We were contacted last week by a Yale nurse to 3D print Ear Savers, devices designed to eliminate ear strain in those who must wear masks daily by holding the mask using the back of the wearer’s head rather than the back of their ears.
We received feedback that our 3D printed straps were too short, could tangle in the wearer’s hair, and were just too brittle. We also found that 3D printing was simply not fast enough to keep up with demand from local hospitals, nursing homes, and healthcare facilities.
We reworked the design based on feedback to improve the experience of wearing the strap, then began mass-producing straps using our 2 laser cutters.
Currently, we can produce around 250 straps per hour between our 2 laser cutters. To date, we’ve donated over 3000 ear saver straps to 13 local hospitals, nursing homes, and healthcare facilities.
How can I help?
We are currently running a GoFundMe to get a third laser online and making straps. It can be found here.
For an event, we needed signs with the logos of our sponsors. We decided a good way to do this was by using layers of paint on acrylic, and perfected of laser engraved acrylic sign making.
Preparing The Acrylic
The first step is to paint your sheet of acrylic the color of our the logo’s background. For all our signs, we used a white background, so we started by painting the entire back side of the 12″x24″ sheets with Rust-Oleum white spray paint. Three thin coats are better than a heavy coat.
The next step is to setup the file in CorelDraw. Use the bitmap trace feature in CorelDraw to convert your logo’s image to curves. Its important to remember to mirror your graphic because you are engraving on the back of the sign. Each layer corresponds to a different color . For example, if you were doing red green and blue, you would separate your graphic into the 3 layers, one for each color. Turn whatever color the image is to black to ensure the laser uses full power.
The acrylic is far out of square, so we will be cutting out a box to establish the shape of our sign. We will do a rectangular sign with rounded edges. The is cut in the last step to keep the position of the piece constant when it is placed back in the laser for other layers.
Engraving Acrylic Sign
Now the laser comes in, laser engrave layer 1 into the back of the acrylic so all of the white paint in the affected areas is removed. If you can, have the laser set to bottom up engraving. This will prevent a white powdery substance from clouding your freshly engraved acrylic. Paint the engraved region the corresponding color with a hand paint. Spray paint doesn’t work for these steps as it results in a chemical reaction with the acrylic, and leaves a cracked finish.
Put it back in the laser and continue this process for the remaining layers, allowing to dry between colors. (Drying can be sped up with a heat gun)
A high detail logo remains on the other side of the acrylic. An optional last step is to clear coat the painted side to prevent scratches in the paint. A 3D printed bracket is useful to mount the engraved acrylic sign to a wall.
I have been searching for neat things to do with the laser, and I saw that people were laser cutting 3D models from cardboard sheets and stacking them to create 3D objects. I thought this was awesome, and wanted to give it a try. The first file I did was the example provided by Epilog of a T-Rex head. This was only 3 2’x3′ sheets of cardboard.
Now that I knew they looked great, I began searching for another model to make in cardboard. I decided on this Einstein bust, and made it about 17″ tall. Cutting it out took about 16 2’x3′ sheets of cardboard, and took several hours, but it was well worth it.
You can download the files I used to cut this here. You can read a tutorial on laser cutting 3D models like this yourself here.
UV lights are an important tool with a ton of uses including florescent minerals and exposure of photo sensitive materials. Short wave UV lights can be rather costly. The most popular brand is Way Too Cool who makes a quality and durable light, but they can be a bit costly. I wanted to see if it is possible to make a cheaper alternative for one of these lights. After perusing eBay for a shortwave UV lamp, I came across an entire kit that included 2 shortwave lamps and a DC driver for around $25, which was exactly what I was looking for to make. All it needed was power and a case.
My initial instinct was to use a plastic project box, but I then remembered that we are not cavemen, we have technology. I drew up an extremely simple box design and laser cut it out of 1/8″ birch plywood.
When designing the bottom plate the lamps sit against, the reflector was a concern. Light is emitted around the entire circumference of the lamp, so I didn’t want the lamp simply recessed inside of a box, as a ton of light would be lost. I began playing with the idea of a complex curved reflector, but in the end I simply added a reflective Mylar material to the bottom panel, and have the sides extend downward to shield light from going sideways and allow the light to be set down.
I wanted the light to be as portable as possible, so the battery had to built in. The driver included with the 254nm lamps required 12v, and drew just over 3 watts at that voltage. My initial plan was to make a 3 or 4 cell lithium pack with 18650 cells, but this would require a BMS board. The issue with most of the cheap BMS systems for under $8 is that they aren’t reliable, and people report they don’t actually balance the batteries. I don’t want to take any risks on this, or spend more than $20 on a power supply for this light.
In the end I decided on using a single 18650 cell to power the driver. There is a cheap protection circuit to prevent over discharge of the battery and a DC-DC converter to step the batteries voltage to 12v. The charging is handled by a cheap USB charging module. Power to this module is provided from a dc barrel jack on the lid of a box. The voltage in from the jack runs through a 5v linear regulator so that voltages other than 5v can be used to charge the battery. This is not the most elegant or efficient solution in any way, shape, or form, however, it is cheap and gets the job done. If I was making more than one of these lights I would design a custom PCB to integrate all the electronics into a single board.
Finding a battery to suit this application was rather difficult. I was looking for a high capacity cell with low drain, but most of the cells out there are designed with super high C values for electronic cigarettes. I ended up choosing the LG MJ1. This cell has a capacity of 3500 mAh and a C value of just 10A. They can be found online for just under $4 per cell. A single cell should have enough power to run the light for about 3 hours. There is still plenty of room in the case, and it can easily hold 4-5 cells, but I’m not sure why you would need 15 hours of run time on a light like this.
The electronics were soldered together then heat shrunk to prevent shorts. Everything is held in place with hot glue. Again, if I was making more than one, a custom PCB screwed to the case would be a much better solution.
LG MJ1 Battery
Lithium Protection Circuit
Lithium Charge Circuit
DC-DC Step Up
My light was much cheaper than most shortwave light out there, although it is only 3 watts. If I was to make another, I would buy just the lamps and build the driver circuit myself. This would drive the cost down quite a bit as germicidal lamps a pretty cheap on eBay.
I’m super happy with the results. If were were to do this again, I would add screws to hold the case together rather than glue, a custom PCB, a UV pass filter, and higher wattage lamps.
For a learn to solder class, we wanted to make a project people could solder together and then use, rather than make a useless blinking light like a lot of the learn to solder kits you can find online. Our solution was to create our own Arduino with some branding to support our makerspace.
At first, I began making my own PCB. The hardest part was finding a USB to serial chip in a DIP package, but I eventually found one. The MCP2221A. During my search I came across the MAKIT-THT by Thunkit Electronics. This is what I ended up basing my board off of. You can look at the GitHub repo here or buy a kit from Tindie. Another example of a custom Arduino can be found here The files on GitHub are made in KiCad, and are easily editable by almost anyone. Once converted to gerbers, they can be sent to a service like JLCPCB or SeedStudio for super cheap.
The BOM for one of these boards is less than $10 each from DigiKey. This is a great introduction to electronics and Arduino programming, and allows for a cheap class to teach almost anyone the basics of soldering and microcontroller programming. They also make a great fundraiser/promotional item for a makerspace or something similar.
I have always wanted to silk screen my own t-shirts. I wont go into the nitty gritty of silk screen printing because there are hundreds of blog posts and YouTube videos on how to do it, and I am in no way, shape, or form an expert. First, we needed a press.
This is an example of one from eBay, but after reading reviews, these presses sound like they are rather low quality and are cheaply made. I found this video for a homemade 4 color press. The press was made from plans found at https://printingplans.com/ where the plans can be downloaded for free. This is what I decided to do, and it only cost a bit more than the cheap eBay presses.
Overall I was very happy with how the press turned out. It is much better than anything I could have bought for under $150. Next up was to make a few homemade screens. This seemed like a good idea, but was a huge pain. Just buy the 6 or 12 packs from eBay.
After learning lessons such as the importance of mesh size and how to properly align shirts, the results began to look very professional. I’m extremely happy with what I’ve made so far, and will continue to improve, eventually working my way up to some 4 color designs.
Supreme is a street wear brand that makes little to no sense to me. They give people the illusion that they are buying something exclusive, and it works really well. They slap their name on just about anything, and sell it for 10x what the product would normally retail for. For example, a brand new red Zippo lighter can be purchased online for under $13 shipped, while Supreme branded Zippos sell for upwards of $100 on Ebay. This begs the question, how hard would it be to for us to add that white text ourselves?
I started out by replicating both sides of the lighter in CorelDraw. The font in the supreme logo is Futura Bold Italic. Recreating the graphic was extremely simple. I used the crop tool in Corel to crop the r in both text boxes to split the logo in two, and that was about it.
The next step was to test the sizing and alignment on the lighter. To do this, I put a piece of tape over the lighter, and ran the laser at a low power setting that was just powerful enough to leave a mark on the tape. We can use this non-permanent marking to see the size and position of the graphic on the lighter. Once we have a product we are happy with, we can cover the lighter in tape, and raster our graphic on full power, removing both the masking tape and the red powder coat. After the powder coat is burned away by the laser, a sticky residue is left behind, however, it is easy to remove with isopropyl alcohol and cotton swabs, exposing the brass
I now had a very high quality stencil on the lighter, and it was time to add the white. My first idea was to use white spray paint.
The result looks decent. It looks real, and would make a great display piece, but the white paint isn’t durable enough to withstand daily use. After just a few days, the paint began to wear off. We need a more durable coating to hold up to the wear and tear.
Powder coating adds a strong and durable plastic coating on metal parts. It is applied with a specialized gun that charges the particles of the powder electrically and they stick to the part. Then, the part is then put in an oven and allowed to cure.
The process for powder coating is extremely similar to that of the spray paint lighter except for the masking tape. Standard blue painters tape will not withstand the curing temperatures upwards of 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead, a specialty masking tape for powder coating is used. This was rastered away on the laser and I was left with an extremely similar scenario to that of the painted lighter. An Eastwood Powder Coating Gun was used with gloss white powder to coat the lighter
After the coat had been applied and baked, it was time to remove the mask. My initial reaction was not good. The lines were far from crisp, and powder coat was bleeding over onto the red. I initially wrote powder coating off as a failure, but after playing with it a bit, the coat had not stuck to the red powder coat below it, and the white was easily removed from the red with Scotch-Brite.
I am quite happy with the lighter, It looks great, and has a long-lasting durable logo on it. It would be hard for someone to identify this as a fake. How could anyone fake something like this anyway??? Its not like somebody used a laser engraver to etch away high temperature masking tape and powder coated it themselves, right?
One of my favorite laser engraving projects was adding a graphic to the back of my iPhone 7+. To align the image, I set the piece size to the dimensions of the phone in CorelDraw. I then added a photo of the rear of the phone to the design and made it translucent. I then added my graphic over that, and adjusted it until it was a good size and position on the phone. I then deleted the phone image, leaving me with the aligned graphic to be engraved. To test it out, I covered the phone in masking tape and ran the laser at a low power setting to mark the tape. When I was happy with the result, I ran the laser at full power without tape to permanently etch my phone.