Carving Terrain Maps Into Plywood With Software Help

CNC machines are incredibly versatile tools. At a machine shop, they can machine all kinds of metal and plastic parts. Beyond that, they can engrave various materials including glass, and even create PCBs. [Steve] has a CNC machine of his own creation in his shop, and while he might be employing it for those common uses, his artistic creations are on the showcase for today with these 3D topographic relief maps.

The key to creating a good topographic relief map is good material stock. [Steve] is working with plywood because the natural layering in the material mimics topographic lines very well, especially with the high-quality marine-grade birch plywood he is using. Making sure to select pieces without knots improves the final product substantially, as does taking the time to fill any voids. Selecting good stock is only part of the process though. [Steve] is using TouchTerrain, an open source project helmed by [Dr. Chris Harding] of Iowa State University, to create the model which gets fed to the CNC machine. Originally intended for 3D printing applications, the web-based tool lets you easily select an area on the globe and export its topographical data to a standard STL or OBJ file.

With good stock and the ability to easily create 3D topographic maps, anyone with a CNC machine like this could easily reproduce their terrain of choice. We imagine the process might be easily ported to other tools like 3D printers, provided the resolution is high enough. We have also seen similar builds using laser cutters, although the method used is a little different.

20 thoughts on “Carving Terrain Maps Into Plywood With Software Help

  1. Then make it a mould and pour cake layers into the mould and bake it. Everyone at the geology department would love you! The picture at least had me hungry for some topographical goodness :)

      1. I am amazed that there are people here that do not know that
        there is English and
        there is American.
        And probably some more variants.
        There is google translate if really required for you.
        For example IRISH mold = ENGLISH mould as I just looked up for fun
        This here is an international platform,
        and there are possibly more non-English/Irish/American readers/posters here.
        And we all can cope …

        1. I thought there was UK English and American English.
          And that “American” means “a person or thing of American origin (South AND/OR North)

          Did it change recently or am I wrong ?

        2. Spent 3 years of my childhood in Australia (I’m American). To this day, the slash system of dates, mm/dd/yy vs dd/mm/yy and UK/US spellings trip me up. I have to think about them EVERY TIME! I have decided it doesn’t matter. And I prefer YYYY-MM-DD.

      2. why is casting form the same word as the funghi?

        A) It’s spelled “fungi” in English.
        B) They used to be two different words in Middle English.

        Etymology 1
        From Middle English molde (“mold, cast”), from Old French modle, mole, from Latin modulus, from Latin modus. Doublet of module and model.

        Etymology 2
        From Middle English mowlde, noun use and alteration of mowled, past participle of mowlen, moulen (“to grow moldy”), from Old Norse mygla (compare dialectal Danish mugle), from Proto-Germanic *muglōną, diminutive and denominative of *mukiz ‘soft substance’ (compare Old Norse myki, mykr (“cow dung”)), from Proto-Indo-European *mewk- (“slick, soft”). More at muck and meek.

        1. Thanks for the etymological explanation what they were derived off! Interestingly enough the odd “cow dung” makes sense too, mold is not just soft but has a terrible vile smell too. Modulus i only know from engineering and physics.

          But I feel bad for derailing as much with my written down thoughts. Sorry HaD!

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