Laser-cut Pole Bean Ties

This is the season for erecting the structures upon which the pole beans will climb:

Garden Bean Poles - overview
Garden Bean Poles – overview

They’re made from a dozen small trees and branches of larger trees harvested around the yard. They last for a few years, just long enough for the next crop to reach useful lengths.

We lash them together with fabric strips:

Garden Bean Poles - joint detail
Garden Bean Poles – joint detail

My knot hand is weak, but seems sufficient to the task.

Mary formerly tore the strips from old jeans / pants / whatever, which required considerable effort, produced ragged edges, and filled the air with fabric dust. This year, I proposed an alternative:

Garden Bean Poles - laser cutting ties
Garden Bean Poles – laser cutting ties

The weird thing in the middle is a reflection of an overhead can light in the laser cabinet’s polycarb lid.

From starting the LightBurn layout to presenting the strips for final inspection required the better part of ten minutes. I scissors-cut along the main seams to get single fabric layers, with everything above the crotch seam wadded off the platform to the left.

As with my shop raglets, the layout depends on LightBurn’s overhead camera view to align the cuts with the fabric on the platform:

Bean Pole Ties - LightBurn layout
Bean Pole Ties – LightBurn layout

It’d be easier to see with lighter fabric, but that’s what came to hand in the scrap box and the beans won’t care. We do not anticipate complaints about the odor of charred fabric when they reach the top of the poles, either.

The strips must align with the fabric’s grain to put the warp threads along their length, which makes the main side seam parallel to the X-axis. Even I can handle that layout!

Yes, the strips have rounded corners and, no, it doesn’t matter.

Homage Tektronix Circuit Computer: Laser-Engraved Hairline Tests

This worked out surprisingly well:

Tek CC - laser-etched cursor hairline
Tek CC – laser-etched cursor hairline

Not knowing what to expect, I peeled the protective plastic off the styrene PETG sheet before cutting the perimeter, thereby dooming myself to about five minutes of polishing with Novus 2 to remove the condensed vaopor and another five minutes restoring the shine with Novus 1. Next time, I’ll know better.

Eyeballometrically, the hairline is a lovely fine line, but it’s really a series of craters on 0.25 mm centers filled with red Pro Sharpie marker and wiped off with denatured alcohol:

Tek CC - laser-etched cursor hairline - detail
Tek CC – laser-etched cursor hairline – detail

That’s dot mode: 2 ms pulses at 20% power (about 12 W) with a line speed of 100 mm/s and 0.25 mm dot spacing. The craters look to be 0.15 mm in diameter, with a 0.15 mm blast radius merging into a line along the sides. The view is looking through the undamaged side of the cursor, so you’re seeing the craters from their tips.

I cut the cursor and engraved / etched the hairline in one operation, by just laying a rectangle on the honeycomb and having my way with it:

Tek CC Cursor - LightBurn layout
Tek CC Cursor – LightBurn layout

For a more systematic test I aligned a cursor engraving fixture I built for the Sherline atop the laser’s honeycomb platform and wedged it into place with eccentric stops, then dropped a cursor milled on the Sherline in place:

Tek CC Cursor - laser fixture alignment
Tek CC Cursor – laser fixture alignment

The six pips (small printed holes with ugly black outlines) intended for the Sherline’s laser aligner make this feasible, although the accuracy of the OMTech’s laser pointer requires precisely setting the focal point atop the fixture.

The corners of LightBurn’s tooling layer (the enclosing rectangle) match the corner pip positions, so framing the pattern should light up those four holes. Putting the Job Origin (small green square) at the center-left point lets me tweak the machine’s origin to drop the alignment laser into that pip.

AFAICT, burning a cute puppy picture pretty close to the middle of a slate coaster makes everybody else deliriously happy.

Setting up the cut layer parameters:

Tek CC Cursor - laser dot mode tests
Tek CC Cursor – laser dot mode tests

Burning through the protective film, peeling it off, filling with Sharpie, and wiping with alcohol produces interesting results against a 0.1 inch = 2.54 mm grid:

Tek CC Cursor - dot mode 1-2ms 10-20pct
Tek CC Cursor – dot mode 1-2ms 10-20pct

The angled top and bottom lines are the edges of the cursor, positioned with the craters on the top surface.

The bottom three lines at 10% power consist of distinct 0.10 mm craters incapable of holding much ink:

Tek CC Cursor - dot mode 2ms 10pct
Tek CC Cursor – dot mode 2ms 10pct

The top three lines at 20% power have 0.15 mm craters and look better:

Tek CC Cursor - dot mode 1ms 20pct
Tek CC Cursor – dot mode 1ms 20pct

The top line was a complete surprise: it seems a 20% duty cycle does not turn off completely between 1 ms dots spaced at 0.15 mm. I expected a row of slightly overlapping dots, which is obviously not what happens.

Punching the dots through the protective film eliminated the polishing operation, although I have yet to cut the perimeter with the film in place.

More experimentation is in order, but it looks like I can finally engrave good-looking and perfectly aligned hairlines on nicely cut cursors without all those tedious manual machining operations.

Laser-cut Shop Wipes

Wiping down a tool or wiping up a mess with a small rag and then throwing it out simplifies cleanup:

Shop wipes
Shop wipes

Long ago, I applied scissors to old towels / t-shirts / whatever to get randomly sized squares, but when Mary began using rotary cutters for her sewing projects I immediately saw the light. A few times a year, I lower the scrap box level and restock the shop wipes boxes.

A laser cutter is even better:

Shop Rags - LB camera layout
Shop Rags – LB camera layout

Flatten the rag on the honeycomb, drag a few rectangles into place, and fire the laser:

Shop wipes - laser cut
Shop wipes – laser cut

Something like 50 mm/s at 60% power works for all the fabrics I’ve tried, from worn-out towels and dead sweatpants to napkins and t-shirts. Thinner fabrics can be stacked, but wrinkles and seams get in the way of clean cuts.

Rounded-corner rectangles are easy enough to draw and the scrap cloths have different shapes, so I don’t see much point in saving a file with any specific layout. Your scrap box may be more orderly.

A clean cut lets the outer cloth just lift away:

Shop wipes - on honeycomb
Shop wipes – on honeycomb

The wipes give off a distinct smell of charred cloth, but running them through the clothes washer in a big mesh bag with everything else solves that problem.

Obviously, one couldn’t possibly justify a laser cutter to make shop wipes, but if you happen to have one just standing around, well …

OMTech 60 W Laser: Expanded Clutter Space

The OMTech laser manual specifically warns against allowing clutter to accumulate atop the cabinet:

It is highly recommended to have an extra work table nearby in order to avoid placing objects on or directly adjacent to the machine, which could become a fire or laser hazard.

OMTech USB570c Cabinet Laser Engraver User Manual

The Basement Shop lacks the floor space for their recommended “extra work table”, so the laser cabinet now sports a pair of wings:

OMTech Laser - side shelf - end view
OMTech Laser – side shelf – end view

They’re a pair of those battered maple shelves, cut to fit the length of the cabinet:

OMTech Laser - side shelf
OMTech Laser – side shelf

They’re a convenient 9 inches wide, just right for general clutter. That stubby screwdriver encroaching on the lid shows I haven’t been entirely successful.

Each white shelf bracket has three self-tapping machine screws driven into the wood and a single 4 mm SHCS through a hole drilled into the cabinet with a nyloc nut & washer on the inside. If I understand the somewhat abbreviated instruction sticker correctly, I installed them upside-down in order to put the longer end under the wood where it would do the most good; they’re entirely rigid enough for the purpose.

Some of the same indoor urethane finish I slobbered on the gate signs tidied the sawed ends.

OMTech 60 W Laser: Plant Markers

While calibrating the laser’s scan offset, I also tried various fonts:

Offset cal - text - overview
Offset cal – text – overview

Putting two lines of the most-readable font inside an outline reverse-engineered from a few handwritten samples let me cut out a bunch of plant markers from white-on-black Trolase acrylic:

Plant Markers - cutting
Plant Markers – cutting

Which look downright dignified in real life:

Plant markers - African Violet
Plant markers – African Violet

Admittedly, sweet potato slips don’t require such extensive documentation:

Plant Markers - sweet potatoes
Plant Markers – sweet potatoes

Cutting the sheet flat on the honeycomb platform worked well, modulo Sadler’s warning about cutting acrylic, and a few smudges on the back of the markers will go unnoticed.

This was actually an excuse to use LightBurn’s Variable Text feature, so the tags contain formatting codes:

Plant Markers - Variable Text template
Plant Markers – Variable Text template

The codes give the position and format for text fields in a CSV file containing one line for each tag:

Austrocylindropuntia subulata,Eve’s Pin Cactus
possibly G. Carinata,var. Verucosa
African Violet,Maui
Sansevieria trifasciata,Mother in law’s tongue
Plectranthus,'Mona Lavender'

The rules governing quoted strings and suchlike remain to be explored, but single quotes in the CSV file pass through unchanged.

Putting a tab at the point of the marker will prevent it from falling free when cut out, should you want to try raising the sheet above the platform to reduce the amount of crud accumulating on the back side.

OMTech 60 W Laser: Engraving Scan Offset Adjustment

The fuzzy edges engraved on the acrylic test sample showed the need for scan offset adjustment:

Please Close The Gate - acrylic test piece
Please Close The Gate – acrylic test piece

The problem arises from the finite delay between the controller turning the laser beam on and the rise time of the death ray energy at the focal point.

LightBurn can produce a calibration coupon (on Trolase laminated acrylic) to help explore the multidimensional parameter space:

Offset cal - zero offset - overview
Offset cal – zero offset – overview

The “Interval” value is the vertical (Y-axis) scan line spacing. The laser spot diameter is, at absolute best, about 0.2 mm on the focal plane, with the actual engraved line being smaller due to the energy distribution across the beamwidth and the power required to visibly damage the material, so a 0.1 mm interval should result a little bit of overlap between adjacent scan lines.

A closer look shows the serrated edges on the left and right sides of the engraved squares:

Offset cal - zero offset - detail
Offset cal – zero offset – detail

Peering at it through a measuring magnifier suggests the offset is a bit over 0.2 mm at 400 mm/s, corresponding to a 500 µs delay between laser turn-on in the rightward direction and turn-off in the leftward direction.

The LightBurn Scanning Offset Adjustment is half the measured distance, with an Initial Offset parameter to adjust the starting point of the first scan line. You measure the distance at each speed and fill in the table accordingly.

Iterating through offsets, speeds, powers, and intervals produces a series of test coupons slicing through the parameter space:

Offset cal - iteration
Offset cal – iteration

All in all, a 0.1 mm offset at 400 mm/s with 14% power (about 8 W) and 0.075 mm interval looks pretty good:

Offset cal - final offset - detail
Offset cal – final offset – detail

Engraving various fonts:

Offset cal - text - overview
Offset cal – text – overview

A closer look (left coupon on the top):

Offset cal - text detail
Offset cal – text detail

LightBurn linearly interpolates between table entries of offset values at specific speeds, so you must fill in several lines to give it something to munch on. The top text came from an offset table with two entries at 400 and 500 mm/s, which obviously wasn’t quite sufficient. The bottom text comes from a three-entry table:

LightBurn scan offset table
LightBurn scan offset table

Which produces a better result, even at 500 mm/s and 20% power (12 W) on scrap acrylic:

Close Gate - test acrylic - overview
Close Gate – test acrylic – overview

A closer look:

Close Gate - test acrylic - detail
Close Gate – test acrylic – detail

Much better!

Laser-cut Cutworm Collars

Mary, having had considerable trouble with cutworms in her gardens, routinely deploys cardboard collars around new plants:

Cutworm Collars - assembled
Cutworm Collars – assembled

It seems cutworms trundle around until they find an edible plant, chew through the stem and topple the plant, then trundle off without taking another bite. A small cardboard barrier prevents them from sensing the plant: apparently, motivation to climb a short wall hasn’t yet evolved.

Up to this point, Mary applied scissors to tissue boxes, but I proposed an alternative with an adjustable fit to any plant:

Laser Cutting Cutworm Collars
Laser Cutting Cutworm Collars

A splayed cardboard box rarely lays flat, a condition enforced by a few MDF stops used as clamps.

Come to find out no two tissue boxes have identical dimensions, even boxes from the same brand / retailer, so lay out duplicates of the collar template to match your stockpile.

That was fun!

The SVG image as a GitHub Gist:

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