This post was written by Zoe Leung, a third-year majoring in Mechanical Engineering & winner of our monthly MakerSpace Mini Grant.
Acrylic comes in a lot of beautiful colors and finishes, but I only see it used as a 2D canvas, or welded into sharp angles. I love glass-working videos and attempted to get a similar sculptural effect by heating the acrylic until it was malleable, and pushing it against a mold.
Process, Materials Used, & Final Outcome
I used Sketch by Autodesk to make the petal designs. I used the symmetry tool to experiment with different squiggles until I had a few flower-like shapes.
Using the image trace tool, I made paths for all of the different designs in Illustrator. Ungrouping them from each other allowed me to rotate and arrange them efficiently so I could minimize material waste.
Then, I ran the laser cutter according to the material information posted on the desks.
I used scrap wood, about a foot long and with double the width of my largest piece, to make the jig. I made sure to cut a circle with a diameter slightly smaller than each size of flower I made. This was the set up I used, ensuring the heat gun is pointed away from anything it could damage and there is room under the jig to push the acrylic.
After opening the window, I placed the flowers onto the jig and heated them.
Using the end of a screwdriver, I tested how much give the acrylic had by pushing down on the center. If it didn’t warp, I let it heat up for another few seconds before trying again. The more area the pattern has, or the thicker the plastic, the longer it will take to become malleable.
After turning off the heat gun, I carefully pressed the pieces into the mold until it reached my desired curvature. I had to keep the pressure until the pieces cooled in the jig, or they would turn flat again.
I also experimented with stacking pieces to make more complex flowers. I just layered them as I wanted them to appear with the center holes lined up, and let them heat up longer so the top petals would be soft as well.
After letting them cool, I threaded the holes with wire, and curled a spiral into the centers with pliers. Then, on the underside of the acrylic, I tied a knot to keep the acrylic in place.
There it is!
This project can really be done with any acrylic you find in the scrap bin, but I found the larger and thinner the pieces you cut, the more control you have over the shape.
I forgot to add holes to the petal designs when I cut the first billion of them. Luckily I was able to use the drill press to add them afterwards, but this was a pain.
I used a piece of masking tape to make sure I could easily lift the cut pieces out before removing the acrylic sheet from the machine. This way, I could run the cut again without shifting the acrylic if it didn’t go all the way through.
⅛” pieces were ready within a minute, while the ¼” thick piece took closer to three. A thicker sheet provides a more robust look, but it’s up to personal preference. Stacking pieces dramatically increased the time to closer to seven minutes for only two layers.
I found that keeping the protective paper on the bottom (right) of the flowers helped prevent dents and burn marks (left) from appearing on the underside.
For those that I peeled ahead of time, a bit of Novus scratch remover allowed me to polish the surface of slight imperfections.
If you don’t feel enough control with the pliers, it may be easier to tie a knot in the wire before threading. Then, you can adjust it by hand to fit snugly against the acrylic.
Next Steps with this Project
Next time, I’ll use hobby wire for stems, as the insulated wires are a bit bulky.
To prevent denting and singing, I’m going to experiment with other heat safe materials to use as the jig.
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