The Sky’s the Limit with a ShopBot! Creating Visual Impact With Custom CNC Artwork

When I opened my new library, in a brand new school, I knew three things:

  • Money would be tight, because I had to focus on building a collection
  • I wanted a cohesive look and feel to everything in my space
  • I wanted to set an example for making.

Now almost five years later, I’m still pleased with the atmosphere of my library. In fact, a student asked me the other day how I found so many things that matched for our décor.

I didn’t. I found really random stuff and made it all match! And perhaps the most unifying thing about my library are the things I made on a ShopBot.

The first tool I added to my home makerspace was a ShopBot Desktop CNC router. Not familiar with CNC? Think of it as the opposite of a 3D printer. A 3D printer adds material to create something (additive) and a CNC router carves material away to create something (subtractive).

So when I opened my new library a few years ago, I knew a ShopBot was going to play a major role in creating a lot of my custom touches. One of those features is the skyline that tops one wall of my bookshelves.

I knew I wanted my new library to have a travel theme. I love to travel, and I love this quote (attributed to Saint Augustine, although unfortunately it doesn’t appear in his writings):

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.

I also think travel is a metaphor for what happens in a library: we travel into other lands, into other people’s lives, and in so doing learn about them and learn empathy.

I decided to have the top of the bookcases lining one wall be a skyline of some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world. On the tall end is the Burj Khalifa, and on the short end is the Great Pyramid. Again, I love the perspective this gives students! They love to find familiar buildings that they have visited, like the Empire State Building, and are often surprised by how tiny they are compared to some of the other towering structures from around the globe that they might not be so familiar with. In fact, the Washington Monument is so tiny it looks like a pencil!

Wikimedia commons was a great source for the skyscraper outlines, and my dad got them Shopbot ready by perfecting the silhouettes in AutoCAD, and of course making them all perfectly to scale. He also designed slotted bases for them all, so they could sit solidly on top of our tall bookcases. (They are also tacked down to the shelves with museum putty, in case of an earthquake. I added that after one year ago today, when we actually did have a small earthquake here!) 

Here’s a batch being cut on my dad’s ShopBot, which is the Buddy model. It can do half sheets of plywood…a bit bigger than the 18″x24″ that my Desktop can handle. (My own machine got a huge workout carving all my signage. I’ll do another post on that!)

Although they look like metal, it’s an illusion created with 1/2” thick MDF and metallic chrome spray paint. At around $30 for a 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of MDF, that’s a lot of buildings for not a lot of money!

We have extremely high ceilings, and “filling” that much space was really daunting. I love that the skyline provides some height to my décor, and really draws your eyes up. I plan to add little nameplates to each one, including the name of the building, where it is located, and how tall it is. (Although my students and visitors love to try and figure them out on their own, so it makes my décor a little more interactive that way!)

Stay tuned for other posts about ShopBotted things in my library! (I firmly believe ShopBotting should be a verb!) I’ve mentioned my signage, but we also turned some of my empty bookshelves into study carrels by making custom desks that fit into them, and right now I’m working on a custom book return upcycled from a metal equipment cart. 

When you have a CNC machine, the sky really is the limit!

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