Wheelhouse #2: Laser Cutter Edition

Moly Lube, Joinery, and Blowtorches

Wheelhouse is a newsletter for makers that covers new materials, techniques, and tools.

Laser Engraving Steel

Low-end laser cutters are great for cutting acrylic and wood and can engrave aluminum, but does not leave a mark on steel, which dissipates heat too quickly. Ferro makes CerMark, which is a spray that allows laser engraving of steel and other heavier metals, but it’s quite expensive. One of the main ingredients of this spray, molybendum disulfide, is also inexpensively available as a spray lubricant and can be used in a similar manner.

Laser-cut Joinery

There are many automated tools for designing puzzles, gears, and especially boxes but Joinery offers an amazing toolkit for turning a flat design into cuttable, joinable geometry. It is complicated so I recommend reading the quick-start guide.

Advanced Laser-cut Joinery

There are a variety of neat tricks that laser cutters enable, such as accordion flexures and flexible joinery. The “Laser Cut Like A Boss” guide nicely summarizes them.

Alternative to Acrylic

Many of these techniques mentioned above can be difficult to use with acrylic because it is so fragile, but this 1/32” acrylic sheeting can flex nicely. (h/t @1lenore) Delrin, also known as Acetal or POM, is another material that is more flexible than acrylic. Several of the examples in the above Boss guide use it, but it has both advantages and drawbacks.

Other Materials

Of course, remember to do the blowtorch test on any unknown material before you put it in the laser cutter: anything that outgasses chlorine will rapidly destroy the machine’s optics. I’ve been playing with soft materials in the machine lately. Acrylic felt works well, and pure automotive felt cuts very nicely, although it stinks terribly.

Drop us a line!

Please tell us about all new materials, new tools, and new techniques that you find. I’m currently gathering ideas for an issue on adhesive tape and CNC fonts, so please send me your ideas.