Vinyl Cutter

“The Garage” at work is like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for makers. There are lots of different tools that you can use for free (after you take a training course and usually provide your own materials.) I’ve been having lots of fun with the laser cutters, but recently I got trained on the vinyl cutter.

Our vinyl cutter is kind of like a huge (~36″ wide) ink jet printer that has a knife on the end instead of ink. You “print” on rolls of vinyl that are sticky on one side. When you cut the sheet, you’re just cutting through the vinyl but not the paper that covers the sticky side. You then apply another piece of sticky paper to the top of the vinyl. Peel off one side of your sandwhich and leave either the positive or negative space that you cut out. That made no sense because I don’t know what most of the things are called.

But blah blah blah, it’s fun! The computer side of things is roughly the same as the laser cutter. Files need to be in vector format and I can easily reuse most of the drawings that I did for the laser cutter. The first project was the sign for Tyla’s Mother’s Day gift. I headed back and did a couple more.

The first was vinyl for both sides of one of Ellijah’s toys. He now has a custom semi trailer!

I also printed a “No soliciting” sign for our front door. We get a LOT of door to door sales people and I have a standard policy of never buying or signing anything at the door. I used to have a dinky little piece of paper taped to the door but this looks a little nicer. It’s not quite as obvious, but some people ignored the old sign anyway.

I’m looking forward to spending some more time on the vinyl cutter. It opens up a whole new set of project possibilities.

Mother’s Day Gifts

Tyla and I don’t usually exchange gifts for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but I’ve been wanting to try out the vinyl cutter in the maker space at work and this seemed like a good excuse. You can easily buy a very similar sign on Etsy, but I wanted to see how hard it was to make one myself.

I had quite a bit of extra 8/4 maple laying around so I cut it in half and got it down to the approximate size of the finished sign. Then I spent some time on the vinyl cutter and cut out a couple versions of the sign, figuring that I’d screw one up and need to try again.

I stuck the vinyl down on the wood and the peeled up the letters, being careful to leave the interior of letters like A and O. Then I applied two coats of purple spray paint and peeled up the vinyl. That part took quite a while because the paint had made the vinyl brittle, but eventually I was done and it came out pretty well.

The final step was using a keyhole router bit to cut a notch in the back for easy hanging.

Will I do this again? Ehh… maybe if it’s something really custom, but it did take quite a while. If the sign you want is on Etsy for $20, it’s probably worth just paying for it.

Elijah also made a sign for Tyla. Ever since he saw this piece of purpleheart, he has talked about making it into a sign for Tyla. I bought a white pen and he wrote his name on the board. I finished it up with “loves mommy” and added a couple coats of spray lacquer.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Gift From Bob Claggett

Bob Claggett runs I Like To Make Stuff. He has weekly posts with great projects that are achievable for the common man. Those projects span woodworking, electronics, 3D printing, model making, and much more. It’s one of my favorite YouTube channels.

Bob also hosts a weekly live stream on Twitch where he works on a project and chats with people watching. It’s a fun way to interact and see what he’s working on outside of his videos. On Twitch, there is a way to send the content producer some money. It’s basically like a tip jar. On Bob’s channel, whoever puts in the most tip money during each stream gets a custom badge cut out on his laser cutter. A couple weeks ago, I was the winner. If you start watching around the 1 hour 58 minute mark, you’ll see my donation and short battle with another user who was trying to win too.

Watch live video from ILikeToMakeStuff on

And then the video concludes with him cutting out my custom badge. It arrived a few days later with some extra swag thrown in. Thanks Bob!

For the curious, that donation only amounts to $20. I figure if I was in the Atlanta area, I’d be happy to buy him a 12 pack of beer for all the knowledge he’s given me so I just did it virtually.

Tractor Sign

For Dad’s birthday, I spent time drawing a picture of his tractor. It might take a lot of hours to get to the point where you have your file ready to cut, but after you get there, it’s just minutes to cut a new copy.

I decided to cut out a big one and put it on Elijah’s wall. The max work piece size that our laser cutter can handle is 24 x 18 so that’s about how big this one is. I sprayed on a couple coats of white paint but still let the wood grain show through. As you can see in the picture, he was VERY excited to put this on his wall.

Laser Cutting At Home

I’m very thankful that I can use a laser cutter at work, but what are the options for laser cutting at home? There are three very easy and low cost options to start with:

  1. Check with your local library. More and more libraries are supplying laser cutters and 3D printers for people to use.
  2. Order it from a website. I’ve done this for 3D prints before but the same concept applies to laser cutting. The turnaround time is slower and you pay for shipping, but it’s a lot cheaper than buying a machine!
  3. Find a local maker space. These are generally clubs that you can join and use their equipment. You pay a membership fee or you pay to rent time on a machine, but doing it this way helps you iterate faster than doing it by mail.

If you still want to buy one for home use, you should probably be getting advice from someone more knowledgeable than me, but here’s what I know. If you buy an entry level system from a company like Epilog or Universal, expect to pay upwards of $8000, and that might not include ventilation which is almost a requirement.

A company called Glowforge is making a lot of waves in the maker community because they are coming to market with a laser cutter intended for home hobby use. It has a lot of really nice features that lower the barrier to entry, and you can get their basic model with ventilation for under $4000. Reviews of pre-production units are very positive. The cost of ongoing maintenance remains to be seen.

It’s a great time to be a maker!