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.
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.
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.
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, Millennium Falcon or the custom CNET light I designed. Get my .svg file for it here., you can add any design and etch it in, like a
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.
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.