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I was never quite happy with the "studio" portraits I had taken of my laser-cut wood spirals.

Today I finally got around to doing a photo session with the spirals in a natural setting -- Golden Gate Park.

It was a bit tricky to work with the relatively harsh lighting from direct sunlight on a clear day, but I got some good shots out of it:

Laser-cut wood spirals in nature  Laser-cut wood spirals in nature
Laser-cut wood spirals in nature  Laser-cut wood spirals in nature
Laser-cut wood spirals in nature  Laser-cut wood spirals in nature
Laser-cut wood spirals in nature  Laser-cut wood spirals in nature
Laser-cut wood spirals in nature  Laser-cut wood spirals in nature

See them all on flickr

mattbell: (Default)
Working with veneer is a pain in the ass.  It's thin, light, and ridiculously fragile.  After spending lots of time trying to arrange up to 100 little wood pieces perfectly while minimizing gaps, I've figured out a reasonably good workflow for assembling the laser-cut spirals. 

Here's how it works:

Once I have all the pieces cut, I prepare a jig by laser-cutting a set of lines matching the final assembly into a piece of wood.  Then, I place a transparent sheet on top:


Cut for people who just like the finished product :-) )

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Having exhausted the entire local supply of zebrawood, I've turned to trying some other woods.  As it turns out, lacewood has some very interesting properties.  When cut perpendicular to the surface of the tree rings, you get a fine and even grain pattern that makes it really easy to match any piece to any other piece.  Cuts parallel to the rings look quite different and have a big splotchy appearance.  See the difference here.

Lacewood's performance under different lighting conditions is drastically different.  It's the sort of thing those hardcore Pixar animators like to put in a movie just to show how awesome their graphic skills are, kind of like a modern version of a painter doing a still life.

Here's what I made -- I wanted to have two spirals, one serving as a source and one as a drain.  I tinkered around with configurations until I found one that was as smooth as possible.  Here's what I got:

Here's a video showing just how much it dances in changing light:

Here are some still photos showing what happens when you get a very directional light source on it:

Lacewood double spiral  Lacewood double spiral
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For this design I wanted to create wood grain that would converge onto a particular direction in a ring around the center.  I used a superimposition of two magnetic-and-electric-field-around-a-wire type equations but I varied the exponential falloffs with distance so that one would dominate close up and the other would dominate further away.  The result is a ring that the grain converges onto.  I also used a new technique of scanning the piece of wood I was going to use to ensure that the grain lined up such that the ring would occur in a dark area.

Here's a video:

And more stills:

Zebrawood spiral  Zebrawood spiral
Zebrawood spiral

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I really pushed myself on my latest design.  It was way more complicated than anything I've tried before, and I made some mistakes, but I think it came out well.

Here's a quick video where you can see how it shines under direct light:

In the shade:

What I learned:

- The tiny ( < 1/100") width of the laser cuts is big enough to start affecting the design, causing holes that accumulate as large numbers of pieces are pushed together.  This made it close to impossible to get the whole thing aligned properly.  If you look at the holes up close, you'll see the pieces don't line up properly.
- With designs this complicated, I should switch to a different kind of backing that I can progressively apply as I add more pieces.  Currently, managing the position of 50+ pieces, each lighter than a feather, is an exercise in frustration.

Here's how well it came out compared to the simulation -- I worked to get the centerline aligned with darker material. 

My workflow for producing it ended up being really tedious:

- Autoconversion of high-res bitmap into vector data: 10 minutes.
- Cleaning up vector data: 3 hours
- Converting vectors into pieces to cut, and rotating them: 3 hours.
- Test cutout: 1 hour
- Real cutout and assembly: : 1 hour
- Getting the damn pieces to not overlap so I could glue them: 1 1/2 hours
- Gluing, sanding, fixing, oiling: 1 1/2 hours.

Unfortunately, there isn't much room for improvement except in the last two steps.... unless I decide to reprogram the original setup to do the first three steps automatically.  This likely will take 10-15 hours, but at least I'll be engaging my brain instead of doing tedious work in CorelDraw and Visio.

Some more construction photos:

Zebrawood sculpture construction  Zebrawood sculpture construction
Zebrawood sculpture construction


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February 2011

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