Vulgar Napkin Holders

Vulgar Napkin Holders

A colleague/friend of mine got her first solo apartment was lamenting that she was needed a bunch of household necessities, including a napkin holder. Since she hadn’t been in a while, I suggested suggested she could make her own at Nova Labs. Annoyed, she told me to make her one; I thought the best gift was one she’d regret asking for…

The first thoughts included some messy clipart faces (think Garbage Pail Kids stickers), but I quickly settled on some nice type and alliteration.

The design for the napkin holder itself was whipped up in Illustrator using a simple tabbed box type design.

Production happened using the laser cutter at Nova Labs.

A less vulgar version was created for a neighbor who commented on Facebook that they wanted one, but would have to wait 10 years before their kids could be exposed to the original!

Engraved cube Kickstarter backer gifts

Engraved cube Kickstarter backer gifts

Backer Gifts

The Nova Labs Kickstarter campaign ended successfully back in early 2015. One of the higher backer levels was for the backers’ name on a wall in the space, but we also planned on sending them a plaque.

I didn’t expect that someone would put 4 mounting standoffs on their wall, so I thought that something more like a paperweight for the backer’s desk or bookcase would be better.

The Cube

At the fall 2015 Adobe MAX conference, a booth for Universal Laser allowed attendees to make wooden stamp blocks using Adobe’s Creative Cloud Shared Libraries to get files from workstations to the folks running the laser. As the exhibition floor was shutting down they were handing out the remaining cubes, so I grabbed a few of the blanks to play with at home. I thought the 2″ cubes could be a good format for the backer reward.

Not wanting to settle on the first material idea I had, I also ordered a clear acrylic cube to test on.

In the end the acrylic seemed way too ‘corporate gift’ looking, with the birch wood being way warmer, especially after giving the final pieces a coat of tung oil.

Setup and production

The key to engraving these easily was setting up a row of seven 2″ squares that were lightly cut into a sacrificial material. The blocks were then put on these lines ensuring accurate placement of each faces’ design.

Fortunately the position of “home” doesn’t change as you adjust the Z-height (you need to do the light guide cut with the laser focused on the paper or foamcore, and then drop the bed down to accommodate the height of the block.)

Masking tape was used to reduce the discoloration of the wood due to smoke from the engrave, but I’m not sure if it was worth the time needed to remove all of the tiny counters of the text, vs sanding with a belt or disk sander.

As it was, the wood cubes were still sanded down after removing the tape. They were eventually finished with tung oil after doing a few tests with other finishes such as varnish and shellac.

Over-achieving embroidered party favors for kid’s birthday

Over-achieving embroidered party favors for kid’s birthday


Custom embroidered wash cloths
Homemade, personalized, embroidered wash cloths were definitely overkill for a 2-year-old’s birthday celebration at school.

As a relatively new parent several years ago, I was shocked to learn that not only would the birthday kid bring cupcakes or a treat or whatever to school, but they would also bring party favors for the class. Presents for the other kids? And we’re not even hosting a party to get presents in return?

Our little one had a birthday later in the year, so we had several months of bringing home goodie bags of candy and small plastic toys; like we needed any more of those things… I wanted to do better. Up the ante. Go overboard.

We had recently purchased a new-to-us sewing machine with embroidery attachment, and I thought this was a great opportunity to go overboard with gifts for her classmates. Instead of junk, how about something personalized and useful? Every kid needs baths, and washcloths would be easy to embroider on since they are sturdy (I think I used a wash-away stabilizer just to be sure).

I came up with a design using an outline of a duck, and a font that was built into the digitizing software I had. It would embroider quickly since it had a relatively low stitch count.

Was it worth it? Meh…

Despite getting the washcloths for cheap at Costco, it still took a ton of time. But I’m sure they got more use than a plastic lizard, bouncy ball, or tiny rainbow Slinky, so at least there’s that!

Embroidered wash cloths and Brother ULT2003D sewing/embroidery machine
Assortment of embroidered wash cloths for a 2 year old’s birthday party/goody bag.


Christmas Tree cut outs – decorated version

Finished Christmas Decorations

The big plan for the Christmas Trees from early December was to let my kids decorate them. We later decided to give them to all of the grandparents for Christmas; I was able to snap a few photos before we wrapped them and hit the holiday road.

Here they are. I’ll let you guess which one the toddler decorated, vs the 4-year-old!


Finished Christmas Decorations Finished Christmas Decorations


Box for crayons – custom engraved

A wooden box holding crayons

At this point I’ve created a few laser-cut tabbed boxes (trading card box, boxes for custom puzzles, and another as an electronics enclosure). None of these had an attached lid, but since this particular project was a gift for the 2-year-old daughter of a colleague, I thought that was the way to go.

I took measurements for a package of crayons that was part of her birthday present, and added in the thickness of the .11″ (really, it couldn’t be a full 1/8″?) lite plywood I had. The box maker web application by Rahul at ConnectionLab has been my go-to for these, but, I found that the pieces generated for this particular box had weird corners. I tried using another box maker found at MakerCase and it worked pretty well.

The pieces were symmetrical so it made it a little easier to work with, at the expense of the center tabs having irregular measurements compared to the others.

A wooden box with hinged lid

I took steps to smooth out the top edges of the pieces, and eliminated the tabs from the lid. Pins for the hinge were added, and I created a hole for the pin to go into. The biggest problem was that I initially made the center line of the hole above the part, so the lid didn’t sit flush with the box. I modified the file slightly dropping the hole down, and recut the 2 parts. At least those 2 pieces were pretty small so it wasn’t a huge deal.

Since most little kid birthday parties we’ve been to lately don’t include opening presents, and I haven’t been back at work yet, I don’t know how it was received. Hopefully she loved her name being engraved on the lid!

Ella engraved on the top of a wooden box
Ella and a small bird engraved on the lid of a custom laser-cut tabbed box.
Front view of a wooden box holding crayons
A custom laser-cut tabbed box for crayons.
Ella engraved on the top of a wooden box
Ella and a small bird engraved on the lid of a custom laser-cut tabbed box.
Prototype Christmas Tree gift

Prototype Christmas Tree gift

Slot-together plywood Christmas tree
Assembled prototype of a desktop Christmas Tree decoration.

It looks like this is the second post in a row with work themed projects (you just don’t see all my draft posts!) Anyway…

Last year my team gave our internal clients Christmas cards to say thank you for working with us over the year. I thought we could step it up a bit with a company-themed gift/decoration to go on their desks this December.

This is a prototype of a laser cut, slotted Christmas Tree decoration. Made of 1/8″ birch plywood, I created the design in Illustrator. The shape is intentionally simple as we are going to cut or engrave some of our graphic resources on the final pieces. My wife is advocating for red acrylic, so we’ll see what happens after we discuss at work.

Stay tuned for the final version in the next 2 weeks or so.


Laser cut Christmas tree decoration
2 flat pieces that will slot together to make a Christmas tree decoration. This is just a prototype made of 1/8″ plywood.