The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

November 29, 2011

Fun with Rockets and Lasers: Creating a 3D Do-It-Yourself Christmas Ornament (Some Assembly Required)

Filed under: Design — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 9:42 pm

In my extended family, there’s been a longstanding tradition that we have an ornament exchange which takes place at Thanksgiving each year.  Although the ornaments that come up in the exchange each year range from the mundane to the sublime,  there are a lot of crafty people in the family, which means that store-bought ornaments tend to get a bit outclassed.  Over the years, I’ve gone mostly with the store-bought stuff anyway, with a couple of ill-advised attempts at handmade ornaments thrown in for good measure as well.  I actually kind of enjoy making ornaments myself, although to be honest, when I try to make stuff by hand, usually the results don’t quite add up to what I originally had in mind.  To give you some idea of this, I tend to consider a craft project to be successful if nothing got set on fire or maimed during the process.

It is because of this tendency that last year, I decided to take a different approach to the problem.  As outlined in the post that I wrote about last year’s ornaments, I found a place over on Capitol Hill in Seattle called Metrix Create:Space that has all sorts of cool toys like 3D printers and laser cutters.  Although I’m pretty sure the 3D printers are a bit out of my league for the time being (at least until I manage to get some idea what the heck I’m doing when it comes to 3D modeling) I found that through a combination of open source tools and following instructions found in several FAQs posted on the Internet, creating a design that would work with the laser cutter proved to be a lot less daunting task than it might sound.  The ornaments which resulted from this project turned out very nice, and were very well received.  The only real problem I had with these ornaments was the fact that they ended up being far more expensive than I had originally planned on.  In fact, I think I spent about twice as much on the project as I had originally budgeted, and given the costs of laser cutting, I had planned on quite a bit.

As a result of this, although the tools for this year’s ornaments were pretty much the same as last years, the approach taken to the project was quite different, as was the end result.  After the jump, you’ll find a description of the process used to create my ornaments for this year’s family Thanksgiving ornament exchange.

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November 25, 2010

Everything’s Cooler When You Add Lasers: Making Custom Laser-Cut Christmas Ornaments

Filed under: Art, Design — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 4:35 pm

It’s a bit hard to believe, but by the time this gets posted another Thanksgiving will have come and gone by.  I’m actually writing this several days in advance of Thanksgiving itself, but I’m saving the post until after the annual Thanksgiving get-together when these ornaments are handed out.  If all goes well, Thanksgiving should be a pretty typical family gathering with all sorts of turkey and trimmings, an inescapable Cowboys game on the TV (normally I can’t stand the Cowboys, but given the fact that they’re standing at a 3-7 record while I write this there’s not much point in flogging that particular dead horse at this point) and the annual tradition of exchanging Christmas ornaments.  As I may have discussed a time or two in the past, I come from a family of what could be considered very crafty people.   In fact, several of my aunts have actually made a small business out of their craft hobbies, creating a large variety of different decorative products through woodworking and a vinyl cutter.  This means that a significant number of the ornaments in these annual exchanges will be custom-made, often with quite a bit of skill (and these days, often with quite a bit of custom cut vinyl.)  

I’ve actually tried the handmade ornament approach before, but the results have been decidedly mixed, mostly owing to complications related to the possession of a Y chromosome.  While I must admit that decoupage does provide some interesting design opportunities in the right hands, I’m pretty sure I am not in possession of said hands.  There’s also the fact that the acquisition of such materials generally requires an ill-fated excursion into one of the several arts and crafts stores found around town.  These, as you quickly find out upon entering, tend to smell like potpourri.  Strong, unmistakable, soul-scarring potpourri, the kind of stuff that can cause floral-scented nightmares for any man who gets exposed to the stuff for too long. Fortunately I’m pretty sure the stuff can’t actually kill you, only make you wish you were dead (or, if you happen to be female and/or domestically inclined, it can really help add that special touch to a room.)  The whole experience is a lot more survivable than I’m making it out to be here, but as a guy and an occasional nerd, I figure there’s got to be a better way.  Sure enough, it turns out that if I can manage to throw enough technology at the problem, there is.  Roughly a year ago, a place opened up on Capitol Hill in Seattle that provides hobbyists access to a number of various machines they might not otherwise be able to easily find anywhere, including a laser cutter and 3D printers.  While 3D printing is just a little bit out of my league right now, I actually found out that with free software and a quite reasonable learning curve I could actually put together a project that I could “print” on the laser cutter and create my own completely custom-made ornaments without having to go anywhere near a craft store. 

I should probably add the disclaimer that this post is not necessarily intended to provide a how-to for the process of making ornaments like these or other similar items, but I’ll try to share what I learned in the process and hopefully help out anyone who might try something like this in the future.  I’ve found that the available information on the Internet regarding laser cutting can be a bit spotty, and there were a few things that I had to figure out on the fly.  That said, if you can manage to find your way around a vector drawing program it’s actually not that difficult to do.  After the jump, a detailed look at the process behind the custom ornaments you see above.

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