You’re Sitting On An Engineering Masterpiece: Chairs As A Design Challenge

If you move as a hardware hacker through the sometimes surprisingly similar world of artists, craftspeople, designers, blacksmiths, and even architects, there’s one piece of work that you will see time and time again as an object that exerts a curious fascination. It seems that designing and building a chair is a rite of passage, and not just a simple chair, but in many cases an interesting chair.

An American-made Windsor chair from the turn of the 19th century. Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Public domain]
An American-made Windsor chair from the turn of the 19th century. Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Public domain]
Some of the most iconic seating designs that you will be instantly familiar with through countless mass-produced imitations began their lives as one-off design exercises. Yet we rarely see them in our community of hackers and makers, a search turns up only a couple of examples. This is surprising, not least because there is more than meets the eye to this particular piece of furniture. Your simple seat can be a surprisingly complex challenge.

Moving Charis From Artisan to Mass Market

The new materials and mass production techniques of the 19th and 20th centuries have brought high-end design into the hands of the masses, but while wealthy homes in earlier centuries had high-quality bespoke furniture in the style of the day, the traditional furniture of the masses was hand-made in the same way for centuries often to a particular style dependent on the region in which it was produced.

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Reupholstering A Couch, With No Prior Experience

Upholstery is a craft that dates back far longer than many we feature on Hackaday. It requires patience, attention to detail, and a series of specialised skills. If you fancy yourself to be like a young Jack White, you might have considered trying your hand at a piece or two. [darkpine] did just that, and the results are impressive.

The couch was sourced from an online bartering platform, and was in a sad and sorry state after years of use. According to the original owner, the couch was over 100 years old and had been passed down through several generations. Last reupholstered in the 1970s, it was in dire need of repair. Wooden trim was falling off, fabric was fading, and resident cats had been sure to leave their mark.

[darkpine] set about things the right way, stripping the couch back to its bare bones. Taking careful note of the original construction, diagrams were made to ensure the springs could be retied in the correct fashion. Fresh burlap was installed, followed by foam and a layer of cotton batting. Careful attention was then paid to the fabric covering, with hand stitching used along the arms to get an absolutely perfect pattern match along the seams. With the hard part done, the wood was then restored and waxed to a glorious shine.

The final results are astounding, especially when noting that this was [darkpine]’s first ever upholstery project. We don’t see a lot of this kind of thing around here, but it’s not completely unknown.

[via Reddit]

Robotic Wood Shop Has Ambitions To Challenge IKEA

Many people got their start with 3D printing by downloading designs from Thingiverse, and some of these designs could be modified in the browser using the Thingiverse Customizer. The mechanism behind this powerful feature is OpenSCAD’s parametric design capability, which offers great flexibility but is still limited by 3D printer size. In the interest of going bigger, a team at MIT built a system to adopt parametric design idea to woodworking.

The “AutoSaw” has software and hardware components. The software side is built on web-based CAD software Onshape. First the expert user builds a flexible design with parameters that could be customized, followed by one or more end users who specify their own custom configuration.

Once the configuration is approved, the robots go to work. AutoSaw has two robotic woodworking systems: The simpler one is a Roomba mounted jigsaw to cut patterns out of flat sheets. The more complex system involves two robot arms on wheels (Kuka youBot) working with a chop saw to cut wood beams to length. These wood pieces are then assembled by the end-user using dowel pegs.

AutoSaw is a fun proof of concept and a glimpse at a potential future: One where a robotic wood shop is part of your local home improvement store’s lumber department. Ready to cut/drill/route pieces for you to take home and assemble.

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Soda Bottles Used As Heat-Shrink For Wood Joinery

Nobody is likely to confuse it with the beautiful joinery that makes fine furniture so desirable. But as a practical technique, using plastic bottles as heat-shrink tubing for composite joints is pretty nifty, and the pieces produced are not without their charm.

Undertaken as an art project to show people what can be done with recycled materials, [Micaella Pedros]’ project isn’t a hack per se. She started with bottles collected around London and experimented with ways to use them in furniture. The plastic used in soda and water bottles, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), turns out to shrink quite a bit when heated. Rings cut from bottles act much like large pieces of heat-shrink tubing, but with more longitudinal shrinkage and much more rigidity. That makes for a great structural component, and [Micaella] explored several ways to leverage the material to join wood. Notches and ridges help the plastic grip smoother pieces of wood, and of course the correct size bottle needs to be used. But the joints are remarkably strong – witness the classic leaning-back-in-a-chair test in the video below.

Its aesthetic value aside, this is a good technique to file away for more practical applications. Of course, there are plenty of ways to recycle soda bottles, including turning them into cordage or even using them as light-pipes to brighten a dark room.

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Mood Lamp Also Warns Of Nuclear Catastrophe

[Michal Zalewski] has radiation on the brain. Why else would he gut a perfectly-horrible floor lamp, rebuild the entire thing with high-power RGB LEDs, and then drive it with a microcontroller that is connected up to a Geiger-Müller tube? Oh right, because it also looks very cool, and Geiger tubes are awesome.

If you’ve been putting off your own Geiger tube project, and we know you have, [Michal]’s detailed explanation of the driver circuit and building one from scratch should help get you off the couch. Since a Geiger tube needs 400 volts DC, some precautions are necessary here, and [Michal] builds a relatively safe inverter and also details a relatively safe way to test it.

The result is a nice piece of decor that simultaneously warns you of a nuclear disaster by flashing lights like crazy, or (hopefully) just makes a nice conversation piece. This is one of the cooler Geiger tube hacks we’ve seen since [Robert Hart] connected up eighteen Geiger tubes, and used them to detect the direction of incoming cosmic rays and use that to compose random music (YouTube, embedded below).

[Michal] is also author of the most excellent Guerrilla Guide to CNC Machining and keeps good tabs on his background radiation.

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A Better Expanding Table

About a year ago, [Scott] completed what is probably one of the finest builds ever shown on a YouTube channel. It was an expanding wooden table, a build inspired by a fantastically expensive expanding table that was itself inspired by a creation by a mad woodworker in the early 1800s. Although [Scott]’s table is a very well-engineered build, there were a few things he wasn’t happy with. Over the past few months he’s been refining the design and has come up with the final iteration – and plans – for a wooden mechanical expanding table.

Late last year, [Scott] had about 450 hours of design and build time in his table, and by the time he got to the proof of concept stage, he simply ran out of steam. Another year brings renewed enthusiasm, and over the past month or so he’s been working on much-needed improvements to his expanding table that included a skirt for the side of the table, and improvements to the mechanics.

The expanding table is rather thick with three layers of tabletop stacked on top of each other, and those exposed mechanical linkages should be hidden. This means a skirt, and that requires a huge wooden ring. [Scott] built a ring 5 1/2″ deep, about an inch and a half thick, and has the same diameter of the table itself. This means cutting up a lot of plywood, and stacking, gluing, sanding, and routing the entire thing into a perfectly round shape.

The other upgrades were really about the fit and finish of the internal mechanics of the table. Screws were changed out, additional brackets were crafted, and the mounts for the internal ‘star’ was upgraded.

After all that work, is the table done? No, not quite; the skirt could use a veneer, proper legs need to be built, and the entire thing could use a finish. Still, this is the most complete homebuilt expanding table ever conceived, and [Scott] has the plans for his table available for anyone who would want to replicate his work.

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Building A Business Around Generative Design And Marvels Of 3D Printing

Generative design is a method of creating something by feeding seed data into an algorithm. It might be hard at first to figure out how someone would build a business around this, but that’s exactly what Nervous System has been doing with great success. The secret is not only in the algorithm, but in how they’re bringing it to life.

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