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5 great back-to-school maker projects for your laser cutter

Go one step beyond 3D printing with these DIY life hacks made on a Glowforge.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
3 min read
Dan Ackerman/CNET

Buying new off-the-shelf gadgets is fun, but there's something special about using tech to make your own cool stuff. That's maker culture and the DIY movement in a nutshell, and the wide variety of new stuff-making tools out there is simply inspiring. 

I've been testing and reviewing 3D printers for the past few years, and when something breaks or is missing a part, my first instinct now is to see if I can just 3D print a replacement. This applies to everything, from tape dispenser spools to the knob on my KitchenAid mixer. 

Read more: Best 3D printers for 2021

But the next step, after you've gotten comfortable with 3D printing, is to move up to a laser cutter. These devices can usually either etch or cut wood, plastic or even metal. They also work much faster than 3D printers, cutting a project in minutes that might take hours to print. 

If you're looking for a back-to-school project for yourself or with the kids, embrace your inner maker and try some of these medium-to-advanced projects, made not on a 3D printer, but on a cloud-based laser cutter. For this collection, I used a Glowforge, but I'm currently also setting up a new Snapmaker, which promises 3D printing as well as laser etching and cutting.

For each project below, I've included a link to the .svg files you'll need to make it, including several of my original designs. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Headphone stand 

I've tried a few 3D-printed headphone stands, but they take forever to print and work better as hooks you attach to existing surfaces. This wood version is easy to build, sturdy and looks chic. Get the .svg file here.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Nespresso sleeve holder

This project was designed from scratch because I could not find anything remotely close to what I wanted for my coffee pod sleeves. I designed it to fit three Nespresso sleeves and sit unobtrusively in a cabinet, although it would work on a countertop as well. If I were using it in a more visible location, I'd stain and polyurethane the wood for a cleaner look. Get my custom .svg files here.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Custom LED lights

Laser cutters like the Glowforge can also cut and etch lucite. I designed my own version of the simple LED light-up signs seen in tourist shops. Once you have a template that fits in the LED light base, available on Amazon for a few bucks each, you can add any design and etch it in, like a Millennium Falcon or the custom CNET light I designed. Get my .svg file for it here.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

AA battery dispenser 

This is perhaps the single most useful thing I've ever made. A couple of years ago I made a few 3D printed versions of this, but the laser cut one is both faster to make and more attractive. It's similar to another popular maker project, a tabletop game dice tower. Get the .svg file here

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Google Maps coasters 

There are many tutorials online about how to grab a chunk of Google Maps data and turn it into a laser-etchable image. I used this one. It uses an online app called Snazzymaps, which has a handy set of image optimization tools to turn any Google map data into laser-ready art. After that, it was a simple matter of creating a hex-shaped template (you can make it a circle, square or whatever you like) and adding the image. If you want a slice of Brooklyn to rest your drink on, get my custom .svg file here