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.

Boeing 747 toy

Boeing 747 toy

747 laser cut modelMy daughter had asked about making a plane at “your workshop” (aka Nova Labs) and I thought I’d test one method before I brought her along.

This Boeing 747 model started from a vector 3-view drawing I found online. I cleaned it up in Illustrator and prepared cutouts for 5mm wood.

Cut on the laser cutter at Nova Labs.

Definitely less than an hour start to finish.

I think the next try will be to make something a little more 3d by layering pieces of material (I can then get the relative position of the wings and horizontal stabilizer in the right place).

747 laser cut model

747 laser cut model

Fundraising keychain prototypes and variations

Fundraising keychain prototypes and variations

Laser cut keychain prototypesNova Labs will soon launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the new space. As part of the team preparing for it, I created several prototypes for laser-cut acrylic keychains to be offered as backer rewards at the lower levels. In not much time, I was able to make several variations on the Nova Labs logo, including engravings, cut out parts, different shapes, etc.

In the end, we decided to go with the more practical (and more durable due to fewer cutouts) version that includes an engraved ruler on the back.

These were cut out of 1/8″ acrylic, purchased from Delvie’s Plastics.

Check out the campaign, due to launch in early March, 2015!

Laser engraved keychain tag
Engraved Nova Labs logo keychain tag.
Keychain tag ruler
Back of the keychain tag, showing a ruler with mm and imperial scales (1/8″).

Office ‘privacy please’ sign

The Doc sign closeupOur office recently converted a small room for making phone calls (given our relatively open floor plan) into a space called “The Doc”. Here you could video-chat with a doctor or RN in lieu of going to your general practitioner for basic diagnoses.

We added frosted window film to the door for privacy, but the sliding barn-doors didn’t have a lock. A double-sided sign with some velcro tabs was created to indicate if the room was occupied or not, but it wasn’t terribly attractive.

The Doc original 'privacy' sign
The original sign created to indicate if the room was occupied or not.

I was inspired by the way a porta john or airplane lav has a visible ‘occupied’ indicator. Mine would be circular to match the look of the logo for the company’s wellness program, with a cutout for some fun text to say ‘come on in’ and ‘unless you want to see my rash, stay out’ (ok, not exactly those words).

As you can see from the file below, I tried to make a complicated detent to lock the indicator at each end of its travel. In practice, there was plenty of friction between the layers of material to not require this. Also, after about 2 months of being in use, part of it broke allowing the dial to rotate past ‘Privacy please’ a little bit. I eliminated this detail on the extra four I made for our other offices.

The crescent shape was glued between the solid back circle and engraved/cut top circle.

The center axle was a push pin stuck through the back and word/dial layer, which then had the plastic part cut off with a Dremel. I had laser cut tiny circles on each of those two layers so I knew everything would line up.

The Doc artwork and pieces.
Art files used for The Doc privacy sign, and the 4 cut components. Zoom to see the over-engineered detent for locking the dial.
The Doc sign installed
The Doc privacy sign installed.
Signs for other office locations
Four signs for other offices made a few months after the prototype. The detent system was eliminated as there was enough friction to hold the sign steady.

Camera Slider Controller – Sneak Peek

Camera Slider - In ProgressFor several months, I’ve been working on creating a controller board for driving a stepper motor along a single-axis. AKA, a motorized camera slider!

While the overall project is over 2 years in the works at this point (it started being driven by a Lego Mindstorms NXT), this is a quick preview of its current configuration.

Stay tuned for much more on this project!

Adding a ball head to a GoPro suction cup mount

Adding a ball head to a GoPro suction cup mount

A ball head attached to a GoPro suction cup mount
The finished mount used for filming the in-car portion of automotive reviews.

I have a GoPro, and bought a handful of mounting accessories to go with it, including their suction cup. If you have one of these, you’ll know that the GoPro mounting system is pretty orthogonal – you can tilt and roll easily, but not pan (short of undoing the suction cup and repositioning).

For my gig of shooting car review videos for YouTube, getting fine positioning of the camera has been a huge pain for our in-car shots in particular. I didn’t want to buy a new suction cup that featured a ball head, and I didn’t want to make any permanent modifications to my existing gear.

I found the Giottos MH1004 mini ball head for under $15 that would work well for the Hero 3, especially since I already had the tripod mount.

But, how to attach it to the suction cup?

Check out beyond the break for more detailed images and how I made it.

Read more

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.