Felt is a commonly used material that is very lightweight, has a soft texture, and is available in a wide variety of colors. While most other materials are made from woven fibres, felt is made by compressing fibres together. This makes tearing and cutting felt extremely easy which incidentally means that felt has extremely poor strength characteristics.
Felt is not waterproof or water-resistant and thus should be avoided in any application that may get wet or see elevated levels of moisture. The fibrous nature of felt makes it very easy to glue to surfaces while its malleable nature makes it easy to stretch and wrap uneven shapes and surfaces.
A laser cutter is one of the most practical methods for cutting felt when considering that felt cannot withstand much mechanical stress before breaking. Of course, felt can be cut by hand using scissors, scored with sharp knives, and even be routed using a blade attached to a CNC, but these methods require the felt to be secured mechanically. As laser cutters simply vaporise unneeded material, they do not require the felt to be held down with force.
Furthermore, laser cutters do not make physical contact with the material meaning that they do not suffer from mechanical wear. This, combined with the ability for laser cutters to operate at great speed with unfounded precision and speed, makes laser cutters an ideal method for mass-produced felt parts.
Of all the materials that can be cut with a laser cutter, engraving felt is one of the few materials that are difficult to engrave. The reason for this is that unlike other materials, felt is very fluffy and does not have a solid structure. This means there is no bulk material to engrave into that would result in a clearly visible engraving.
Engraving felt also comes with the challenge that any engraving would be very easily removed by brushing, staining, and compression of the felt. Furthermore, freshly engraved felt would have a darker color to it, but this would fade over time as burnt material falls off and is replaced by non-burned material.
Felt is available in a wide range of types, but all felt falls under one of two different categories; natural and synthetic. Natural felt is made from materials such as wool which are naturally obtained while synthetic felt uses materials such as polyester which are chemically derived.
Fortunately, both types of felt can be laser cut with no problems and Ponoko offers felt from both categories. Furthermore, Ponoko also offers felt in a wide range of colors including charcoal, red, blue, bone, and grey. Felt thicknesses also vary from 0.05 inches to 0.12 inches which allows the felt stocked by Ponoko to cover a wide range of different applications.
Ponoko stocks both synthetic and natural felt with the synthetic variety being the cheaper option. When it comes to large production runs, using laser cutting for felt is one of the more economical methods of production as laser cutting is a straightforward production method that does not have tooling issues and is very easy to set up.
Furthermore, alternative cuttings methods such as CNCs and knives generally require the felt to be held down and secured. This not only makes such cutting methods difficult, but it can also make it very difficult to create a clean cut around the entire perimeter of the shape.
As laser cutting only requires the felt sheet to be laid down with minimal mechanical fixtures it is a very quick process. This in turn helps to reduce the overall cost of laser cut felt and also allows for engineering projects to scale from prototypes to full-scale production runs with little effort. It should also be noted that laser cut felt partially melts the very edge which seals the felt and prevents it from falling apart.
Felt is commonly found in textiles and accessories thanks to its soft texture and aesthetic. For example, handbags can utilise felt in the lining to create a smooth surface that is gentle on hands. Felt can also be used to make surfaces softer in vehicle interiors which makes driving a more pleasurable experience.
Another application for felt is in the production of gaskets and various machine parts. Felt gaskets are particularly ideal for use with sound and shock absorption as the compacted fibres can be compressed further. Felt gaskets can even be used in applications that require a lubricant that must not leak. For example, a steel axel can have a felt gasket around its bearing which helps to keep the oil in the bearing while allowing for a small amount of oil to leak and lubricate the axel.