A New Surface Treatment Tool For Turners - Laser Engravers

Turners have come up with all sorts of ways to add patterns and textures to their turnings - rotary tools with burs and bits, pyrography pens, wood vaporizers / branders, sand blasting, etc.. Now there's a new "carving" tool available to woodworkers - LASERS - speciifically LASER ENGRAVERS.

Laser engravers are becoming more accessible and they offer a lot of interesting "surface treatment" possibilities. They can "print" images on just about anything. They can also pierce/cut through just about anything. AND - they can also do LOW RELIEF 3D "carving" using "grayness" to determine the depth of cut - the grayer - the deeper.

Here are some examples of low relief 3D "carving done with a laser engraaver. You'll be seeing more about them and how they were done later.


The intent of what follows is to give YOU an overview of a laser engraver and what it can do - AND - provide you learning curve flattening information so you can start lasering.

Here's the Table of Content for what we'll be covering. Go through it all and THEN you can get to specific topics as you need them later.

1. The basics of the Epilog MiniHelix Laser Engraver

The moving parts and the Control Panel
Three of the Modes - Printing, Cutting and 3D Gray Scale Low Relief Carving - with the basics of how each works
Lasering on a CURVED surface - radius to working width

2. Corel Draw - the computer interface between your artwork and the Epilog MiniHelix Laser Engraver

Importing and Placing Your Image in Corel Draw. How to get your digital artwork into Corel Draw & how to locate it on PAGE
Page Set Up - overview of the options of the "printer driver" interface that controls what the laser will do
The GENERAL Set Up Options - how each one affects the lasered results - with suggested values
The ADVANCED Set Up Options - Basic, 3D and Stamp

3. A DIY Jig - for holding your turning for lasering - that you can thread your scroll chuck onto

4. How to create and save abstract Gray Scale images in PhotoShop that you can use for Low Relief Laser Carving

Using the Gradient Tool and Filters
Image Resolution and its effect on the look or your lasered results
SAVE AS file formats and their affects on your lasered results

5. How about some actual examples?

3D Low Relief "Carving" - on Flat Surfaces
3D Low Relief "Carving" - on CURVED Surface

6. Tips for making Clean Up easier - lasers do BURN

7. Tips for finding images on the web that can be used for Gray Scale Low Relief Laser Carving

One of those possibilities is low relief "carving", I've been playing with with an Epilog Laser Engraver, What I hope to do here is give you some idea of a few of the possibilities and maybe someone else will take laser engraving farther.


Now that you've got an idea of laser low relief "carving" you're probably wondering about how to use it - on a curved surface - like say a bowl or hollow form.. Making something to mount the piece - in a chuck is pretty simple - and cheap. You can pick up a 3 foot length of 1", 8 TPI AllThread at hardware stores along with three or four nuts for it. You'll have a couple of feet left over you can cut up and sell to a few turners you know so your cost will be about $10. You'll also need some 3/4" ply to make something to hold the AllThread and your chuck, but you probably have scraps that'll do. If you want to add Indexing, you can get indexing wheels with 1" holes for $25.

Scott Landon, a fellow member of Silicon Valley Woodturners made up plex "kits" and I added a pair of hinges and tilt support hadrware - another $6.

Here are the parts

And here's the set up I made.

The fun part comes in with the creation of the Gray Scale images for the laser to use for low relief "carving. I've been playing with PhotoShop 5.5 on my old Mac G3 and Elements 6 on my newer Mac Mini. Create an oval selection, fill it with a gray scale blend then start trying FILTERS and tweeking SHARPNESS and BRIGHTNESS/CONTRAST. When you come up with something that looks interesting save it to the hard drive as a JPEG file and start another one. PhotoShop has an"Artistic" filter that has a POSTERIZE function which converts a gray scale blend into bands of individual "steps" of gray. Use DISTORT with it's POLAR COORDINATES and you produce a wrap around effect that's interesting. Here's an example of one path to an image.

And here are some other examples of other GrayScale patterns created with PhotoShop

At the top of this page you saw a real world, laser engraved piece of wood, with the gray scale images that were used to laser "carve" them. As you can see, redwood was probably not the best wood to use for the test, the the harder grain pattern is interesting - though a little distracting. The image of the wood samples are right out of the laser, without any clean up.

This low relief laser "carving" is interesting - and has LOTS of possibilities.

Laser engravers can also CUT stuff - like wood. Think of the piercing possibilities! Want to see some examples? Then CLICK HERE.

To Session #2& 3 WithThe Laser Engraver ---------------------->

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