Monday, January 31, 2011

LaserCut Gingerbread, Or: "What If" is a Dangerous Question

Right before Christmas last year, I was baking gingerbread. I invited a friend over to help eat the cookies (otherwise I'd eat them all myself, and goodness knows with all the other holiday sweets around I didn't need THAT). Then he asked that tantalizing, juicy question: "Miss Outlier, I wonder if...."

He didn't know that "What if" is catnip to engineers, and curious individuals like me will jump on it. Or, you know, maybe he did. :)

He proceeded to explain that you can actually laser cut gingerbread, and, well, obviously. We should try it. Did I mention that I PARTICULARLY love it when I have the correct tools to pursue the "What if...." in question?

Figure: Enter the laser cutter. I swear I use this for research. Sometimes.

So as I was making cookies, I made some extra large sheets for lasercutting purposes. Had to make a few  sheets, of course, because I expected I'd ruin some with experimenting/prototyping. There aren't settings for "cookie" in my laser cutter manual...

Figure: Stock for the project.

I was still stuck on snowflakes, and I had a bunch of files for ornament shapes, so that's what I went with. After a few trials, I got the settings right.

Figure: Snowflake! Gingerbread!

I kept the fire extinguisher handy - because the danger with flammable materials in the laser cutter is, well, things can catch on fire. Would not look good on the safety rep's record. :)

But luckily, all was well!

Figure: Aw, how cute.

And because this was in my lab, it just seemed appropriate that when I finished making parts I stored them in a petri dish.

Figure: And of course, I labeled the dish with the date and experiment number.

I discovered that my stock was not really the optimum shape - see below, I accidentally cut off a corner. Whoops!

But I did end up with an assortment of finished gingerbread snowflakes, which I was pretty pleased with.

The whole lab smelled good after I was done - because the laser was essentially toasting the cookies, so it smelled like they just came out of the oven! Made me hungry, actually. So in the spirit of research, my friend and I tried munching on the leftover scraps.

Figure: He's smiling here, but that's because he hasn't take a bite yet.

The verdict: terrible. The fumes or something from the laser gets into the material. Not good for eating. Oh well, that's what the rest of the batch of cookies was for!

Figure: This is how you take the photo when you want it to look like cool research. Lots of shiny silver bits in the background.

The funniest part was when I was relaying this story to a non-engineering friend, expecting the response of "oh, how cool! awesome, Miss Outlier!" But instead, my friend wrinkled her nose, looked at my little snowflakes, and pronounced, "You know, I have a cookie cutter shaped like a snowflake. You could have just used that."

True, true, that's a viable option. Logical, even. But really? A cookie cutter? Missing the point. LASERS, girl, lasers!


  1. Oh man, all those crumbs in your honeycomb! Hope you had a good vacuum ready. And catching fire was my first thought, glad they didn't.

  2. Any thoughts on doing a laser cut jigsaw puzzle a la this beauty?

  3. Ooh, a puzzle is definitely possible! What a neat project. Although, I also do have a scroll saw. :) We could make it happen...