Fail Of The Week: Secret Agent-Style Book Hideaway

Ah, the movies are an inspiration for so many projects. How many times have you seen a spy movie where a cutout in the pages of a book are hiding something? This was the inspiration which led [Paul] and his crew to try using a laser cutter to remove a handgun-shaped cutout from the pages. The fail began before the project even got started. The sacrificial book they had chosen was too thick to cut directly so they tore it in thirds for the cutting process.

The hijinks are portrayed well in the clip after the break. The infectious giggling as this first trace of the laser cuts the outline makes the video worth watching. As they try to go deeper, the success falls off rapidly. This makes for a great Fail of the Week discussion: Why can’t you cut through multiple layers of a book with a laser cutter? Is this merely a focal length issue that would be solved with a higher-end cutter or is there something else at play here. Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.


[Thanks Bob]

2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every Wednesday. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

90 thoughts on “Fail Of The Week: Secret Agent-Style Book Hideaway

  1. Why don’t they just cut a few pages at a time and then bind that into something convincing. There’s resources out there to show how to bind your own books and some of them aren’t too shabby.

      1. I’d have to defer to someone more knowledgeable about CNCs to answer that question. Maybe they could put an X-acto knife in the CNC somehow and have it plot the lines.

        If I was going to be more critical about this idea I would suggest they add finger holes around the outline so they can pick the gun out of the book by something other than the trigger.

          1. Most of the time when people do secret compartments in books they glue the pages together so it makes a solid chunk, even though it is paper and looks like it could open anywhere. I suppose they could make two halves. I wonder if that would make it harder to open or close. There’s also the issue that it would make it easier for the gun to just fall out when you open it.

          2. If you glued the pages together and opened them in the middle, you’d immediately break the spine. If you open it too many times, the binding will fall apart. Though, the usual fix for that is just some more glue and a big rubber band.

      2. “Like a vinyl cutter” wouldn’t exactly work well you can get it to work but it wont be worth the tedious effort.
        First off the pages will need a carrier to stop them from moving about while the blade is being dragged. An xacto knife isn’t ideal since the bigger the blade the bigger the turning radius plus you’d have to find one with a tip off center so it can steer. Even with vinyl cutter blade and some luck will yield you about 5 pages at a time plus the carriers.

        Id think you’d have a better experience sandwiching the book between slabs of wood on both sides, Drilling a hole and scrolling with a bandsaw.

  2. Two thoughts:
    1) making a perfect cutout would make it hard to get a gun out of the book, methinks, unless you added extra cutouts for your fingers to slip around the grip
    2) a CNC router might be a better tool for this type of job.

    1. Not really, the bit would shred the book in all kinds of way apart the one you’d want…

      If you don’t mind tearing the book and gluing it back together again, a bandsaw is the proper tool ;-)

    2. 1) gravity, turn the book upside down and the gun will fall out
      2) the book is strong, the pages are delicate. using a router will make a huge mess. the air flow around the router will make the pages fly around and cause things to really fail.

      the classic solution is to glue the borders together then cut with a razor.then glue the inner edge.

  3. I have cut shortish stacks of paper on a laser cutter. It was definitely clear that focus began to make the cut less accurate after a time. Regarding having finger holes to grab the gun, either have the book open at the center, or dump the gun out. The aesthetic must be part of the appeal of this, or a rough cutout would do. It’s not meant to be practical (like hiding a flask would be)

    1. With this laser, a tinfoil from chocolate wrapping will do a decent job too. If it is clean, it will reflect the beam. If it gets dirty, e.g. from pyrolysis products of the paper above, and the beam power is high and speed slow, it may get enough heat at one spot to be somewhat damaged; use two layers if that’s the case.

      1. You wouldn’t HAVE to put anything in it. They could even put an airsoft replica of whatever gun that is in it. It can be a bit like the people making replica Tricorders. Okay, sure you can do some sensing with it but you’re not going to be able to detect transporter signals and such with it because it’s basically a glorified prop. What’s wrong with that?

      2. Because replica / prop firearms (or even airsoft guns) don’t exist or anything, right? The only thing he proved (which you just backed up) is just how ignorant and small minded you are, not to mention the fact that you’re an insensitive prick for poking fun at a serious illness… Thanks for showing your true colors, jackass.

        1. HaD, the land of autists. Replica firearms (which would include airsoft) are banned too.

          “From 1 October 2007, section 36 Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 created an offence to manufacture, bring into or cause to be brought into Great Britain, or sell realistic imitation firearms. It also made it an offence to modify an imitation firearm to make it realistic. “

        2. It doesn’t have to be realistic, a toy gun would be fine. He also doesn’t need to put anything in it at all, it’s just a replica of something yo might see in a movie. Unless there’s a law against cutting gun-shaped holes in books, I don’t think he’ll be getting a visit from Scotland Yard.

        3. But making it pink, or indeed putting an orange muzzle on it (as most of these guns are sold with) should be sufficient to keep an airsoft or BB gun legal

          Additionally handguns are not illegal in Northern Ireland. I’m also pretty sure antique muzzle loading pistols are legal anywhere in the uk.

          Finally If the imitation firearm was acquired legally before 2007 I’m given to believe it remains legal.

        4. By the way, matt, you’re looking up irrelevant laws that he’s not breaking (remember, he’s only cutting a hole in a book here), and you’re calling other people here “autists”?

      3. OK – from your link….

        If a weapon bears an approved house mark and has been certified in writing as de-activated, the item is presumed to be incapable of discharging bullets or shot. De-activated firearms are expressly excluded from the definition of realistic imitation firearm and are therefore not affected by the new realistic imitation offence: Section 8 Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988.

        So he has an antique gun, which of course, being antique, would likely be valuable, so concealing in a book would be totally feasible.

        Now, can we conclude that I’m not autistic, and you are simply an ignorant ass?

    1. I don’t see any gun, illegal or otherwise in the video. So no fail here because there is no illegal activity happening. Unless you believe in precrime measures or something. If so, I have to ask what you are doing here?

        1. Sure they always support it for others, but not for whatever things they do. I’m certain they wouldn’t appreciate it very much when somebody interprets something THEY are doing as leading up to something illegal.

          It blows my mind that supposed “liberals” are the most brown-shirted of them all. You are free to express yourself as long as you don’t say anything they don’t like.

          “We have zero tolerance for intolerance!”

  4. One solution might be to raise the book as you cut, another solution may be a manually focused lens.

    If you only initially glue the outside edges, you could remove cut pages as you go in order to keep them from interfering. Of course, the challenge is to prevent any movement of the book other than up and down between successive cuts. I would probably also cut out a mask from thicker and heavier material in order to weigh the pages down enough to keep everything flat and precise.

    1. lol. Just watched the video and sure enough, it got misaligned and they say “Oh shit how did that happen?” “I don’t know…” when it was pretty clear he knocked the top pages over when he removed the first page.

      Hence the weighted mask.

        1. I think you need to watch it again. He peeled out the first layer, and the paper moved quite significantly, then he simply put the lid back down and started cutting again.

  5. My 5p’s worth…..Fold the covers back, place a thin bit of plywood top and bottom, screw the two bits of wood together to keep the pages in compression. It should all just act like one lump of wood now….. Place in your CNC router and have fun…..

    1. Seen something similar at an antique shop. The whole book was cut into the shape of a letter(cover and all). Looked like they used a small router bit or jigsaw. The pages were still free, not glued together. The hard covers likely kept the paper from shreading.

  6. I have a tiny bit of experience with LC’s. its all about the focus. I’ve cut thick plastic before and the laser only cuts a certain height; so you have to constantly reset its focus and do multiple passes.

  7. Gee flammable paper and a laser cutter incompatible, whoda thunk it! Anyhoo why not use the flaws in this approach to your advantage, use the laser to burn one page worth of the whole cut out to ash, blow the ash out with some canned farts (can of air) and then burn the next page to ash, it would take a long time and be messy as hell but, in theory, it should work, and smell like hell.

    1. It’s not the ash (you can add air assist to handle that), it’s the focus.

      The bean that comes out of the tube is 3-5mm wide, and you need to focus that down to 0.1mm or so.

      Even burnt stuff with a magnifying glass? There is only a small range where it works well, and that’s exactly the problem here.

  8. I know things are cut using laser-cutters, xactor knifes, etc … but cutting a book, several pages at a time, with a laster-cutter makes me think that having a fire is a real possibility. Better have a fire-extinguisher nearby…

    1. the one person who got it right that i was able to find. yup you need good old inert gasses like co2.

      on a side note i hit report before reply, sorry about that :P

      1. It’s been a while, but CO2 is not a good gas for flooding a cutter that uses a CO2 laser as the gas will absorb the same wavelength it emits.N2 might be a good substitute, preferably as a bleed gas around the optics to form a cone of clear gas for the laser to operate in and prevent particles from clouding the lenses.

  9. You guys just watched a video of someone making multiple passes over paper with a laser cutter. I didn’t see a fire, did you? Give it a rest.

    Paper is just wood pulp. We cut wood all the time. It scorches sometimes even smolders, but doesn’t catch fire.

      1. Umm, you mean the focused dot of “flame” that precisely followed the laser used to cut the paper. That is indeed how the laser cutter cuts….

        No, I did not see the paper catch on fire. Did you?

        1. Check around 1:25 in the video, there was a quick flame up, but it went out. I’m sure it would be difficult for a flame to last long in that environment, but it was burning none the less, like a cigarette.

          1. burnt does not equal fire. Laser cutters cut by burning stuff. Everything it cuts by burning it. It’s kinda how it works.

            There is a world of difference between that and “fire.”

            I’m done with this argument.

          2. Argument from ignorance, how’s that working for ya?

            You should use a laser one day, you spend a lot of time putting out fires.

            Yeah, trying to cut out a book will set it on fire, that’s why we invented air assist. Well, the top page anyway and then the rest once it gets going (they don’t give it a chance).

            Even when cutting acrylic with the protective paper on – yep, it catches on fire. Not a huge drama but it ruins your edges.

  10. Clearly no one here has tired to burn a book, its actually a LOT harder then you think because there is very little room for air to support combustion unless you fluff the pages, the exact opposite of what you need when cutting a design into one.
    (I like the burn the inside to ash bit, it might work pretty well)

    On the topic of compartment in book, simple shapes like a rectangle are easier, and gluing and cutting or using a jig/band saw work very well. You can also just clamp on both sides of the cut and use a very slow fine blade. Removing the inside from a hard back book is pretty easy. One place I worked at had a print shop, they had a drill press for cutting holes in 2000+ sheets of paper at once. It was counter intuitive, it was just a sharp hollow metal rod that spun, there was no teeth it just sort of burned the edges as it went. The pages were clamped on each side very close to the punch location. You ended up with a lot of confetti and a professional looking hole. With the clamp it kept the paper as a single solid unit and less like a lot of loses pieces. Just my 2 cents

    Grom has the right idea.

    If you really want the gun shape, and you want to do it with a laser cuter, then do it one page at a time, rebind it when done The first print looked good, the only fail I see is that they rushed and tried to do too much at once.

  11. Cut out a rectangle, then insert something solid in that rectangle into which you cut the gunshape.
    But you’d still need a way to cut a clean rectangle, and for that I refer you to the other suggestions in the thread.

    1. Looks like that, with some mods in the electronics to allow use of a different software. Because the software that comes with the Chinese stuff is AWFUL, barely usable.

      The laser is fairly decent for the price. I use one for engraving masks for circuitboard etching and for marking materials and some lightweight cutting. The engraving goes line by line in a scanning mode and can be painfully slow but does a good job, The resolution leaves something to be desired (but then it’s a cheap CO2 laser and for that it is actually quite decent).

      Beware though, my one arrived with wires shaken off from the control pot and required resoldering as the only thing holding them in place were the heat-shrink tubes. (Unsecured wiring harness and vibration during transportation will do that for you.)

    2. Yep, $700-ish Chinese eBay laser. Go buy one, they’re good fun.

      Actually might be the ‘deluxe’ model with the honeycomb bed and z-lift. Or they’re replaced the table (which a lot of people do).

  12. That’s why laser cutters shouldn’t be made available to just anyone. The whiteboard above the laser mentions requiring training before using it, but obviously their training isn’t much.
    Cutting out a shape in a book is a piece of cake. I have done a few with my 75 watt Epilog using a 4″ lens. They made some dumb mistakes that should be considered “Laser Use 101″ knowledge:
    1) Changed power to cut deeper. Your settings should be based upon the material. Paper cannot be cut with high powers because it burns more then it “cuts”. My paper cuts show very little, if any, evidence of burns. Lowest power that cuts on the highest speed does the trick.
    2) Used a laser that inadequate for the job. The focal length is obviously an issue.
    3) Didn’t adjust focal length of the material for second cut. I have cut material much thicker than the specs of my laser by utilizing multiple passes and bed height adjustments.
    4) Secure the material. Multiple pass cutting requires the material to be secured or an alignment jig to be made. Heck, I made my jig on my laser, lol.

    Anyhow, this fail post made me laugh at the people, not the project or attempt.

    1. Like you ever did everything right on the first pass. Like you always read all the manuals. Like you didn’t ever learn by trial and error.

      Also, for the task on hand you choose the laser you have, not the laser you want. And Epilogs are much more expensive than these ones.

      Lasers (and everything else) SHOULD be available for everyone. No excuses. I for one am looking forward to affordable ytterbium-doped fiber lasers for metal cutting. They are bound to get on the market in couple years.

      1. Funny, I don’t recall ever saying I was perfect, but I will agree that few of my first passes are perfect. However, there is a definite difference between common sense and a blatant disregard for the obvious.
        Yes, I read the manual for my laser cover to cover. Maybe that’s how I know how to actually use it correctly and successfully? I doubt that laser even came with any paperwork.

        They may have chosen “the laser they had”, but they clearly ignored how to properly make use of said laser. (proven by the “turn up the power” comment) I would not be surprised if that laser could accomplish this project if actually used properly.

  13. Are you, SERIOUSLY, trying to tell me that a laser can’t start a fire.
    Do you really know how fires are started? (amount of heat,needed for something to auto-ignite)
    Come on now, use common sense.
    Just because it didn’t catch fire in the video doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen.
    Someone, who is new to laster cutting, might have a few accidents at first and hopefully
    that accident won’t be a fatal one.

    1. And I might get hit by a car when I go out to get my mail. Or I might slip in the shower and break my neck. Doesn’t mean I am going to walk around stinky….

      Take a lighter and hold it to a piece of paper tight against another surface and actually pay attention to how long you have to hold that flame there before it ignites. It’s NOT as easy as you think it is.

      And if you are stupid enough to *DIE* from a laser cutter fire caused by cutting a book, I don’t think that’s the lasers fault and it is only a matter of time before Darwin catches up to you anyway.

      Concern trolls gon’ concern troll.

      1. Actually, laser fires happen and are pretty common, especially when the operator is not familiar with a new material. (Don’t ask how I know.) If the combination of the beam power and speed (influenced by the tool path, too) is right, the material can catch fire (in case of thinner paper) or start smouldering (thicker stuff, wood). Defocused beam is especially good for this, as instead of rapidly charring and burning/vaporizing a small amount of material in the kerf (and the process is over before the bulk of the material has time to warm up enough to achieve the state of spontaneous self-sustaining oxidation), it heats up larger area to lower temperature. The beam is also not uniform, the profile of energy is concentrated in the center and tapering off to the edges, so with thinner paper the center gets cut well and fast but the slower heating of the edge can light it up.

        That said, I’d classify the lasers to be about as dangerous as a lit cigarette, or a kitchen stove. Of course it can cause a fire that can kill you. But so can a wide palette of other things. So worry (but not too much), have a fire extinguisher on hand (a generic advice for workshops and also for the so danger-underestimated kitchens), watch over the thing when it is in operation and the material inside is flammable (and be prepared to shut it off and blow out the flame while it’s small), and that’s about all.

        And don’t look into the laser with the remaining eye.

        1. I certainly understand MEASURED caution, but the concern trolls here make it sound as if the world is going to burn to the ground and send us all back into the dark ages by cutting a book with a laser cutter. Honestly, this kind of crap generally comes from people with no experience or knowledge but a huge imagination. It is NOT productive to discussion (hence the trolling.)

          I would hope that anyone knows “fire is bad.” If they really needed 18 internet trolls on the internet to tell them that, then it is only a matter of time before they get the bright idea to make their toast while in the bathtub to speed up their morning.

          Do you see my point?

  14. I’ve had an Epilog for 8 years now so have done a few things. The answer is very simple, the beam is conical, heat is concentrated in a very small focal region. If you try to cut straight down after about 6mm the sides of the cone are hitting uncut material so you loose focal point intensity and stop effective cutting. The answer is equally simple, you step the cut inwards so that the conical beam is not shielded, removing each layer as you cut down. The limit on depth may be set by the air assist pipe which can be rigged out of the way but still working. Most lasers come with a 2″ 50mm focal lenth lens. A 1″ excavation should not be too tricky. I am astounded how little people know about laser cutting or elementary optics. Air assist is essential, the smoke has to be pushed out of the way to avoid it shielding the cut. Equally good ventilation- powerful extraction is not a fancy option, it makes sure you can cut tomorrow and the next day your machine and the operator can still do it.

    1. Excellent points all around and a definite +1 for:
      “I am astounded how little people know about laser cutting or elementary optics.”
      because I am astounded by this as well.

  15. Firm clamp with mdf and carbide two flute to mill the wood and book in one session
    Like another poster mentioned they could include finger cutouts at least for two fingers and a thumb so they don’t have to think about opening the book mid way.

    In regards to the troll above we as a species need mechanisms to rid the gene pool of idiots, otherwise we are doomed. Law of nature survival of the fittest.

  16. How about cutting out a large standard rectangular hole manually with a band saw, or a electric kitchen knife, or just buy a fake-book safe like we in USA can do at our hardware stores or specialty stores. You can get one on Internet too. And then using the laser cutter on a matching-size rectangular block of softwood or plastic foam, or Styrofoam (opaque in color). That way the laser would cut out the gun image perfectly without any difficulty with cutting leafs of white paper. If the laser is capable of that much vertical depth in the first place than this would not be a problem. If it can’t then cut several layers of the block form with your electric kitchen knife and then glue them back together in the end. Put magnets on ends to keep book closed.

    I hope this is a toy gun your working on as unlike USA, the UK does not have “Right to Bear Arms” like we do. Gun ownership in UK is not the same as USA and Canada.

  17. You can get a firearms license in UK. However, it’s very difficult and arduous undertaking. Normally the gun would be for “pest control” or “shooting clay pigeons” and such. Not normally for home defense like in USA. The Taxi Driver from Cumbria(?) UK proved that you can do this AND STILL go out and kill 16 people plus yourself. So the OP may have a Brit permit for his gun. He didn’t stipulate that. Hiding it in his bookshelf is indicative, however, that he may not have one though (i.e. hiding it from the local nosey chief inspector, constable, or bobby). We Yanks would do that to hide it from our ankle-biters (kids) or burglars. However, our own FBI says the statistics show that armed burglars are more likely to get off the fatal shot first before your brain is awake enough to fumble around to get your piece and off him first.

    We Yanks normally would hide our piece close to us under a pillow, in the drawer of the end-table, under the bed, or in the top of the closet in a shoe box. All places the ankle-biters USAULLY find and fatally injure someone because the parents had it loaded and not trigger-locked. It’s a typical Yank news story here in the states. We hate your British gun control as we all seem to think we are quintessential Clint Eastwoods (i.e. Dirty Harry)or John Waynes or something. Canada has more guns than we do but without all of the gun violence we seem to have.

    It’s real easy to arm up here in America and go nuts as was seen in Connecticut not to long ago. Many young school children where killed that day. It’s also getting pretty scary to go to a movie theater here too. Unless they put metal detectors at the doors, put in armed guards, and lower the ticket prices drastically, I think movie theaters in USA will become the next Dodo Bird. Viva RedBox kiosks! :-)

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