The first public library maker space was introduced in New York back in 2011. Since then, more and more such maker spaces have been cropping up everywhere. What is a maker space?  It is a public access studio where you can learn and/or use the equipment there to fabricate all kinds of things.

The city of Cambridge, Ontario, where I live, recently opened its maker space in its new digital branch of the public library system - it is one of the first bookless libraries in Canada. There are meeting rooms, quiet spaces, a cafe, a children' sDiscovery Center for an interactive STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) based playroom, sound proof booths, rehearsal room and so forth.

The building is known as the Old Post Office - a  crumbling 19th century heritage building the city saved.  Thomas Fuller was the Canadian architect who also designed the Parliamentary buildings in Ottawa.  It took a few years to renovate but the wait was worth it.  It is now up for an architecture award in the Heritage and Preservation/Adaptive Re-Use category.

You can see the renovation project and the spectacular space being developed in this video.

The architects did a fabulous job mixing glass with the old stone which is notable on the Grand River side.  I love sitting in the main open space with lots of glass panels overlooking the flowing water.

From the open air riverside terrace, one can see a couple of Cambridge's bridges and one of the old churches - the striking church spires and bridges are reminiscent of the original Cambridge in England, hence the city name.

But the view was more like this when my friend Sonya and I first went there for our laser cutting sessions!

The maker space is in the attic - a wonderfully open space with friendly and helpful staff.

The laser cutter itself is at one end of the attic, directly below the clock tower.

A laser cutter is not something you want to have in your home - even if you could afford one - unless you are prepared to add a venting system.  The laser literally burns in its cutting process. So fumes are generated and have to be vented out. That is why it looks smoky under the glass lid!

This particular laser cutter is not powerful enough to cut metal, but can cut many kinds of wood, acrylic, some cork, mylar, fabric, paper, magnetic sheets, cardboard and real leather.  Some materials should never be laser cut. For example, PVC emits chlorine gas (once used as a chemical weapon in World War I), polysterene catches fire, and ABS not only melts but releases hydrogen cyanide.

Faux leather is often made from PVC so only real leather can be cut on a laser. One of the laser cutting technicians really sniffed my leather piece to make sure it was real leather not PVC!

I found cutting fabric with the laser to be far superior to die cutters like the Cricut or Silhouette which necessitate the use of a bonded backing.  Die cutters cannot cut anything more than very, very thin sheets of craft wood. 1/8 inch/3 mm thick wood is ideal for the laser!

There is an added bonus with cutting wood - even after the smoke is cleared, there is a faint smell rather like that of campfires!  However, real leather smells when it is cut - like burnt popcorn!

While I am not yet certified to use the laser on my own, I did not find the laser cutting and engraving part difficult. Some experimentation and experience is required to to determine power and speed if no presets are available for the particular material being cut.

But what was challenging was learning how to use drawing programs. I had some initial help and instruction from my daughter who is a whiz at those!  Then it was problem solving - drawing programs sometimes don't play nice with each other! But eventually I was able to design the kind of cut files I wanted that the laser cutter could read.

The laser has to be focused - the lens position is set using a little device shown below so that it is cutting properly for the material on hand.

This is what happens when the laser is not focused correctly. Holes and edges do not get cleanly cut. Warped wooden boards can also cause the same problems.

As you can see in the video above, I was cutting out wooden earrings and pendants. My friend Sonya (rocpoet) had a different purpose. She is a metal stamper and recently started making guitar string jewelry for sale.  She used laser cut wood and paper guitars as part of her displays.  This is one example from her Instagram.

We also made our own laser cut rubber stamps!

After that, using the 3D printer and appropriate files from the Thingiverse community, we printed the handles for our stamps using gold colored PLA (polylactic acid which is biodegradable under certain conditions).  All we had to input into the pre-made file was the width, length and height of the handles we wanted.

The 3D printer built the handles from bottom up, layer by layer. The handles are not solid - there ridges and gaps - so as to speed up the process. The short video clip below was taken from above when we opened the lid to have a look inside.  The handles took nearly 3 hours to make simultaneously.

We affixed the rubber stamp to the handle using double sided foam tape. Viola!

You know the saying "falling down a rabbit hole"?  Well, I am now not sure there is a way out! Stay tuned for more!

Before You Go:

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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
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