Martin Raynsford and I prompted by friends at the Derby Silk Mill’s Derby Makers group went to go and have a look at the large format laser cutter the Mill recently purchased for it’s maker’s area in the workshops at the rear of the mill.
It would be fair to say that there have been a few challenges getting the laser to be useful for Tilt and the Re:Make project. Much of this is down to a few basic things like the complexity of cutting directly out of Adobe Illustrator. Additionally the Mill had to find a PC that was 32 bit rather than 64 bit to work with the cutter. I’ve not personally had any experience of a Chinese cutter that uses a print driver to deliver files to a cutter before… and frankly hope never to do so again. The rigmarole of setting line width to a hair line size (o.ooo1 Pt) changing settings in the print driver to low and black and white and ensuring you’ve got the right colours for your lines only makes me thankful that the laser cutters I now sell with Just Add Sharks come with Lasercut 5.3 a lovely easy to use and understand interface to properly setup your work and manage the layers, speed, power etc of your cuts.
We couldn’t get started until we had a couple of pointers from Silk Mill’s Andrea, who did a great job of getting us up to speed. Martin was very keen to make a 6mm thick catapult and a double size catapult as a test of this machine and it’s bigger bed, about A0 and it’s powerful tube at 120W. We had a few technical problems with the print area settings through Adobe Illustrator, with the laser missing out work below a certain point. We managed to get that sorted more or less (not reliably). I was amazed at how what a fiddle this laser was to use. I hope that a good manual can be written (nothing was supplied with the machine). We also managed to find a patch for Inkscape to allow it to run with the print driver and you can find more information about that here.
I was delighted to see a load of furniture getting made at the mill which was super. They had more than just prototypes this week with some really interesting looking bits getting made. I’m especially looking forward to seeing some of the haxagonal display pods that I’ve seen develop from drawings to card prototypes to final prototypes.
Once we’d started to make progress with the laser cutter, Martin doubled the size of his cutting file to produce a super-sized 12mm thick catapult. The catapult uses nylon cord to provide the high tension needed to power the firing arm. Even at 12mm there is considerable pressure exerted on the frame. You can find out more about Martin’s catapult kit on his blog, it’s still a project in development right now.
If you want to find out more about using the tools at the Derby Silk Mill or about the Derby Makers why not head down to the Re:Make project on a Thursday night from 6:30pm either the museum staff or one of the Derby Makers will be able to tell you all about it. It’s a good way into workshop tools, making and rapid prototyping. Suitable for most ages over 16 (or genuinely interested and gifted children) in my opinion.