How To Make Glue-less Interlocking Parts

Using the SketchUp plugin SliceModeler for the best friction fit

There are several ways to create 3D shapes from flat laser cut material, and each have their merits. Many Ponoko users ask questions about how to best design for interlocking parts – making this one of the more popular choices for transforming laser cut forms into 3D objects.

Interlocking parts can be mechanically fastened together, but in this tutorial we are looking at how to design friction-fit connections that neatly snap and lock into place.

Pictured above is a laser cut trivet made by Ponoko user Andrew Jones. To produce this form he used the freely available software SketchUp along with the handy SliceModeler plugin. He then compiled a detailed Instructables walkthrough that outlines his design process for interlocking laser cut products.

To achieve the glue-less design, small curved bumps (nodes) are added into each slot. This extra material allows the parts to slide together with enough contact and pressure to fit snugly. This sounds easy enough, but just how to get the right size and number of nodes takes some time and patience. Slot length, material thickness and density are just a few of the factors that need to be considered.

I highly recommend creating parts with different size and numbers of nodes so you can find the best fit that works for you. You might want a very hard fit that needs to be tapped together with a rubber mallet or you might want a fit that can be assembled by hand without any tools. The only way to find the fit that works for you is try different size nodes.

Click through to the full tutorial where you will learn how to create a basic form using Sketchup and SliceModeler, add the nodes, export into Inkscape and then add the final SVG to a Ponoko template ready for laser cutting.

via Andrew Jones on Instructables

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The Ins and Outs of Laser Cut Holes

How to get your design right for attachments to laser cut jewellery

from the Ponoko Showroom – left: madebydan, right: SuperVery

One of the most popular applications of the Ponoko Personal Factory is to make custom jewellery. This post covers advice on how to optimise your design for attachments that enable laser cut jewellery to actually be worn by someone.

Making jewellery is an excellent way to get a feel for laser cutting and try out a range of materials. Popular rigid materials include plywood, acrylic, veneer mdf, bamboo, metals; while leather and felt are commonly used soft materials.

Much of the jewellery is based on 2D shapes, so minimal prototyping is required to get the optimum result in final product. However, there are still a few problems that jewellery makers run into. Many of those are the result of not considering how other components or findings, such as jump rings, clasps, pins, etc will be attached. The other contributing factor is material durability. You have to use enough material to avoid breakage.


left: chromatophobic, right: taprobane

If you are wanting to attach a chain to your jewellery, you need to cut a hole somewhere in the shape for the jump ring that will hold the chain. But where should the hole be placed, and how big does it need to be? These details are determined by the combination of material thickness and overall design. Your design and material choice dictate the size of hole and size of jump ring to be used.

You need to leave enough material around the hole for it not to break, so it’s worthwhile checking Test Cuts photos in each of the Ponoko materials to get an idea of how finely you can cut the material. However, if the hole is too far inside the design it will not only compromise the aesthetic, but get in the way of the jump ring.

Material thickness Recommended hole diameter Recommended jump ring size
3.0mm / 0.118in 2mm / 0.079in 5mm / 0.197in
4.0mm / 0.157in 2.5mm / 0.098in 7mm / 0.280in
5.0mm / 0.197in 2.5mm / 0.098in 9mm / 0.354in
7.0mm / 0.280in 3mm / 0.118in 11mm / 0.433in

If you’re unsure whether your hole placement is functional, you can quickly draw a 1:1 cross-section of your material with different size holes and position your jump ring over the image to check the fit. The diagram below is an example.

Note how in this example, you can see that this figure illustrates how a 2mm hole in a 7mm thick material is too narrow for a jump ring to fit through.

Sometimes a circular hole just doesn’t work with the design, but don’t let it stop you. Instead, you can make the hole follow the contours of the design, which is more considered, or better yet, make it an integral design feature.


chromatophobic, Anna Corpron

This content originally appeared in a post on the Ponoko blog by Yana Skaler.

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Top Ten Ways to Reduce Laser Cutting Costs – Tip #1

Make a Digital Prototype Before You Spend Any Money

When you make something with Ponoko, there are 3 key costs to consider:

Making, Materials, and Shipping.

Making cost is all about labor — mostly machine labor and a little bit of human labor. Think of your design file as a work order; a set of instructions for the machine to follow. The simpler and more efficient your instructions are, the less time it takes the machine to follow them. And that means lower making costs.

Materials vary greatly in cost and your material choice will also have an impact on making time. The general rule is that thinner (and lighter) materials will cut faster, and the quicker your design gets cut the less it will cost you.

Shipping costs can have quite an impact on smaller projects, so see if you are able to combine several products onto a larger sheet size to reduce the per-unit price. For larger or more complex designs, it may be worthwhile taking advantage of Ponoko’s $100 free shipping threshold.

In this series of posts, we expand on each of these areas to give you the 10 best ways to keep your laser cutting costs down.


Tip #1: Digital Prototyping

Before spending any money, you can actually save a surprising amount just by tweaking the order process so that everything works in your favor.

Ponoko users may be familiar with the Product Recipe, a handy Ponoko walkthrough that new users are taken to as an introductory tour after creating an account.

A part of the process that is explained is the concept of Digital (or Zero Cost) Prototyping. How this works is that the Personal Factory is used to price many different design iterations instantly, revealing where the project can be optimised to save money on laser cutting, shipping and more. The best part is that you get all this valuable information without spending a single cent.

As you’ll see in the following results, that’s time well spent.

The Product Recipe example features a laser cut coaster that goes from an initial quote of $5.40 per unit down to $1.64 per unit prior to anyone opening their wallet.

That is quite a saving. Exactly how this was achieved will make more sense as we work through our 10 rules for keeping laser cutting costs down. Stay tuned for Tip #2: Paper prototypes.

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New! Streamlined Support for Photochemical Machining

Making with metal just got a whole lot easier.

We are thrilled to announce new streamlined support for Photochemical Machining. Previously, if you wanted to create something using Brass, Copper or Stainless Steel, you had to take an extra step to email us the extra details of your order.

Now you can upload PCM design files directly to your Personal Factory account. In addition, you can now upload and get a quote for metal parts along with Laser Cut & 3D Printed designs at the same time, all in one order.

How to make with Photochemical Machining (PCM):

  1. Prepare and save your vector design as a PDF using our Metal Machining Starter Kits.
  2. Upload your PDF to your Personal Factory account.
  3. Select your choice of metal materials and proceed to checkout as usual.

That’s it! You’re now on your way to receiving some awesome metal goodies in your mailbox. Please note: The design requirements for PCM are slightly different from laser cutting with other materials. You’ll want to be sure to read through our design guides before uploading your designs.

If you have any questions about Photochemical Machining don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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Comparing Stains on Laser Cut Wood

How to add a little something extra after all the cutting has been done

With all of the different material options available for laser cutting, it may seem like you are spoiled for choice. But sometimes it is nice to have a little more control over your finished outcome, and that’s were oils and wood stains can do wonders to transform the look of a material.

In this handy test-run and resulting visual comparison, Josh has taken a look at some of the popular Ponoko materials and how they perform with different finishes.

As well as putting together the table pictured above, he has noted down a few handy tips and material highlights that will help you make the right choice for your own laser cutting. Read on in the Ponoko Support Forums and learn how you can get the best possible outcome with stains and finishes on laser cut wood.

This content originally appeared in the Ponoko Support Forums.

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Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #3

Laser cut & engraved stamp

The tactile satisfaction of a physical stamp can help give your brand a memorable impact. The example above includes a simple but cleverly designed laser cut ergonomic handle which also has several surfaces where further branding or information can be laser etched.

Whether a laser etched stamp is produced as a promotional item to be given away, or as a tool to apply branding onto media for prospective customers, there is a novel human element to it that can communicate at a deeper level than conventional printed materials.

Creative modern interpretations of seemingly superseded technologies are a great way to make use of the Ponoko Personal Factory. Don’t see laser-safe natural rubber in the Materials Catalog? Make a request here, and your wish is our command…

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I want to believe in Foxes

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Laser Cut Vertical Axis Wind Turbine

Capturing the breeze for DIY power generation

This work-in-progress from Auckland-based scientist Dr Chris Pook looks to be moving along quite nicely. The aerofoils are still being refined, but even in their current state they are able to catch enough breeze to begin generating power.

I’m really pleased with how much of this turned out. The frame, the spindle and the arms all look just like the CAD design.

To see the thorough walkthrough of Dr Chris’ design process, follow his thoughts and progress here. This is a great example of how laser cutting can be used to generate progressive iterations of a design, continually refining towards a highly optimised final outcome.

via Dr Chris Pook

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