Category Archives: lasercutter

$5 Upcycled Desk Clock

Last summer I came across a collection of car parts at a garage sale; instrument clusters, lights, gauges, and some digital clock displays.  For $5, I became the proud owner of a JECO Japan, vacuum fluorescent clock display.  The plastic housing held all the clock electronics, membrane buttons for setting the time, and a four-pin connector.  After powering it up, I realized one of the pins could be used to dim the display, which is a pretty nice feature to have.

I’ve worked on it off and on for a few months, but finally decided to finish it this weekend.  On Saturday, I tweaked some dimensions and laser-cut the final enclosure.  I wasn’t happy with the button holes and text I had on the front of the first iteration, so I got rid of them for the final.  You can adjust the time by slipping a jeweler’s screwdriver or a paper clip through a gap in between the plexiglass sides and pressing the buttons to add hours or minutes. 
$5 Upcycled Desk Clock
I added a small single-pole, double-throw toggle to switch between bright and dim, then soldered the connections before closing it up.  The whole thing is clamped together by a single #10-32 machine screw and a wingnut.  The final result doesn’t look half bad.
$5 Upcycled Desk Clock

Lighting Control Upgrade!

IMAG3517In an effort to make the lighting control system more user-friendly, the original board-mounted switches have been replaced with a laser-cut zone map! Instead of looking up which zone number corresponds to a particular bank of lights, each location is now identified by a green LED pushbutton.  You can read more about the lighting control system and how it’s been evolving on our wiki:

Found @ CRASH Space No. 2: Industrial Staple Turned Meditation Chime

staple on woodend stand on a table in a garden

The staple-chime in its natural environment.

This heavy duty metal something was found in our scraped-of-the-floor bucket. Steve G says it’s a staple. It also sort of looks like a shim. If you know or have a guess, please speak up. The folks at McMaster – Carr couldn’t say.

Here is what I know about it:

  • It weighs 22 grams
  • It is 2 inches (presumable that is why there is a 2 on it) x 1 1/8 inches
  • It is 1/8 in. thick tapering down to 1/16 in.
  • I did not do the spark test because I didn’t want to mar it
  • It is magnetic.
  • I did not test hardness or use acids on it.
  • It resonates beautifully at 4716 Hz or about a D (Thanks Tod!)
  • It is a good conductor but the actual resistance readings were noisy bouncing around but it settled for a little while on 2.8 Ohms from prong to prong. (likely the surface oxidation at in play)

What struck me the most about it for my purposes was the beautiful tone it makes so I decided to turn it into a chime.  So the big take away from this project: nothing is one thing.


  • Resonant staple
  • Thin plywood material Less than 8 Square inches of it, can probably find enough in some scrap (to the right of the Laser Cutter)


  • Laser Cutter – Shop One (< 30 seconds of time, will cost about a dollar)
  • Flathead screw driver (in drawers on counter on west wall of Shop  One or in big set of drawers by the door in Shop 2)
  • Something to use as a mallet (worst case scenario, look at your foot. If there is a shoe on it, use that)

It may be cheating as far as this series goes but I found a clapper from a bell used in a previous project in my own lab spare-parts section. It is high density plastic on a spring.  I even went ahead and and Arduino program to drive the clapper with a servo, the amount of time for the meditation based on the position of a potentiometer.

Staple and Clapper Side View

This is the staple and bell clapper I planned to use for the meditation timer.

In the end though I was driven to make too many iterations for the staple stand alone to fit into to my less-than-a-day-to-do-and-document time window for these posts. I would probably want a whole day more to really make a case for the chime, the servo and the Arduino. I have posted the svg files for the laser cut stand on GitHub as well.

This stand was cut on an epilog laser cutter with a thin plywood material from Home Depot that I’ve used to make a lamp. I based my stand on the files for this lamp. The tolerance is VERY tight on the slots. I needed a flat-head screw driver and a small hammer to secure the pieces together.

The settings for the laser cutter:
Speed: 30%
Power: 60%
Freq: 500 Hz

Increasing the speed to 50% sometimes works on this material but that is not what I did for this project.

I will definitely let you all know if I come back to join everything together into one piece. The biggest flaw in the stand right now is that it shifts when the chime is struck. In a mechanized version that is all one part, that should be automatically fixed.

Staying Stocked Up

The idea was simple: make something to help keep track of our supplies so we know when we’re running low on the essentials.  After weeks of kicking the idea around and various rough doodles, this project finally took shape.  Two days after the first cut on the laser cutter, it was complete.

IMAG0829 IMAG0835 IMAG0837

Made from multiple layers of acrylic, cardboard, and wood, the “Milwaukee Makerspace Consumables Super Analog Status Board” is a clipboard-sized device with nine sliders installed in enclosed slots.  Sliding the tabs right displays more green to indicate “full” or “lots” and sliding left reveals the red acrylic below to indicate “empty” or “low.”  The user can carry the board around the Space with them as they check on supplies and when done, a large hole centered at the top allows the board to be hung up and displayed on a wall.

The hardware holding the whole thing together can be loosened and the layers disassembled.  The cardboard insert that the text resides on can be swapped out should we decide to change the list of items we want to keep tabs on.  The supplies being tracked currently include:

  • Toilet Paper
  • Paper Towels
  • Hand Soap
  • Welding Gases
  • Welding Wire
  • Propane
  • Soda
  • Duct Tape
  • Painter’s Tape

A digital version may or may not be planned for future release.

We leave, we come back!


Even though we left Chase Avenue and moved to Lenox Street, we’re still not a fully operational battle maker station… yet.

But here’s the thing, for a lot of us, we never stop making, and if someone needs help on a project, we’re still going to do what we can to help out. So when some friends of mine at Sensorium Gallery ask for help with a laser cutting project, we found a way to deliver.

They were looking for white paper leaves to cover the floor for an event, and had the idea of laser cutting a few reams of paper. I found a maple leaf on OpenClipArt, tweaked it a bit, and sent it to Neille at Sensorium. She sent me back a new file, and I gave that to Brent who has access to a laser cutter he could use while the Makerspace laser cutters were not up and running.

A few emails back and forth, and between the three of us we got the leaves done in time. Sweet! Once we return to “making as usual” it’ll be nice to help people out with their projects without having to chase people down and send a bunch of emails. I hope Bay View is ready for us! :)

M1 and M2



If you saw Shane’s post Submission for the 100 Square Feet of Art Charity Event you probably wondered if anyone else managed to create a piece of art for the event, and if they too used the laser cutter. The answer to both questions is “Yes!” and here are the two pieces I created, M1 and M2.

There’s an in-depth (and potentially boring) post about these pieces over on my blog titled Two Square Feet of Art. Enjoy!

More Laser Cutter Artwork….

A laser cut piece, one stacked on top of the other for depth. The top piece is a cut out featuring an angelic grave stone and the back piece is a picture of a graveyard with some well defined trees.

This is my newest piece, cut and etched on our 60 watt laser cutter.  Both images are from pictures that I took out at a couple of graveyards.  I inverted the image in the background so that the sky was nice and dark and the trees were bright.  Unfortunately, this washed out a lot of the tombstones in front, so I’m going to try re-etching this piece before I offer it up for sale.

The back piece took approximately 1 hour, 20 minutes to etch as a 11.5″ square.  Additionally, I found that the margins are a bit off on the cutter.  The left margin has shifted around 1/8″-1/4″  to the right, so the piece wasn’t perfectly centered.

Submission for the 100 Square Feet of Art Charity Event

The picture consists of a laser-cut vine motif with an orchid laser-etched in the center, raised a half inch above a laser-etched picture of a creek with large rocks.

Art for charity’s sake


When Raster mentioned the event, “Red, White, & Black: 100 Square Feet of Art“, I thought I’d take part.  The general idea is for artists to pick up a 12×12″ piece of wood and “art” it somehow, transforming it into a mini-masterpiece for an auction to support pets in need.  The auction takes place on December 7th, so be sure to stop in.  They’re featuring live music and food along with a raffle and the auction.

Taking a cue from some Art Boxes I’d been working on, I decided to use a similar vine motif with an orchid etched in the center.  After studying it for a while, I thought it needed depth, so I laser etched a photograph that I took out at Boerner Botanical Gardens for the backdrop.

Still not content, I wanted the darker shadows of the vines to play along with the lighter picture behind, so I cut several half-inch blocks to raise the top piece above the back piece.

The back has been treated with teak oil while the front was stained with Bombay mahogany satin stain.  The blocks are put specifically in each corner in order to maximize the amount of light that hits the back piece.  I may add a few extra spacers for support in the coming days.

Laser Badges!

Laser-cut Name Badges

We saw these nice laser-cut name badges on the Pumping Station: One wiki, and thought that Milwaukee Makerspace should have some as well, and Saturday night’s alright for laser cutting so now there’s about a dozen blank badges for people to make their own badges. (And the one test badge I already make for jason.)

Have I mentioned I love our laser cutter?

USB Analog Gauge

Badass gauges
Perhaps at your hackerspace you have a pile of “badass gauges” and want to do something with them. How about a USB interface, a laser cut enclosure and an RGB status indicator LED?

USB Gauge

Read on for the vague construction details and some software to drive random DC current and voltage gauges that you might find.

But what does it measure?
The wiring will depend on what type of gauge you’re using. You might find a truly random gauge, like this one calibrated in “Output Units”. I still don’t know what it measures. If you are lucky enough to find a DC voltage gauge with a 0-5 Volt range, then you can directly connect the PWM output to it. Ammeters are slightly more complicated since you will need to sink or source current to move the needle. If your gauge reads 0-10 Amps, throw it back into the pile and keep digging for something less than 30 or 50 mA. I found a DC Milliampere gauge that ranges from 0 to 15 mA, well within the ability of the AVR ATMega32u4 on my teensy 2.0 to source.

USB gauge wiring
To control the current flow, I’m using a 100 Ohm 1% resistor and the 10-bit Fast PWM output on OC3A. In this mode the PWM output approximates an analog voltage of V = 5 V * OCR3A / 1024, and by Ohms Law, I=V/R. For example, OCR3A=128 will produce a square wave with an average voltage of 0.625 V, which will sink 0.00625 A or 6.2 mA through the gauge and resistor. A small capacitor will smooth the square wave into a relatively clean analog voltage, but in practice it didn’t seem to make a difference.

        // Configure OC3A in fast-PWM mode, 10-bit
        sbi(TCCR3B, WGM32);
        sbi(TCCR3A, WGM31);
        sbi(TCCR3A, WGM30);

        // Configure output mode to clear on match, set at top
        sbi(TCCR3A, COM3A1);
        cbi(TCCR3A, COM3A0);

        // Configure clock 3 at clk/1
        cbi(TCCR3B, CS32);
        cbi(TCCR3B, CS31);
        sbi(TCCR3B, CS30);

        // Configure PORTC, pin 6 as output
        DDRC |= 1 << 6;

Teensy + stackable headers == Perfect prototyping
I also wanted an indicator to go along with the gauge, so I used a random RGB LED with common anode, which means that they share a common positive voltage and each need a separate path to ground. That's fine since the AVR prefers to sink current, rather than source it. For testing I used my teensy with stackable headers to prototype the LED interface before soldering.

In this case I've wired the red LED cathode to OC1A, the blue to OC1B and the green to OC1C and configured timer 1 in the same 10-bit Fast PWM mode. Since they are wired in common anode mode the value to write to OCR1{A,B,C} is 0x3FF-intensity. There is a PWM mode to reverse the sense of the output compare.

You could wire up current limiting resistors into the circuit (and it is generally a best practice to do so), but that is more soldering. If the PWM duty cycle is sufficiently low, then the effective current through the LED can stay well below its rated maximum.

For the slanted enclosure I used my boxer script to generate a cube 110 mm x 96 mm x 80 mm and then sliced the side pieces into diagonals and removed most of the front piece.

        --kerf 0.1 
        --tab-width 10 
        --thickness 5 
        --height 80 
        --width 110 
        --length 96 
        > ./box2.svg

When assembled it produces a slanted top, but retains the right angles at each corner. To add a bit of style and provide a way for the USB cable to exit, I subtracted a circle from the back piece.

When I need to make mounting holes, I typically will hand-code the SVG for that portion of the file. Rather than fight inkscape to position mounting holes on a radially symmetric pattern, I can use coordinate transforms in the SVG to do it. My ammeter was 78 mm in diameter and has three 5 mm holes equally spaced around it.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" standalone="no"?>
  <!-- scale to mm -->
  <g transform="scale(3.543307)">
        <circle cx="0" cy="0" r="39" stroke="#ff0000" fill="none"/>
        <g transform="rotate(60)">
                <circle cy="43" cx="0" r="3" stroke="#ff0000" fill="none"/>
        <g transform="rotate(180)">
                <circle cy="43" cx="0" r="3" stroke="#ff0000" fill="none"/>
        <g transform="rotate(300)">
                <circle cy="43" cx="0" r="3" stroke="#ff0000" fill="none"/>

Once I finished the layout, I sent it to the laser with my epilog program using the command line:

        --raster-power 100 
        --raster-speed 100 
        --vector-power 100 
        --vector-speed 8 
        -f 500 

Output guage
The plywood was too light and contrasted too much with the charred edges of the cuts. It also didn't suit the antique gauge, so I used some stain to darken it quite a bit. The plywood needed a little bit of wood glue to hold it together, unlike the same box cut from acrylic, but once it hardened it was quite solid.

Now the gauge sits on my desk displaying some network metric data, using a small Perl script and LWP::Simple to fetch the information and pulse the LED. The source is available from and the design as thing:30595.