When I was figuring out what to get my good friend for Christmas, I remembered that she had been wanting to make or obtain a pair of custom mouse ears to wear during her frequent trips to Disneyland. I decided to take a stab at it with my glowforge since I was feeling confident after the success of a project I had just finished. This project turned into quite a challenge and I made a ton of mistakes, but I think it turned out okay. Apparently some people say “Perfection is the enemy of good” and that definitely turned out to be the case here because the more I tinkered with it to try and get something just the way I wanted it, the more I would inadvertently mess something up.
- PG Medium Walnut Plywood
- PG (Beta) Medium Clear Acrylic
- Coin-Cell Powered Fairy Light strand.
- Wood Glue
- Dark Walnut Stain
- Matte Finish Veneer
- UV Curing Adhesive (to secure the wiring/LEDs, and battery contacts because I couldn’t think another way to fasten them to the wood except for maybe tiny nails/screws that I wasn’t sure might even exist)
I spent at least a week tinkering with the design, as I decided it should incorporate some lighting for dramatic effect and that required thinking a lot harder about how to include space for LEDs, wiring, batteries, and a power switch without it getting too bulky. I also decided to go ahead and include the headband portion in the design and cut it as one piece since a test headband I cut out on Proofgrade Medium Maple Plywood seemed to have enough flexibility + strength to slip on and off my head. I didn’t want to have to figure out a way to affix each ear to a store-bought headband and risk detracting from the bespoke quality of the ears as a whole.
I ended up cutting the main parts of the design out of Proofgrade Medium Walnut Plywood, and using Proofgrade (Beta) Medium Clear Acrylic for the edge-lit design inside the ears. I disected some coin-cell powered fairy lights and reassembled them inside the middle layer for the lighting.
Having never done an edge-lit acrylic project before, I was hoping that the edge lighting would be able to bounce around inside the acrylic until it hit the engraved areas that would bounce the light out the front, similar to how fiber optics work. That way I would be able to just use minimal acrylic in the areas where I wanted light, and some areas to give the light a path to bounce around to each engraved area. Through testing I learned that acrylic doesn’t have any magical light-bouncing properties and the light pretty much just travels through in a straight line, stopping at the next edge it encounters, even casting shadows when the engrave is too deep. That meant I had to do large acrylic sections just to illuminate a few small parts of the design and include several more leds casting light in different directions to keep the whole thing bright enough to be worth the trouble. The acrylic is hard to clean because of where it sits, and scratches pretty easily, so if I were going to do this again I would probably just include a hollow channel to run some EL (electroluminesecent) wire through for the lighted areas instead of trying to edge-light acrylic.
- Acrylic is hard to clean and scrached easily (maybe I could apply a glass coating to make that less of an issue)
- Not having enough material (Proofgrade Walnut Plywood) to keep testing and iterating the design to get it just right
- Struggling with gluing the layers together and getting glue all over the edges due to the thin/intricate cut out areas. Had to reglue some parts that separated later on.
- Not getting perfect alignment in some areas when gluing the layers together since they were flexible
- Having to sand the edges more to try and correct for the misaligned parts and then needing to use stain and varnish to make them dark again to keep the laser-cut look.
- Getting impatient with the varnish and trying to use wax instead, which turned out to be hard to smooth out in some of the more delicate areas.
For Next Time:
- Try another lighting method that will let me skip the acrylic.
- Figure out the best way to bond the wood layers while keeping them aligned (I sanded the finish on the PG Plywood and then used wood glue and left it sandwiched between two boards with a couple of vices to apply pressure)
- Tweak the headband design to ensure plenty of strength near the flexible portion (while somehow keeping it flexible…)
- Get the ears a bit more to the sides with a larger gap in the middle (I kept the gap small because the fairy light wire that was going to run through it inside of the headband only had so much space between each LED, cutting a bulb out and soldering to make a larger gap would have been better for the design, and I had to solder for the switch and battery compartments anyway.)
Please feel free to give me advice on what you would have done differently. I definitely would like to learn how to improve for the next time.