You can make a light switch plate with a CNC machine, and then engrave a decoration on the plate with a laser. I was inspired by Kenbo Studio’s YouTube channel A Cut Above, when he used a scroll saw to cut out a switch plate in the shape of Star Wars droid R2D2. My grandchildren love Star Wars, so I searched the internet for Star Wars images and landed on a cartoon image of R2D2, a good test image for my project.
Before I post the details of the project, let me digress into the history of the light switch, which is so cleverly hidden by this switch plate. Wikipedia gives a brief history:
“The first light switch employing “quick-break technology” was invented by John Henry Holmes in 1884 in the Shieldfield district of Newcastle upon Tyne. The “quick-break” switch overcame the problem of a switch’s contacts developing electric arcing whenever the circuit was opened or closed. Arcing would cause pitting on one contact and the build-up of residue on the other, and the switch’s useful life would be diminished. Holmes’ invention ensured that the contacts would separate or come together very quickly, however much or little pressure was exerted by the user on the switch actuator. The action of this “quick break” mechanism meant that there was insufficient time for an arc to form, and the switch would thus have a long working life. This “quick break” technology is still in use in almost every ordinary light switch in the world today, numbering in the billions, as well as in many other forms of electric switch.
The toggle light switch was invented in 1917 by William J. Newton.
“As a component of a building wiring system, the installation of light switches will be regulated by some authority concerned with safety and standards. In different countries the standard dimensions of the wall mounting hardware (boxes, plates etc.) may differ. Since the face-plates used must cover this hardware, these standards determine the minimum sizes of all wall mounted equipment. Hence, the shape and size of the boxes and face-plates, as well as what is integrated, varies from country to country.
The dimensions, mechanical designs, and even the general appearance of light switches changes but slowly with time. They frequently remain in service for many decades, often being changed only when a portion of a house is rewired. It is not extremely unusual to see century-old light switches still in functional use. Manufacturers introduce various new forms and styles, but for the most part decoration and fashion concerns are limited to the face-plates or wall-plates. Even the “modern” dimmer switch with knob is at least four decades old, and in even the newest construction the familiar toggle and rocker switch appearances predominate.”
This brought to mind a two-button light switch that I saw at my grandmother’s house when I was a child. At the time, I didn’t realize the historical significance of this type of switch! Today, a light switch takes on many shapes and types. We can control our lights remotely with our smart phones. I have a lamp in my house that has a built-in speaker to play audio files, that can be controlled with my smart phone. We have light switches with built-in occupancy sensors to control the lights. I have even worked with light switches that provided a binary input to a microprocessor to control the air conditioning system at a laboratory. But enough digressing… back to the project.
Using Vectric software and the dimensions of a single switch cover plate, tap files were generated for the plate outline and the switch plate hole. The Shark CNC machine was fired up and a wall plate cut from1/4 inch thick Baltic plywood. After separating the wall plate from the tabs holding it in place, I set the plate under a store- bought switch plate, which was used as a template to drill the screw holes. I could have used the CNC machine to do this, but it would have meant a bit change. If I was making a number of these at one time, it may have been worth the extra step to change the bit. The wall plate was then given a quick sand, and then painted with a high gloss white primer, followed up with a clear coat of lacquer.
Next, I moved the plate over to the Full Spectrum 40-watt laser to engrave a cartoon image of R2D2. I’m still working out the details on how to line up the laser image on a project, so it took a couple of test runs to finally get the image centered on the wall plate. With the white paint and clear coat on the plate, it only took one pass with the laser to get a satisfactory image. I did reduce the speed to 80% and left the power setting at 100%.
I’m going to continue to experiment with this project using different types of wood. I may also try to not only engrave the piece with the laser, but also to cut out the shape using the laser. I also want to try to improve on the use of the CNC, to provide a profile on the border of the switch plate. I think for the time being the grandkids will be happy with an image of their favorite cartoon figure. I might make some switch plates with a feel-good motif for the parents, too… maybe a plate engraved with the words “When In Doubt, Turn It Out!”