Love for the Laser Cutter

by Kim J.

A collage of the ornaments and practical items made with the laser cutter, including a Seussical 2022 ornament with the Cat in the Hat's hat, a blue snowflake, a buffalo against a backdrop of trees and mountains, two pumpkin silhouettes that say "thankful" and "grateful," a keychain that says "I luv you Dad," tropical floral earrings, and a cookbook or tablet stand.

I’ve been a crafter all of my life. I make costumes and throw elaborate birthday parties. My first thought when I see something beautiful in a store is usually, “Can I make that?” I love to create handmade gifts, produce decorations for birthdays, and design personal touches for my home. The laser cutter/engraver (Glowforge) at HCLS Glenwood Branch + Makerspace is the latest tool in my crafting repertoire. Among the many things I’ve been able to make are jewelry, decorations, gifts, cake toppers, valentines, teacher appreciation keychains, and an LED light. My favorite things that I’ve made are keepsakes that engrave my son’s drawings and a lighted archway that I made to try and replicate the schwibbogen that are sold in Germany.

A picture of a German Schwibbogen village scene made with the laser cutter. The photograph consists of a village with homes, a church, lampposts, and fir trees, surrounded by an arch that has more cottages and fir trees, against a blue background resembling the sky.

What is a Laser Cutter/Engraver? 

This machine allows you to put a piece of material like leather, wood, or acrylic in the machine and it carves out your product using laser light. Glowforge is the name brand for the Laser Cutter Engraver at HCLS Glenwood Branch + Makerspace

What materials can it cut? 

At HCLS, we only allow Proofgrade materials in the machine – Glowforge sells proofgrade materials, which are certified to be laser safe. These materials also have pre-assigned settings in the machine – telling the laser exactly what power and speed it needs so cuts and engravings produce exactly how they should! Proofgrade materials include hardwood, acrylic, draft board, plywood, veneer, and leather, among others.

A yellow and green laser cutter atom with the words "Happy Birthday" in the center, atop a science-themed birthday cake with Erlenmeyer flasks and icing atoms as decor.

How can I get Proofgrade Materials? 

The Glenwood Branch has a selection of materials to purchase directly from the library, including many colors of acrylic and several finishes for hardwood, plywood, and veneer. Alternately, you can purchase directly from the site, shop.glowforge.com, or from local craft stores that carry Proofgrade materials.

A child's handmade stick-figure drawing of a family with their dog, and the laser cutter's reproduction of it as a wooden ornament, with the year "2022" inscribed at the bottom.

What kinds of things can I make?

The photos in this post are all things that have been made in the Makerspace with the Laser Cutter/Engraver. There is so much room for creativity and customization. Your design can be high-tech – you can create an .svg from scratch with interlocking or overlapping pieces to construct 3D artwork. Your design can also be low-tech – you can convert a line art drawing, photograph, or handwriting sample into a custom-engraved keepsake. You can also browse premade designs in the application and send them with customized engravings, or you can use the application to create a design using graphics, text, and shapes.

Two snowflake earrings made with the laser cutter.

How do I get started?

If you want to see a quick intro video, you can watch on HCLS’s YouTube channel here. You can also register for upcoming make-it and take-it classes at Upcoming Laser Cutting Classes. Someone is always available in the Makerspace to help you get underway. Anyone under 18 who wishes to use the laser cutter must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Kimberly J is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Glenwood Branch. She enjoys reading, photography, creating, crafting, and baking.

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