Laser Cutting Assignment – Making fungus and cutting it



 

This was such an interesting and fun assignment for me. Though the results aren’t fully there, mostly because myco board takes quite awhile to make,  but the process was enlightening.

The goal was to use myco board (made from Mushrooms and woodchips) in the laser cutter. My original idea was to make an industry-level video light with LED bulbs and a myco board enclosure. I purchased a Grow-it-yourself package from Ecovative, and had to start the process of reactivating and then forming my boards.

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The bag looks just like wood chips, and you mix in water and flour and let it sit for 3-4 days, until it turns white. It took 4 days.

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Next up, add more flour and mould it to what you want it turn into. Since I wanted to try to laser cut it (a feat not yet done at ITP), I needed boards that were maximum 3/8″ thick.

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I flattened it into these cooking sheets, poked holes in a layer of saran wrap and the cooking cover, and it was supposed to sit for 5-6 days. Needed the full 6 days, and maybe could’ve used longer.

Then you need to bake in the oven to kill the fungus and it becomes hard. I used some bricks on top of the boards to try to compress it as much as possible for hard boards.

But, despite by best attempts, here was the biggest problem to accomplishing my first design intention: the boards were not hard at all. They were bendable and could fall apart quite easily. In theory, I could make a lighting enclosure, but it would just break almost immediately. Ecovative has been able to make some pretty dense and hard surfaces, but they use machinery to do so, and I just wasn’t able to re-create it (the ingredients may have been different amounts compared to what they send out). So, I needed to make something new.

I showed Ben Light the material, and his hypothesis was that it would etch really well, but not cut very well. With that, I brainstormed for what would be good to etch into mushroom. I went through a ton of fitting and juxtaposed imagery to put on a mushroom board, but nothing really stood out as amazing. I did do a test run with my first finished board, and made Toad, from Super Mario Bros.

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Look, mushroom on mushroom!

 

It ended up etching really well, but cutting poorly, like Ben thought.

I realized I’ve wanted to hang some things on my fridge but didn’t have the means to do so, so I thought fridge magnets could be a great test for this! And I made some images that were particularly relevant to me currently (or always). I also deliberately focused on a few different types of imagery to see how the mushroom board handles it. I wanted to do words, detailed images, and more intricate cuts to see how it was handled.

Also, I made 3 boards worth of mushroom, two small and one large. I used a different pan that didn’t have a plastic cover, and between the size of that one and different packaging it has been very delayed. It’s on 9 days, and still slowly turning fully white:

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So, I needed to fit all my designs on the two small boards: 15×11 inches each.

Here are the three I did (along with Toad):

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On the left is music notation, symbolic for my love for music. It was also meant to test out more intricate vector cutting (Toad needed a lot of passes on the laser cutter, but it worked pretty well). The verdict: bad! Cutting myco board is hard on the laser cutter. Cutting myco board is pretty hard with anything, as it tends to just fall apart and not cut cleanly.

On the right is a word cloud with heavily used words from news articles on the days leading up to the Canadian federal election. I wanted to see how words etched into myco board. The verdict: pretty well! The myco board was a bit uneven, so some did better than others, but on the whole, I thought it was pretty good.

Finally in the bottom is the most historic Canadian sports moment to happen in the last 5 years: an epic playoff home run that happened last week. I wanted to see how a detailed person shot would look. Verdict: worked pretty well! Though, the uneven surface really hurt some of the detail and I had to etch multiple times and edit the photo to make some lines thicker.

The next big issue is that, not only does myco board cut poorly, things stick to it very poorly. It’s very porous and bumpy and nothing wants to stick to it: tape, glue, and fasteners would surely break it. So, I tried a couple methods to get magnets to stick to the back of them, but there’s a very good chance after they dry they’re still going to get sucked out of the myco board by a magnetic surface. There is allegedly mushroom glue that may work to stick to it well enough!

Most people working with this material use moulds to make it grow into it’s final shape, and I really understand why. It’s not the easiest to use once it has been formed. However, based on not even knowing a few months ago that you could make boards out of, then proceed to laser cut mushrooms, it was a great learning experience for me.

Also, people get really excited if their face is on fungus:

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Extra special thanks and credit to Justin Peake and Marina Zurkow for their mushroom-making-guidance.

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