Bamboo – March Material of the Month

Seriously, it’s not just flooring material. Bamboo, either in laminate form or as plywood has been a popular material choice in interior finishes since the 90’s.  The sustainable growing and harvesting reputation has aided bamboo’s popularity, and it’s now featured more and more in product design.

The wood products’ prominent grain and warm hues make it stand out from a myriad of other plywoods and timber laminates.  Bamboo also laser cuts beautifully and is one of the most popular material choices in Ponoko US and NZ.  Both hubs offer different thicknesses of bamboo in plywood and natural laminate form.

Get a whole lot of bamboo inspiration after the jump:


Digitally fabricating high performance products for virtual racing

Stuff that makes you go really fast without leaving the house. Derek Speare designs and makes products for high performance virtual racing.  The products are plug-in controls or control components to make you go extra extra fast, but without the unenviable price tag of physical motorsport.   Virtual racing is probably how Stig stays on form after he’s had too many sweet mince pies over Christmas and can’t get into his white overalls.

The Tampa Bay business Derek Speare Designs takes the fabrication process very seriously using a combination of CNC milling, laser cutting, 3D printing and casting.  So far Derek has made several component prototypes using Personal Factory and is currently perfecting the final production unit.  The working components are machined and laser cut from ABS, Acetal HDPE, UHMW, Acrylic and 6061 aluminum alloys.

3D printing isn’t yet economical enough for creating final production parts, but it is an integral step in the overall fabrication process.  Derek found that Rainbow Plastic is the optimum material for making master copies of various components.  The 3D printed master parts are used to make silicone molds for casting the final production components from high performance urethane resin or making wax parts for the lost wax casting of metal production components.

The photos are of the components for a hall effect PCB mount and input shaft receiver.Words from Derek after the jump:


Building a scale model tank with 3D printing

Creating precision parts for a 1:6 scale model tank

Somewhere, in an unspecified location there lives and engineer known as  Robbontherock.  In his spare time this mysterious man enjoys tinkering – something that we’ve found to be a very common ailment in the Ponoko community.

Currently Robbontherock is building a 1:6 scale model of the British Army Challenger 2 recovery vehicle, aka CRARRV, which is probably a pretty convincing onomatopoeic abbreviation.  The build has been an ongoing project for the engineer, with a multi-annual timeline you’d expect for the real thing.

So why a tank?

I have an interest in tanks since I was a little boy, I’ve always hated the violence aspect but loved the recovery vehicle variants, always felt they had more interesting features cranes, winches etc. this particular model started life as a challenger 2 which was made by Mark-1 tanks in the uk, it has since been heavily modified and now only shares the running gear as a common aspect between models.

The whole process is certainly about the thrill of the chase and not the final kill, excuse the war pun.  The fun part is the building process and all the necessary working out of details that’s an inherent part of model making.  Digital fabrication via CAD drawings can be time consuming, but it ensures precise fit of the components.  Then there are the moving parts to resolve, such as the winch and the crane.  The tank model is designed to be radio controlled, so the potential to mechanise the design adds a layer of complexity as well as interest.  Once completed, the tank will, no doubt, be a popular show and tell piece for the progeny.

Check out the 3D printed parts after the jump:


Personal Factory Projects for The Kids

Plus make-your-own Kid Stuff with FREE filesGot kids? Know someone who does? There are always some running about, squealing, getting in the way and demanding treats. At least that’s what I hear. So what can you do? You can 1) ignore them, 2) tell them to get back in their cupboard, 3) buy them something plastic from the nearest department store, 4) buy them something that didn’t get assembled by their peers in a third world country somewhere, 5) make them something yourself. The good news is that we can help with the last two.

Ideas, inspiration and free stuff after the jump:


24/7 Design with Colin Francis

Design passion is when design is both your day job and your after hours hobby.

By day, Colin is a Product Designer.  Outside of work his occupation is never far away, but in a very dissimilar way to the mass production clockwork.  When it comes to making stuff, his creative background isn’t exactly glue and popsicle sticks.  Working for a large kitchen gadget manufacturer that creates mass-consumer products, Colin gets a serious daily dose of 3D printing and dealing with factories for mass manufacturing.  In his spare time, his design persona is entirely different.  Getting to design his OWN products, means the focus shifts to small scale, on demand fabrication, variety of [non-plastic] materials, and often, quite involved artisan finishing.

Colin’s designs have a strong overall graphic element and feature a clear emphasis on form using two-dimensional laser cut shapes.  The laser cut products range from the Cuffmodern leather jewelry to homeware, such as clocks and vases made from bamboo. When it comes to his own designs, Colin prefers materials that age well: leather, brass, bamboo and wood.  Time permitting, CNC routing is the next fabbing process to experiment with in the near future.

The slot-together homeware products are designed to require minimal finishing.  The dyeing of the leather jewelry is more intensive in that regard, and Colin considers this part to be a soothing, hands on past time of tactile engagement, contrasted with the daily grind of eye watering digital work.  The therapy of using hands on something other than the keyboard is something many makers can relate to.

More from Colin after the jump:


Design Do’s of I Do’s

Bespoke stationary and gifts for weddings

I’ve been to a few weddings now, most of which have fallen into at least a “tolerable” category.  You can always tell when it’s two designers getting married because when you’re not surrounded by decorations that scream “catalogue stock” at you.  Luckily, for the majority of the couples, there are countless services that provide custom wedding designs.  One such is Luxecuts™ from Kate Miller Events, which moves away from traditional print media, and instead specialises in wedding ornaments crafted from more solid materials.

Luxecuts products are fabricated using Ponoko Personal Factory and range from place cards to cake toppers, signage, table numbers and whatever else the couple may request.  The Sacramento design boutique still prints some of the décor on paper, but the popularity of the more lasting mementos is gaining prominence.  Prior to the availability of Ponoko’s on demand fabrication service, moving away from standard printing wasn’t an option for the company.The ornaments are laser cut and engraved from a wide range of materials, such as wood veneers, bamboo, metal and acrylic in various colors.  The designs are inspired by textures and fonts, which become the starting point for a collection of elements.  Once the final designs are cut, little finishing is required to create the end product.  The final touches vary from the occasional painting or staining or adding a ribbon.


The challenge of working with scripted and glyph-heavy fonts when stenciling – it’s truly become an art working with the complicated paths.


Don’t let your use of making be limited to products already in use – reinvent and improve!

Small Business Stories: interview with clock designer Maiko Kuzinishi

Retail Ready with DecoylabAs promised in December, this year we’ve started a regular feature focussing on small businesses.  This year’s first interview is with Maiko Kuzunishi who has earned a worldwide following with her Decoylab range of beautiful eco-friendly and quirky clocks.  Maiko also creates jewellery that visually echoes her clocks, and more recently she added additional products for the home to her selection of existing and ever-evolving designs

Getting Started

• What made you decide to start your own business?

It was the emptiness I felt inside after dedicating 8 years of my life to working for design companies. Some say “In order to find what you want, know what you don’t want first.” That’s exactly what I did. The career oriented mentality, competing for “Best” designs, working endlessly on computer for seemingly unimportant projects – those are the things I no longer wanted. In 2006 I resigned the company and decided to “take a break.” I had no idea what was in store for me but took a step to move away from what I did not want.

The first year was chaotic to say the least but I eventually figured out that I wanted to be a mom and I began imagining doing what I love doing and making a living. Some sort of a paradigm shift happened soon after and both things manifested (at the same time actually). I did not imagine making clocks for a living but it was exactly what I wanted. After that, my focus has been to not waste my time (life) on something I cannot pour my heart and soul into.

Read the full interview with Maiko after the jump: (more…)

Gilded Butterflies

Winged pendants with a unique twistOn the Ponoko NZ HQ glory wall is an old article about a very talented New Zealand jeweller and sculptor Lisa Black.  It’s up there because she lists Ponoko as one of her favourite things, and for extra brownie points, we love her work.  In a slightly embarrassing light bulb moment, I discovered that Lisa uses Personal Factory to make ornate parts for her Gilded Butterflies collection of jewellery.  The dots should have been joined considerably earlier.

Gilded Butterlies is a joint project between the Auckland artist and a graphic designer Dan Gordon.  They create beautifully detailed hinged pendants with real butterfly wings, which are mounted on bamboo and then sealed with a protective layer of resin.  For a number of years they have been using Personal Factory on regular basis to laser cut the bamboo wings and the brass hinges.  It was the discovery of the online fabrication service that inspired them to create this line of jewellery.  Initially Lisa came up with the butterfly concept, and the company spent years relentlessly testing a variety of prototypes and assembly processes.  These are still continuously evolving.

The total process, from design to fabrication to assembly is very involved.  The assembly is particularly delicate, and Lisa devotes hours to put together each piece of jewellery: prepping the wings, applying resin, waiting for it to cure and finishing the bamboo with linseed oil to enhance the grain and ensure durability.  The butterfly wings are sourced from different farms and suppliers.Dan Gordon emphasises that their design consideration isn’t purely aesthetic:

I think people want unique, genuine artifacts in their lives, which translates to using natural and raw materials. Sustainability is paramount as well. Butterflies are a fantastically renewable source, and farming them for research, education and collection ensures many species survival, we are still picky about the ones we chose though.

A few more words from Dan after the jump:

Have you been surprised by anything in the PF process: One big positive is that there are no surprises with your orders. You are totally responsible for your designs and you can make the smallest iterations without incurring incurring any extra time or setup costs.

Do you have any tips for other makers? Our strategy is basically “Make unique things, build good relationships” and it seems to be working out ok.

Wooden materials have grain, with the bamboo it’s a very pronounced straight grain. If you are making something with multiple parts it’s worth bearing in mind that if you rotate your designs to fit more pieces into the template, the direction of the grain won’t match the other pieces. It might not matter depending on what you are making, but for us with two symmetrical wings, inconsistent direction of the grain is really obvious and a bit of a deal-breaker.

Graphic Solutions

Making for business and leisureAt some point towards the end of last year, I was walking through town, and a rather distinctive shop front caught my attention.  The bold window graphics looked very familiar, and after a couple of moments the light bulb in my head switched on when I realised that the Graphic Solutions signage is made with Ponoko Personal Factory.  Like seeing a friend’s product in a design magazine, it was one of those little proud moments.

Wellington’s Graphics Solutions co-founder Elizajane started off using Personal Factory for personal projects.  It was a chance discovery by word of mouth as often happens in this part of the world.  The graphic designer already knew about the potential of laser cutting, so she was quite excited to learn just how accessible the service was.  Initially Elizajane experimented with making plywood and felt ornaments, which caught the attention of the Your Home and Garden magazine.  It wasn’t long before the projects became more company focused with commissioned designs for promotional jobs, as well as Graphic Solutions signage and branded gifts from a variety of felts and plywoods.Easy access to digital fabrication has enabled Elizajane to move away from handcrafting and printing and reach a more polished aesthetic with made objects.  Her photography and graphic design background means no shortage of ideas for designs to laser cut.  The 2D graphic nature of her designs means very little hand finishing is required.  The felt parts are aired out, and the plywood parts are given a light sand (it’s incredible how beautifully smooth you can make the ply with just a few scuffs of fine sand paper).  The next challenge is adding an extra dimension to designs with 3D printing.

Words of wisdom from Elizajane after the jump:


Leather – February material of the month

Hell bent for leather

Unless you are of the vegan variety, you probably have quite a few things made of leather, mostly footwear and luggage.  Leather is a wonderfully versatile material, and I’ll always pick it over its plastic substitutes.  Working with leather requires skill, but is incredibly satisfying, provided you have the right tools.  In the last few years laser cutting has become more and more prolific as a tool for manipulating leather, and now features prominently in many everyday leather items.  We’ve featured some laser cut and laser engraved fashion previously, but that was only the tip of the iceberg.

Leather in fashion has seen its peaks and troths, and it’s definitely at its peak currently if the catwalks are the vogue yard stick.  Laser cutting is behind much of that popularity, and as always the fashion trend is driven by the hi-fashion avant-garde designers who push the concepts and boundaries of material use and perception.  Some of the notable ideas come from Visbol de Arce’s Anatomy collection, current king (or in this case, queen) of the fashion mountain Iris van Herpen’s Synesthesia, and a selection of rather unusual bags from James Platt.

More sweet leathery goodness under the cut: