We caught up with sculptor Anthony Howe about how he has been using his FabLight Tube & Sheet laser cutter. One of his sculptures, Babel, was on display in our booth at FABTECH 2019 in Chicago from November 11-14, and at ACTE 2019 in Anaheim from December 5-6.
You’ve had a FabLight for over a year. How has it been working for you?
It works great. There are some hitches now and then, things that aren’t perfect, but there’s always a way to work around them. I haven’t ever had to stop cutting because of something the machine did.
What have you made with the FabLight so far (that you can talk about)?
Too many things. How big is your world — it’s big!
Yes, to almost everything I’ve made. It has been indispensable for most things I’ve made, in one way or another.
How much tube cutting do you do compared to sheet cutting?
I haven’t done much tube cutting, actually — just a little bit. There’s a learning curve for that too. I need to do more of it.
Can you tell me about the inspiration for Babel?
The inspiration was the inspiration to make stuff. I like to feel inspired, so that’s why I make stuff.
Just so I have it straight, the inspiration for making stuff is to feel inspired?
Yeah, that’s right!
When you were making Babel using your FabLight, were there technical challenges that it was helpful for? Did you use it for iterating and testing? Can you talk a little bit about the process of making it on the machine.
The machine was the easy part. Really, the hardest part of that was using the software I had for slicing models. Once I had the cut pattern figured out, the machine was like a dream. It cuts the slots for the metal that fit together — it fits those slots perfectly for the thickness of the metal. It’s amazing! It truly is.
The gear pattern is an interesting design. You have those four spur gears that are interlocked together. They synchronize the motion, but they also limit it. I’m curious where you get mechanical design ideas like that?
Gears are so tricky, they really are. There are so many calculations to make a perfect gear, that when you go to make it yourself, all those nice little calculations kind of fall by the wayside when you’re sitting there bending stuff, and grinding away, and trying to get everything to work right. So it’s trial and error.
It comes from starting at an object trying to find something new. Usually on the computer, I’m staring at the screen, and I want something to get me excited. And I just had that idea of a very simple — it’s actually like a 4-tooth gear instead of a 36 or a 32. Running the gears that have 4 teeth on each gear.
Most of my stuff is like going back to the very beginnings, and then just treating it a little bit differently so it turns into something else.
Why wind-powered sculptures? Why not motorized?
That’s a good question really. I’ve always just been fascinated with the wind. I used to sail a lot, and then I windsurfed, and then I kite-surfed for 10 years. It’s actually simpler to make something that’s wind-powered than it is electric powered. And I just like the fact that there’s an esoteric quality to something that’s powered by the wind instead of hooking it up to the wall.
Can you talk about the Infinity Dress? There’s a quick shot in that making-of video that shows the FabLight cutting something for the dress. How did the machine play into what you thought might be possible for that dress?
That dress was a lot of work, and it got changed quite a bit from what I made. What it turned into is quite a bit different.
I could not have even thought of making that dress without that laser. Even after the dress was done, the gears that went on the back of the dress that synchronized all the four different strands of linked feathers, I had to remake the gears smaller and smaller until each gear was a little bit smaller than a dime because they were too evident, too big — you could see them too easily. So the final gears were very tiny.
On your website, you call the FabLight “A NEW MACHINE I HAVE DREAMED OF FOR YEARS”. Can you describe what you dreamed of, and how it compares with what you got?
I always wanted to have a laser that cuts metal, because I had my parts cut elsewhere by bigger lasers. Having one in shop just streamlines it, and makes a lot more things possible than before.
What would you say to someone considering getting a FabLight?
I would say they’re out of their minds!
No, I would say: For the size of the machine, the convenience of plugging it into the wall, and the limited infrastructure changes that you need to hook the machine up, it’s a great machine. That’s all I’d say. And it’s made in the USA, so the support — which is phenomenal — is always at hand, and not on another continent.