This is a laser cut project that I created for my daughter who
is huge Star Wars fan and it makes a perfect nightstand light.
3mm laser plywood (Although MDF would work perfectly)
Rustoleum Black Spray Paint
Multi-changing LED tealight
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Step 1: Step One
To begin the project, I began my thinking about the
dimensions I wanted the lantern to be. This was by far the most time-consuming part of the whole project as there are a lot of factors to consider here. You need to think about the size you want the final nightlight to be, the thickness of your material (in my case, 3mm ply) as these will inform the size of your joints that hold the nightlight together.
As well as the practical considerations discussed above, you need to consider the design of the panels. I made a Star Wars inspired nightlight but you can make one that is tailored to your own likes and interests. When making your design, you need to think about how it will look as a silhouette. It needs to have recognizable outline as there will be no detail within the scene to help make it identifiable. The four scenes I choose can be seen above. These are all instantly recognizable for a Star Wars fan.
Step 2: Step Two
Once I had determined the dimensions and design, I began creating it in Techsoft 2D Design but you can use any CAD software you like, such as Fusion 360, Inkscape etc.
I designed a panel that was 113mm x 90 on the outer edge, I then created an inner rectangle (110mm x 65mm), this would be the outline which my silhouette would anchor* to.
In order to hold the four sides of the lantern together, I made finger joints on the left and right side of the panel, as well as two mortise and tenon joints at the top and bottom. The number of joints and their sizes depends on how big you have made your lantern. You can work this out for yourself or take a look at my diagrams at the bottom of this document for reference. For those of you who do not wish to make your own, I will supply you with a blank template to get you started. I designed my first panel so that it could be repeated four times to make up the sides of the lantern. The top and bottom are also exactly the same, differing only where the LED tealight fits.
I then measured the size of my LED tealight (in my case this was 35mm) and created a circle on the base which would be cut out so my tealight could fit into the hole snuggly. Don’t forget to adjust the size of your circle (and joints for that matter!) to allow for the kurf of your laser. You can look at laser cutting principles in more depth in the laser cutting class on the Instructables website.
Once you are happy with the structural design of your lantern, you can now move on to the aesthetics. Feel free to choose whatever you like for your design. If you would like to use mine, I would be only too happy to supply you with the file.
*By anchored, I mean that my silhouettes have to have contact with the main body of the frame. Not only does this add to the structural integrity of the lantern but also the silhouettes would be cut out when laser cutting and be separate from the lantern body. See next step.
Step 3: Step Three
As, I have stated earlier, you can create a lantern featuring things that are of interest to you. The centre of this lantern is a blank canvas in which you can make the perfect scene to suit your needs.
Regardless of the that scene you create, there are some important factors to consider. Firstly, the image you choose to create should not be overly detailed, especially if you are creating a lantern the same size as mine. Trying to in cram too much detail can make the final piece look too busy and confusing to make out the design.
Equally, your silhouettes should not be too obscure. The image should be easily recognizable with a strong profile. For example, it's far better to have a silhouette of say, a horse from the side as opposed to one straight on (See picture above to see this example in practice).
Another consideration is how your silhouette will be anchored to the frame. You need to design your scene in a way that keeps it firmly attached to the lantern. It is important to anchor it in several places so that the overall lantern keeps its strength. Whilst it is not designed to hold a great deal of weight, it may get knocked; especially if it is being used on a nightstand. You will need to find the perfect balance of aesthetics and structural integrity. This can be done by scaling your silhouette up and down until it fits comfortably within your frame and/or adding extra elements that look decorative but serve a structural purpose. (To illustrate my point, see the picture above)
When you have designed your lantern, checked for errors and exported it to the correct file format (in my case .dxf) it's time to move on to laser cutting.
Step 4: Step Four
I will not cover how to laser cut here, this subject is covered by others in the Instructables community as well as other places on the internet. Just choose the correct speed and power settings most suitable to your laser cutter and the material that you are cutting. My software also allows me to 'seal' any gaps there might be where two lines meet. I also do this as there is nothing worse than finishing a job to realise it has not been fully cut out!
Laser cutting is actually the most straight forward part of this project, you just put your material into the machine and then let it do the work. Whilst it would be nice to have a cup of tea at this point, do not be tempted to leave the laser cutter alone due to the potential fire risk.
(Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures during the laser cutting process, so these images are staged afterwards. Sorry!)
Step 5: Step Five
Once the lantern has finished cutting, you can slot all the parts together to make sure it fits correctly, then sand (if required) and paint. I chose black on the outside and left the inside of the light natural wood colour it already was. This was to maximise the contrast between light and dark so that the silhouettes shine better.
When your paint has dried, add your frosted plastic sheet to the back of each lantern panel by gluing it in place, using hot glue. I did this for each of the four panels before gluing the LED tealight into the base. Finally, I glued all four sides together, then the base and finished off by gluing the top in place.
And that's it! You have made a great themed lantern that you can give as a gift or keep for yourself! I would love to see your creations, so please post them on here or send me a link.
I have supplied you with files to get you started and a document showing my dimensions if you would to make it yourself from scratch. Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments that you may have. I will be only too happy to help!
This is an entry in the
Indoor Lighting Contest