Escher Lizard Flooring Project (part 3)

At the end of part two I had some test-pieces cut (which I was very pleased with) and some data which had a vague chance of working. So: now to find some laser-cutting companies to do the proper tiles.

I don’t know whether you watch Grand Designs – I have an on-off relationship with it. I don’t make a point of watching it because McCloud has a tendency to waffle on for hours and hours about the inherent beauty of a doorknob, or how a broom-cupboard might be a metaphor for human existence – but when it’s on, I normally end up watching the whole thing. Anyway … in a 2004 episode (the full thing is on Youtube if you have an hour to spare) a couple bought a house in “kit” form – manufactured, then delivered and assembled on-site – from a company in Germany. The house itself was German, but the couple used English contractors for the foundations, utilities, and so on.

It painted German engineering in a very good light, and made the English out to be a bunch of idiots. The English contractors arrived late (if they arrived at all) or delivered the wrong materials, or made a bad job of their work. The Germans, meanwhile, drove across Europe in a number of flatbed lorries and arrived at the site (somewhere in the rural south) on time, or hours earlier than scheduled. The house they brought with them had been engineered to millimetre accuracy. And any work inside it was torn-down and redone if it wasn’t absolutely perfect.

With that in mind: back to my (comparatively trivial) project.

Thanks to the wonders of Google, I find about eight UK companies who offer laser-cutting services. I e-mail them politely, telling them exactly what I want and even sending them the data in a number of suitable formats.

I receive only one reply, from a company in Barnsley who thank me for my e-mail and say they’ll get back to me.

After two weeks they still hadn’t, so I ring them up and ask for the chap who replied. He denies ever receiving my e-mail and says he can’t find it on his computer – could I resend it? I do so. He still hasn’t replied.

So I go searching again, this time widening my search to include CNC-routing companies. Not quite as precise as laser-cutting, but it seems beggars can’t be choosers – in England, anyway. Of the ten companies I e-mail, only one replies, asking for more information.

After a very laborious e-mail conversation, where I mostly reiterate what I’d put in my initial e-mail, he quotes me to cut 200 lizards to my specifications. The cost: about 1500 quid. And that’s just for the machining – it doesn’t include the wood (which I have to find and get delivered) and then the delivery cost of the final pieces, which adds an extra 300 quid.


To the companies who never bothered to reply, or who couldn’t be bothered to read my e-mail: I’m glad for you. Really, I am! You must have so much work on that you don’t need to consider my job – even though I’ve done all the design work and measurements, and provided you with data in the most ideal format. All you would need to do is load my data in and click “Go”. Even so, if my job was too small-fry for you, then a polite e-mail telling me so would have been appreciated.

Like Grand Designs and the Huf Haus, I can’t help thinking that if I lived in Germany, it wouldn’t have happened like this. If we’d lost the Second World War then no-doubt we’d all be speaking German by now … but I’d have a bloody good dining-room floor.

A potential machining cost of nearly two grand opens up a new possibility: what if I did the CNC’ing myself? If I’m going to spend 2K on a one-off project, I might as well shop around for a decent CNC router – that way, I’ll have a new toy at the end of it, too. It might open up all sorts of new avenues for projects (like PCB milling, for example).

I had dismissed this as an option early on – I need to cut 200 identical lizards. Buying a cheap CNC would be a false economy – if it began to wear or warp, shapes will be inaccurate and nothing would tessellate. And building one myself – despite all the Youtube videos that show how straightforward it is – I suspect would not be an option. I’d get it working, for an arbitrary definition of “working”. It would be crap.

But then a friend offered me one second hand, for a very reasonable price. Controlling it requires an elderly MS-DOS PC with a parallel port, or a more modern alternative like an Arduino with GRBL. And although in the domain of woodworking I am an imbecile who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near saws or chisels, using a CNC router makes everything a programming problem. And that I can do!

So … tomorrow I’m going to see a man about a router. I’ll let you know how it goes.
[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8]