During a makerday, I saw a someone struggling to put together a Raspberry Pi box that they’d laser cut, and were trying to hold together:
- two pieces of acrylic to make the joint,
- and the Raspberry Pi board,
- and a nut into a slot,
- while also attempting to screw in a bolt,
- and not drop everything.
So I started thinking about if it would be possible to extend the work I have been doing on making flexible areas in acrylic to make a clip mechanism that could be laser cut to make self-fixing comb-jointed parts.
A comb joint (also called a finger joint) is a carpentry joint that has come to the attention of makers with the increasing accessibility of laser cutting. The finger joint can be used to make boxes from laser cut sheet materials (there are a couple of automated tools available including BoxMaker and Box-o-Tron). It is relatively easy to implement and the fitting of the crenelations gives much better alignment of the joining parts than butting together the edges of the adjoining sheets (this is a butt joint). Because “complexity is included” with laser cutting, the cutting effort needed for a comb-jointed box is not much more than for a straight-edged butt-jointed box.
However, to stay as one piece, the comb joints must either be friction fitted together or glued. For both these methods, the mechanical strength of the joint is limited by the relatively small area of the mating surfaces. To give the joint greater strength, one set of combs can be closed, so it is mechanically supported in 2 directions (which then makes it a mortice-and-tenon joint), and if a captive T-slotted nut and bolt is also included (this effectively “closes” the other set of combs — making a bolted mortice-and-tenon joint) the joint is well supported against movement in all directions planar to the component plates. Variations on the t-slot and nut exist, such as the using delrin clips, and while they are very robust, they all require hardware in addition to the laser cut acrylic.
If you’re interested in seeing more possibilities for laser cut joints, MSRaynsford has shown a good selection of posibilities.
Flexible plastic clips are a staple of contemporary product design, just look at your phone; there’s almost certainly a version of a moulded plastic clip that hold the parts of the case together. If you’ve got an older/non-smart phone, then it’s quite possible that you also have moulded button for the back panel with a living (elactically deforming) hinge in. Having already demonstrated that it is possible to make acrylic flexible with a lattice cut living hinge, I investigated how to cut acrylic into an elastic clip that could be used to secure a comb joint.
Elastic Clip Geometry
I’ve been calling this an elastic clip because of it’s structural properties. To operate successfully, the material must only be operating in the elastic-region of it’s stress/strain capabilities. Under elastic deformation, once any force is removed, the material will return to it’s original shape. If the yield stress of the material is exceeded, it enters plastic deformation where there will be a permanent change in the shape of the structure after all force has been removed; because the applied force was great enough to start permanently re-aligning the molecules that make up the material. For a brittle material, such as acrylic, the difference between the yield stress and ultimate stress (the absolute maximum it can sustain before it breaks) is very small, so for a clip to stand repeated use, the maximum stress in operation needs to stay well away from the ultimate stress of the material.
Any kind of integrated clip is going to take the form of a cantilevered beam, where the operation of the clip bends the beam along its length, until the clip is “open”. Having a back stop will limit the size of the maximum deformation of the clip, and therefore the maximum stress it will experience, so the limit of motion gives a starting point for calculating maximum operating stress.