Laser Cut Me a Motor..

Simen Svale Skogsrud has posted a remarkable bit of laser cutting on the Thingiverse website: a working Air Vane Motor. I just love how simple the thing is.

Simple Air Vane Motor by Simen Svale Skogsrud

Simple Air Vane Motor by Simen Svale Skogsrud

Watch a video of the motor in action here.

This kind of project really excites me because it is a dynamic object, and it is really addressing the problem of driving small scale laser cutting towards more complex and functional applications, both of which are quite unusual to see. Plus its a cool mechanism!

There appears to be a burgeoning community of makers on Thingiverse, posting and remixing each other’s designs, many of which, like this one, aren’t complete products by any means but the building blocks towards other things. Quite literally in the case of wizard23’s Parametrized Lego Bricks, for 3D printing. Indeed, Thingiverse user Matt has already posted a 3D printable version of the Air Vane Motor.

Another of may favourite things about this one is Simen’s motivation for the thing:

After seeing some kids playing with a little air plane powered by compressed air from a soda bottle, I decided to see if I could make a laser cuttable version of such a motor.

Simple, straightforward and playful!

via Thingiverse blog

Open Source Embroidery: Upcoming Exhibition

Just came across this upcoming exhibition on a couple of lists:

Open Source Embroidery
is a project initiated by curator and researcher, Ele Carpenter of the University of Umea, Sweden. The project explores the links between open source software coding and the creative processes and social interactions involved in embroidery However, the project has grown to support and facilitate a range of artists practice investigating the relationship between programming for embroidery and computing.

Open Source Emroidery Hat

From Ele’s project website:

Embroidery is constructed (mostly by women) in hundreds of tiny stitches which are visible on the front of the fabric. The system of the stitches is revealed on the back of the material. Some embrioderers seal the back of the fabric, preventing others from seeing the underlying structure of the pattern. Others leave the back open for those who want to take a peek. A few integrate the backend process into the front of the fabric. The patterns are shared amongst friends in knitting and embroidery ‘circles’.

Software is constructed (mostly by men) in hundreds of tiny pieces of code, which form the hidden structure of the programme or interface. Open Source software allows you to look at the back of the fabric, and understand the structure of your software, modify it and distribute it. The code is shared amongst friends through online networks. However the stitches or code only make sense to those who are familiar with the language or patterns.

One interesting piece involves contributions from 216 embroiderers, each creating one patch of a giant hexadecimal patchwork colour chart, entitled HTML patchwork:

HTML Patchwork from the Open Source Embroidery Project

HTML Patchwork from the Open Source Embroidery Project

The Open Source Embroidery exhibition will be at BildMuseet, Ume̴ from 6 June Р6 September 2009 and at the Museum of Craft & Folk Art, San Francisco: 1 October 2009 Р24 January 2010.

Its interesting to see how open source thinking and the idea of coding applies so easily to various craft forms – as Ele says, it really comes down to knowledge of different languages, or requiring machine languages, the use of which forms a standard vocabularly for sharing designs within.

I shall leave you with another intriguing insight from Ele:

Open Source Embroidery pays homage to Ada Lovelace (1816-52) who helped to develop the Analytical Engine, the first idea for a universal computer, with Charles Babbage. Lovelace wrote “we may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraical patterns just as the Jaquard Loom weaves flowers and leaves.” (Gere, 2002, p24). The Jaquard Loom (1810) was the first machine to use punched-card programming.

via OpenMaterials blog and the Electron Club list

And while we’re on the subject, embroidered MRI scan slices anyone? via ladyada

Makerbot and Thingiverse Musing on Open Design

Both Allan at Thingiverse and the team at Makerbot have been blogging most prolifically and interestingly on all things open design, including:

1. What the implications are for standards – will we be able to update mechanical standards like snapfits and screwcaps with simply a software update or patch?

2. Re-using CNC or laser cut offcuts – Get your screenprinter pal round for a drink and subtly direct him towards those annoyingly surplus squares of technoply.

Makerbot's offcut screenprints

Makerbot's offcut screenprints. Image via Makerbot's Flickrstream

Now, I know what you’re saying: “I’m not cool enough to be friends with a screenprinter, or indeed someone who does screenprinting!”. Well, maybe you could work some patterns or artwork into the waste areas of your lasercutting file as a starter, using a Creative Commons image search as a starter, or perhaps using Context Free you could make variable design for each batch..

3. The natural link between personal fabrication and Long Tail economics:

“The argument that personal fabrication cannot compete with big production hinges on the notion that most people don’t need low-volume objects … But really, practically everyone does.” blogs

Dr. Neil Gershenfeld speaks in Manchester on Fablabs

Fablab Logo

Also while in Manchester last week I had the pleasure of attending a forum discussion on Fablabs, the MIT instigated open workshop platform. The morning was hosted by the well kept secret that is the Manufacturing Institute, the UK’s national charity for promoting and educating about manufacturing – also a player in bringing about the UK’s first fablab, to be sited in East Manchester.

The MI brought together Dr. Neil Gershenfeld of MIT’s Centre for Bits and Atoms, representatives of the MI and of industrial sponsors, the regeneration director for New East Manchester, as well as, via video conference, 3 different Fablabs across Europe and Dr. Adrian Bowyer of the Reprap project (and the University of Bath). It was a very interesting morning, mostly to hear Gershenfeld and Bowyer speak, and to see just how many and how varied the existing Fablabs are.


A Visit to Lazerian, Manchester’s CNC Wizards – Part 2

continued from Part 1..

An atmosphere of relaxed experimentation, and play, is apparent in Lazerian’s workshop – although Liam’s collaborators Richard and Jason are silently engrossed in their making, the place is festooned with prototypes and work in progress, and there is a sense of productivity not being a chore, more of a happy coincidence.

The guys at Lazerian: Richard, Jason and Liam

The guys at Lazerian: Richard, Jason and Liam

Making up some of Lazerian's handmade jewellery range

Making up some of Lazerian's handmade jewellery range

Some Lazerian jewellery in progress

Some Lazerian jewellery in progress

Jason is busy cutting polypropylene rings for bangles by hand. A seemingly laborious process, but apparently yielding much better results than the same process tried with the CNC – down to the rough edges from milling, as compared to the smoothness of a clean scalpel cut.

Lazerian sell a great deal online, through their custom designed website.  About 70% of business comes from direct sales online and through selected outlets, and the rest from commissions. The day that I am there the team are busy preparing for 100% Design in London, featuring some of Richard’s paper constructions on a grand scale. Curiously enough, I first encountered Richard years ago by happening across his Flickr site, showcasing his quite unbelievable aptitude with paper. Hopkins tells me that there is a good community of artists and designers in Manchester (he used to work in much closer proximity with such others but felt it more productive to be a bit more isolated!). He has no desire for the pull to London, and is very keen to keep production local in Britain, hence the studio’s commitment to making as much in house as possible. It is admirable, and not an easy thing to achieve in isolation but something they clearly thrive on.

I was surprised by Lazerian – I think I expected them to be a bunch of tech-headed furniture makers, but what I found was an amicable bunch of makers concerned above all with physical experimentation. For Lazerian, the tools are a means to an end, their creative use of CNC coming out of completely separate, quite traditional design aims. Refreshing.

A Visit to Lazerian, Manchester’s CNC Wizards – Part 1

Firstly, apologies for my unannounced hiatus from blogging here, it is nice to be back!


On Wednesday I had the pleasure of paying a visit to Lazerian, Liam Hopkin’s studio workshop in Manchester specialising in beguiling forms for furniture, mobiles and jewellery. We covered them briefly back in November, and ever since I have been dying to go and take a closer look at their products. I was not disappointed.

The Lazerian logo resplendant on their T Shirts

The Lazerian logo resplendant on their T Shirts

It seems to me that everyone in Manchester either lives or works in an old mill, and Lazerian are no exception. I was greeted by a very upbeat Hopkins, easily recognisable sporting a two tone T shirt with Lazerian’s trademark English Pointer emblazoned across it. He explains that the Pointer replaced their previous, (I would say, slightly less edgy) mascot of a squirrel. The dog is the latest inspiration for the studio’s foray into angular ornament, a net being run off the plotter as I enter the office for turning the dog into a planar 3d paper model.

As we sit down for a cup of tea, Hopkins tells me about Lazerian’s overarching ethos: experimenting with materials, seeing what they are capable of, making the most of them both in the sense of their properties and in the sense of resourcefulness.

Lazerian's Mensa Coffee Table

Lazerian's Mensa Coffee Table

My first destination as we enter their spacious workshop is to check out the CNC machine used to create pieces such as their Mensa tables. Why CNC?

“We wanted CNC from the start … We can get a lot more out of the material that way – the components we cut would be much more wasteful to make by hand.” Hopkins shows me a sheet with the negative forms left after CNC cutting, dozens of X shaped apertures crammed together on the ply. It occurs to me that this is not a big machine, and perhaps Lazerian’s fascination with repeated forms and pattern are as much a response to what production resources they have on hand as aesthetics. “The smaller forms force you to be more creative,” says Hopkins, “The CNC machine also allows us to keep production in house.”

continued in Part 2..

Interview: Bre Pettis of Thingiverse and NYCResistor

Bre Pettis

I first came across Bre Pettis‘ work when the hacker collective to which he belongs, NYCResistor got their hands on their own laser cutter and started getting very busy with it! Since then his name just kept popping up so I caught up with him via email to ask some pertinent questions about his recent project, Thingiverse, and the future of making in general..


Finch & Fouracre – Scotland’s Tenement Houses in Kit Form

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Finch and Fouracre, makers of the very successful Scottish tenement model kits. I first came across these kits in the shop of The Lighthouse, Glasgow’s centre for design and architecture, where the product has become something of a classic, a much loved replication of the type of esoteric buildings that most inhabitants of Glasgow tend to live in.

Finch and Fouracre's Scottish Tenement kit

Franki Finch and Beth Fouracre met whilst working at one of the city’s well established model making firms, and now operate a very cosy studio taking on model making commissions and producing kits for sale locally and on the web. The pair make use of various production techniques, both hand and computer driven.

Can you give us a brief idea of the processes you use in making a Tenement kit – currently, what are the biggest challenges in their production?

We get all the pieces for the walls and roofs laser cut from mount board; the chimneys we cut on a bandsaw, and the windows printed onto acetate. We also buy glue and boxes for the kits. Then we lay all the components out in a line and box them all up.

 The walls and roofs are the main components to the kits, and getting them laser cut has been our biggest challenge, something we still have problems with – finding somewhere local that can regularly take our work. Apart from that, just finding enough space in our wee workshop to gather all the things needed and make up the kits can be a bit of a logistical challenge! In terms of selling the kits, and probably because we’re quite new to this, predicting demand can be a bit tricky, but we’re getting the hang of it!

How did the idea for the kits come about? Did you plan on becoming kit-builders?

We didn’t plan on becoming kit-builders at all! Seeing products in places like the Lighthouse inspired us – we figured we could do it too. We started experimenting in our spare time when we weren’t busy with modelmaking commissions. The idea came from kits Franki had when she was a kid. We explored ideas for a few different buildings, but the tenement won hands down. Neither of us are from Glasgow originally, but we both love tenements, they’re so much a part of the city.

Next year we’re planning on developing more kits, but we haven’t deicded what that’ll be yet, so any ideas are welcome! We never expected the kits to go so well, but we’re really chuffed and enjoy it a lot.

Beth and Franki allowed me a sneak preview of their newest product – a tiny version of the Tenement model, just an inch and a half high, in acid-etched nickel silver: an exquisitely detailed and delicate item.

Detail of Finch and Fouracre's Tinyment

The Tinyment in flat form
How does your new Tinyment model differ in terms of the user’s participation in the model’s construction?

We think the Tinyment is more of a ‘grown-up’ product, while the Tenement kits seem to appeal to all ages. The Tinyments are simpler, being a single sheet of nickel silver, but also have more detail, and are more delicate to make. They also take less time, the Tenement kits are more of a project to make, with step-by-step instructions and a variety of parts.

For us, we like the Tenement kits because of the variety of materials, and the task of making a model, yet we like the Tinyments because they’re so neat – each product appeals in different way.

Why do you think people like miniatures and what do you think is the appeal of making them from a kit?

For the tenements, people identify with them, we often hear people say “I live in that one” or “this looks like my flat”. It also seems to inspire people, there’s always suggestions of putting lights and wee people inside the models.

But in general, we can’t really put a finger on why it is people like miniatures, although so many things are miniaturised. Perhaps it’s because you feel in control! It creates a different perspective. For example, we build models for architects, and even though they’ve designed it, when they see the model they often are fascinated with its smallness!

 We think the appeal of our kits is it allows people to be creative without requiring any special skills, and completing any kit well gives you a nice sense of achievement!

Making the Scottish Tenement Kit

The Public Domain – James Boyle’s Latest

The Public Domain by James Boyle

The Public Domain by James Boyle, looks to be an interesting new publication, billed as “introducing readers to the idea of the public domain and describes how it is being tragically eroded by our current copyright, patent, and trademark laws.” – In many ways, a call to arms for people to use the Creative Commons, the licensing system which you already use when either selling or giving away your .eps product plans on Ponoko.

Boyle’s book is available to buy physically, or to download for free as a .pdf, or indeed read online for free through the publishers’ (Yale University Press) website. I have started to read the book by the latter method and found the website very lucid and usable and the writing clear and straight forward. I particularly like Boyle’s point in the preface on the accessibility of this area of thought:

“Contrary to what everyone has told you, the subject of intellectual property is both accessible and interesting; what people can understand, they can change — or pressure their legislators to change… Every news story refers to intellectual property as ‘arcane,’ ‘technical,’ or ‘abstruse’ in the same way as they referred to former attorney general Alberto Gonzales as ‘controversial.’ It is a verbal tic and it serves to reinforce the idea that this is something about which popular debate is impossible. But it is also wrong.”

Boyle also writes on the Public Domain website about the benefits of simultaneously selling your book and giving it away. There’s a cracking video from Creative Commons at the bottom of that page, which makes a great introduction for those of us new to the concept.

via Core77

Ben Light’s Forays into ‘Lazzored’ Trees

Ben Light's Tree Ornaments

Ben Light, whom we have blogged about previously, has been making some Christmas ornaments over at NYC Resistor‘s laser cutter. He is quoted over at Make‘s blog:

“The laser cutter is such a cool tool. To be able to design something and have the final piece in your hands 10 minutes later, it’s like living in the future.”

Ben was taking advantage of NYC Resistor’s classes – every time I look at that site I get an inexplicable urge to live in NYC!
More cool happenings via Bre and NYC Resistor’s laser cutter: Jennifer Whalen’s animated horse and buffalo.

via Bre’s excellent Things videos
and via Make