I wanted to make a good friend of mine a house-warming gift. I wanted something that was elegant, useful, and took advantage of the free tools I had available: 3D printing, laser cutting, vinyl cutter. I saw some very cool 3D mandala designs on Thingiverse, but didn’t think they were particularly practical as coasters, neither do I think 3D printing coasters is particularly cost effective. However, laser etching designs onto wood seemed like a great coaster solution.
I found some free mandala designs online. A lot of the designs were hand-drawn, which I really liked; the slight imperfections would look natural when etched into wood. I took the designs into Inkscape, which I’ve been playing with lately as a free Adobe Illustrator replacement. Inkscape has a bitmap to path feature, which took these .png and .jpg images and turned them into vector objects. The settings were a little tricky, but it worked really well.
I had some 1/8″ wood hanging around, so I etched the designs onto the wood and laser cut them out into circles. Then I sealed it with polyurethane. I’d never done this before, so when, after the first layer dried, it felt very scratchy I was a little concerned. It turns out that after each coat you’re meant to sand it, and after sanding it felt incredibly smooth. I did several coats, leaving each for 24 hours to dry before sanding and reapplying another coat. They came out incredibly smooth and quite beautiful. The only problem was when I applied too much polyurethane and it didn’t all soak into the wood – instead a small blob of it dried on the edge. The blob not only looked weird but I could peal it off. Don’t apply too much polyurethane! It needs to soak in to work properly.
I’m really happy with the result. I also think they’d make a great Etsy store item. However, to do this I think I’d need to create my own mandala designs. While that sounds fun also, I think I am doing too many other projects (updates soon!) to take on another.