So for the last 7 years or so, Jess and I have considered purchasing a laser cutter. My personal goal is to have my own FabLab. I’m partially there with Jess’s KNK Zing vinyl cutter and my Shapeoko/Xcarve CNC machine. The two main missing components are a 3D printer and a laser cutter. Being a FabAcademy alum and running a FabLab at work, I am intimately aware that lasers are the most used (and arguably useful) machine. They are definitely the most fun to play with. They are also the easiest to make money with (It’s always easiest for me to justify big purchases with the expression “hobbies that pay”). For the past several decades, laser cutters or laser engravers have been used in trophy shops and all sorts of companies. You can use a laser cutter to make products to sell on Etsy (as many people do), make the most amazing personalized birthday and holiday gifts, prototypes of ideas you have, or just make cool stuff for yourself.
I recently saw a new laser cutter on the market and I held back for a while before making the decision to buy it. That may have been a mistake. The GlowForge is shaping up to be a great machine. I’ve followed it since September, when they were offering 50% discounts on all models. At the time of this article, they have raised the price to 40% off retail price. And, if you use this referral code, both you and I will get $100 off our orders! (In full discretion, I have had no contact with Glowforge, nor have I actually use the machine myself yet. I’m just really stoked with this machine and its potential. I do have a PhD in Computer/Electrical engineering with Computer Science background and I run an official node of the FabLab network that was started at MIT, so hopefully I’m not off base here… )
There are lots of cheap ( <$15k ) 40-watt laser cutters on the market such as some cheap Chinese ones from Alibaba, or Full Spectrum. So why go in on a Glowforge? Well quite simply, it is the best designed laser cutter for FabLab/Makerspace/Hackerspace use. Unlike others in the price range, you don’t need a 5 gallon bucket of distilled water and a fish pump to cool the laser tube (yes that’s a real thing some other models at these prices require and it is ridiculous). It breaks the paradigm of how users interact with a laser cutter. It is following some of the latest research on user interface and user experience in the field of computer science. Honestly, those are project I wish I could implement myself but didn’t have the time. It brings together lots of great solutions from these projects and crams it all into a single package.
Paradigm shift #1: Unlike traditional laser cutters, where you print to the machine like a printer on a network or connected to your computer, Glowforge can be printed from practically any location in the world. This is because the software is cloud-based. I used to be wary of this kinds of thing, but since Glowforge also promises to make a version of the software open source, you can implement it yourself if you want.
Paradigm shift #2: Glowforge allows you to easily position your designs on your material using a live camera view of the material. This is a godsend for those who are familiar with the waste of laser cutters. To be able to make sure a design will fit on a scrap piece of material, you have to do some measurements, hold your tongue just write when pushing the cut button, and hope you remembered to reset the origin (0,0 point) on the laser before cutting. Sometimes this can be very hard depending on what was originally cut out of the scrap you are using, you might have a weird shaped area and it can be very hard to find out if you can use it to cut a new part. There are some ideas being researched to handle this kind of situation and other tools you can purchase that are very expensive, but Glowforge has it built in. Being able to literally move my design on top of a video camera image of the material allows me to use as much material as possible without the risk of mis-cutting and having to toss that piece of material and grab a new one.
Another great feature is to simply draw on the material you want with a pen. The cameras will read your design, vectorize it, then the laser will frickin’ cut it exactly as you’ve drawn it. This is worthy of some type of award because it will save a lot of time for people. I constantly have students who would benefit from simply being able to draw their designs by hand and quickly cut a part out. Again, this feature somewhat comes from newer research into user interface design of laser cutters I’ve been keeping my eye on for some time now.
Paradigm shift 3: Glowforge uses dual cameras inside the cabinet to not only allow you to place your design on the material, but it can conform and auto focus even on non-level materials. The example on their web video mentions etching a design on a macbook, but this is sooo much more powerful and useful than just that. Many materials you want to laser, such as a 1/8″ piece of plywood, have a warp to them. If you focus your laser on the low part of the warp, then keep that measurement to cut the whole part, you can end up with edges that aren’t exactly as you had designed them, or edges that are weak due to the wood not ablating and instead burning. This is bad for a couple of reasons. One it can start small fires, but more commonly your edge is brittle and ashy. This changes the workable dimensions of your parts and sometimes makes them unusable.
Also, the cameras can detect materials you put in the machine. There are barcodes on the materials you buy from Glowforge, but you can make them yourself, which tell the machine what settings to use for engraving or cutting the material. Settings are different for plastics versus wood, etc. Even different densities of wood matter, so this is a great solution to the problem of figuring out what power and speed settings to set the laser to use.
And finally on this point, it seems there’s also some image recognition. Put your laptop in there and you it’ll detect it’s a macbook and know what settings to use to best etch it. It can even bring up possible designed others have submitted online for you to use if you want.
Paradigm shift 4: The firmware as well as a simplified version of the cloud software will be made open source. This is great because I can hack on it (as I would have done anyway, but at least now I have a much better starting point) . I’m certain a community of hackers/makers will be adding features, which is exciting since this machine is already starting with an impressive set of features.
Paradigm shift 4: On the Pro version of the machine, you can open the front and back to be able to cut material that is 20″wide, but infinitely long. This comes from two places, the vinyl cutting machines that are in the market (which can cut a certain width, but practically an infinite length of material from a spool), the Shaper and the awesome Shopbot Handibot (Shoutout to our friends and fellow Carolinian’s; thanks again for the help this past summer in Pittsburgh Salley!), which can do large designs piece-wise. The cameras on the Glowforge can help align the previously lasered portion with your design and make adjustments as needed. This is incredibly helpful for making sure the finished product comes out correctly.
Glowforge will also host a libray of other peoples’ designs you can choose from if you aren’t the artistic type. This is similar to Makerbot’s Thingiverse or Ultimaker’s YouMagine for 3D parts and Inventables’s project section for CNC projects and file, which can be imported into Easel (Inventables’s cloud-based CNC CAD/CAM software for their line of Shapeoko, Carvey, or X-carve machines).
Words of Negativity: For the specs of the machine, the 20″ wide cutting area is slightly awkward and a 24″ width seems more practical. Also, since the Glowforge isn’t out yet, I have to wait. I have to wait to see if it lives up to these expectations, and also wait to play with it myself.
All that being said, the Glowforge sale at this point is a presale. I won’t receive my machine until summer 2016 or later, but you have until the time it ships to cancel your order and get a full refund. I expect any bugs in the system will be worked out before I get mine and if not, then I’ll have a good excuse to play with it in more depth.
Disclaimer: The only affiliate link in this post is for the Glowforge. All other links supplied in this post are to simplify your internet browsing adventure.
whole machine Forgive this messy rant….
After obsessing over CNC machines for about 10 years, and having some misadventures from time to time designing my own hardware and software, I jumped at the chance to order the original Shapeoko CNC mill mechanical kit as soon as it came out. It took me a year to find time to put it all together. After it was assembled, I connected up my old HobbyCNCPro Motor driver board to it. This driver board is for Unipolar motors, so I searched for some that would work. I found these NEMA 17s from pololu <>
On a previous attempt at making a CNC machine, I used Mach 3, but this time I went with LinuxCNC. The main reason I wanted the machine was to mill PCBs. The workflow was EaglecAD–>pcb-Gcode–>autoleveller–>linuxCNC.<> I made a few really horrible PCBs with the machine before realizing it simply wasn’t the tool for the job. The gantry had way too much play. The eShapeoko community was constantly updating and improving on the designs, so I waited it out until the V2 came out before the obsession hit me again when I saw how they doubled the gantry slides to improve strength.
After a year of V2 being on the market, I searched forums for a conversion pack but none was to be found. So I spent a while trying to define the differences between the machines. In the end, I spent probably just as much as buying a whole new mechanical kit, but here’s my process.
I’ve already mentioned one good tool for research papers, so here’s another that might be helpful.
Most schools have a set format for their dissertations and theses. My school was the same. They provide a manual showing what they expect your formatting to be. Many people have trouble with this. You must make a meeting with a specific faculty member in the graduate school and she will take a ruler and measure your margins, and go over in extreme detail the spacing, numbering, etc. of your document. Many many people get rejected and I’ve even talked to people who pay lots of money for other people to format the documents for them. They don’t provide an exact template for any specific software, but using the google machine can help you find Microsoft Word or LaTeX tempaltes. Personally, I like LibreOffice it is completely cross-platform (works on windows, mac, and linux systems) completely free, open source, has lots of great plugins and it lives in the world between Microsoft Windows and LaTeX. It is GUI-based (WYSIWYG, visual) like Microsoft Word, but also much more powerful like LaTeX. I dislike LaTeX because it is incredibly buggy and you have to program your text documents. I program other stuff all day long, I am sick of that!
Anyway, I made my own template and write up a very detailed explanation on how to use it and my best tips and tricks for modifying the basic template if you want. I also have a chart of suggested plugins to make your papers look amazingly good and professional. Again, I used LibreOffice, so it can be used in OpenOffice as well. This is specific to my school, so be sure you double check your school’s documents to see exactly what kind of margins and page numbering they require. (Note it is in Open document Format and though I haven’t tested it, it *might* work in other programs like Microsoft Word).
I got tired of going to the dropbox website to find the public link for files I put in the Public folder. On Windows you can simply right click–>get Public link, but I’m running LinuxMint with Dropbox version 2.0.22 which doesn’t support this (among many other things like Pausing a sync…)
Anyway I wrote a script that you can just drag your files onto and it’ll pop up a box showing you the public link. In Linux, a script alone can’t do this, but a script and a .desktop file can call a script to do it. Here’s what I got:
Save the following in a text file called “getPublicLink.sh” inside your Dropbox/Public folder. Make sure it has permission to run (right-click the file–> properties –>permission and check the box to allow it to run)
I have implemented many “Git r done” routines in my life. Whether online at todoist, or in real life on a post-it note, to do lists are my bread and butter. (I actually really love bread and butter. ) When I get to the root of it, to do lists are my attempt to feel better about my work/life balance.
There are only so many minutes in a day, and I find it easy to beat myself up about how much I get accomplished. The best realization that I ever came to is for short time to do lists. I only put down what I can reasonably accomplish in the given time frame. That way I feel good about marking everything off instead of depressed about only finishing two of my 900 things to do. I feel even better when I have “extra” time to get things finished that I didn’t expect to.
A little bit about me: I started two new jobs this past year! One is my full time gig. The other is a part time thing, but requires Monday-Friday attention. I embrace change. I heart change. I yearn for change. Still, these two changes put me for a loop. New = learning curve = more time needed. I’m still adjusting to these changes, but proud of my successes with all this newness going on.
It is easy for me to compare myself to other people, which usually results in negative feelings about my self image. Most of this arises when I compare myself to people who are not like me. Young House Love is a great example. They post 7-8 posts a week. Gah! It is easy to feel jealous, but then I remind myself that two awesome people are working more than 40 hours a week to accomplish that feat. Comparing yourself to others does not help the work+life=happy equation. Compare yourself to your previous self. How has your life changed and how have you adjusted (for the good and/or the bad)? Be your own yardstick for growth.
I was inspired to write this post from another post, “Work Smarter, Not Harder” from Young House Love. I love that it offers advice from a myriad of different people, so you can soak in what sings to you. I found myself nodding along to some advice, thinking “Hey, I do that!”:
Some of my fav “new” ideas to try include:
What idea is your fav?
Yesterday was a great Saturday for exploring new places. Adam and I watched our first roller derby game. We sat in “suicide seating” which was on the ground right on the rink. Even better, our home team – the Charlotte Roller Girls – won their bout. Next Adam took me to a great burger joint called the Kickstand. It was great food and I surprisingly (or maybe not too surprisingly) loved having avocado on my burger.
In honor of exploring new places, I felt inspired to tackle the skill of changing signs in photos to say what you want. Here is the original photo I took at a North Carolina beach.
Here is version 1.
This time around I don’t have a very strong favorite and I like them all. Take all of them as a “sign”
After yesterday’s photo word art centered around the quote “You can’t plow a field by turning it over in your mind“, I still had remnants of inspiration. Last summer my father came to visit, and I was thinking about our adventures because he is going to be returning again. Last visit, he discovered an amazing privately owned lake that is open to public visitors. I took the following photo at that lake.
I wanted simplicity with my creations. Here are my afters.
Last, my favorite.
I am in love with the above. I really see my self taught Photoshop skills growing in the above transformation. Yay for progress!
I was listless last night when I stumbled across this quote:
You can’t plow a field by turning it over in your mind. It inspired me to use a tree picture I had taken and turn it into inspirational word art.
Here is the before.
Here are the afters.
This is my second favorite of the group.
A friend commented that the text was hard to read, so at the last moment I created the version that became my favorite of the bunch.
Inspiration to get things done is always needed!
How to create your random superhero name courtesy of NiceGirlNote’s post titled “You Villain“. You take the pattern or color of your shirt and creatively combine it with and object to your left.
Adam is Master GreyFace. (He was wearing a grey shirt and was next to a face mask from our last sanding project.)
My villain name is Countess SparrowRock. (My shirt has birds on it and I had a rock paperweight next to me).
What would your super villain name be?
(The featured image for this post is by Sam Lavy.)