After cutting the chipboard letterforms, I decided it was time to test the Winchell font in wood. I discussed some possibilities with Luke, and he told me that cutting hardwood up to a 1/4″ is feasible on the laser cutter, but thinner is better. I opted for a few different hardwood choices in 1/8″: maple, walnut, cherry, and mahogany. We’ll cut prototypes out of each of these, then make decisions about quality, grain, hardness, and once we know which wood works best, we’ll stick with that. For now, because Luke had it hanging around the wood shop, we cut some letterforms out of 1/16″ poplar. If you look closely, you can see the burn/smoke marks on the backs of the letters.
Poplar is one of the the softest hardwoods (for a complete list of woods and their hardness, check out the strangely intriguing Janka Hardness Scale). It made clean letterforms quickly, but the thin sections were extremely fragile. 1/16″ inch is simply too thin. These letters are also about 1/2 the size of the intended final product, so it’s important to remember that as we scale up the letter in height, the width of those thin sections will increase as well.
In addition to the poplar prototypes, I had a chance to visit a local woodworking shop and inquire about adhesive possibilities. As I said before, adhering the letterforms to a substrate is going to be one of the most challenging aspects of the project. We need an adhesive that is thin, works well on a porous surface, is easy to manage, and forms a bond impervious to solvents. After a short consultation, I was led to Titebond’s Instant Bond Wood Adhesives. Titebond’s wood adhesives are pure Cyanoacrylate, which is a really cool form of super glue that starts off as a monomer and uses the moisture in the air to polymerize. It’s an acrylic resin (essentially a plastic) that can seep into the capillaries of a substrate (like wood grain) and form a deep, lasting, plasticized bond. I’ve looked at the solvent list of chemicals that decompose CA (as it’s commonly called) and none of those are normally present in the print shop. I’ve test-glued two letterforms to a substrate, but have yet to be able to expose them to a solvent or print them. I guess I’ll find out soon enough if all these fantastic claims are true!