I just finished work on the final sculpture in my three-part steel point series. With this piece, I added a second sculptural curve in an effort to evoke the imagery of a set of wings. As with the other designs, this piece combines lighter maple wood with dark walnut.
Working on my last sculpture got me interested in the idea of carefully balancing a sculptural element atop a fine steel point. I decided to run with the premise and make a few more sculptures based on the same concept. For the second pass, I created this pared down version featuring a long, narrow piece held in place by only two cables. The next iteration is already underway and will be much more complex.
This past week, I finally got around to building a sculpture that I originally conceived of almost a year ago. It features a gently curved piece of maple that is carefully balanced atop a steel spike. The design is a loose interpretation of Brancusi’s Bird in Space, executed in my usual style. If you’re interested in the process behind its creation, read on!
When I first drew up the sculpture, I knew the design would be tricky to realize. It called for all 54 copper crimps to be hidden from view. The crimps are the small, oval shaped pieces of metal that I use to secure the tensioned steel cables. Sometimes I leave them exposed, but just a frequently I want to conceal them. Solving the puzzle of how to hide the crimps can be the trickiest part of the design process and when I originally tackled the building phase for this sculpture, I got stuck.
The main challenge here was that the design called for many of the cables to terminate inside the top sculptural curve. Since the curve was supposed to be one solid, uninterrupted piece, this posed a problem. Additionally, the balance of the piece relied on cables exiting both sides (front and back) of the top curve, which added an extra complication.
Here’s how I tackled it:
The birch curve is made up of three layers of wood glued together. To leave room for the internal crimps, I knew that part of the curve would have to separate. So, I glued the top two layers together and then attached the third with pegs. This way, the third layer was held firmly in place while I shaped the piece, but it could be removed later on when I placed the crimps.
Once the curve and base were complete, I separated the two halves of the curve so I could start the cabling process.
I recently moved into a new house and, as you might imagine, put a bunch of my tension based furniture throughout it. Having too many of those pieces in one room can be a little overwhelming so, for the first time in years, I designed a piece completely void of steel cables. This particular end table, made of birch and walnut, is meant to compliment the X-Weave Coffee Table that I have in my living room. It was fun to build something that didn't need quite so much attention to detail or concern about structural integrity. I designed it in five minutes in lumber yard parking lot and didn't bother considering other options.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently moved to Colorado and, as a result, had to shut down the shop for a little while. Things are finally back up and running now and I’m excited that I have two new designs to add to the collection: The X-Weave Coffee Table and the Pinnacle End Table. As usual, I thought I’d use this post to run through the process of designing these two pieces.
My main goal in designing the new tables was to create slightly more traditional looking pieces that still incorporate the engineering aspects characteristic of my other work. As it turns out, I didn’t take many pictures while building the X-Weave Coffee table, so I’m going to focus more on the end table (it has a more interesting story anyways – more mess ups along the way). But here are the images I do have of the coffee table:
The X-Weave Coffee Table features four legs that angle sharply outward and are kept from splaying under the weight of the glass tabletop by the crisscrossing stainless steel cables that connect them. With this design, I combined maple and walnut for a very high light/dark contrast. I loved the result! The main question for me while working on the piece was whether to add a shelf or not. The original design called for a suspended shelf but, as I began building, I realized that I might prefer the simplicity of a no-shelf version. I tried out both designs and, in the end, found that I leaned toward the simpler version. Still, I like the practicality of the shelf and the fact that it makes extra use of the cables.
Once I’d finished the Coffee Table, I decided to work on an end table design that would again combine maple and walnut. As it happens from time to time, there was much more trial and error with this particular piece. I took pictures of each iteration, so I’ll let them to most of the explaining.
When I originally started work on the end table, I imagined a tabletop that would appear to almost float above the legs. This can be achieved when the legs of a piece don’t actually touch the tabletop, but instead connect via an intermediary center post. As you can see from the plywood prototype, I didn’t achieve what I was hoping to. The gap between the top of the legs and the bottom of the tabletop was too large and the table ended up looking like some sort of weird robot. I could have played around with proportions, but I really wasn’t feeling it, so I moved on.
For the second version of the table, I extended the legs so that they directly touched the tabletop. I liked the looks of this version a lot more, but it still had some issues. The main problem was the cabling pattern. The pattern here is pretty much the exact same one that I used in the X-Weave Coffee Table. However, whereas the cables in the coffee table design are important for keeping the legs from splaying under the weight of the glass, here they didn’t really do anything. The legs weren't angled sharply enough to need the extra support and, without a ton of extra weight on top of the table, the cables remained fairly slack. I moved on.
For the final version of the table, I wanted to make the cables more useful. I always want the cables to serve a structural function in my work and I hadn’t really achieved that yet with this piece. Eventually, I settled on the idea of bringing the tops of the legs in so that they would meet at a small point underneath the tabletop. This, I figured, would result in a precariously perched tabletop in need of stabilization. And what could provide the stability needed? Cables!!! I took eight cables and ran them from the edges of the tabletop and the legs below. They pull downward on the tabletop, holding it firmly in place and preventing it from tipping when heavy items are placed on top of it.
The final version of the table adhered pretty closely to the plywood prototype, with the only change being an increase in leg angle for slightly better proportions.
I've gotten some requests recently for a video explaining how I build some of my furniture. Well, here you go! If you're interested in my methods of design and construction - especially as they pertain to the Contour Coffee Table - check it out!
It has been a while since my last post. That’s mostly due to my recent move from California to Colorado. I’m still in the process of figuring out a shop setup in Fort Collins, but, in the meantime, it’s time for a new post.
Just before I left California, I completed work on an outdoor lighting project for a house in Woodside. It was one of the most complex projects I have taken on, but it was also one of the most satisfying. The final design features a suspended mahogany ring, nearly five feet in diameter, that weighs in at over fifty pounds.
Throughout the process of designing and building the light, I took a lot more pictures than usual. They provide a good look into my way of working, so I’ll let them do the explaining.
Getting started on this project, I had a lot of ideas and possibilities floating around my head. Instead of turning to my usual sketchbook, I relied more heavily on Autodesk Inventor to generate simple renderings and help me visualize the different layouts that were partially formed in my mind.
Some of these designs are clearly better than others, but it never hurts to put all of your thoughts down on paper (or in this case, screen). After deciding that Ring 1 was the best design, I got to work.
I spoke with an editor from Make Magazine several months ago at Maker Faire. Here's the video!
Last weekend at Maker Faire a lot of people had questions about how the Contour Coffee Table works and, in particular, how much weight it can support. After all, when you touch the cables, none of them feels like it's actually doing much work. Can this thing actually support a lot of weight? Let's find out!
This past weekend, I attended the Bay Area Maker Faire for the first time. It was great to see the crazy things different people think up and also to talk to thousands of people about my own work. On the last day, my work was selected as an Editor's Choice. Make magazine wrote a short article about my work and also posted a video of me discussing it.
The fair was full of 3D printer displays, robotics and fire-breathing robots, but my favorite things were the homemade carnival rides. I've always loved amusement parks and even went so far as to build a section of rideable roller coaster track in my garage when I was 14. The pedal-powered swings and ferris wheel along with the parking lot roller coaster are the sorts of things I would love to build some day.
I sell some of my work in a gallery on the coast just south of San Francisco and I recently got a request from them to create one of my suspension shelves in live edge elm. I had never worked with live edge wood before, so I was excited to try something new.
The gallery also requested that the shelf be larger than the standard version, so before setting about building the piece, I had to do a complete overhaul of the design. The trickiest part of the whole process was figuring out how to mesh this new type of wood with the CNC machining process that is integral to the creation of the shelf. Since live edge wood is bumpy and knotty, it can be difficult to get it to line up with the machine so that all of the cuts are done accurately. It took a little while, but I figured out a solution that involved cutting patterns into the bed of the machine and then using those patterns as guides to line up the pieces of live edge elm. After cutting everything out, wiring up the shelf was no different than usual. The final product is much larger than its original counterpart, measuring over 5 feet long and 3 feet tall.
Yesterday I finished work on a new table lamp. It was a project that I spent a lot of time mulling over and tinkering with before I finally came up with a good design. I made my first pass at creating a table lamp at the end of last summer and, while it wasn’t bad, it was an overly complicated design that I didn’t think was right to add to my product lineup.
In December, I came up with a simpler concept that involved a wooden tapered “neck” that would be balanced on top of a small base by four tensioned steel cables. The design called for the four cables to be oriented completely vertically and, because I had never tried anything quite like it before, I wasn’t sure if the lamp would actually be stable. I therefore set about making a prototype.
I made the first prototype out of cheap MDF and, through building it, I learned that the cabling method I was experimenting with was capable of creating a stable lamp. However, I also found that I didn’t really like the design I had come up with. I still thought there was too much going on and I didn’t like the way the cables on either side of the neck interfered visually with each other through the big hole I had left. I went on to another round of sketching.
As is usually the case, simpler was better. In my final design, I simplified the neck of the lamp so that it was one solid, beveled piece made up of walnut and cherry. As I sketched out ideas for the final design, I found myself thinking of the neck of a guitar. To spice things up a little bit, I added contrasting walnut and cherry plugs where the cables enter the neck and base.
I’m pretty pumped with the end result! You can check out the Balance Table Lamp product listing here.
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been working on a product for kids over the past few months. It’s a pop up light switch cover system featuring interchangeable scenes and fun surprises that pop out to turn your light switch off and on. It’s completely different from my usual stuff and, as a result, I’ve decided to launch it on Kickstarter rather that on my website. You can find the page here. Please take a look and share it with anyone who might be interested. Thanks!
A little over a month ago I had a new idea. I was getting tired of just working with wood and steel cables nonstop, so I decided to start a side project. This new project wouldn't involve any sort of furniture and had pretty much nothing to do with my other work. Instead, this idea centered around creating a small, simple product for kids. I've always liked toys and games and ever since my niece was born almost three years ago, I've often found myself thinking about what sort of kids' products I could create myself. The growth charts that I currently sell through my website began as a birthday present for my niece and, similarly, this current project began with me considering what sort of things she might like.
The product I settled on creating is a series of interchangeable, interactive light switch covers for kids. The original prototype for the light switch cover was made of laser-cut wood that I later painted. The design was comprised of a base plate that screwed into the wall (just like a normal light switch cover), two "sliders" featuring a monkey and a lion and a cover showing grass and a tree. The idea was that when a switch was off, a monkey would hang down from the tree and, to turn the switch on, the lion would pop up out of the grass and flip the switch while the monkey would retreat into the tree. At this point I wasn't quite sure how the sliders would be activated but I figured I would deal with that later.
After the wood prototype, I switched materials to acrylic. I was thinking ahead to the manufacturing process and trying to streamline the design as much as possible. Since acrylic comes in different colors, using it would mean there would be no need to paint the base plate or the cover. However, I still had to hand draw the monkey and lion faces. At this point I was just using colored sharpie, but I knew that would have to change down the line.
Having made the first acrylic prototype, I started playing around with different ways to activate the sliders and thus flip the switch on and of. At first I tried using a string and pulley system, but the result was much too messy looking. I eventually settled on the idea of introducing two new animals at the edge of the cover that, when pushed up or down, would activate the animals inside the cover.
When I first started playing around with the light switch cover idea, I didn't consider going beyond the original jungle design. Once I came up with the idea of using magnets to secure the cover to the base plate, however, that all changed. I quickly realized that, with the magnet system, you could have a series of easily interchangeable covers showing different scenes. It would be very easy pop one cover off, take the sliders out, put some new ones in and snap the new cover on. With this exciting new idea, I set about designing some new covers and sliders.
At this point, I knew I wouldn't want to draw the designs on each and every slider forever, but I liked the hand-drawn look. I decided to draw out a design for each slider on paper and then import it into the computer and generate stickers that could be placed directly on the sliders, thus keeping the hand-drawn quality while speeding the production process.
With the new covers and sliders designed and the stickers figured out, I set about producing some much more refined prototypes in both one and two switch versions. There is still a little work to do (mostly perfecting the stickers for professional printing), but things are quickly nearing the end. Soon all that will be left will be to get the covers out to the public!
I'm hoping to launch a Kickstarter for the covers in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned! Until then, I have a couple final tweaks to make and, most importantly, I have to come up with a catchy name!
The Suspension Shelf is usually built with a mahogany spine and oak platform. Recently, however, a customer wanted a custom all-walnut version. The end result is a shelf that is much darker in color than the original version. Here it is!
Last month I set a new goal for myself and decided to focus on creating some new designs that don’t rely so heavily on steel cables. Up to this point, the use of steel cables has been the signature of just about all of my designs, but it has also created a bit of a bottleneck in my production. The process of stringing and tightening steel cables one by one for every piece I manufacture is a time consuming one and, frankly, can get pretty boring. I have spent thousands of hours wiring up the same designs over and over and, while I enjoy creating tension-based designs, I wouldn’t mind branching out.
In addition to being time consuming, the process of tensioning steel cables took me several years to perfect and it cannot be instantly taught to another person. I have occasionally considered the possibility of hiring someone to help me with manufacturing my products, but the idea is always squashed when I consider the complexity involved in making my designs. By developing designs that have fewer or no steel cables, I’m hoping to have a line of products that is easier to make and that can be manufactured, at least in part, by people other than myself. At the same time, I want to maintain a unique aesthetic that will set my work apart. It’s a bit of a tricky balance to find, but I took my first crack at it with a new lamp design.
With this new lamp I was, unfortunately, not very successful at developing a product that would be easier to produce. Although I came up with a design that required only two cables and was relatively easy to wire up, I got carried away with creating a shade that incorporated an almost unmanageable number of walnut slats and thus effectively substituted one time drain for another.
Though it’s unlikely that this lamp will become one of my products, its creation was by no means a waste of time. There’s always a period of experimentation (and often failure) when I’m working on a new idea and it’s through this experimentation that I learn new skills and generate new ideas that, if not immediately applicable, may come in handy down the road. In this instance, when coming up with ideas for the lamp, I decided to experiment with using the CAD program Autodesk Inventor as a key element in my design process (I’m a little late to the party, I know).
In the past, I have relied mostly on my sketchbook for brainstorming and visualizing a final product before beginning to prototype it in three dimensions. In this case, I did some very early brainstorming in my sketchbook, but then turned to Autodesk to flesh out the idea. I had several thoughts going in of what the lampshade and supports could look like, but I wasn’t sure what the best combinations would be. With Autodesk, I figured I would be able to more easily visualize different shade and support combinations than I would otherwise have been able to on paper. Though the final design ended up being very difficult to produce, Autodesk proved to be a useful design tool and I’ll definitely use it more in the future.
Like I mentioned before, I got a little carried away with the design of the lamp and ended up creating a shade that involved way too many pieces. The slat-based design called for 34 walnut pieces to be glued together into nine frames that slotted into the two cherry supports. While I like the final result, the time required to assemble it makes it a bad candidate for production on a larger scale. Before I give up on the idea completely, however, I may play around with the shade design to see if I can simplify it for easier production. It often takes several iterations before a product is ready to go, so I’ll be sure to update the blog with any further versions of the design.
Adding to my recent string of sculptures, this newest work is a simple piece that I used as a way to experiment with creating a laminate out of different types of wood. Nowadays most of my work is done with the use of a CNC machine, but it's always fun to go back to the more primitive process of hand-laminating wooden curves. I had previously only used poplar for laminating, but in this instance I tried something new by combining walnut and birch. The result was two wooden curves that have alternating light and dark bands. It's unlikely that I'll ever use this effect in one of my products, since hand-laminating is a very time consuming process, but it's always fun to play around with new ideas, no matter what their usefulness.
I've been on a little bit of a sculpture kick recently and ReBalanced Arch is my most recent addition. The piece is a new take on the idea behind the sculpture Balanced Arch that I made in the spring of 2013. Balanced Arch was an interesting study, but its design was too busy to be any sort of finished piece. With ReBalanced Arch, I streamlined the design by simplifying the base into a rectangle and getting rid of the two points that the original Balanced Arch rested on. Instead, the arch just sits in two small grooves that don't do any actual supporting, but just keep the end points from sliding around. I also spent plenty of time sanding and tapering down the arch itself, in order to give it a more elegant, organic and finished feeling.
In my dream world, I would make a giant version of this sculpture and suspend a swing from the top of it. How awesome would it be to swing back and forth through the center of the arch? Since the contours created by the overlapping cables change with the viewer's perspective, you'd be sure to get some pretty crazy visuals.
Last summer I sat down with my sketchbook and listed out a bunch of ideas for possible products I could design. This was at a time before I had launched my website when I only had two existing products (a coffee table and lamp). I ended up focusing my efforts on designing the Suspension Shelf and the Signature and Peering Lamps, but partway down my sketchbook page, I left a note to myself that it could be fun to design a wine rack. I've never been much of a wine drinker, but the idea of making some sort of rack appealed to me because of the opportunity it would give me to introduce a new element - a wine bottle. The wine bottle, I figured, would be a new and interesting piece to play around with in a system of tensioned cables and carefully balanced parts.
Ten months later, I've finally had the chance to realize the idea. Since the last several designs I worked on were larger, more expensive pieces, I figured this would be a good opportunity to create something simpler and more attainable for the average person. With that in mind, I decided to forgo designing a large rack that could hold a wine-enthusiasts entire collection and instead opt for a smaller tabletop design that would hold four bottles.
Like my other designs, I knew I wanted the wine rack to be not only a functional object but also an intriguing sculpture. As usual, I went straight to my sketchbook to work out some ideas. The basic notion I started with was that of balancing a piece of wood diagonally on a rectangular base using some method of steel cabling. If done right, I figured that the diagonal piece of wood would be stable enough to support the four wine bottles. Given how simple I wanted the rack to be, it took me a surprisingly long time to come up with a design I was happy with. My original sketches all featured a bunch of cables being used to balance the diagonal board and the result was way too busy and crowded looking. In the end, my breakthrough came when I figured out that the design could be realized using only two cables. It's much easier to show than describe, so here's the final sketch:
Perhaps my favorite aspect of this design is the way the cables run down the front side of the rack before bending away to connect to the front of the base. It reminds me of the neck of the guitar and gives the piece a bit of an instrumental quality.
With the key elements of the design figured out, I realized I needed some sort of accent to make it a complete piece. Though I was aiming for a simple aesthetic, having just two rectangular boards seemed a little bland to me. As a solution, I decided to employ an idea I initially put to work in the design of the Suspension Shelf and "float" a thin piece of wood out in front of the main diagonal board just to give things a little more texture and variation.
Once the design was finalized on paper, I moved to building a prototype in plywood. As usual, this process involved first recreating my design on the computer and then using a CNC machine to cut out the different parts that comprise the wine rack. The prototype worked pretty well, so after a couple quick tweaks I advanced to building the first polished version of the rack in my tried and true combination of mahogany and oak. The result was pretty good, I thought, but the colors of the mahogany and oak didn't quite sit right with me in combination with the typical colors of a wine bottle. Determined to find a better coloring scheme, I tried out two woods I had never worked with before: walnut and birch. Right away I knew I had found the right combination. The new colors looked great on their own, but, more importantly, they went very well with the wine bottles, too.
I've probably written way too much at this point, so just enjoy some more pictures! If you want to check out the new product page for the wine rack, it's right here.