Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Polymer Clay Inlaid Runes v1.0

I've been making rune sets with my new laser cutter/engraver. Most of them have turned out pretty good, but there has been a learning curve.

 I wanted to experiment a little bit with using some material to inlay the runes. The laser can cut the runes nice and deep, and it just seemed natural to fill that groove with something, like epoxy or polyurethane resin, or polymer clay; something that would sand smooth and make for a good inlay.

My first attempt was using brass powder mixed with polyurethane resin. This didn't work out so well. My ratio of powdered metal to resin was way off, and it didn't fill the runes as smoothly as I had hoped. It did work, but there were a few air bubbles, and it just looked like an ugly color of resin, not like brass inlay, which is what I wanted. Sorry, no pictures of this first experiment.

My second attempt was to try polymer clay (sculpey). This worked a little better, on the inlay part at least, but there were still a lot of logistical issues that made this experiment more or less a failure.

One of the harder things to get perfect with this laser cutter is registration. There is a lot of parallax distortion in the central camera.  This makes it hard to line things up, like centering a rune symbol on the cut out piece of wood. The farther away from the center of the camera's field of view, the worse the error becomes. This has become a large part of the difficulty I have had with making these runes.

Because it is easier to sand and finish a plank of wood than it is to sand and finish 25 little pieces of wood, it is logical that I try to cut the runes into the plank, and then do the inlay before cutting them out. But this runs into the parallax problem. If I cut them at the same time I engrave them, the processes are relative to each other, and so they will come out fine. But if I try to engrave them, and then put them back in to cut them out later, they will never line up right again. It seems like they should, but they won't.

Anyways... I re-sawed an oak 2x4, that a friend gave me, into planks. One was about 3/16" thick and two more were about 3/8" thick. I laid out the runes in Inkskape and engraved them with my Glowforge laser cutter. I didn't cut the pieces out, as I normally would. I just engraved the runes and left them a solid plank. Then I sat down and started filling the runes with ploymer clay.

I made sure to fill the engravings completely, and let the clay mound up a bit. Then I baked it according to the instructions on the package. Then I sanded the tops smooth, getting rid of all the mounded up clay and revealing the shape of the rune.

I had watched a few videos on this technique, and they all suggested treating the clay with CA glue after it is baked and sanded. This helps to harden the clay, and it fills in any tiny cracks or gaps between the wood and the clay. Then, of course, it has to be sanded flat again.

I figured it would be easier to apply finish while the board was whole rather than to apply it to 25 little pieces, so I gave the plank a couple coats of tung oil. This turned out to not really be as good of an idea as it first appeared. Pretty pointless really, as this finish will end up being ruined/sanded off in future steps.

OK, so here comes the tricky part. In a perfect world I could just put the planks back into the laser, apply the same settings as when I engraved the runes, everything would line up perfectly, and now I could just cut the outlines to separate the pieces, right? Right. Never going to happen. I played with the settings for about 10 minutes trying to dial them in as close as I could get them, so that the image on screen overlaid the runes already engraved on the wood. Could not get them to match up for the life of me. Mind you, this is the same file that was used to engrave them in the first place. Nothing has changed. Still, I could not get them to line up perfectly. And this is on the thicker planks that stayed nice and flat. The thinner plank curled up like a potato chip when it got baked.

So I got them as close as I could, and decided to just score the outline and use that as a guide and cut them out on the band saw. The thicker planks would have been a bit hard to cut through on the laser anyway. It has limits.

 The score lines were OK on some of the runes, and way off on others. No good. I couldn't even use them as guides. I ended up sanding them off. Then I tried another idea. I would use the file to cut out a template on card stock. I could then trace around where the cuts should be with a pencil after lining up the template manually.

 This... sort of worked. Not really. The template wasn't perfectly spaced either (though I can think of no logical reason why it wouldn't be). And tracing around the holes was very difficult because the gaps between them were extremely thin. So I tried another trick that has served me well in the past, spray paint. A light dusting of spray paint over the template would give me a good visual guide to follow on the band saw.The results were, well... less than I had hoped for.

 The paint didn't give me very crisp lines, so on the last plank, I decided to just grid off the runes with a ruler and a pencil. It could hardly be worse than what I was already dealing with.

I cut out all the pieces on the band saw, and cleaned them up and rounded over the corners on the disk sander. I also had to sand off the spray paint, which made the tung oil I had put on basically worthless.  The spacing was abysmal. About 1/3 of the runes are not centered. The sizes of the chits are inconsistent, as are the shape. Overall, I give them a grade of D for quality. Total crap. But I have too much time invested in them to just throw them away (which is what I want to do), so I'll probably sell them super cheap just to recoup some of the sunk labor costs. I slathered them in lemon oil (old english) and called them done.

Total crap.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Hidden Treasure

Last year, I posted about my penchant for acquiring free wood to use in my wood work and turning projects. Because, I'm a cheap bastard, and free wood is the best wood. Well, a friend of mine (yes, I have two of them) brought me some free wood that he got from his work. He is a truck driver, and he goes through a large quantity of dunnage/cribbing in his job. He says he burns a lot of it for fire wood, and asked me if I wanted some.

I've gotten caches of cribbing before, and it is usually old oak 4x4's. They look pretty nasty at first glance, and they do usually have a lot of cracks in them, but sometimes they will clean up nice and surprise you. My copper inlaid bowl was made from a piece of dunnage.

I ran a few of the smaller pieces (2x4's) through my lunch-box planer just to clean the surface up and have a look at them. My biggest surprise was that only about 1/3 of them were oak as expected. The rest were maple, and many of them were spalted or ambrosia.

The above picture doesn't do this piece of ambrosia maple justice. The coloration is really striking in person.
And this lovely piece of spalted maple was hiding inside a piece that had some nice color, but outwardly showed no signs of spalting. That is, until I decided to re-saw it into 1/4" thick planks for making runes. Now I just have to decide what to make out of it ;)


Friday, April 20, 2018

Engraved Wooden Wand Case v1

Hot on the heels of my recent laser engraved Goetic Seals Box, I found another use for some of those pre-made wooden boxes that you find at the craft store.

This is a 7x2 inch wooden box that I have sanded and laser engraved with a design on the lid, which I had selected specifically to use in conjunction with some 6" selenite wands which I carry in my shop.

After engraving, I sealed the box with two or three coats of de-waxed shellac. Then I set about trying to install a foam and cloth lining to cradle the rather fragile selenite wand.

The foam part of the lining came together very quickly. I used 2mm craft foam and positioned it in such a way that the springiness of the foam would create a soft cradle for the wand on the bottom of the box, and also a pad on the underside of the lid would apply gentle pressure to keep the wand from moving around.

The bottom foam piece was cut extra wide and the edges and center folded down to make an M shape. The sides of the box will hold the edges in place. In order to keep the center down, I glued it down to a scrap piece of chipboard that would run along the bottom under the foam.

The short ends of the box also needed some padding to protect the tips of the wand, so I cut two pieces of 2mm foam (two for each end) to tuck into the end of the box. I had to trim the M piece a little to make room for the end padding.

BTW, pay no attention to the fact that the colors of the foam change in some of these pictures. I lined more than one box and had at least one failed attempt and I just used whatever color foam I had laying around. I knew I would be covering it with cloth anyway. Each picture may not be from the same box or stage of the project.

The cushion on the lid was just a simple piece of 2mm craft foam cut a little wide so that it would bow out a little bit from the lid. This will offer some gentle pressure to keep the wand from moving around when the lid is closed.

The foam part came together quickly, but the cloth part was a pain in the ass. I ruined at least one set of foam parts experimenting with how I was going to cover it with cloth. I originally intended to use velvet, but I thought satin would be easier to work with because it is thinner, and I knew I would be tucking the excess cloth behind the edges of the foam. Sorry, it's hard to see much detail of the cloth work because it is black.

The lid was the easier of the two sides, but even that took two tries to get an acceptable, if not perfect result. The satin cloth is spray glued to the craft foam and the ends are turned under and also tacked with spray glue. The short ends were kept a little sloppy so that the excess cloth would hide the small gap created by the bowing of the foam.

Pro tip: don't use super glue with craft foam and satin cloth. It soaks through the cloth very quickly, bonds to your fingers instantly, and dries very slowly on the foam.

The bottom side was even more problematic. At least two failed attempts were made trying to cover this assembly with cloth. Again, I used spray glue to tack down the satin to the craft foam. I had to wrap the little end pads in satin separately and just tuck them in on the ends. I tried to cover them at the same time as the main piece but that didn't work out well. Even just covering the main piece had a lot of little issues that had to be worked out. Tucking things in here, folding things under there, making sure not to impede the design of the M shape of the foam. Difficult to explain, but take my word for it. There were issues.

Anyway, it all got worked out satisfactorily. The lining wasn't quit as nice or as easy to make as I had wanted it to be, but the end product is quit a bit better than the cheap pre-fab wooden box I started with. This will up the value of the selenite wands considerably.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Here Be Demons

The Ars Goetia is the first section of a 17th century grimoire known as the Lesser Key of Solomon. It is basically the yellow pages of conjuration. Personally, I stay away from conjuring or summoning of any kind. It's just not my bag. But for those who do, the 72 demons described in the goetia will take care of most of your needs.

I have a large collection of craft store pre-made boxes of various types and sized, and recently I decided to start purging that collection in favor of making my own better quality boxes out of nicer wood. Among those craft boxes, I found this one which looked to be the perfect size and shape to hold a collection of sigils from the Lesser Key.

The lid of the box was laser engraved with the Secret Seal of Solomon, a protection talisman. It was hand sanded and finished with about seven coats of wipe-on polyurethane (note to self: use a pre-stain sealer first next time). The first coat was tinted with a walnut stain. The cards are printed on 60 pound parchment stock, and cut apart by hand.

This project was largely economical in its purpose. I intend to sell these sets in my shop. It is also a way to get rid of some cheap wood boxes by classing them up with my new laser cutter. So, win-win.

Saturday, March 24, 2018


It's been almost two years since I've made a wand on the lathe. I made about twenty wands, and then I got sick of them and started making pendulums, and then I built the Roubo workbench, and then I didn't go back to the lathe for a while. I've been kind of missing it, but the workshop has been a mess and there have been other things going on. Yesterday, I decided to throw a chunk of poplar dowel on the midi-lathe and see how it felt. Just to see if it came easy or if it came hard. Turns out, it came easy.

I turned that chunk of poplar dowel into a short wand in about a half hour, and it didn't turn out half bad. No plan, just free form. The night was young, so I thought, why not make another one? This time I wanted a nicer wood. I don't care much for poplar. It is soft, has an ugly color and uninteresting grain (IMO). I pulled out a piece of walnut from my storage rack, but then I put it back. I wasn't feeling quite up to that yet. Then I decided to have a go at one of the pieces of elm that I had slabbed and stacked to dry last year.

I hadn't made anything yet from any of the lumber that I cut last year. This would be the first piece. I cut a 2" strip from the straighter side on the band saw and chucked it up in the lathe. It doesn't cut too bad.

Though the original board had a little bit of color to it, the final piece seems a little drab and the straight grain doesn't excite much, but the greatest appeal to me is that it is the first piece to be made from wood that I gathered, cut from a log into a board, and dried in my workshop. Watching it go from tree limb to finished piece is kind of satisfying (even though it is a year long process).

... baby steps.