Learning to Laser Leather

For the Lucid Pensinsula, we are endeavouring to minimise the use of plastics. In this scenario, something about plastics is not working, so plastics are rare, if not absent. In order to be able to make things without plastics, we are investigating a collection of older technologies that plastics have significantly replaced. Cloth is of course one, so investigations of latex treated cloth have been made. On Friday we did some experiments on using leather as a flexible replacement for plastic: or better said, we looked at leather as one of the materials that plastics have replaced.

There is a lot of handicraft in leather work. Luckily we have the opportunities to use some modern techniques that are less complex for us. In order to cut and decorate leather, we are looking at laser cutters as a tool. We can spend time using a CAD system to design what we think we need, then let the cutter do a lot of the hard work. The main things we want to be able to do are to cut patterns, sew them together, rivet them and pattern them. The laser enables us to directly pattern the leather surface, either with simple line vector graphics or a rasterisation process that burns each pixel into the leather, row by row. In oder ro rivet, the cutter enables us to precisely place to river holes, enabling simple alignment. For sewing, one of the most annoying parts of the process is to create the holes to sew through. In general, one does not create the hole with the needle that one is using to sew with. The laser once again comes to our aid by cutting these holes precisely where they need to be.

We borrowed the laser cutter from our friends at PappLab and spent a few hours testing how well the laser was working. Getting the laser intensity and speed of movement right was one challenge. We also found that a significant problem arises with hidden double lines when marking the surface. These are invisible in the CAD system, but with two burns, the laser makes a deeper mark than expected and can cut right through. As a final test, we used an old belt to try out a production series: making a dozen fobs with the Time’s Up logo on them as gifts for various people around us. The small of burnt leather is a bit like that of burnt hair – not attractive, but not too bad.

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