DIY Etched/Frosted Glass

Really simple DIY project that yields a very professional, personalized result. Makes great gifts! This is the first video shot in my new “studio.”

Simple Laser Cutting Project Worth its Salt

I’ve finally gotten a break from making wedding ring boxes and have time to start working on other projects. I’m a bit late in posting seeing that it’s February, but I hope no one is salty over it. As such, I’ve decided to make a simple guide on how I typically go about my laser cutting projects these days, and the project is salt-related.

I’m using the free program Inkscape to design my project because I heard from people on forums it’s easy to use, has a large online community for support/plugins, is good for laser/vector work, and it’s common knowledge that everything you hear on the Internet is true.

I started by choosing an image that I wanted to engrave into the project. I used an image of the viral sensation #SaltBae. By the rules of the Internet, this is no longer hip since it’s about a month old now, but I’ve been busy so cut me some slack. Paste the image, right click on it, and click “Trace Bitmap.”

The Trace Bitmap tool allows you to convert a raster image to vectors (more info on raster vs vectors). The only setting that needs to be tweaked is the “Brightness Cutoff.” This value represents at what brightness is the threshold between what should be represented as filled vs blank space in the resulting vector. Checking “Live Preview” lets you gauge what is a good value.

After applying the Trace Bitmap command, it might look like nothing happened because the resulting vectors are aligned directly on top of the original bitmap. You need to move the resulting group of vectors off the original bitmap. Double clicking on the newly created group of vectors allows us to see the vector points and make modifications/cleanup/retrace if necessary.

To plan the dimensions of my box, I usually use the ultra-scientific method of holding my hand up to my nearest measuring device. In this case: the ruler of my Leatherman Wave multitool.

Prior to this I installed the Lasercut box extension into Inkscape. This extension is accessible through Extensions->Render->Lasercut Box. Simply plug in the parameters of my material thickness and desired box dimensions.

The resulting box pieces come grouped, so I Ctrl+U’ed it to ungroup. I then rearranged the pieces so that it was clear to me where the top/bottom of the box was. I’m making a box that is meant to open on one side, so I deleted one of the pieces.

To flatten out the tabs that were automatically generated for the top side of the box, I selected all the “side” pieces of the box and used the “Edit paths by nodes” tool (highlighted below). Then I made a box selection around all the segments I wanted to modify (highlighted in blue).

To make sure the nodes aligned when I modified them, I selected the”Snap cusp nodes” alignment option (highlighted below). Now when nodes are moved, they automatically snap to other nearby nodes.

I replaced the deleted lid with a plain rectangle that was slightly larger than the rest of the box. This gives space for grip and hinges. I drew out a square with random dimensions and selected it. I then entered the dimensions I actually wanted for the width and height for that square.

I wanted to make sure #SaltBae was centered on the lid, so similar to before, I enabled “Snap an item’s rotational center” before moving him over.

Added a few holes for where the hinges were gonna go and my work in Inkscape was pretty much done. Here’s where the lovely quirks of the K40 laser I’m using come into play. I have a love-hate relationship with this laser cutter, but I value my relationship with my wallet more, so I deal with it.

I found that the proprietary circa-early-2000’s Corel Laser software that was bundled with and mandated for my laser cutter setup read the .wmf format most reliably, so I exported the finished project in that format. Why didn’t we just design the entire project in Corel Laser in the first place? Because Napoleon Dynamite isn’t in theaters anymore and software has come a long way since then. I’m saving you some hassle here by recommending you just pick up Inkscape. It’s important to change the line width of everything imported into Corel Laser to “Hairline.” If you don’t, the laser will try to each line twice, once on either side of the line, resulting in overcooked, thicker cuts.

Time to engrave. Another quirk when using this laser is that no matter what you select, it will plan out the cut job relative to that selection only, not the entire page. What this means is if we just select #SaltBae, he will be engraved too far up and to the left. To resolve this, we create a small “anchor point” that we will include in all our engravings and cuts. This is nothing more than a tiny square that you put in the top left corner of your project that I probably should have just done in Inkscape but I forgot.

Selecting both the tiny “anchor point” and the image, hit engraving.

In the Engraving dialog, we can see #SaltBae positioned correctly, with empty padding to his top and left. The “anchor point” is there too, but hard to see. Had we not selected the anchor point, #SaltBae would be further left and up so his bounding box would’ve aligned with the top left origin instead. Important settings here are for the Pixel option to be 1. If set higher than 1, the laser would skip some pixels between cuts.

Time for the cutting. I selected everything including the “anchor point” I made earlier, and deselected #SaltBae by holding shift while clicking on his handsome curves in the object manager. Then I clicked on the cutting tool next to the engraving tool.

I find I get cleanest results using multiple passes at a lower power setting. For this material and my current setup, it’s gonna be 8 mm/s with 2 passes. There’s a “Repeat” field shown here, but it’s a trap because it requires you to hit “OK” to a dialog between each cut. Instead, we will select “Add Task,” bring up the cutting dialog once more, and then press “Starting.” This will allow the laser to perform the tasks without asking for permission to continue. A speed of 8 mm/s @ 12 mW does the trick for 5.2mm plywood on my machine.

On to assembly. After all the faces of the box were stained and glued together, I needed to add the hinges. This is where I realize it probably would have been easier if I just used thicker wood, but I wanted to burn through my thinner plywood stock. I improvised by using stiff wire fashioned into staples to affix the hinges to the wood. It looks as if I meant to do that from the start.

“The mark of a good maker is his ability to improvise.”
-Neon Penguin

Well I hope you enjoyed this quick tutorial! I have a few things cooking up in the lab, so stay tuned for the next project!

Gift for a Homebrewer

I have a buddy that likes to homebrew, so I made him this stir plate for making a yeast starter for his birthday (which happens to fall on NYE!).

Yeast initially require plenty of oxygen for the cells to become healthy and multiply in number, so a “starter” is made which is composed of a sugar solution and a pitch of yeast constantly being aerated by the stir plate.

A laser cut box encloses a PC fan with magnets attached on top. A stir bar (plastic coated magnet) is inside the flask and is spun via the magnetic pull of the spinning magnets below.

Homebrewing Hard Cider

With the holidays around the corner, there’s never been a better time to start homebrewing! If homebrewing sounds like a daunting task, don’t fear! Homebrewing can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. In a nutshell, brewing alcohol involves the process of yeast fermenting sugar into alcohol and CO2. You cook your own meals to make sure you are getting the best ingredients and so that it’s tailored to your personal tastes, so why not brew your own alcohol for the same reasons?

Today, we are going to be making a simple hard cider. It’s one of the simplest, idiot-proof brews you can make at home. It also happens to be one of the best tasting cider I’ve ever had… Way better than all that sweet, artificial tasting garbage you usually get at the store.

*I make a commission for purchases made through the following links. Your price does not change, and every little bit helps my wedding fund!

For the juice, I picked up a few gallons of 365 and Mrs. Gooch’s brand apple juice from Whole Foods. I highly recommend doing this because thus far, I find that I get the best finished product when starting with these juice brands. As a bonus, they already come in a vessel suitable for fermenting! Treetop brand works well, too.

Basically raw alcohol

Any other juice will do, including concentrate cans, but make sure that there are no preservatives. Added vitamin C is OK, but be warned: you will end up with a more tart final product. You can also use fresh pressed apple cider/juice.

Heat up some tap water until lukewarm according to the directions on the yeast packet (10ml water per 1g yeast).

A finger would have worked just fine but I’ve been known to over-do stuff.

Measure out the yeast. You can use any brewer’s yeast to see what you prefer, but I find that K1-V1116 works well in preserving the apple flavors, since it’s originally intended for white wine. These 5 gram packets of yeast are intended for 5 gallons, so I’m splitting the packet into 1 gram increments. If you don’t have a scale, a gram of this yeast is roughly 1/4 tsp.

Feel like we’re in an episode of Breaking Bad here?

 

This process “wakes up” the yeast and ensures an optimal number of yeast cells survive in the brewing process. I like to split the dry yeast beforehand so I know both gallons I’m making will get exactly the same amount of yeast. Dissolve the yeast into the lukewarm water.

Wakey, wakey!

Now is the time to mix up some StarSan solution. Simply spray or swirl the solution on your glass carboy, funnel, airlock, and anything else that might come in contact with the juice. Don’t worry about wiping anything down, just shake things dry. The sterilizer does not impart any taste, and wiping it completely dry will nullify its effects. If you are using a juice container like I am that can readily accept the airlock, there is no need to sanitize the container.

Fill the airlocks with sanitizer solution up to the line. I like these airlocks over the common “S” shaped ones because they are much easier to clean.

StarSan works by destroying cell walls but somehow it’s completely harmless to us. Yeah, science, b*tch!

Once the yeast solution has rested 15 minutespitch it into your glass jug.

The yeasties are basically living in their food. If only life was so easy for us…

Secure the airlock. If you are doing the ultra budget method, you can simply stretch a sanitized balloon with a pinhole prick in it over the mouth of the jug. The idea here is to let out CO2 but not to let in any of the outside air that contains oxygen and other microbes that can oxidize or infect your brew. We only want the yeast we pitched into the brew to be the dominant species in there.

“You shall not pass!”

From here, leave the brew to ferment in a cool, dark place. It’s best to do this in the colder months, ideally we want it to be around 64F at all times, at least below 70F if you can manage. If it’s too hot, you can dress the jugs with T-shirts and set them in a tray of water with a fan blowing over them. Coincidentally, dressing yourself in a wet T-shirt with a fan blowing at you is a great way to stay cool during the summer. See, look at all the cool stuff you learn here at NPL 🙂

Wet T-shirt contest?

After 2 weeks it’s time to bottle. Chill the jugs for 24-48 hours in the fridge, this causes the layer of muck (called trub) to settle to the bottom. Trub is made of inactive yeast, proteins, and other undesireables.

Trub shown settled on the bottom of the carboy (Wikipedia)

If you are going the budget route, save up plastic bottles. You can use a few 2 liter soda bottles or a bunch of 12oz bottles. You might end up with some residual flavor from what used to be in the plastic bottles, though. Best to use dark, glass bottles. If using beer bottles, make sure they are NOT screw-top. Your capper won’t be able to seal them!

Capper, caps, bottles, bottle brush, carboy/bottle washer. The last item changed my life, and it could change yours, too.

Sterilize your funnel, bottles, and caps. Add 1/2 tsp sugar to each 12oz bottle (scale accordingly for bigger bottles). Fill the bottles up with about an inch of empty headspace, 1.5″-2″ for the 2 liters. This ensures that the bottles don’t over-pressurize and explode. Try not to pour any of the trub into the bottles. Store these away in the dark again and wait another week. In this time, residual yeast will continue to digest the added sugar and carbonate the beverage.

I know it’s tempting to squeeze in another half oz of happiness in there, but don’t do it.

Once the week is up, crack one open and see if the carbonation is to your liking. If not, let it carbonate in the dark for another few days. If carbonated enough, throw them all into the fridge and enjoy as needed. Happy holidays!

So TIL I found out that this glass holds more than a bottle. That might explain a few things that happened since I got this glass…

Tips

  • Experiment!
    • Add additional flavorings, but make sure they are sterile. For example, I added 2 tbs lavender to a gallon by first steeping it into a concentrated hot tea, thereby sterilizing it. Other ideas: cinnamon sticks, mulling spice, nutmeg, hibiscus, limes, beer hops, tea bags (1 bag/gallon). Many people swear by the tea bag.
  • Sterilization is important! You don’t want to lose a batch of delicious cider because some punk-ass wild bacteria/yeast got to it first. I like to set my sterilized utensils on a sheet of sanitizer-soaked paper towel, just to be safe.
  • Make sure you always store cider in the dark. Light can cause off flavors, especially when using clear plastic bottles. Dark glass bottles can help block out light.
  • Temperature is key, weird flavors can come up when it’s too hot or cold during the fermentation process. I use a cheap mini fridge I got off craigslist, hacked with a thermostat to precisely control temperature. Yeast ideally want to live within a 1 degree fluctuation.
  • This recipe yields a cider at around 5.5% ABV. If you want a higher alcohol content, add more sugar before adding yeast. Start with 1/4 cup at a time. Try brown sugar for an interesting variant! You can use a hydrometer and calculator to determine ABV. You can also use a refractometer as well.
  • The longer the bottles sit, the more sugar is eaten up by residual yeast. If you want a dryer (less sweet) cider, let it ferment and/or bottle for longer. Sticking bottles in the fridge slows the sugar-eating/carbonation process. If you want a sweeter cider, drink up faster!
    • You can let the cider ferment for a month or more before bottling, and wait even longer after bottling as well. The flavors get smoother as it ages, this guide describes the absolute minimum time frame. If your cider tastes funky, set it and forget it for a while, it might get better!
    • Optional: Pasturize the bottles to preserve sweetness indefinitely. WARNING: if using glass, test your methods with ONE bottle first in a pot that can completely cover it! I lost 9/10 bottles once because I thought I knew what I was doing, and was lucky no one was around when glass exploded across the kitchen and living room.

Build log: Wedding Ring Proposal Box

My first build log! If you are interested in this box, please take a look at my online store!

To keep updated with new products, be sure to subscribe to the mailing list! I promise I will never spam and keep you updated with only the most important updates!

Feel free also to request a quote if you have a special build in mind.

If you haven’t already, see the finished product in action!

Any maker would find these items* from the video useful to have at their disposal:
*I make a commission for purchases made through the following links. Your price does not change, and every little bit helps my wedding fund!

 

Welcome!

Welcome to Neon Penguin Labs! I started this site because of the immense interest generated with the ring proposal box I made for my fiancee. Here you can follow along as I create my projects, and purchase them for yourself or loved ones!

If you are intersted in purchasing a similar custom box for yourself, please take a look at my online store!

If you are interested in seeing the hard work that went into making this box, watch the build process!

Like what you see? Please spread the word :)