Oct 9, 2018

Laser Cut Project #1 on Glowforge: a Custom Phone Stand (of course)

Within hours of getting my Glowforge laser printer set up (they call it a printer - it's really a cutter), I had to design and print/cut something of my own. Of course I did cut one of the free designs on the Glowforge web site - the classic snap-together box - but everyone who knows me knows it's the design process that makes me happy, not just printing pre-made designs.

What better first object to design than a custom phone stand?! I've never done that before (ahem).

The design I had in my mind was quite simple, so I sketched a quick version of the idea on paper - it was just two identical, vertical parts which actually support the phone, and a perpendicular support which keeps the two stand parts aligned and stable.

Detailed Requirements Planning

I barely needed any more planning - but, as in all product design, it's good practice to think about what I'm trying to achieve in more detail. I like to think about all my projects like this: What am I trying to achieve with this product? What problems should it solve?

What are my "Design Do's and Don'ts" for this product? 
Here's the simple list I compiled for this phone stand product:

  1. Hold a phone easily and quickly without having to open, close, snap-in, pry or otherwise fit the phone into anything. I just want to drop it in and easily take it out.
  2. Hold a phone BOTH vertically (portrait) AND horizontally (landscape).
  3. Hold a phone at a comfortable video-viewing angle on the desk - mostly upright, not flat - less than 90 degrees from the desk, but more than 45.
  4. Hold any phone, regardless of size, including my big Pixel XL and my son's small iPhone.
  5. Don't obstruct any of the screen.
  6. Be easy and fast to cut on the Laser Cutter, using minimal materials. Cheap to make.
  7. Be simple, not fancy - since it's mostly hidden behind the phone.
  8. Easy to put together, and bonus if it comes apart to fit in your pocket.

Reflecting on the Design Process

Even for a project this simple, you can see it's pretty easy to quickly come up with a whole lot of detailed requirements! That's actually what we do at work all day as product managers - mostly with software - but sometimes with hardware. I think it's good practice to be this detailed and diligent with #maker projects too, especially when it's teachers using these projects as lessons to achieve other learning objectives.

This allows for each requirement to explicitly be solved with math or art and design or other skills, depending on the project. Every one of these requirements can have it's own failures, learnings, solutions, inventions and insights attached to it - and this is where even a simple project becomes an engaging and inspiring learning adventure!

Cardboard Prototype

I did a rough sketch using a fantastic, free iPad app called "Vectornator Pro", which makes it really simple to create a multi-point vector design that can be adjusted by simply moving the points or changing the curves. When I had the 3-parts roughly designed, I moved right into laser-cutting, and cut it out of cardboard first to see how far off I might be. Surprisingly, the design mostly worked on the first try! There were small tweaks I could make to hold larger devices, maybe allow for a couple of different angles with the same device - but generally, the design met most of my requirements!

The cardboard version was actually strong enough to hold my phone firmly - maybe I should stop here and declare victory ;).  I quickly realized this design could be used to hold other things too - like business cards - so even my cardboard prototypes are being put to good use as business card holders.

Getting to a Final Version

The next step was cutting this design out of "real" material - something that will hold up to being used everyday, like wood or acrylic. It became clear with the first print that the design needed two tweaks.

First, I wanted the three parts to stay firmly together so it didn't fall apart when picked up, but be able to come apart when needed (for pocket carrying). I experimented with notch designs which help the parts "click-in" and stay together, but are simple to pull apart. (Note: this was a revisit design adjustment once I had more experience with the Laser Cutter and acrylic material... not a beginner design.)

Second, I wanted it to feel firm and not flimsy - which wasn't true of this current design. The 3-part design felt like it could break easily - it was "racking" (a wood-working term where an object doesn't have the right opposing angles of support, making it prone to leaning or breakage at the joints). It was simple and it worked... but I wanted it to be better.


I decided that I could provide TWO angles for the phone to rest by adding a second set of holders to the otherwise useless back-side of the stand - this worked pretty well and with a little adjustment in the depth of the base - to avoid the phone from tipping over with that shallower angle.

Calling it Done

I decided to add a 4th part - another support which would help keep the two vertical stands aligned and not prone to motion which could break it. This, of course led me to many experiments - and I quickly violated one of my own design "Don'ts" - I started thinking about the aesthetics. Even though I came up with a very strong design with a 4th part, I didn't like the aesthetic. I proceeded to spend too much time trying to make it look better - and ended up with two final designs - one stronger, one prettier.  These became the final versions... for now... since no design is ever actually "done" ;)

Aug 11, 2018

The Glowforge Laser Cutter (Product Review)

This post is my lightweight review of the Glowforge Laser Printer/Cutter - the long-awaited #maker tool that promised to make laser-crafting something anyone could do in their home.

Quick Summary

After using the Glowforge Plus (middle model) for a few weeks, I'm extremely positive and 100% satisfied with it. I've worked with acrylic, wood and cardboard - and mainly with custom designed projects so far, and I've had no issues and have a very positive experience with the company and the community forum.  (Note: if you're thinking of buying one, this link will give you a $100 - $500 discount and will give us referral points for craft materials so we can do more project posts here! ;)

I waited too long to buy my first 3D Printer - probably 2 years from the time I considered it. Once I dove in, I regretted that wait and wished I started earlier. Recently I started getting the same feeling about trying Laser Cutting - but this time was different. I saw laser cutters before, and they were simply too high maintenance and "shop ready" rather than "home ready". So I waited, hoping that I could eventually see a more home ready laser cutter at some point. Then, Glowforge happened - and while this kickstarter-born phenomenon took way longer to launch than I had hoped, it finally did start shipping this summer, and I committed.


While the Glowforge was not cheap (gulp - $2,495 for the entry level, $3,995 for the middle model and $5,995 for the pro level as of this writing - I got the middle model), it met all my other criteria and was clearly angled to the "Easy enough for anyone" category. That promise has been the most positive aspect of the product.


The Glowforge was packaged and shipped with high attention to detail and safety - but easy to unpack, even with it's large size. I was pleasantly surprised that it also came with a huge box of various sample materials - and following the simple directions online, I was set up and printing/cutting within an hour from delivery! Set up of the hardware and the software was REALLY easy. Since all the print/cut prep is done on the software and the device itself only has one button!

Setup & Venting

The main setup challenge for some buyers will be the venting - make sure you can put this near a window or external vent. I'm lucky to have a window nearby and I use the INCLUDED dryer-vent-style hose to vent the exhaust through a window rig. Glowforge is apparently creating a filter system - but that's not available yet - so venting for now is a must. If you don't have a way to vent the exhaust from cutting, don't buy any laser cutter. The exhaust fan in the Glowforge is powerful, and it does a great job of pushing the cutting exhaust through the vent.

The App (in your browser!)

The GlowForge App home - where my designs live
The Glowforge App is available on the web - which is HUGE... That means I can get to it on a chromebook or any other device -  and I am able to access all my designs, interact with the printer, even see the print/cut bed through the built-in camera. It is incredibly easy to use - to align a design - even resize, move and rotate it - so that it prints on the material that is in the printer at the time. This really helps to maximize usage of the material you have (by using the un-used sections of partially used material). There is also an iOS app, but I haven't tried that...

To get a design into the Glowforge app, I can upload it (SVG format is what I use) or even put a printed or even hand-drawn version of the design in the printer, scan it, and then print/cut it on the wood/acrylic/whatever material! It's truly magical to let my daughter draw something - scan it in the printer - and then cut that design onto the material!

First Projects

One of my first custom-designs was a tiny jigsaw puzzle. I used a simple drawing product on the ipad (vectornator) and exported the SVG. pulled that into the Glowforge app, and in 1 minute, 48 seconds, the puzzle was done - on draftboard (chipboard-like wood from Glowforge sample pack). It came out AMAZING!  I've experimented with making photo puzzles, and almost have a winner ;) - just have to play more with protecting the photo during cutting  (look for that post coming soon!).
I also printed one of their sample boxes which had intricate connectors that worked incredibly well.

I've included images (and one quick video) of some early projects I made - puzzle, custom-designed box (to store the puzzle) and the pre-designed box from the Glowforge library.

Glowforge Community & Library

The online resources at Glowforge.com are incredibly valuable. The community is very active and responsive - so any questions I had were answered within a day by experienced owners and the company itself. I've been finding answers there for practically every topic - including cutting non-standard materials, venting ideas, design apps, etc.There is also a library of designs - some free, some for pay, which is definitely another great resource, particularly for those who are not inclined to start from scratch.


This was a tough purchase decision - practically the cost of a small family vacation - but the Glowforge has exceeded my high expectations in every way! If you're a crafter, who makes a business making things, the Glowforge seems like a must-have. If you're a #Maker, 3D-printing enthusiast or a just a hobbyist and just want to tinker with Laser-cutting, you should seriously consider the Glowforge.

Watch this space for posts on the Glowforge projects we pursue here at MkrClub - I've already got a few really fun projects done and waiting to be posted.  And - If you found this review helpful - feel free to use THIS LINK to buy the Glowforge - as it will give you a great discount and give me referral points for buying materials for projects :)