Laser Cutting Technique Makes Plywood Bendable

Here’s a laser cutting technique that makes thin plywood bendable. By cutting away elongated diamond shapes from the material, a lattice of strips connected minimally by alternating tabs is left over. The wood is then bendable, and it must be somewhat durable since the idea came from a product that uses the technique as a hinged notebook enclosure.

We don’t have much interest in it as an often used pivot point as surely it must be a problem with long-term use. But we love the look of it as a rounded corner on an enclosure like the Arduino project box seen above. The side walls are one continuous piece, with identical top and bottom sections which receive the alignment tabs. The whole thing is held together with just four bolt/washer/nut combinations.

But if you don’t have access to a laser cutter, we guess you’ll have to stick to altering pre-made enclosures for now.

42 thoughts on “Laser Cutting Technique Makes Plywood Bendable

  1. What happened to the good old hot water method? Just put the plywood in a tub of hot water overnight, and you can bend it any which way you want without getting a stupid looking accordion at the corner.

    1. Even soaking wet, multi-layered plywood has remarkable tension and strength characteristics, I really can’t see you bending an unmodified piece of plywood without steaming it or something crazy first.

      And besides, how does one keep a bathtub full of water hot all night? Usually even a full tub of boiling water will be reduced to luke-warm temperatures within 2 hours.

  2. I think it looks pretty cool.

    Only issue for people without their own laser set-up is that online places such as ponoko charge by the minute of laser time, and obviously this technique would take a lot of cutting.

    Still, cool stuff and always good to have options

  3. Very clever.

    I worked in a lumber yard part-time during high school and college. They sold a product called “bending plywood”. It was plywood that had the layers laminated in parallel as opposed to perpendicular. The stuff was really floppy!

    1. I like the burnt wood coloration, particularly on lighter colored woods. Gives it a nice two tone look. That said, I’ve noticed the quality of scorch can very quite significantly between different types of plywood.

  4. You can see a little light shining through the slots. Maybe mot good ventilation or speaker grills, but put an LED behind it and you might get some cool effects. Fill in the slots with clear epoxy might add strength and still look cool.

    1. Plastic and wood waterjet just fine, thank you. Use a smaller nozzle and turn the abrasive off for thinner. Cutting 1″ polycarbonate you would want to use abrasive. 0.01″ plastic – water only is fine. You could probably even turn down the pressure too.

    1. thanks alot for your explanation!
      but i found one little flaw: yay! =)
      the part in between the two bridges that are close to each other, is not going to do any bending/twisting. therefore you could just let it be a massive connection. and maybe it could then even be smaller cause right now, you use only 2/3 of the length of the material to twist. the snijlab pattern uses the complete lenght minus the bridges, thats more effective!

      1. it only works with elastic materials. alu isnt exactly the best choise for this kind of treatment, since the elastic limit will be reached soon. then, the material will just bend and stay like that.

  5. I’ve been playing around with this technique on my laser cutter – and it works great!

    it is much easier to design / implement than it appears.

    if you look closely at the pattern – you can see that it’s nothing more than a series of dashed lines. each cut is about 3/4″ long – seperated by about an 1/8th”.

    the rows are about 1/8th” apart and staggered 50%

    also works on MDF – and I suspect plastic.

    I actually get the impression durability might be reasonable.

    great hack!

      1. well, using 5cm thick massive wood sounds like a modified design or? of course i will have to experiment with the width of the cuts and other parameters, but the basic principle of this method doesnt limit the thickness to a specific size.

  6. The work looks great and extra ventilation from the great looking holes can’t hurt.

    Plywood is great and easy to work with except for the flamability aspect. I would not leave any electrically powered invention, battery or otherwise, in a wood box without being in the same room as it when powered.

    1. Radios, record players, televisions and more were commonly put into wood cabinets from their invention up through the early 1970’s when large plastic moldings became less expensive.

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