Problems that Plagued an Edible Marble Machine

Prolific creator [Martin Raynsford] recently created a plus-sized edible version of his laser-cut Marble Machine for a Cake International exhibit and competition; it seemed simple to do at first but had quite a few gotchas waiting, and required some clever problem-solving.

Gears are three layers, stacked and cemented with sugar glue, and coated with a hard edible shine.

The original idea was to assemble laser-cut gingerbread parts to make the machine. Gingerbread can be laser-cut quite well, and at first all seemed to be going perfectly well for [Martin]. However, after a few days the gingerbread was sagging badly. Fiddling with the recipe and the baking was to no avail, and it was clear [Martin] needed to find something other than gingerbread to work with. After experimenting, he settled on a modified sugar paste which kept its shape and dried hard enough to work with. (While appearing to stretch most people’s definition of “cake” past the breaking point, the category [Martin] entered in the competition allows it.) The parts were cut by hand using laser-cut wood parts as a guide, then finished in a food dehydrator overnight.

The next problem was how to create the large spiral which forms the main ramp. The answer was to laser-cut a custom support structure that supported the piece while it dried out, and doubled as a way to transport the piece safely. High stress points got extra layers cemented with sugar glue, and some parts were reinforced internally with strands of uncooked spaghetti. Everything was sealed with an edible shine, which [Martin] says acts as a kind of varnish for cakes. A video demonstration is embedded below. Continue reading “Problems that Plagued an Edible Marble Machine”

Making the Best Plywood for Laser Cut Puzzles

Plywood laser-cuts fairly well but has drawbacks when used in serious production runs, as [Marie] explains in a blog post about a quest for the ultimate laser-cutting plywood. One of the things [Nervous System] makes and sells is generative jigsaw puzzles, and they shared their experience with the challenges in producing them. The biggest issue was the wood itself. They ended up getting a custom plywood made to fit their exact needs, a process that turned out neither as complex nor as unusual as it may sound.

An example of how a dense knot hidden in one of the plywood layers caused the laser to not cut all the way through.

Plywood is great because it’s readily available, but there are some drawbacks that cause problems when trying to do serious production of laser-cut plywood pieces. Laser cutting works best when the material being cut is consistent, but there can be areas of inconsistent density in plywood. If the laser encounters an unexpected knot somewhere in the wood, there is no way to slow down or to increase power to compensate. The result is a small area where the laser perhaps doesn’t quite make it through. A picture of an example from my workshop shows what this looks like.

When doing basic project work or prototyping, this kind of issue is inconvenient but usually some trimming and sanding will sort things out. When doing a production run for puzzles like [Nervous System] was doing, the issue is more serious:

  1. A jigsaw puzzle with a large number of cuts in a relatively small area has a higher chance of running into any problem spots in the material. If they exist, the laser will probably encounter them.
  2. Trouble spots in plywood can be on the inside layers, meaning they can’t be detected visually and are only discovered after they cause an incomplete cut.
  3. Increasing laser power for the whole job is an incomplete solution, as excessive laser power tends to make the cuts uglier due to increased scorching and charring.
  4. An inspection process becomes needed to check each puzzle piece for problems, which adds time and effort.
  5. A puzzle that had even one piece that did not cut properly will probably be scrapped because rework is not practical. That material (and any time and money that went into getting the nice artwork onto it) becomes waste.

Plywood is great stuff and can look gorgeous, but [Marie] says they struggled with its issues for a long time and eventually realized they had gone as far as they could with off-the-shelf plywoods, even specialty ones. They knew exactly what they needed, and it was time for something custom-made to serve those specific needs.

Having your own plywood custom-made may sound a little extreme, but [Marie] assures us it’s not particularly difficult or unreasonable. They contacted a small manufacturer who specialized in custom aircraft plywoods and was able to provide their laser-cut plywood holy grail: a 3-ply sheet, with high quality basswood core with birch veneers, and a melamine-based glue. It cuts better than anything else they have used, and [Marie] says that after four years they had certainly tried just about everything.

Edge-lit Pendants Show Two Layers are Better Than One

Engraved acrylic lights up nicely with LED lighting. Simply engrave clear acrylic with a laser engraver, then edge-light the acrylic and watch the engraving light up. This badge made by [Solarbotics] shows how they used this principle when creating some pendants for an event that performed particularly well in the dark.

The pendants they created have two engraved acrylic panels each, and that’s about it. Two LEDs and a CR2032 battery nestle into pre-cut holes, and the engraved sides are placed face-to-face, so the outer surfaces of the pendant are smooth. By using some color-cycling RGB LEDs on one panel and blue LEDs on the other panel, the effect is that of an edge-lit outer design with a central element that slowly changes color separately from the rest of the pendant.

The design stacks the LED leads and coin cells in such a way that a simple wrap of tape not only secures things physically, but also takes care of making a good electrical connection. No soldering or connectors of any kind required. [Solarbotics] found that CR2032 cells would last anywhere between a couple of days to a week, depending on the supplier.

This design is great for using a minimum of materials, but if that’s not a priority it’s possible to go much further with the concept. Multiple layers of edge-lit acrylic were used to make numeric 0-9 display modules as well as a full-color image.


Fabricate Your Own Tabletop Gaming Props

Delve into the mysterious world of tabletop roleplaying games. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Shadowrun, Pathfinder, Ars Magica, Vampire, whatever gets your dice rollin’ — metaphorically in the case of a diceless system. This might very well be your daddy’s D&D. If you’re not a gamer, you’re certainly familiar with the concept. People sit around a table pretending to have an epic adventure, often adding a random element with the help of dice. A map is often displayed on the table, sized for figures that show the various heroes and villains.

As a person with access to a variety of CNC machines I find myself wanting to create things to make gameplay more fun. I want to build a scale castle and have a siege. I want to conduct a ship-to-ship battle with wooden ships built to scale. But I also think smaller. What is something I could make that would help us every day? Say, a box for dice. Not every project needs to be the dragon’s lair.

It turns out a lot of other folks have been thinking about the same thing.

Continue reading “Fabricate Your Own Tabletop Gaming Props”

Improved Game Tokens with Laser Cutting and Clever Design

[Martin Raynsford] is a prolific project maker, especially when it comes to using a laser cutter. These laser-cut token counters for the board game Tigris & Euphrates demonstrate some clever design, and show that some simple touches can make a big difference.

In the digital version of the game, the tokens conveniently display a number representing their total power value. [Martin] liked this feature, and set out to design a replacement token for the tabletop version that could display a number while still keeping the aesthetic of the originals. The tokens were designed as a dial with a small cutout window to show a number, but the surface of the token showing color and icon is still mostly unchanged.

Magnets hold the top and bottom together, and because of the small size of the assembly, no detents are needed. Friction is enough to keep things from moving unintentionally. The second noteworthy design feature is the material for the top layer of the token. This layer is made from 0.8 mm birch plywood; a nice and thin top layer means a wider viewing angle because the number is nearer to the surface. If the top layer were thicker, the number would be recessed and harder to see.

[Martin] made the design file available should anyone wish to try it out. No stranger to games, he even once game-ified the laser itself, turning it into a physical version of Space Invaders. Be sure to check it out!


Disco Flashlight Binary Analog Clock?

As multitools have lots of different functions in one case, so [Shadwan’s] clock design incorporates a multitude of features. He started the design as a binary clock using a Fibonacci spiral for the shape. However, the finished clock has four modes. The original binary clock, an analog clock, a flashlight (all lights on), and a disco mode that strobes multiple lights.

[Shadwan] used Rhino to model the case and then produced it using a laser cutter. The brains are — small wonder — an Arduino. A 3D-printed bracket holds everything together. You can see the result in the video below.

Continue reading “Disco Flashlight Binary Analog Clock?”

Mission Control for Kerbal

[Niko1499] had a plan. He’d built a cool hardware controller for the game Kerbal Space Program (KSP). He got a lot of positive reaction to it and decided to form a company to produce them. As many people have found out, though, that’s easier said than done, and the planned company fell short of its goals. However, [Niko1499] has taken his controller and documented a lot about its construction, including some of the process he used to get there.

If you haven’t run into it before, KSP is sort of half simulator, half game. You take command of an alien space program and develop it, plan and execute missions, and so on. The physics simulation is quite realistic, and the game has a large following.

When we first saw the photos, we thought it was an old Heathkit trainer, and–indeed–the case is from an old Heathkit. However, the panel is laser cut, and the software is Arduino-based. [Niko1499] covers a few different methods of letting the Arduino control the game by emulating a joystick, a keyboard, or by using some software to take serial data and use it to control the game.

Continue reading “Mission Control for Kerbal”