At this point in my prop making career, I was running very low on available time to work on things. My wife got a full time job, and our son was now a year and a half old - and already showing signs of terrible twos. Because of this, I started looking into things I could either 3D print or laser cut (elsewhere, since I don't have nearly enough cash to have either machine personally owned). That's when I found Ponoko, an online laser cutter similar to Shapeways, where you upload your designs to them and they cut them for you, and ship them to your home, at a reasonable cost.
So, to test them out, I decided to try out a bookend design I had been pushing around for a while: N7 bookends made from clear acrylic.
I worked out sizing, each inner piece being the same distance shorter than the piece it sat on by the width of the perpendicular piece it attached to, giving a nice step-style indent the whole way around. Then I designed the laser file accordingly, sent it to them, and a few weeks later the coolest thing ever showed up at my doorstep!
Being my first experience with laser cutting of any kind, you can imagine how giddy I was upon seeing this awesomeness. After I calmed down a bit, I took all the parts out and checked them.
Discovered I did my maths wrong: a couple of the base pieces were a tad shorter than intended, and the letters and symbol thing were slightly different sizes. My own dumb fault, not double checking it before I sent it off. Still looked awesome though, so I pulled out my new fancy Acrylic Weld and started gluing!
Acrylic Weld is a really cool thing. Normal glues add a layer between the glued part, bonding them together. Acrylic Weld actually softens the acrylic a bit, then when the two parts are held together for a few minutes the softened areas combine and fuse, literally becoming a single piece. It's really cool, and makes a nice, strong bond!
Up until I actually had the thing assembled, I was throwing around the idea of lighting the bookends, as you see in the above pic. Ended up scrapping that though, since the design didn't really account for a spot for a light, let alone batteries or a plug. Future ones, maybe!
Unfortunately, I don't have any shots of the gluing process, since it flew together extremely quickly. I do, however, have the finished product shots!
Now, since that one worked so well, I decided it was time to try something a little more official: a datapad from Mass Effect 2. I had to do a lot of searching to get the proper patterns for the buttons and things, but eventually finished the file and sent it off.
I opted to cut the main body out of MDF, and the screen from acrylic. The body is 3 layers thick, all the exact same shape and design, apart from the etched details. The acrylic is ever so slightly thinner, which worked out perfectly when attaching everything. I also made sure to make it bigger than the upper and lower cutout, so that I didn't have to worry about gluing it in directly at all.
For this first one I did things in kind of a strange order, and have since figured out a better process. I glued the middle and bottom pieces together, by clamping down a board over top and enlisting the help of my band saw for some weight in the middle. I wrapped that portion up in wax paper, so that it didn't get glued to the bench or the board. While those set, I taped over the back of the top layer, so that the paint didn't get onto it and screw up gluing it all together later.
I went with a black primer to start, three coats in total. The glue finished drying when I went for the last coat on the top, so I started its first coat at the same time after taping up the gluing side on these.
When that coat had dried, I pulled out a metallic silver and started the top, while finishing up the black on the other.
Again, three full coats, and catching the other side up as I went.
Let that set overnight, so that when I taped off the areas for the darker gunmetal the tape wouldn't pull it off. The great thing too, since the laser etched in the details, it made a great line to follow so that I could cut the tape off the areas I needed to paint!
Once that was all done, I grabbed a paint brush and some white acrylic paint and started on the buttons. I didn't want to cut out each and every button there (that would have taken a day or two on its own), so I ended up hand painting them. Of course, it didn't turn up very well, so I've opted to not even bother painting any of the future ones.
After all that, a few clear coats to seal it all in, then I enlisted my belt sander this time and glued everything down - making sure to put in the acrylic screen too!
And with that, the first datapad was done! The edges didn't line up evenly upon gluing, so future ones I will have alignment holes I can insert a dowel into. I've also opted to leave the protective sheet on the acrylic screen, gluing everything together, painting, then cutting off the protective sheet after it's all done. Saves time and looks cleaner, since even having uneven edges everything still gets painted up.
Hope you guys enjoyed this nice laser-cut two-fer! I can totally make these at any time, since most of the work is done via Ponoko - so if you want one (or even a few) of your own, hit up the Store!