Introduction: Serenity Suncatcher
Firefly is one of my favourite TV shows, and the good ship Serenity is right up there with the Millennium Falcon, the Tardis and the various incarnations of the USS Enterprise as an iconic spacecraft.
The UK's SyFy channel recently broadcast the whole of Firefly in a day, and I just couldn't sit and watch it - I had to draw up a model of the Serenity as well.
The model is 200mm long, and I've present here a version that works well in 3mm plywood, but it really comes into its own in 3mm clear acrylic.
It is designed to hang from a thread, (since that's what the crew end up doing most episodes...).
Step 1: Needful Things
As well as the cutting files*, you'll need a sheet of 3mm thick material at least 250mm x 90mm (10 x 3.5 inches). You can, of course, rearrange the pieces to cut them out of different-sized pieces of material. I used clear, colourless acrylic so that the lines cut into one side showed on both.
You will also need a glue suited to your chosen material - for the acrylic, I simply used cyanoacrylate super glue.
Oh, and it's a hanging model, so you'll need thread to hang it as well.
*As usual, I've included the files in as many formats as I can manage. Keep your eyes open, though, because other versions of the files crop up in later steps.
Step 2: Design and Cutting
As is my usual process when cutting characters, I started with google, which supplied a plethora of images of Serenity as source materials.
I "mixed and matched" a variety of images to produce a side-view with no engines in place, but with the shuttle visible, and then separate images of the engines and the wing-struts.
My style includes no shading, so the image is much simplified compared to the wonderful 2d artwork out there.
The design was created in Inkscape as an SVG file, then converted to DXF*.
The DXF was imported into Lasercut5.3 to turn it into the ECP format that my lasercutter can read.
It was at this stage that I decided to make the model a hanging decoration, so it is only the ECP file that includes a hanging loop. It is only (for me) at the ECP stage that colours have any importance. I set the green etched lines to cut first, followed by the construction slots and hanging hole and, finally, by the outer edge of the pieces - this maintains the register of the machine, should cut pieces slip.
Although my final model is clear acrylic, I'm showing the construction process with the plywood test-model I made, because clear acrylic is an absolute pig to photograph. You'll have to wait until later steps to see the detailing of the acrylic...
*I also converted it from SVG to PDF for those readers whose cutters speak different languages, or who are working with tools without computer control.
Step 3: The Engine Cowling
Although this is essentially a two-dimensional model, I decided that adding layers would improve the "feel" of the model. To this end, I created separate pieces for the framework or cowling that fits around the main engine.
One is a mirror image of the other - make sure you have them the right way round, attach them with a couple of drops of glue, and give the glue time to cure properly.
Step 4: Wing Struts
Not aerodynamic wings, but supports for the engine pods, they come in one piece that slides through the slot in the middle of the main fuselage.
Depending on how tightly your laser is focussed, this may be a snug friction fit, or it may require a drop of glue to hold it in place.
Step 5: Engine Pods.
Like the main engine cowling, the two engine pods are mirror images of each other.
Make sure you have them the right way round (the cut lines go on the outside), and then fit them to the ends of the wing struts.
Again, you may be lucky enough to have a tight friction-fit, or you may need a drop of glue.
Step 6: Extras
Maybe, just maybe, not everybody will recognise Serenity for what she is, and you might want to add some of the iconic branding.
The files added to this step are for tags that you can hang in line with your model - use one, use them all, or use none, it's up to you. You can use them for whatever you want.
Step 7: Double-sided Design - Preparation.
While at the prototyping stage of this project, I realised that the plywood model also looked pretty good, but the appearance was let down when it turned to reveal the un-engraved side. So, I created another version of the ECP file that allowed for the parts to be flipped and engraved on the back.
Because the parts are all asymmetric, you can't just flip them over and cut the same design on the back. Instead, we have to create a symmetry that can be used to make sure the parts are aligned.
If you look at the ECP file screen-shot, you can see that I added a rectangle around the original parts, copied and pasted the rectangle & its contents, then flipped the whole thing left-for right.
This put the tags into "mirror writing", so I flipped those back again.
The parts that make up the main engine cowling don't need to be double-sided, so I deleted them from the copy.
The top rectangle is set up to cut after all the parts within it. I also changed the colour and settings of the outlines of the parts I was double-siding, just to speed things up without risking losing register.
Step 8: Double-sided Design - Cutting and Construction.
Before uploading the file to your cutter, you need to delete the lower rectangle and its contents.
When you set up your cutter, you need to fix down your material to the cutting bed so that it doesn't shift between cuts.
Run your cutter as normal, then lift out all the cut parts, including the rectangle, without disturbing the rest of the sheet of plywood.
Flip the rectangle over left-for-right, and slip it back into the hole in the plywood.
Fit all the cut pieces back into their space in the rectangle, again, flipped over left-for right so that you are not looking at any cut surfaces.
Go back to the original full file, but this time you need to delete the upper rectangle. Upload it to your cutter, and run it again - it should vector cut the design into the back of the pieces, then quickly rattle over the outlines without cutting anything.
Constructing the double-sided Serenity is exactly the same as for the single-sided version. You just need to make sure you get the engine pods the right way up - they have a small fin with a narrow rectangle cut into it which goes to the bottom.
Step 9: The Acrylic Version
The ultimate goal of this instructable is a clear acrylic version, a suncatcher.
Because the acrylic is clear, you only need to cut it "one sided" - the design you form on one side shows clearly from either side.
I made this one from some slightly scuffed recycled acrylic (it used to be a small window), so cutting caused a "bloom" across the surface. This was easily removed by simply scrubbing under water. If you use "new" acrylic, with the protective film still on, you won't have the blooming problem.
The engine cowling pieces just needed three small dots of superglue to hold in place - one at each end, and one in the corner. I also used a little superglue to anchor the wing struts and engine pods in place.
As I said earlier, clear acrylic is an absolute pain in the behind to photograph properly, especially when you have no control over your camera's focussing mechanism, but to the naked eye the effect the model creates hanging in bright sunshine is brilliant.
Step 10: Display!
Add a length of thread, and hang your model somewhere it will catch the light; in a window, near a lamp, and then take a picture you can share in the comments below.
If you don't have access to your own laser cutter, acrylic Suncatchers are now available from my Etsy shop.
If you don't want to open an Etsy account, drop me a PM and we can talk.