Project 1: Cutting with lasers
Step 1: Brainstorming and Ideation
My art practice is largely sculpture based, with a large interest in woodworking and Lego mosaics.
Idea #1: Ceramics Tool Gift Box
A small rectangular insert box which would serve as the liner and tool hold for a delicate, one-of-a-kind ceramics tool. Through cuts on “Big Red” would create the precise finger joints as well as a custom-fit tool cradle. Once assembled, the box serve as the interior of the black walnut box complete with rail hinges.
Idea #2: “All Good, No Worries” Light-up Wooden Sign
A continuation of a 2019 design, the “All Good, No Worries” light-up sign represents two common idiomatic expressions. The first, as defined in a 2013 New Yorker piece:“[A] Phrase used to express a sense of general approval, despite circumstances that would not seem to warrant it.” The second, borrowed/transplanted/stolen/ascribed from Australian expression, “no worries” has a more varied meaning ranging from, “no problem” to “you’re welcome.”
The intent is to make light of the sarcastic face-value of these idioms and provide subtle announcement that everything is not OK.
The complete sign would utilize a three-pole switch to articulate lighting circuits in bays between “All Good,” “No Worries,” and “All Worries.”
Idea #3: Wooden Lego Display Base
Finally a display base for those seasonal Lego sets! A thin (3/4–1" tall) wooden box would serve as the base, while hidden base lighting would highlight the set on all four sides. Often Adult Fans of Lego (AFOLs) and Teen Fans of Lego (TFOLs) install thin line wired LEDs into their sets which bring them to life. The con of wiring each set is the time, money, and effort required to integrate illumination into the ever growing offering by Lego. Therefor, by providing a base which functions similar to real-life exterior flood lights on residential and commercial structures, the Lego set would be elevated the above a surface, I believe provides similar amenities to well light sculptures on a pedestal.
Step 2: File Work
I decided to move forward on Idea #2: “All Good, No Worries” Light-up Wooden Sign as this idea had excited me for 6+ months. However, the initial idea focused on the statement and left the construction and display in idea purgatory.
Working out the shape, orientation, and which alternate phrases lit-up was easily accomplished on Adobe Illustrator.
As you can see above, the design was applied to Big Red’s bed size of 24" x 48"; line weight changed to 0.001; stroke changed to “none” and fill changed to “RGB-Red” for through cutting.
Additionally, I chose Phosphate-Solid to get around too many fine lines for the laser cutter. The centers of letter “O” and “D” were not connected to their letters so I could attach them to an opaque background, after assembly.
File work was sent to the XYZ Lab to be cut out of cardboard as a quick and inexpensive prototype.
Meanwhile, I found battery-operated AA-20 LED strips from LEDSupply.com and three position, On/Off/On switches from Amazon.com. This eliminates the need for power cords — something I really didn’t like from previous signs I made.
Step 3: Revised File work
My first draft of file work on AI worked well enough that I decided to only make a few changes.
First, after receiving electrical switches and the battery box, I made cut outs where I thought they would be user friendly. The cutout in the back-center will allow the battery box to be hidden, center the weight of the sign, and be just sunk enough to allow access to the batteries without access issues.
The engraving on the interior side of the back panel acts as plot lines. After thinking through the circuits, I realized the words “All” and “Worries” would need to be separated from the phrases. Essentially, there will be two circuits: one for all the words together and another for the alternate phrase. To fully isolate “All” and “Worries” from the rest, I’ll have to compartmentalize. My plan is to use 1/8" material to create these compartments, which will prevent (in theory) light from leaking out and adding ambient illumination to the surrounding letters.
Step 4: Final Assembly
After weeks of waiting on materials (the 2020 election held up the mail for a few days longer) I was able to get all the pieces painted, light strips wired in, and test out the sign!
For paint, I first sealed the MDF with shellac, which the internet informed me was anywhere from MUST DO, to “meh.” Once the shellac cured, I followed with a can of “harvest gold” gloss enamel that was in the shop for the front. The sides are a forrest green-like color, also in gloss enamel. After putting the colors together, I realized that these are the national colors of Australia… Probably not a mistake in the color choice, considering no worries is an informal phrase deriving from Australia. I digress. The black interior of the sign box was meant to dissipate any ambient light that would bounce around from the LEDs — hard to say if that choice helped.
Wiring came next. A bit of trial and error with which LEDs to use and I’m not entirely sure what I have in here. Essentially, there are two circuits run from the same 12v power supply, which runs off of 8AA batteries. Initially, I wanted to be able to hang the sign on the wall, so the battery box is sunk in a bit and extends out just enough to access the cover.
When the box parts were being cut out on the laser engraver, I had ghost lines etched so I could see where the words on the sign would be, thus making the layout of the light strips much easier.
The first circuit runs on the bottom and is more of a warm white light and has only one LED strip for each word. The second circuit is bright white and was doubled up to make the alternative phrase pop.
Switching was done with a 12v-125v ON-OFF-ON switch and just required the neutral wires to be landed and switched. Power was run from the battery, split to the two circuits (in the middle) via butt-splice and ran directly to the strips…Took a minute to remember how to wire a switch.
A bit of nuance, but I want to point out that the LED strip connectors vary from strip to strip. The white connectors, as seen on the top row of strips, came from Amazon and were the quickest for solder-less connection. The black and clear “beetle clips” (bottom rows) from LED Supply.com were less than useful. Considering these connectors were advertised to be quick and painless without the need to strip wire, I couldn't find a way to make them work without stripping. Soldering was the last bastion and worked, as long as the strip didn't get too hot and burn — fortunately didn't happen.
Finally, after everything was wired and checked 16 times, I installed dividers between each of the four words to compartmentalize the words. Overall, I’d say it worked O.K.. Not sure if the choice to use a monolithic piece plexiglass caused the light to drift into other, unlit words, but the dividers only blocked so much. It does what it’s supposed to do — communicate and play. Let me know what you think!