Instructables and Thingiverse for different living hinge designs, copying them into the center of the combined piece.
Note 2: The files included in this Instructable assume the use of an optional drawer insert. If you don't want the insert, simply delete the rectangular hole and the accompanying "jigsaw" piece.
Step 2: Select Images for Engraving
If you're as indecisive as me, this step may take you quite some time to do. Search Google Images for pictures that will go with your theme. The bigger the size (higher the resolution), the better. A rastorized (engraved) image will turn out better if you have to shrink it to fit the side of the box, rather than if you have to stretch it. Furthermore, in order to make it easier on yourself, I suggest searching for images that include keywords such as "sketches", "black and white", "gray-scale", or "made for coloring books". Doing so will require less editing. The pictures I chose are readily available to see.
Step 3: Size and Edit the Selected Images
To edit the chosen files, I cropped what needed cropping, and then used the "Image Trace" feature in Adobe Illustrator after "Place"-ing the images. After that, I used the "Image Trace Panel", hit Advanced, and played with the various settings until I got the results shown here. If you are familiar with any image editing software, I suggest editing the images that way instead, as Adobe Illustrator isn't the best option. If you plan on doing it my way, however, I suggest making several copies of each original image, so you can compare different trace settings.
Note: The Toto image could have been left alone.
Step 4: (Optional) Add Personalized Text
As you can see in the files, I added text to most of the sides and made the color of the text RGB Green (explained in the next step). Be sure to run the text at various sizes and rastor settings (I suggest using a separate file with the alphabet). Don't be afraid to try out various font styles; there are thousands of free ones online with various themes. Just be sure to download the chosen font to the computer that will be controlling the laser cutter. I initially tried Curls MT, but didn't have the time for proper testing, so I went back to a standard bold font.
Step 5: Run the Laser Cutter
If you've never laser cut before, I won't go into too much detail, as their are many guides on Instructables. Basically, a laser cutter has too types of cuts: vector cuts, and rastor cuts. In my files you'll see that I use three different colors: RGB Red (#FF0000), RGB Green (#00FF00), and Black. The red lines indicate vector lines (where the laser will cut through the material). The green and black lines indicate rastor lines (where the laser will engrave the material). The reason I use RGB color designations is because the laser cutter requires it in order to distinguish what is what. I chose to make the text green so that I could change the power/speed settings for it, so I could be sure that the text would come out nice and visible. Black does not really matter, because we may want the laser cutter to engrave at different depths for the different shades of black.
It is important that you know the stroke width of the laser and apply that to your vector lines. For the laser I was using, the stroke width was 0.001". I suggest doing this immediately before you are about to run the laser cutter, because once you do, the vector lines will be very difficult to see without zooming in.
Also, be sure to take your digital calipers and measure the thickness of your material. This will be the Z-axis of your laser settings, which tells the laser cutter at what distance to focus its beam.
Note: This is the step where you would place the optional painter's tape onto either the front or the front and back of your wood. Doing so will prevent smoke stains and allow you to paint the engravings, but it will affect the depth of the engravings if you do not adjust the settings accordingly.
Black - Rast, 100% Power, 90% Speed, 500 PPI
Green - Rast, 100% Power, 80% Speed, 500 PPI
Red - Vect, 100% Power, 7% Speed, 300 PPI
I would estimate the time for the main box to finish being cut and engraved to be at least an hour at these settings.
Step 6: Sand, Finish, and Glue
Once the cut is done, remove the pieces from the laser cutter. If you decided to use painter's tape, remove it from the pieces. Depending on the detail of the engravings, removing the tape can be difficult. I simply took my thumb and rubbed it along the tape that I couldn't readily peel off. Sandpaper may also work, but you may not be able to see the wood grain to know the direction in which to sand.
Speaking of sandpaper, once you have your cut pieces of wood, take some fine grit sandpaper and sand the wood. You want to use fine grit so that you remove very little, if any, detail from the engravings. This step will serve two purposes. Firstly, it will allow you to remove any smoke stains that may have worked their way into the wood. Secondly, it will open up the pores of the wood to allow for proper absorption of any finish or wood stains you may or may not choose to add.
Note 1: This normally goes without saying, but be sure to sand in the direction of the grain. And, for health reasons, you may want to wear a mask while sanding.
Now take the fine-haired brush and remove the wood dust that has accumulated within the engravings. You can also use a can of compressed air, but you risk squirting the wood with liquid from the canister, thereby inadvertently blotching the wood. Regardless the method chosen, it is important you remove the dust before applying finish/stain.
Lastly, you cannot tell from the pictures, but I actually glued the pieces together before spraying a couple of coats of clear/glossy finish. This was my first time applying wood finish and I do not recommend this if you want an even coat. Instead, glue the pieces after you have applied one or two layers of finish/stain. I would also attach the musical movement to its piece of wood prior to assembly, just to make things easier. Use either gorilla glue or the double-sided adhesive if you have it, and wood glue for the wood itself.
Note 2: You may have noticed from the last picture that the musical movement is covering part of the personalized message. This was from human error.
Step 7: Add Feet and Hinges
Now that the main portion of the box is mostly assembled, you can add feet and metal hinges. I used the laser cutter to cut out four circles of leather (which I had covered in painter's tape prior to cutting), washed the sides, then used gorilla glue to attach them.
As for the hinges, I found that superglue worked best for adhering them to the wood. Just know that superglue dries a chalky white and won't look as good as some other options. E6000, an industrial glue, works even better.
Step 8: (Optional) Removable Drawer Insert
Just like with the main box, start with www.makercase.com and make a finger-jointed box of 4.875" x 4.875" x 1.5" with a tab width of 0.3". As before, level the edges, only this time, delete one edge and the top of the box.
Now make two rectangles using the "Rectangle Tool": one with a width of 4.875" and a height of 0.25", the other with a width of 4.625" and a height of 1.125".* Make the infill of the rectangles two separate colors for easy identification (this is only temporary), and no stroke. Pull up the "Pathfinder Tool" and, selecting both rectangles, hit "horizontal align center", then "vertical align top". Select the shorter of the two rectangles, right click>transform>transform each. Under "Options", select "reflect Y" and the top-middle box in the tiny grid-like picture. Hit "Ok", and now the shorter rectangle will be directly above the taller one. Now, re-select both shapes and in the Pathfinder Tool, hit "Unite Shapes". Finally, remove the infill color and set the stroke color back to RGB Red. This newly made shape will serve as the divider for the drawer insert.
In order for the divider to fit properly in the drawer insert, take one of the edges (the copy of the one you deleted), remove the stroke color, and set a temporary infill color. Create another rectangle, this time with a width of 0.125" and a height of 0.25". Again, set it to have a different color infill and no stroke color. Align the two like before, only without the transformation. In the Pathfinder Tool, hit "Exclude". This will effectively "cut out" a rectangle from the edge. Lastly, remove the infill, reset the stroke color to RBG Red, and copy and paste the new shape.
Once the pieces have been laser cut, you may then assemble the drawer insert.
Note: If you plan on using felt to line the bottom of the drawer insert, subtract the width of the material from the height of the second rectangle.