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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)
I spent almost all of Maker Faire behind a booth this year, but it was fun to interact with the various attendees.

At my Maker Faire booth  At my Maker Faire booth

In addition to the lasercut wood spirals, I brought a few laser-cut paper Hilbert curves for people to play with. 

At my Maker Faire booth

Every now and then I would invite people to pull one of the Hilbert curves apart.  Because the Hilbert curve is an intricate, long, space-filling curve, a small Hilbert curve can be stretched to quite a length. 

This ~9 year old kid gave a savant-style mathematical definition of a Hilbert curve, so I let him pull the first one apart:

Pulling apart Hilbert curves

At the end of the day, we pulled apart the remaining ones, including the two big ones:

Pulling apart Hilbert curves  Pulling apart Hilbert curves
Pulling apart Hilbert curves

This is unrelated, but was also from maker faire -- a veritable ocean of paella:
Ocean of paella

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I finished three new laser-cut spiral designs in the two days prior to Maker Faire.  I pushed on several new things -- intricate boundaries, using multiple types of wood in the same design, handling large numbers of pieces, and working with a new, bigger type of veneer.  All in all, it's really impressive that all three designs worked out more or less flawlessly. 

Design 1:
Assembling laser-cut wood spirals  Assembling laser-cut wood spirals
Lasercut wood spirals  Lasercut wood spirals

Design 2:
Lasercut wood spirals  Lasercut wood spirals

Design 3:
Lasercut wood spirals  Lasercut wood spirals


New photos of other designs )


Photos of assembly process )
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I will be in the Techshop area, which is in a side building to the right of the main entrance.  I have THREE new lasercut wood designs to show off, all of which I built in the last three days.  Pictures will show up online soon.
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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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I made another zebrawood design last week.  It's a new design, and the first one to utilize the program I created.  The workflow from the images generated by my program to a lasercuttable design is still 2-4 hours, which is a pain. 

I haven't stained the design yet because I'm waiting for some glued broken bits to dry, but I want to share anyway.  Here's the finished product:

Here's what my simulator program had generated as a prediction of the outcome (The simulator does not take the placement of the cutouts on the wood into account, and that does have a big influence on the final appearance):

Simulations from my software for testing lasercutter woodgrain ideas

Here are some pictures from the construction process:

Construction: )
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I really liked how my last round of designs came out, and now I'm interesting in trying something more sophisticated.

These spirals are pretty, but I want to create more complex patterns:

Laser-cut Wood spirals

Creating more complex patterns of the style I'm envisioning will require some math though.  As a result, I've written some software that allows me to generate vector fields that correspond to various equations of interest.  Some of the equations are inspired by physical phenomena (eg magnetic fields).  Other equations are designed to create stars, spirals, and waves.  I can superimpose these elements to create more complex patterns:

Simulations from my software for testing lasercutter woodgrain ideas  Simulations from my software for testing lasercutter woodgrain ideas

The software chops up the field into areas of roughly the same orientation -- these pieces are destined to be cut from a single piece of wood.
I quickly realized I could write a simulator that took bits of a picture of an actual piece of zebrawood to see what the actual piece would look like, saving hours of work.  For example:

Simulations from my software for testing lasercutter woodgrain ideas  Simulations from my software for testing lasercutter woodgrain ideas

Here are some other designs I played with:

Simulations from my software for testing lasercutter woodgrain ideas  Simulations from my software for testing lasercutter woodgrain ideas
angleimg1263885970.66.png  Simulations from my software for testing lasercutter woodgrain ideas
It remains to be seen how hard it will be to actually create these, but I like how they look now.


I also realized why I like this kind of art so much.  It mixes the rich sensory experience of organic material with the more precise beauty of mathematics.  The experience of looking at and feeling the actual zebrawood spiral is something that doesn't really come across in pictures -- the wood has all kinds of interesting specular highlights and subsurface scattering properties that make it really pop.

mattbell: (Default)
I switched from using 1/8" zebrawood to veneer.  It lasercuts much more easily, with less burning and charring. 

The larger size of the veneer pieces enables me to make bigger spirals.  Here's one of the new ones next to one of the old ones:

Laser-cut Wood spirals

One exciting thing about using wood is how it catches the light.  There are specular reflections along the wood grain that make the design really pop.  I uploaded a video of me moving it around in front of a strong directional light source:

I'm thinking my next design will involve laying wood with the grain along the direction of the gradient of a multivariate algebraic equation, the direction of flow in a water flow simulation, or perhaps another chaotic system.
mattbell: (Default)
I had the idea recently to create a wood surface with a spiral grain by using a laser cutter to cut slivers of wood that could be arranged into a circle.  If each sliver has the grain pointed slightly inward toward the center of the circle, then the overall grain effect will be a spiral.

It worked out rather well on zebrawood:

Some others I made out of cherry... the spiral feel is much more subtle.

Laser cut wood spirals Laser cut wood spirals


Laser cut wood spirals Laser cut wood spirals
mattbell: (Default)
Forbes did a video segment on TechShop

I'm in the video giving a quick demo of my laser-cut fractal art.


Dec. 22nd, 2007 06:32 pm
mattbell: (Default)
Hi all,

I want to try a Burning Man gifting style approach to Christmas presents this year.  I don't know who might be interested in the various odd bits of art I made on the lasercutter over the last few days.  So instead of guessing, I'll put it to you all -- if you saw anything in my previous post that you thought looked cool, and thought "hey, I'd love to have something like that", let me know and it's yours!  I can drop it by next time I see you... or if you're in a distant foreign country (eg Los Angeles) I can ship it to you.  I can't promise you'll get exactly what you want, since all these pieces are unique, but I'll try. 

Merry Christmas!

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This year I did not do any Christmas shopping.  Instead I did Christmas Making.  The raw materials still cost a good bit of money, but it was a lot of fun.  Here are the final versions of the various things I made for Christmas presents:





Browse on Flickr.

All the wood was laser-cut, but it was still a lot of work. 
I learned all about applying oil finishes to wood and how to glue hundreds of little pieces together without driving myself insane. 
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I've been laser-cutting jeans again.  I have mostly been doing more fractals...


... but a friend requested I surprise her with something, so I did this:

I also started a (non-LJ) lasercutter blog
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The Halloweaster party came off really well, and by some definitions is still going on.  The decorations, drinks, and food were all fantastic.  Thanks to K for coming over and putting all the food and the rabbit-blood martinis together.  I had loads of fun creating laser-cut decorations.

The beheaded rabbit.  Complete with tinny rabbits as blood.

R&A.  Fabulous as always.

Flickrriffic link with all the photos.
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I lasercut 28 houses and all the signs over the last 2 days.  This represents about 9 hours of lasercutting.  We now have 24 hours to paint everything, package it, and get it out to burningman.

All spread out on my floor:

A finished house:

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There's a type of space-filling fractal curve called a Hilbert curve.  In its mathematical form, it's an infinitely long line that winds its way around a finite space like a square. 

In my recent tradition of trying All Sorts of Stuff on a laser cutter, I thought it might be interesting to cut a (finite) Hilbert curve into a sheet of paper with a laser cutter.  This is the sort of thing that would take several days with an X-acto knife. 

Now I have a square of paper that is only about 6x6 inches in size, but if I pulled the ends of it apart as far as they will go, it would be about 20 ft long. 

I'm playing around with other forms of it to see if I can make a mobile:
mattbell: (Default)
I've been having all kinds of fun with the Techshop laser cutter recently.  The laser cutter can automatically cut or engrave any shape you want onto any material that's not too thick and doesn't emit poisonous fumes when heated. 

This of course opens up the possibility of making all kinds of intricate shapes that would ordinarily be too difficult to cut. 

For example, this thing:


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