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.

Visit us at the Howard County Fair

STEAM Machine with blue awning deployed sits on a grassy patch, with a popup tent next to it.

Do you love the fair? Deep fried everything? Rides? Awards for livestock and hand-crafts? What’s not to love?

This year, as you come in the front gates, look for Howard County Library System’s new STEAM Machine. Stop by to participate in a STEAM-related activity, watch a demo, or take a tour of our new (air conditioned!) mobile unit. The 33’ Farber diesel bus features a climate-controlled classroom that seats twelve students. It is equipped with Wi-Fi, laptop computers, two 49” LED TVs, sound system, video production equipment, materials, and supplies, including science kits to conduct experiments and complete projects. A 55” LCD monitor and two awnings allow classes to be taught and activities conducted outside.

As the mobile classroom goes out into our community, students can borrow books and other materials on STEAM subjects. Our goal is to transform students into scientists investigating new phenomena and engineers designing solutions to real-world problems.

Tonya Aikens, President & CEO of HCLS, notes, “Howard County Library System is coordinating with community partners to schedule STEAM Machine classes across the county. Our goal is to bring opportunities for hands-on STEAM education to students from under-resourced communities and families who, for an array of reasons, are often unable to come to our branches.”

HCLS instructors will teach most classes with contributions from scientists and engineers from the Maryland STEAM community, who will be recruited for special events. HCLS is collaborating with community partners to determine student aspirations and needs, identify community locations for STEAM Machine visits, and schedule classes and events. 

The STEAM Machine is funded in part by an American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Grant through the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by the Maryland State Library Agency.

See you at the Fair!

Weaving Our Way to the Moon 

An older woman works with computer guidance parts for the Apollo space program.
image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

Register for class: https://howardcounty.librarycalendar.com/events/weaving-our-way-moon 
Saturday, March 19; 3 – 4 pm
HCLS Glenwood Branch
Ages 11 and up. Allow 20 minutes. 

by Lori C.

Learn the fascinating forgotten history of the LOLs – the Little Old Ladies of NASA’s Apollo Missions – with a hands-on STEM activity that celebrates the women who “wove our way to the moon.” Discover how core rope memory powered spaceflight, then create a simple beaded message using binary code. 

When you hear the word, “weaving” and the phrase, “little old ladies,” what image comes to mind? Most likely the mental picture is not one of making a sophisticated computer program designed to send the Apollo spacecraft to the moon! For Women’s History Month, we are going to celebrate the women who, using ferrite core beads and copper wire, literally wove the components that made up software programs for the Apollo Guidance Computer.  

The “little old ladies” or LOLs moniker certainly was not the most progressive way of referring to these highly skilled factory workers who crafted the core rope memory for NASA. Their precise weaving and manufacturing skills were crucial to the success of the Apollo program and to the astronauts arriving safely on the Moon.  

The NASA Apollo Guidance Computer used read-only, core rope memory to store its programs. The weaving was complicated: “The cores are arranged in ropes of 1024 cores each. 10 inhibit pairs (20 wires) provide the address-decoder weave as 2^10=1024. Although the memory words are 16 bits wide, each core has up to 64 sense wires woven through it.”* Remarkably, this guidance system used only 72k of memory, which is equivalent to the memory of a simple calculator. 

Want to try your hand at making a simple version of core rope memory in the tradition of the LOLs? Join us at the Glenwood Branch for a brief history overview of the contributions of these amazing women who “wove our way to the moon” and then craft a single word-weaving project using binary code, thread, and beads.   

Lori, the Teens’ Instructor & Research Specialist at the Glenwood Branch, idolizes Sally Ride and in an alternate life would have trained to be an astronaut. She also loves baseball, knitting, and reading dystopian novels. 

*Core Rope & Woven-Wire Memory Systems by B. Hilpert, April 2015
https://web.archive.org/web/20160822041959/http://www.cs.ubc.ca/~hilpert/e/corerope/index.html 

One Person’s Trash…

The picture us of a leaping reindeer made from colorful tubes of scrolled paper, against a lime green background.
Join us for a reindeer craft on Stress Free STEAM evening!

By Holly L.

One person’s trash….is another person’s CRAFT!

Holidays have you feeling stressed? Relieve some of that tension and join us for Stress Free STEAM for Adults on Thursday December 2 at 7 pm at HCLS Miller Branch. We will be making easy, seasonal upcycled crafts using everyday materials. Try your hand at some dazzling wall art, paper pillow boxes (perfect for small gifts), or a festive paper tree.

The picture is of two paper pillow box crafts made from recycled cardboard from a Chex box of cereal, both laying on an orange tablecover.
Paper pillow boxes like these made from recycled cardboard are the perfect container for small gifts.

All abilities welcome. Beginners and the non-crafty are encouraged to come. Materials provided.

Registration required. Register here or call 410.313.1950.

For further reading, check out our collection of books on upcycling.

Also, did you know that you can access several crafty magazines such as HGTV, Simply Knitting, and Family Handyman online for free using your library card? Visit Overdrive to browse our complete collection.

Holly L. is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She enjoys knitting and appreciates an audiobook with a good narrator.

Stress-Free Steam for Adults

The picture of the craft is of a turkey made from beads, multicolored feathers in fall shades of brown, orange, and red, strips of brown leather for the legs and feet, with a walnut shell for the body.

By Holly L.

Does the prospect of a second pandemic holiday season already have you on edge? Did you feel a pang of sadness when your kids aged out of the family craft classes? Would you like to unwind in a relaxed setting with some calming hands-on fun? Are these questions getting tedious?

If you answered yes to any of the above, please join us on at the Miller Branch on Thursday, November 4 at 7 pm for Stress-Free S.T.E.A.M. for adults. We will provide materials for three fun fall-themed crafts, including a terrific turkey pin, an awesome autumn leaf placemat, and a brilliant beaded harvest corncob.

The fall placemat depicted is of various geometric shapes and fall leaves in different colors, cut and pasted onto a blue background and then laminated.

Focus on one project or make a few, it’s up to you! No prior craft experience needed and all abilities welcome.

Registration required. Please register by clicking here or call 410.313.1950.

The picture shows a craft of an ear of corn, made from beads in fall shades of red, orange, yellow, and white for the kernels, and brown pipe cleaners for the cob.

Holly L. is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She enjoys knitting and appreciates an audiobook with a good narrator.