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Makes | 15 Jan 2023

Great Tit Veneer Coaster

Before I had the Glowforge, I had tried making some things with wood veneer using my Cricut. It is technically possible, but what I found was that the pressure from the blade would splinter and snap the wood, and the pieces that were cut out would often spring off the mat and get lost or broken. All in all it was a really frustrating experience.

I had seen some videos about laser marquetry and I was really excited to try it on the Glowforge - it was actually one of the main reasons I bought it!

Unfortunately the experience with the Glowforge has not been much better. There is no pressure from a blade, but there are other challenges - the cutting settings need to be adjusted just right, the fan can blow the pieces around so they need to be pinned down to the honeycomb tray, if pieces are small they can fall into the tray. Primarily though it comes down to the kerf.

When you cut something with a laser, the beam burns away material, and the width that is burned away is called the kerf. The kerf is different for different lasers, and for different materials. In addition, because the laser beam is focused on the top of the material, it burns away more at the top surface than at the bottom, leading to wedge-shaped edges. All this makes it finicky to cut pieces that will fit perfectly together as they are all slightly smaller than in your design.

You can use a few methods to avoid this - you can add a buffer zone around all your shapes that compensates for the kerf, though it needs to be calibrated so the resulting piece is exactly the right size (or at least not too big). In addition you can cut some pieces mirrored, so that when they’re flipped right side up, the pieces fit together like a 3D jigsaw puzzle.

What I found was that even with these methods to cut the pieces accurately, piecing the final thing together was an exercise in frustration. The pieces are so tiny and light and fragile, it’s worse than playing Operation! I changed my design to have a single “frame” piece separating all the different colours of veneer so I could just insert them into it, but it was still very tricky.

The final part was attaching it to a blank disc to turn it into a coaster, and even here I had some issues with the veneer warping from the water in the glue.

All in all I am happy with how it turned out, but decided I could never sell these coasters with the process being so arduous! It was worthwhile exploring though, and I learned a lot - most importantly to save laser marquetry for bigger artworks in future.