Laser cutters are an invaluable tool in secondary schools, affording students a wide range of experiences from expressing creativity to learning a trade. The equipment is appealing to students as it enables them to produce professional-quality items while also being easy to use.

Here are seven projects that students will enjoy making as they simultaneously learn valuable skills.

  1. Puzzles: Lasers can both cut and engrave. Students can take a favorite piece of artwork or a personal drawing and engrave it onto a thin piece of plywood, perhaps one-eighth of an inch thick. They can then use their engraving as a jigsaw template to cut out the pieces of a puzzle. Several free, ready-made templates are also available online.
  2. Cutting boards: Kids can make engraved cutting boards as gifts or for themselves, and they also make great additions to the school’s cooking classroom. Tape can mask areas to keep over-burn and ash dust off of the non-engraved portions. Tip: Choose lighter, unstreaked wood to start; it develops a dark and deep burn when etched, providing well-defined marks for optimal visibility.
  3. Cork coasters: Cork is lightweight, rot-resistant and even fire-resistant in its natural state. It is also impermeable, soft, buoyant and durable. Using a laser to engrave patterns such as star constellations, mathematical symbols or chemical models can reinforce subject matter addressed in other classes. Lasers engrave cork with excellent contrast.
  4. Jewelry: Laser-cut wooden or acrylic earrings and necklace pendants are exceptionally popular when it comes to creating custom jewelry for all kinds of occasions. Using a metal-marking component, lasers can also engrave metal pendants, watch backs and more.
  5. Clocks: Clocks possess great sentimental value. As gifts, they have traditionally served to recognize years of service. Clocks are a bit more complicated to make than puzzles, but they are far from impossible. Drawing programs such as Corel Draw or Adobe Photoshop can be used to create artwork; clock face vector images are readily available online. Mini quartz hardware can be purchased at nearly any craft supply store, and is easy to add after engraving is complete.
  6. Bamboo bookmarks: Yes, students still read books. Bookmarks are a practical, everyday item. Bamboo is a popular bookmark material, as is cherry, although any hardwood will work. Leather is also a popular material for this application. Laser-cut bookmarks are generally thin – about one-eighth of an inch or less — and can be monogramed or engraved with a pattern.
  7. High school graduation décor and fundraisers: Items etched with a class graduation year can make fun centerpieces at proms or commencement ceremonies. Many senior classes also sell customized gear or products for fundraising. If students use the laser to create these items, they can keep more of the funds raised.

The beauty of these projects is that each can incorporate other areas of the high school curriculum. Puzzles can depict historical maps, for example; quotes from literature can be engraved onto bookmarks; chemical element symbols can be turned into jewelry.

Today’s makerspaces in schools and libraries expose students to new technologies while also learning skills that can help prepare them for their future. What’s done for fun today might just be part of a vocation tomorrow.