The Star Wars Universe
Not long ago, in a small workshop far, far away…
As new technology spread rapidly throughout a galaxy of centuries-old traditions, the woodworking world was in a period of great unrest. At a remote base deep in the woods of the Great Northwest, a lone rebel armed with revolutionary tools faced a new challenge: transforming a coaster into something more dramatic.
Near the tiny Puget Sound community where I live, we’re quite fortunate to have a small, independent, locally-owned movie theater. Being a life-long fan of film, it doesn’t get any better than the Kingston Firehouse Theater. The owner, Craig Smith, curates a wonderful mix of popular and not-to-be-missed independent films. In a world filled with giant movie megaplexes and commercially formulated films, we’re lucky.
The theater’s small lobby features the usual posters of current and coming attractions, movie candy and the tempting smell of real buttered popcorn drifting out into the parking lot. Just what movie fans should expect, but I thought a little something extra in the lobby to engage and entertain movie goers would be a nice addition. Sounds like a new challenge. I like that.
Other Digital Tools
Considering I often cover digital woodworking topics for Popular Woodworking, it’s probably not a surprise that I’m comfortable with other technologies. Besides core woodworking-focused CNC routers and laser cutters, I regularly use 3D printers. If you’re at all familiar with 3D printers then you’ve likely heard of Thingiverse. Thingiverse is a website that might be best described as Grand Central Station when it comes to 3D printing. A lot is going on, here. Thingiverse hosts over 4 million 3D printable models and, they are all free! This site is one of the primary reasons that 3D printers are very popular. (Hint to woodworkers/furniture makers designing their own work: 3D printers are incredible design and rapid prototyping tools.)
Besides exploring Thingiverse and printing 3D models practical and otherwise, I’m a regular contributor. If you’re curious, my creations can be seen here. Anyway, one day I ran across an interesting model. An Aztec-style calendar seriously reimagined. Dave Gonzales created a version featuring characters from the Star Wars Universe. It’s a great design. I downloaded the files from Thingiverse, here.
Next, with a Dremel LD40 laser cutter, I laser engraved coasters out of 1/8” Baltic Birch Plywood for gifts. Being a digital woodworker, it was time to turn the volume up a bit and make a special version for our local theater. A perfect job for a CNC router.
I made a video for my YouTube channel, explaining the process and finishing techniques for the Star Wars Universe Aztec Calendar…
From coaster to lobby art
Dave’s 3D printable files on Thingiverse are in STL file format. This format is focused on 3D object surfaces needed for printing rather than the vector geometry files needed for CNC machining. I found a converted DXF file conversion at another site, here and scaled the drawing to 22” and modified some details near the outer edges to get better CNC carved result.
To CNC machine the Star Wars calendar, I used a sharp and pointy 60-degree V-bit. I programmed a V-carve routine in RhinoCAM to mill the design from a 24” x 24” piece of 3/4” MDF. A V-carving routine on a CNC moves the bit up and down adjusting for the gap between the lines in the drawing the process works from. The bigger the gap, the deeper the bit carves. A small gap results in less depth, finer details, medium gaps, medium details, and so on. It’s referred to as a bi-tangental machining process.
MDF may seem like a flat and smooth material, but it’s not. Scratches and other imperfections will show through thin layers of paint and final finish, So, before machining, I sanded the surface all the way up to 400 grit. Once the machining was done, I cleaned up the machined edges with small brushes and picks. Finally, I spray painted a rust-colored primer following with a light coat of flat black paint.
Rather than flood metallic paint all over the surface, I wanted a more subtle treatment. I was aiming for a 3D effect by making the disc look slightly domed and a little worn rather than just flat. For the final details, I turned to an amazing product called “Rub n’ Buff”. These are metallic/wax finishes that you rub on. I used a combination of thinned out Pewter as a base, followed with Silver Leaf for highlights and details. Finally, to protect the calendar from the inevitable wear and tear in public space, I sprayed a thin coat of water-based acrylic over the top. Water-based is important as solvent-based finishes will dissolve the top metallic/wax details.
One more thing
As long as I was making a large Star Wars Universe calendar for the theater lobby I also made a Marvel Universe version. Inspired by Dave’s Star Wars calendar, another Thingiverse creator, SandyEggoCNC followed up with a great Marvel universe design. It can be seen here. For this calendar, I chose a different color scheme and used Rub n’ Buff Antique Gold for the details.
So, now that our local theater has some fun wall art to entertain their guests, we come to the end of 2019’s Star Wars: Wood Episode saga. Hmmm. It seems I’m one wood episode short of the usual trilogy. Maybe next year. Until then, may the Force be with you.
See you at the movies!