Last holiday season, Kate Baldwin was trying to come up with a gift idea to give to family members. Pine cones came to mind. “I love nature, and I like mixing really regular things with the organic shapes of nature,” says Baldwin, a freelance scientific illustrator. Furthermore, “I love the laser cutter at Sector67,” she says.
These interests came together as Baldwin created a new and improved pine cone made from wood, a more precise version of the real thing, yet with a distinctly floral feel (especially when seen in cross-section).
Baldwin initially joined the east-side hackerspace to learn welding but discovered an affinity for the laser cutter, which uses the same software she uses in her day job: “Now it’s so easy for me to turn my computer illustrations into something I can hold.”
Coming up with a pattern for the pine cone took just one trial run, “an unusually quick design process for me. I got lucky,” says Baldwin. She made a couple for relatives, and “people liked them so much I started making more.”
It takes about 20 minutes to cut the 20 wood layers for one pine cone. Then it takes Baldwin another 25 minutes to glue the layers together. “I put on a movie for that part,” she says.
Baldwin puts a battery-operated LED tea light in the base of the cone to light it; she also designed small “canals” beneath the light where she drips pine oil, so the scent of pine fills the air: “That’s the best part of a real pine cone, so I couldn’t leave that out.” This year, Baldwin may try making smaller cones to cover small white tree lights, or possibly “an unrealistically large cone — but I’d have to switch to a router to do that.”
She assigns much of the credit for her project to Sector67. “I would never have used a laser cutter otherwise. And seeing what other people there do influenced the idea of making a 3D pine cone out of two-dimensional slices.”
More of Baldwin’s art and her pinecones can be seen on her website, cutoutkate.com.
Two heads are better
“Everything about the maker community is ‘go for it,’” says Alex Wells, an artist with a science background. Wells describes herself as “crazy about old carnival stuff, creepy circus things, weird vintage items and the Victorian era,” which explains part of the inspiration behind her creation of Nona and Decima, the automated two-headed fortune teller.
Wells had been making offbeat art dolls using vintage materials. She’s not exactly sure how that transformed into this, the most complicated project she’d ever attempted. But it appealed to Wells because it offered the chance to “learn all these things that I didn’t know how to do,” including working with motors and using an Arduino microcontroller. Arduino was “designed for hobbyists and artists to be able to do things with electronics [easily],” Wells says, and she scaled the learning curve by watching YouTube instructional videos.
Her membership at the east-side makerspace the Bodgery was also crucial, from her learning to use the laser cutter to make custom gears, to its social space. “I felt like I wasn’t in isolation,” says Wells.
The project combines two mannequin heads, a lazy Susan turntable, a microcontroller, photo-interrupter sensors, a thermal printer and original fortunes. Insert a coin; a fortune teller (either “Love” or “Money”) rotates forward. Behind the scenes, Wells’ programming controls the picking of a random fortune that’s printed on the spot.
She found that one of the more difficult aspects of the project was writing the fortunes, which come in two categories, love and money, but can be changed at any time to suit any theme. Recently, when she displayed the fortune teller at the Wisconsin Science Festival, she wrote Halloween-themed fortunes for the kids in attendance. But she also likes creating longer, more story-like fortunes.
Wells would make another fortune teller but would want it to be artistically different, not a duplicate: “I want to show that artists can do things beyond what we think of as traditional art. If you have an idea in your head, that’s what the maker movement is all about, allowing people to prototype and create the ideas they have in their heads.”
More about the project is on the Bodgery’s blog at thebodgery.org/2016/10/the-fortune-teller.
A gingerbread Notre Dame
Scott Hasse grew up making old-fashioned gingerbread houses for the holidays, and he carried that tradition on to his own family. For many years, the gingerbread houses they made were modest cottages. But last year Hasse, a longtime member of Sector67, decided “to take it to the next level.”
He kept his traditional gingerbread and frosting recipes,
but added digital design and laser cutting to create a
gingerbread Notre Dame cathedral.
The original pattern was for a paper model that he found on a Canon printer website, but “being paper, that pattern was designed for no thickness, so I adapted it to make it work with gingerbread.”
After making a prototype cathedral out of plywood, Hasse discovered that getting the gingerbread baked in such a way that the laser could cut it “was one of the biggest things I had to figure out.”
Laser cutters don’t work well on wavy surfaces, Hasse explains, so he had to roll the gingerbread to a uniform flatness. “I placed 3/16-inch-diameter steel rods on either side of the dough, then rolled it all flat. Then we baked it, and when it was still a little soft after coming out of the oven, rolled it again to make a very flat sheet of gingerbread.”
Even after all that messing around, the gingerbread “actually still tasted all right,” says Hasse, but the laser cutting “is in essence burning through the material, so the gingerbread gets burned. It actually smells kind of nice, but it’s not edible after the fact.”
Finally, melted colored sugar became stained glass in the windows.
Would he do it again? “We are debating that,” says Hasse. “It was a great family project, but laser cutting took about three hours, assembly was eight hours, the digital design took many more hours. I’m not sure yet what this season has in store.”
In addition to using Sector 67’s laser cutter, Hasse relied on fellow members for creative brainstorming on various problems: “It’s the point of the place, to facilitate creative activity.”
A time-lapse video of the construction is online at youtube.com/watch?v=vcZdZHOcefo.
While living in North Carolina, Bill Cogger took a carousel horse carving course at a makerspace there — because his ex-wife was “interested in carousel horses.” Now he lives in McFarland and is a new member of the Bodgery, which in addition to offering the use of laser cutters and 3D printers, has on hand a multitude of tools from an old-school woodshop — the same sorts of tools Cogger used to build his masterful carousel horse.
It’s not carved from one big piece of wood, but rather built out of pieces, then carved. “The wood is bass, which is easy to carve and doesn’t splinter. It’s a fine-grain wood, so you can make fine cuts with it easily,” Cogger says.
The horse’s body is pieced together from four boards and is hollow. The head, neck and tail are solid blocks of wood. One raised leg is made with two pieces of wood, with the grains oriented against each other to minimize the chance of splitting.
The construction started with power tools. The basic cutting of the big pieces was done with a band saw. Then Cogger switched to an oversized Dremel tool (often used for grinding, sanding and shaping) to do the rough carving. He then switched to hand tools for the fine details. He says the head and the mane were “the hardest parts to get to look right,” followed by the tail.
For the more artistic part of the carving, Cogger searched through books and magazines and visited carousels to get inspiration for decoration and coloring. “It seems every carousel horse is either white or black, and I wanted another color,” he says. “So I made mine a palomino.”
Ultimately he turned the cream-colored beauty into a rocking horse “for the grandchildren to get some use out of it, instead of it just sitting there as decoration.”
While Cogger owns most of the tools he used to make the horse, he notes they’re expensive, specialized tools to invest in, and that a makerspace like the Bodgery has them on hand: “You can’t do it without the tools.”