Outdoor solar harvester v. 2.0

Custom leather passport cover with laser cutter.


This is going to be a guide/story about making an absolutely customized leather passport cover with a laser cutter.  I'll share the SVG images so you can make your own after reading through this post!

Originally, I tried to follow this instructable only to find out I'm not all that good at precision manipulations this kind of work requires, and decided to offload the brunt of it to something that is million times better at it: CNC machine.

Obtaining materials

The first epic quest to conquer was actually procuring natural leather.

In case you didn't know, not every material is fit for cutting with laser. Some of them emit dangerous gases while being cut (and I mean dangerous both for you and the CNC machine: you don't want to corrode mechanics or optics within the cutter) while others are totally fine.

Thankfully, someone put together a comprehensive list of what to cut and what not to cut here,  and artificial leather is the first entry in the "big no-no" table! Animal leather is still a fair game, though.

Turns out, raw natural leather is extremely hard to find where I live! The only person I knew had his hands on leather scraps confessed that he usually got it off a friend who got it off a friend - in other words, it's easier to find marihuana than a piece of leather.

This was my solution:
An ordinary notebook. The fact that it's natural leather is confirmed by those stamped letters: GENUINE LEATHER MADE IN ITALY.
Just pull the leather cover off gently. It was glued to the sheets with what looks like regular glue stick, so that proved to be quite easy:


This crude gutting yields a piece 32 by 22 cm.

Design

My design is intended for a passport with dimensions 125×88 mm. (4.921×3.465 in.) You can verify if your country issues same-sized passports:
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passport#International_Civil_Aviation_Organization_standards

There are two vector graphics file that correspond to three parts you're supposed to cut: one frontal piece and two flaps. All of them are featuring a floral design and a picture of my wife, because that's what I made.

You only have to open those files in Inkscape and remove the patterns and the picture, inserting whatever you fancy instead. With vector pictures being collections of objects as opposed to pixels in raster drawings, you'll do that in no time.

Keep in mind the color codes for your laser cutter software: in case of K40 cutter and K40 Whisperer software they are as follows:
  • red: cutting
  • blue: 
    vector engrave
  • black: raster engrave
The difference between two engraving modes? If you're inserting pictures from the outside (jpg, png, etc.) they can only be "raster engraved". If, for instance, you're drawing primitives inside Inkscape - lines, circles, rectangles, etc. - those can be "vector engraved".

Etching and cutting with laser

As I mentioned, this heavily modified K40 is what I've used to do the job. Frankly I don't think it matters - any cutter model will do, considering K40 is the absolute cheapest cutter you can get, so whatever you have is at least the same quality/power.


The only thing worth mentioning about the K40 whisperer is I found that enabling "Halftone/dither" option greatly improves picture quality, if your design includes one:


Preparing to cutting:

1) Set focus.
    Laser's focus point must be as close to the midst of material you're cutting as possible. A piece of advice: get yourself this focus distance jig and use it to set the focus distance. My leather was about 2 mm. thick, therefore I opted for "-1" (this is the distance between the focus point and material surface, and "-1" means the focus point is 1 mm deep in leather.)



2) Make sure the leather adheres to the cutting table.
    I taped the leather with double-sided tape to the table in the corners and in the middle (where spine used to be):



3) Set the power.
    Start with 30% and bump up/down in small increments during lasering until the etch depth looks satisfactory.



As is typical with lasering stuff, the smell is horrible and omnipresent:


Finishing

Wash the resulting cover and flap pieces with soap water to get rid of soot.



Fragments of passport cover should peel right off. If not, try doing another pass of cutting:



What I really loved about doing it with laser is that even the needle holes were blasted right through. Normally people would use a special kind of tool (looks like a hollowed out needle) to pierce the holes, and now I was relieved of having to invent my replacement for this tool!


Sewing

Leather is sewn using 2 needles simultaneously (amazing right?). If you're not familiar with the process, see this tutorial: https://makezine.com/2017/01/23/handstitch-leather/.

One personal note/recommendation though: stitch with a fine thread, this is more visually appealing IMO.

Finished product, open view.

Closed view, and a bonus shot of passport inside the cover.

Leftovers

  As a bonus, we can fashion something cute out of leather scraps left over from making the passport cover.

  I already had something in mind for those scraps, as it happens, and got some building facade pictures prepared in advance during my trip to Gdansk. You see, the buildings in European cities like this one are mostly decorated with drawings, most of them painted in one color:
  This facade really struck my fancy for some reason, and after some messing around with GIMP's panoramic tool and color profiles, I got myself a black-and-white picture that can be etched!


Etch this into an oblong scrap of leather and you got yourself a cool bookmark!


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