Working with cutting machines

For general building and scenery topics that are not in the other two subforums.
ralphrobertson
Posts: 152
Joined: Wed Nov 27, 2013 3:57 pm

Working with cutting machines

Postby ralphrobertson » Sun Feb 18, 2018 11:57 am

I thought it might be interesting for others to read about our experiences with cutting machines and making buildings. We (Tony Williams and myself) have been 'tinkering' with various cutting machines and a 3-D printer for a while now and I think that now we have found the best way that works for us - it might not suit everyone though.

On the other forum a while back there was a lot of interest in Silhouette cutting machines and the likes of Mike Trice and Jason in Canada produced some interesting stuff so I bought one. My intention was to use it to build the signal box for Slattocks, especially the windows but experience proved that this idea was flawed. The material i chose was of course 10thou HIPS plastic but it was just too thin and it required so many passes to cut through. If I had tried card it might have worked much better but back then I didn't think of using that medium as I discovered another problem with the machine that i couldn't live with and that was the fact it didn't make square corners.

This picture of the Slattocks signal box was taken prior to completion and you may just be able to see the problem on the signal box door where the glazing bars are not at the same level. This door I used but I actually etched all the rest of the windows as this would have looked ridiculous if the corners were like that.

20140405_165231.jpg


From there I go interested in what could be achieved with 3-D printers. Bob Gledhill from MERG had a stand at a Scalefour North and after that I asked him if he would come to the Manchester club and do a talk on 3-D printing. He agreed and we saw some interesting examples of what could be achieved using a 3-D printer. I duly purchased a Colido Print-Rite £200 printer knowing it wasn't a high quality producer but thought we might be able to get something decent out of it for buildings. I tried doing some windows but I was disappointed with the finish - that's not to say better results could be achieved but I wasn't prepared to spend a lot of time getting the quality up as I was still thinking I may not get there in the end.

Bob told us about Fablabs and I learned there was one in Manchester. Fablabs are places that are run by the Institute of Manufacturing that have lots of different machines which can be used for free by the public at the weekend. All you need to do is attend the induction course which covers the health and safety aspects of all the machines, which again is free and takes about 30 minutes. Once you have done that you are eligible to run any of the machines and there are lots of different sorts of them. After visiting for the first time I came back gobsmacked and realised that the laser cutting machine they had opened up a lot of doors for us.

I duly did the course and started to learn how to use the Fablab laser cutter. They will supply MDF and ply on site for very reasonable prices but only down to 3mm thick so I bought some of my own thinner MDF and plywood. I drew up cutting plans for making the terraced houses that we need for Slattocks initially using a shell of 2mm MDF with a thin ply overlay for the brickwork. This was taking a long time to cut and ate into the 1 hour slots that the Fablab usually allow. There are booking facilities and it was only by 2 of us going and booking 2 slots together that we could get it done.

We progressed onto the next logical step which was thinking about making interleaved corners with the bricks already engraved onto the MDF but after the session we came away with sloppy joints. I spent a while tinkering with the drawings to see if we could perfect this and eventually managed to find out what the correct settings were for this machine to get this right using the materials we had.

At about the same time I came across Giles Favell's work on a narrow gauge forum (I know, don't mention it) and he has been making some stunning stuff which looked like what I wanted to do. http://bygiles.com/ I know he is working in 7mm but there is some interesting stuff there in 4mm too. He is using Trotec which is a plastic, laser cutters don't like HIPS plastic which is what Plasticard is made from, they give off dangerous fumes. Now Giles was using a machine called an Emblaser from a firm called Darkly Labs in Australia. Looking at their website was interesting https://darklylabs.com/ but of course there are other companies which are much more local http://www.hpclaser.co.uk/ but their machines are higher powered and consequently more expensive. The Darkly machines that were available when I started looking were about A4 or A3 sizes for about £1000 which was in the ballpark I was looking at. The HPC machine was much more than this although I knew Bob Gledhill was using one for producing lots of things for MERG. On the Darkly site they were also pushing their new machine which was in development, the Emblaser 2. This machine had a bed size of 500x300mm and there was an option to pay in advance for a reduced price. Hmmmmmm.....

Well I took the plunge and ordered an Emblaser 2 and the wait went on and on. The machine was eventually delivered but much later than we anticipated but during that time we had given up using the Fablab because knowing we were going to get our own machine soon we went into design mode and looking at what we could do with it. After my final Fablab visit I had decided that MDF was not the material to use, interlocking corners were not up to the standard we were looking for even though we had a tight fit and we weren't prepared to file 45 degree angles on 2mm thick materials to get a mitre joint. The Aylesbury buildings looked excellent and they used thin Rowmark.

More follows..

ralphrobertson
Posts: 152
Joined: Wed Nov 27, 2013 3:57 pm

Re: Working with cutting machines

Postby ralphrobertson » Sun Feb 18, 2018 1:00 pm

Once our Emblaser 2 was delivered we spent a lot of time working with it trying to learn the best way we could use it and the best materials to use. After a slow start caused by us not really understanding the constraints of the machine we eventually got it to work perfectly and we became very impressed by what it could do. The problems all revolved around the focus of the beam and in this machine the focus is software controlled. Darkly had decided to use Laserweb software for this machine which was by no means the best software more of which later.

Also we eventually discovered that shiny white materials were not the right choice either and lots of part cuts were as a result of this. Back in the olden days my father used to build ERG card part wagon bodies which after they were painted with shellac varnish were very strong. I thought this was worth trying so bought a sheet of mounting card and discovered that this cut beautifully even though it was off-white. The more high powered lasers cut white card without problem as I had been running tests on Andy's HPC cutter and by this time he was producing his own products http://www.ebma-solutions.co.uk/ but once I twigged about this I got in some coloured thin card. Black didn't go too well and lighter colours seemed to work much better.

Starting small I developed a kit for a platelayers hut with the intention of getting other group members to make one and feed back their comments on it. Here is a photo of the first cut.

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The focus of the machine wasn't right at this stage so the burnt edges are very poor but the card worked fine for the main body of the building. The shell was coated with shellac, the corners sanded square and the bricks applied together with the roof, paper slates and the door and windows.

20171227_110627_resized.jpg


This was only a prototype so don't look too closely at the slates, messed them up I am afraid. Anyway, by using card it proved that a good looking building could be produced using this machine using cheap and easily sourced materials - don't even try to look at the price of Trotec, it wasn't an option for us with the mill we have planned.

20171227_155629_resized.jpg


Trying out various techniques I painted this with acrylics but the paint job needs more work on it but this was only a prototype test.

Encouraged by this we moved on to the terraced houses. Earlier I had made a mockup of a corner module using 3 layers of mounting card with a thin card brickwork overlay. This was worked with shellac and proved to be immensely strong so I started designing a row of terraced houses using this technique. The next photo shows the prototype building painted using acylics but not complete, there are various things we subsequently changed so this will not be used on the layout.

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We wanted to produce some nice looking sash windows and some tests were made using this 3 layer technique.

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That is a 1p piece so this is small


This looks nicer than single layer etches and is easily achievable now on our cutter.

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Here is the first 'gluing up' of the various layers used for the windows and doors for the houses. Some things to tidy up there but it is looking very encouraging.

We are delighted by what we can achieve with the Emblaser 2 especially now that Darkly have replaced the Laserweb software with Lightburn. It took a while to get to understand the best way to make it work for us but now we have cracked it we can move forward to bigger things!

If anyone is interested in how we make things using the card building process I will continue but I just wanted to show how we had moved from a Silhouette to an Emblaser and from wood to card. No doubt a Silhouette with card could be used perfectly and it might have saved us a lot of money but we don't regret going down this road especially given the size of the mill we are wanting to build using this technique - see other threads.

Ralph

DavidM
Posts: 54
Joined: Sun Jul 20, 2008 7:32 pm

Re: Working with cutting machines

Postby DavidM » Sun Feb 18, 2018 1:54 pm

Very encouraging results, Ralph.

I took delivery of the Emblaser 2 about a year ago and was quite impressed with my initial experience, using MDF, despite the clunky Laserweb package. I have downloaded Lightburn but due to office space contraints have yet to get very far with it, however it looks to be a big improvement even if it doesn't yet support all the Emblaser features such as on-board camera. I think we have to accept that the smaller hobby machines (and their supporting software /drivers) haven't yet reached the maturity of the larger commercial engraver/cutters, but it seems they won't be too far behind as take-up gathers momentum. The support from Darkly Labs has been very good during the develoment period and I think they are seriously committed to a high-quality machine, even if the pace of develoment is a little slow.

There is a thread over on RMWeb describing the Emblaser machines, now up to 43 pages, covering both this machine and it's predecessor.

Look forward to seeing more of your experience Ralph.

David Murrell

John Palmer
Posts: 558
Joined: Fri Jul 15, 2011 11:09 pm

Re: Working with cutting machines

Postby John Palmer » Sun Feb 18, 2018 2:22 pm

My experiences of using a Silhouette Portrait cutter seem to be very similar to yours, and I encountered exactly the same problem as you with tapering glazing bars. I had hoped to use the Portrait for production of window components, but I came to the conclusion that the blade steering mechanism lacked sufficient precision to produce results acceptable to me.

My lack of success may well be due to my ham-fistedness and/or lack of experience with the machine, as it's clear that some maestros are able to obtain very impressive results with their Silhouette cutters.

I have nonetheless been able to get acceptable results from the Portrait for certain jobs with which I would have struggled, had I attempted to get the job done by hand. I needed to produce bargeboards for three gables, but each pair of boards were of different design.
Bargeboards.jpg
The picture shows that the Portrait made an effective job of cutting these – or at least of scoring .010” styrene sufficiently for me to break out the boards and laminate them to a final thickness of .020”. The picture also shows, at the extreme left, some decorative ridge tiles that were also cut on the Portrait.

Having renounced the Portrait for window manufacture, I have persevered with a technique I first used many years ago, involving the cutting of very fine strips of 005” styrene to form glazing bars, which are then secured to the underlying glazing material with solvent that is run along the joint by means of capillary action. For a sash window, as illustrated below, I end up with a 6-ply laminate of .010” layers: two outer frame layers and two layers for each sash, one of which in each sash layer includes the glazing material.
Sash window.jpg


As best I can tell, an Emblaser 2 will currently set you back between £1800-£1900, which is little too rich for my taste. I don't regret the purchase of my much lower-priced Portrait, but my experience has been that you must choose with care the jobs to which it is best suited.

Your Slattocks box captures very well the characteristics of the RSC design!

ralphrobertson
Posts: 152
Joined: Wed Nov 27, 2013 3:57 pm

Re: Working with cutting machines

Postby ralphrobertson » Sun Feb 18, 2018 4:52 pm

John Palmer wrote:My experiences of using a Silhouette Portrait cutter seem to be very similar to yours, and I encountered exactly the same problem as you with tapering glazing bars. I had hoped to use the Portrait for production of window components, but I came to the conclusion that the blade steering mechanism lacked sufficient precision to produce results acceptable to me.


Here are a few of my attempts at making windows for my signal box.

20150313_120059_resized.jpg


John Palmer wrote:Your Slattocks box captures very well the characteristics of the RSC design!


Thanks, here is a photo of the completed box. The remnants of the Silhouette are the main box door and the staircase, all made in plastic.

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20141016_135540_resized.jpg


DavidM wrote:I took delivery of the Emblaser 2 about a year ago and was quite impressed with my initial experience, using MDF, despite the clunky Laserweb package. I have downloaded Lightburn but due to office space contraints have yet to get very far with it, however it looks to be a big improvement even if it doesn't yet support all the Emblaser features such as on-board camera. I think we have to accept that the smaller hobby machines (and their supporting software /drivers) haven't yet reached the maturity of the larger commercial engraver/cutters, but it seems they won't be too far behind as take-up gathers momentum. The support from Darkly Labs has been very good during the develoment period and I think they are seriously committed to a high-quality machine, even if the pace of develoment is a little slow.


I have been beta testing Lightburn for Darkly for about 6 weeks or so now and i have been very impressed not only with the product but also the support from the development team. Darkly support is second to none and I am sure that given time this is going to be a superb product. The price has gone up significantly since they stopped taking pre-release orders and we too probably wouldn't be able to afford that now either but we don't regret putting our hands in our pockets at the time although it did leave us a bit wary when there were long delays!

Ralph

Edited to get photos right!

DavidM
Posts: 54
Joined: Sun Jul 20, 2008 7:32 pm

Re: Working with cutting machines

Postby DavidM » Sun Feb 18, 2018 9:54 pm

I agree Ralph, I was nervous about the ongoing delay too but the pre-release offer was too good to ignore! It was also important for a succesful release that it was truly reliable. I had been following their story since the original Emblaser was released and it sounded like the development team were very focussed (pardon the pun) on delivering a quality machine with good support. I doubt I would have bought one at the current price without seeing it in action first.

I'm looking forward to firing it up with Lighburn. I have a big project in mind...

David


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