Building Things With Lean Pipe

Sometimes you just want to build something quickly and easily. Maybe you just need a basic structure for your actual project, or perhaps you want to be able to easily modify the design. Maybe you don’t have access to many fancy tools to build a solid, lightweight structure. Another possibility is that you want to be able to break down your structure and move it at a later date. In cases like these, you might want to consider using lean pipe.

Lean pipe is kind of like K’NEX for adults. It’s made up of metal pipe and specialized fittings. If you’ve ever worked with PVC pipe before then this may sound familiar. The difference is lean pipe is stronger and designed specifically for building sturdy structures. The fixtures designed for use with lean pipe are much easier to work with than PVC pipe. With PVC pipe, it seems like you never have the exact right fitting and you have to build your own adapters, quickly increasing the cost of the design.

A typical lean pipe fitting will either slide over the end of a section of pipe, or wrap around it somewhere in the middle. An adjustment screw can then be tightened to clamp the fitting in place around the sections of pipe. The video below does a good job demonstrating the different possibilities with fittings. The primary issue with this material is that you might not be able to find it at your local hardware store. Luckily, a quick Internet search will turn up a number of online purchasing options.

So what can you build with this stuff? Cody has been building himself computer desks with an industrial look. He first starts out with the frame design. This is the part that’s made from the lean pipe. Once the frame is completed he just needs to work on the wood surfaces. All he really needs to do is cut the wood to shape and then finish it to look nice. It then lays in place and can be bolted down for extra security.

78 thoughts on “Building Things With Lean Pipe

  1. Metal electrical conduit and a variety of connectors are available at every big box store and do the same job at a much lower cost. Stainless conduit is available from online suppliers if you want something non-corrosive or shiny.

    1. The only problem with that(and it’s one I’ve been having with my personal monitor setup) is that conduit piping doesn’t have any elbow connectors aside from 45 and 90 degree. The FitzKits have alot more flexibility in their design, with the hinged bits and even cross connectors(I could only find T connects for conduit).

      1. Check out some greenhouse supply catalogs for unusual shapes. Hoop houses use metal conduit in several sizes and four way connectors are common since they are designed to build structures. Regular online electrical supply houses also sell four (X,Y) and six way(X,Y,Z) junctions for less than greenhouse equivalents.

        1. That is a good idea. I remember when I was way younger we thought we had struck skater gold when we found a fallen greenhouse in the woods. It was curved coping axle grinds for days. Nice stuff too.

      2. There are adjustable angle couplings for conduit. I’ve seen funny looking round ones used in fire suppression systems that can probably go from 0-320 degrees (can’t find a picture at the moment), and then there are more traditional options if you don’t need the conduit to have some degree of continuous passage. Consider the options seen here, for example: http://www.wagnercompanies.com/Cast_Aluminum.aspx

        Note: I’m not affiliated with that company in any fashion, I just found them in a quick image search on bing.

          1. Why the heck not? Monitors are not very heavy. My very nice Ergotron monitor arm is made of aluminum. There’s no problem supporting a monitor from aluminum as long as it’s hefty enough.

  2. So- just to be clear. This article is an ad right?

    The article link is an instructable made by the company. The video is marketing materials. The “projects” in the instructable don’t have any build info and are just product examples.

    Looks like an interesting product but it is disingenuous to not disclose that it is just an ad.

    Also- it strikes me as a little silly to say a downside of PVC is the cost of accidentally getting the wrong fitting. You could buy your PVC fittings 10 times for the cost of one of these metal fittings.

      1. I prefer the Adult Swim infomercials over normal plugs for new stuff. But I didn’t know about this product, and it is useful to have another potential solution in my normal ‘box of tools’ when prototyping of hacking something together. I think it’s useful to be able to have some new product announcements, but I think there should be some sort of disclosure that comes along when someone is just plugging a product or brand, however softly they frame their sales pitch.

        1. > I think it’s useful to be able to have some new product announcements…

          Given that you agree that there can be hackaday posts on products, the only issue in question is if anyone was paid for this post to go up. I can assure you that this did not happen.

          I am keenly aware of the issues of disclosure, I am aware of the recent changes in FTC guidelines and rulings, and I work very, very hard to ensure that Hackaday remains independent of outside commercial interests. Do you seriously expect me to throw that away for a shelving unit? We follow the ASBPE guidelines for ethical disclosure, and I’m sure several other more stringent ethical guidelines for disclosure I’m not aware of.

          You want to talk payment for reviews, lack of disclosure, violations of FTC guidelines, and general breeches of ethics? Go to any other site on the entire Internet and complain there.

          1. I appreciate you coming to set the record straight, but don’t take the criticism too hard. Given the state of … “any other site on the entire Internet”, and the HaD audience, I would have been disappointed if the article wasn’t questioned.
            I will second that I do like product announcements, most trade magazines have section detected to such. Maybe just call them out as such so we know to expect a product brief and not an objective review?

    1. If they didn’t receive payment for it, and posted it only because the editor thought it was of interest to hackers, I wouldn’t call it an ad. (Disclaimer: I have no idea whether they received payment for it.)

      1. Bingo. Not speaking for anyone but, FWIW, Mike and Brian are pretty solidly in line with letting contributors set the direction of their articles. By and large, they don’t tell anyone to write anything or, for the most part, tell contributors what not to write about. Contributors pick their own stories, write them the way the want, and the editors just fix typos or other minor edits most of the time. There’s really low managerial overhead in that respect.

        The few times there have been conflicts of interest, (i.E. the parts.io coverage), not even an ad, they’ve disclosed it.

        Occam’s Razor rarely favors the conspiracy.

        1. Wouldn’t Occam’s Razor in this case be, if everyone thinks it’s an ad; it’s probably an ad.

          I had to click on this just to say it looks like “native advertising.”
          It’s not a hack, it’s a product. It’s not some new chinese wireless chip, it’s a proprietary product. No alternatives were provided.

          It looks like an ad.
          It reads like an ad.
          It smells like an ad.
          It’s a conspiracy…

          1. If you actually applied the principle of Occam’s Razor here I think you’d find that this article is less likely to be an ad and more likely to be an article.

            To actually be an ad or a conspiracy requires making at least some or all of the following assumptions:

            The author wrote an ad
            The author was paid to write an ad
            The author wasn’t paid, but had self serving motives to write the article
            The author let the maker of the relevant product write the article, passing it on to us
            The HaD editors looked the other way
            The HaD editors were in on it

            Or maybe we can make one assumption:

            The author wrote about a product they thought was relevant to the HaD audiences interests, just like authors have been doing for HaD for years.

          2. Occam’s Razor is where the simplest explanation is most likely the right one.

            So, which is more likely? That Hackaday bigwigs contacted Rick and asked him to write a stealth ad that masqueraded as an article, risking legitimacy of their product… OR… Rick went through the tips line, this stood out as something he thought was neat and different so he wrote about it?

            I mean, if it’s a conspiracy, someone should let Rick know, it’s so secretive he’s probably not even aware he’s part of it.

      2. the video shown is mine. Texam Limited is in Northern Ireland and we made the video to demonstrate the simplicity of the product and how it could be used. I found a link to my video on this site today – April 2nd. It looks like it was posted here in February. If you like the concept then I’m pleased.

          1. One only learns by screwing up… surely you’ve experienced this in your own life/career? If they never screwed up, I’d be a little concerned. We’re all learning. The day you stop learning is the day you die.

    2. I wrote this article because I thought the material was cool and could be useful to other hackers. I hadn’t heard of it before and I’ve ran into the PVC pipe frustration myself many times when trying to build structures using limited fittings and strength.

      1. Sorry to be critical of your writing, but the language used smells strongly of advertising. I’m not sure how to describe it, certain trigger phrases like “specifically designed” and sentences like “With PVC pipe, it seems like you never have the exact right fitting and you have to build your own adapters, quickly increasing the cost of the design.”, associate right to ad speak in my head.

        Now, I’m not accusing you of a misdeed, but you wrote an advertisement, unintentional or otherwise.

        1. Actually, I think that I know why it reads like an ad; the style is (unconsciously) based on ads previously read. I’ve done the same thing myself time and time again. I love a product, and my review ends up looking like something sponsored. It isn’t that I try to; it’s just that so many companies’ products are sold using ‘Good Ol’ Joe’ techniques that we tend to copy their methods without even realizing it.

    3. How is this different from “the new rasPI! same crap but now with new CPU because getting the old one was getting too expensive”?

      this one at least has a marketing video and a sample projection instructions. which is more than Atmel ad-article here ever gave us…

  3. Looks like a neat product, unfortunately I don’t have the required telekinetic abilities the demo video shows. I also question the integrity of the threads after cramming the bolts on without any twisting motion.

    1. Have you priced black pipe? I am talking the black pipe typically used for natural gas and propane sold in the big box stores. Even an end flange for those would run you $7-$10.

      Finding a supplier with connectors that could use electrical conduit and you’d have it made.

  4. Yup, I agree with some others, this article isn’t very forthcoming:

    “The primary issue with this material is that you MIGHT NOT be able to find it at your local hardware store.”

    I added emphasis on what should read WON’T. ThomasNet lists only five distributors nationwide in the US, and none of them are what would be called a local hardware store. There may be others, but still the chances of having one local to you seem close to nil.

  5. Without cross bracing these things will succumb to pushes and then wobble on the now levered loose joints. The vertical thru joints will sag as metal deforms. Keep a screwdriver handy.

  6. I did this exact thing many years ago, but I used Speed-Rail fittings (http://www.hollaender.com/?page=speedrail), which are MUCH stronger and built for industrial use. Industrial fittings are probably more expensive and aren’t as sleek-looking, but if you’re building a desk from pipe fittings you’re pretty much doing a post-modern style anyways. Why not embrace it?

    My desk’s project page: http://www.bartgrantham.com/projects/i-needed-a-desk-so-i-built-one/

    I need my work surfaces to be very strong. These fitzkits “lean pipe” systems… they look a little cheap and weak, but maybe it’s just bad photography. They have a quote on the site “Ikea for Geeks!”, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. My dad has since reused my fittings and built his own desk, I doubt these things will have a similar lifespan. It seems like these people have prioritized looks in their products, which is their prerogative. That’s fine. I’d still prefer to trust my gear to more serious solutions.

  7. Calm down guys. I’m known for building crude and ugly myself. The bookshelves next to my desk are unpainted boards held up by concrete blocks. But there are those who want to build items that look good. You won’t get that with conduit or PVC pipe.

    And what they’ll build is likely to look just as they want at a fraction of the cost of something similar with a designer label. Keep costs in perspective. It’s cost in comparison to the alternatives.

  8. Not a new concept. Pricing is better than some existing solutions general purpose solutions (like the common 1-1/2 nominal pipe with aluminum fittings that has been around since at least the 1960’s or railings and frames), but not competitive with iron pipe.

    Strength info in not on the website, but steel guages of 22 to 16 (0.8 to 1.5mm) on a nominal diameter of 26mm (28mmOD with 1mm coating), I would not rate this as a high strength system. Not even close. 3/4″ nominal SCH40 black pipe is the same OD and about twice the wall thickness of the heaviest guage stuff here, for twice the tensile strength, roughly four times the buckling strength (length dependent) for less money (US$1.50 per foot for this stuff in “standard”, vs SA106 black pipe at about US$1.20 for a 22ft joint without papers)

    No strength specified for the fittings here, and they are no bargain against even heavy SA105 pipe fittings.

    Only advantages I see VS pipe are finish and somewhat more versatility in fittings. Not even that if you have an awning supplier in the area (1/2 and 3/4 iron pipe sizes in a very wide variety)

    I think I’ll pass. If I need such, I’ll go with black pipe and awning fittings and/or socket weld fittings.

  9. So the pipe is held in place by friction alone?

    I don’t think I would trust my expensive electronics with that. Might be good for some purposes, though (haven’t looked at the cost.)

  10. Wow, thats no cheap desk there. Those connectors run $6-10 a piece. Thats $200+ on connectors alone, add the pipe, then add the wood on top of all that and your running into a $400 desk easily. Sure its not fashion label expensive, but its not a cheapie either.

    1. Out of curiosity, I looked up Creform. Found a forum post where someone priced a large project using several US-based systems, claiming they’re similar enough that an “apples to apples” comparison was possible. I quote only the systems and prices from that post here:

      1. Creform – $13,800
      2. Fastube – $10,200
      3. Ezbuild – $8,400
      4. NIS – $5,200

      I didn’t attempt to verify any of this, but if true and Lean is more expensive than Creform, then Lean is the most expensive option by far – and it’s possible foreign-made systems may be cheaper still. Original forum post is here:

      http://www.lean.org/FuseTalk/forum/messageview.cfm?catid=44&threadid=4617

      I don’t really have a dog in this fight, though. Haven’t yet found anything I couldn’t frame from standard PVC, aluminum angles, two-by-fours, and/or metal electrical conduit. Sometime I’d like a bit more stiffness, and I’ve been wondering what happens if you inject expanding foam into PVC/conduit. Will get around to trying it one of these days.

    2. Instantly recognized this as Creform. Standard equipment for lean manufacturing / Asian manufacturers. Eight years in the hole, NA automotive transplant. This stuff is the same, just marketed to the diy crowd.

  11. Similar “systems” have shown up on Instructables (and elsewhere) before. http://www.simplifiedbuilding.com/ http://www.hollaender.com/?page=sliponfittings125 etc.
    Every time I’ve looked closer, I’ve discovered that actually building anything takes a LOT of fittings, and the fittings are NOT inexpensive. You can easily spend as much as you would on a really nice desk (for example) from a typical office supply store, plus you have to do a lot of your own design work, and you don’t actually wind up with a very nice desk :-(

  12. I actually work with a similar product in my job as a manufacturing engineering tech. This stuff is strong, versatile and not cheap. The best parts are flexibility and re-useability. Something didn’t work out right, or it’s not needed anymore? No need to throw it out. Disassemble it, and reuse it.
    There are a few different vendors in the U.S. and the two we’ve purchased from, are compatible. $10-$20 for 4m of pipe doesn’t seem like much, but it goes fast. You can get plastic joints that can be glued in place if you want something a little more permanent.
    It’s easy to work with too. All you really need are a hacksaw, 5mm hex wrench and a tape measure.

  13. Google PVC furniture fittings. They come in many forms you won’t find in the plumbing aisle. For best strength and stiffness, use Schedule 80 pipe.

    Most PVC is sized to be compatible with iron pipe. Then there’s CPVC that is sized to be compatible with copper pipe. Most CPVC is also a tan color. That color indicates it is rated for hot water use.

    There are adapters made for connecting PVC to CPVC, same as there are dielectric unions for connecting copper to iron pipe. ‘Course with PVC there’s no need to isolate PVC from CPVC since it won’t have galvanic corrosion. To connect PVC to metal pipe, there are threaded connectors to match the iron and brass fittings which are screwed onto iron or soldered onto copper pipe.

    A “problem” with all these types of pipe is the sizing standards date back 200 years or so and apparently nobody in the early years of the industrial era ever bothered to whip out precision measuring tools. Thus, without going to some special extreme thick wall pipe, there is no standard (of any of the standards) pipe or fitting that contains exactly 1″ diameter between its inside and outside diameters. You’ll only find pipe and fittings with an OD less than 1″ or an ID greater than 1″. Why all the avoidance of that specific diameter, even in pipe that is “nominally” one inch? You’d need a time machine to go back to ask the plumbers who developed these standards. (I’d like to take a load of micrometers back and explain to them what precision is.)

    I found that some years ago when I needed to turn a piece in brass with an exactly one inch outside diameter. I finally found a suitable piece in a brass nut from an obsolete catalytic heater made to screw onto the old ‘non-safety’ propane tank valves. That nut happened to contain within its shape the dimensions of the piece I needed to make. Even then, it was a close thing on the inside diameter the part had to be. The root diameter of the inside threads was just a tiny bit smaller than what I needed.

  14. For the sake of balance can we mention Bosch Rexroth aluminium extrusion and the various generic copies of it which look much nicer and are in many ways more practical.

    Also Unistrut steel channel widely used in industrial & commercial HVAC / electrical / plumbing / etc. (cheap new, and often available from the bin when installations are changing).

    There’s also standard tubular steel “hand rail” which has numerous applications, widely available, plenty of fittings / angles etc., strong, cheap (just beware the MST3K Railing Kill).

    Then of course there’s plain old scaffolding, a bit basic but very abundant.

  15. Everyone discussing the merits of posting these types of articles or not … Let me mention another angle: the blurb talks about sturdy structures, but for that you need an easy way to build triangles; the rectangles shown in the example desk are not sturdy, they will be wobbly, getting worse with time. How to do that with pipes and fittings, where rarely an angle will be a perfect 90 degrees? Not sure, maybe hooks for some still wire to cross diagonally would help.

  16. They had a local hardware chain try to make a similar thing popular but instead of nice pipes it revolved around using cast iron old-style pipes and those grunge looking connectors. And theoretically it was a nice concept, except that the pricing was such that you could buy a luxury desk or whatever for less money and not have it look grunge and be a bit iffy in design.

    Makes me wonder why they didn’t realize you have to price accordingly to make that work. And that selling thousands of items at low cost is more profitable than selling two at raised cost. But oh well.

  17. Guys, the video shown in this post is mine. I made it to demonstrate visually how simple the product was to construct. I’m pleased that you like the video. I’m also pleased that someone has identified another use for the product – computer workstations for the home. I like the idea. The video is intended to inspire ideas. By the way, I’m based in Northern Ireland.

  18. in the first move you will not able hang long until you do the same exercise regularly. building anything takes a LOT of fittings. you have to do a lot of your own design work, and you don’t actually wind up with a very nice desk.

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