Our Glowforge laser has been an amazingly valuable asset to us as we make this journey through entrepreneurship. One of the great perks of having a Glowforge is that we have access to the Proofgrade Shop. Here, the company provides regular availability of a variety of standard materials - at prices which one can turn a profit. They regularly keep stock of a handful of hardwood, plywood, and cast acrylic in both 1/8 (”Medium”) and 1/4 inch (”Thick”) thicknesses. Additionally, wood veneer and leather are also available.
The acrylics all come in a variety of industry-standard solid colors, though their shop is entirely devoid of any specialty acrylics, such as glitter-faced, metallic, or two-color styles.
Their wood selection is as equally unimpressive, though plenty with which to build an entire business. They primarily offer Maple, Walnut, and Cherry wood, with poplar being available in hardwood form only. Approximately 95% of the materials we’ve acquired from them have been perfect, and we had no issues throwing them right into the laser and cutting immediately.
Again, it’s plenty of variety for most users. As usual, though, I don’t quite fit into such a clean and tidy little box. Don’t get me wrong; all three of these are gorgeous woods with some real natural beauty. It's easy to see that they selected their offerings for their clarity, consistency, and availability to their North American target market. However, many kinds of wood aren’t so consistent when it comes to their colors, grain, and figure. A few trips to the local hardwood store opened my eyes to the stunning array of all-natural patterns that the trees from around the world provide.
We browsed through the exotic wood boards for hours, admiring each of them. We knew right then that these were materials from which we’d make our most precious of heirloom products. Sure, nearly all-natural wood is unique and distinct. There's just so much more out there than the common ones that we see regularly. My favorites are those that raise the bar entirely. These include - but are not limited to - the radiant and aptly-named Yellowheart, Purpleheart, and Redheart. The fantastic patterns in the confusingly labeled Red Flame Box Elder, the wild curves and swirls of Bocote, and several others.
Shortly after getting our Glowforge, I ventured into exploring what it would take to cut our faux Proofgrade that’s even better than the original. I can now state with certainty that I severely underestimated what was needed. Upon first look, we’d need a jointer and a thickness planer. About $600 later, we had both of these new tools set up and ready to go. Shortly into the first session, however, we learned that if one puts very thin wood into a planer, it’s liable to explode ferociously. The chunky and splintery shrapnel that's ejected from the machine had a velocity great enough to put a significant dent into an aluminum garage door.
The projects paused shortly while the investigation continued. As it turns out, planers can safely handle wood down to approximately 1/8”, minimum. In my experience, this is usually pushing it, however. To go thinner than that with a surface that’s precise and flat enough for the laser, one needs a drum sander. While a thickness planer uses spinning blades applied to the top of the workpiece, the bandsaw uses a spinning cylinder (the drum) that’s been wrapped with sandpaper and set similarly above the workpiece. They’re quite amazing machines. They are still quite the specialty purchase, so it’s near-impossible to get even a small one for less than $700.
The Jointer, thickness planer, and drum sander trio, however, merely results in an incredible amount of wasted wood. Imagine that we start with a $40 piece of wood that’s one inch thick. We want 1/8” pieces. Should we plane it down as far as it will go, then move to the drum sander to finish it off? Well, we could, but that 7/8” worth of material would become sawdust waste at that point.
It’d make a lot more sense to slice it into the 1/8” pieces. Here's where our next tool, the band saw, comes in. In actuality, we've had to buy three of them - but we’ll get to that another time. Band saws operate on a simple concept, essentially filling the need for a long blade that cuts straight. There are a few different styles among them, but the general designs are all roughly the same.
Approximately seven hundred dollars and one week later, the band saw arrives. Now, I could write a whole post about what I learned in purchasing this particular band saw - and I plan to. In short, though, I ended up selling the first at a considerable loss and spending considerably more to get a smaller and larger saw of much better quality.
Once we got the band saw(s) all setup and figured out, it’s time to go back to cutting our idyllic one-inch board. In a perfect world, we would be able to split such a piece into eight equal parts. Unfortunately, humanity hasn't quite perfected a zero-width cutting solution yet, so we have to compensate for the thickness of any blade that’s used to make the slices. Following this revelation, one then quickly learns that you must also plan to sand off the roughness that’s caused by the saw blade. All these factors result in considerable waste and generally allows for being able to cut about four or five 1/8” slices from the one-inch source board. While this is still a 30-50% waste factor, it’s considerably better than the 87% waste before adopting the use of the band saw.
Finally, we’re able to cut wood suitable for nearly any purpose. We’re also no longer limited to the 1/8” and 1/4” thicknesses provided by the majority of the laser-able-material providers. We’re now able to combine various thicknesses of wood with adding more variation and appeal to our products, similar to the increased depth added to a drawing by the addition of variable with lines.
In summary, it took us several thousands of dollars to get set up and making this stuff, but isn't it going to be worth it? Check out the list below for links to the specific tools involved.
- Jet 10-20 Plus Drum Sander - We highly recommend the upgrade to a slightly larger model. We've found ourselves limited several times already by the smaller dimensions of the 10-20. The cost difference is negligible when you consider the additional capabilities offered by just a small step up.
- Wen 14 Inch Bandsaw - This is the first one that I purchased and have since replaced. Ours was just too much difficulty to get to resaw wood correctly. Perhaps others will have better luck, though.
- Rikon 14 Inch Bandsaw - The optional mobility kit is also highly recommended. You'll thank yourself for the purchase after you move the saw into place for the first time.
- Rikon 10 Inch Bandsaw
- Ridgid 13 Inch Thickness Planer
- Porter-Cable 6" Jointer
- Hitachi Sliding Compound Miter Saw w/Laser
- Dewalt Miter Saw Stand - Don't forget the adjustable mounting brackets! I have a couple of sets with the Miter Saw on one and the Router on the other and they site next to each other very well on this stand.
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