Tag Archives: woodworking

Interesting, Yet Outdated, Furniture

Writing about traveling bookcases and other dead media storage solutions got me thinking about other furniture that always seems pregnant with possibilities, yet just isn’t practical anymore: secretary desks, and travel desks.

I love all the cubby holes in the secretary desks. Holes full of letters, bills, and checks. Drawers containing pens, ink wells, and seals. All of it lockable. Its very structure conveys, “Important stuff happens here.” Need to do serious work on the go? Get a travel desk, the attache case’s awkward cousin.

While tasks like answering correspondence and paying bills have remained, the form they have taken has changed. No longer are we physically shuffling atoms around, but rather simply information. Email, online banking, and all the rest has replaced paper. Similarly, we no longer need travel desks, as our laptop contains everything that the desk, could and much more. Add a network connection, and almost nothing is out of reach. It seems increasing clear that physical media is dying. Newspaper circulation is down. CD sales have fallen. DVD and bluray are now seen as a transition technology as streaming is becoming increasingly widespread. (Thus Netflix’s price hike.) With the advent of eReaders and tablet computers, even the books and magazines seems in danger.

We’re losing the need to deal with physical items, and as a side effect, it seems like we’re losing an ability to signal our tastes; which is ironic, given how personalization and sharing has taken over the web. When visiting someone’s home, we would occupy ourselves by perusing each other’s bookshelves. The books, CDs, and DVDs were essentially the tag clouds of the physical world. They weren’t there just for storage, but also to signal our personality. Our collections not only express how we see ourselves, but also how we want others to see us.

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Traveling Bookcases

This huanghuali wood traveling bookcase (a “tushu shinggui” if you want to use Japanese)
sold recently for $47,000 at Christie’s. It’s picture had been bouncing around the blogosphere for a while, complete with comments about how beautiful it is. The stain really brings out the wood grain, and it look like the doors were cut from the same board. Which isn’t surprising, given that it dates from the early 1600s. It’s a very simple piece, with very little ornamental woodwork. The metal work is also very simple, but together they make a very elegant package. Unfortunately, there are no photos online of the box’s interior. Inside it contains two small drawers (for writing instruments?) and a single shelf.

When I first saw the bookcase, I immediately thought of another traveling bookcase, the USLHE traveling library. Both are similar in both form and function. (The tushu shinggui is undoubtedly better looking though.) The USLHE libraries were government owned crates of books that were issued on a rotating basis to lighthouses. Every so many weeks, when the lighthouse was resupplied, the libraries would be switched.

Both of these bookcases remind me of my media cabinet. Again, it’s the general shape. Of course my cabinet was designed to hold CDs and DVDs, not books, nor was it it meant to be particularly mobile. Still, they both store media compactly behind closed doors.

Previously. Previously.
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Pinball Coffee Table

When I first saw the Pinball coffee table back in 2006, I thought it looked cool (colored lights shining up on people’s faces always brings a warmth to the heart of this scifi geek.), but at the same time, I couldn’t imagine actually having one.

A couple of years ago, I went to Shorty’s in Seattle. This bar has booths where the table has a lit pinball playfield in it, just like the pinball coffee table. (In fact, Shorty’s was the inspiration for the coffee table.) Suddenly, I thought that pinball coffee tables were actually feasible!

I talked to some friends about it, but they’re all against the idea. As Ming put it, “It would look like a kid’s room.” It’s hard to really argue with her, when you see Ed Cheung’s table in the living room.

I’m not criticizing the build, but I guess the idea. (Even though, I still kind of want one. Especially if it remained playable.) It’s a party piece, but not everyday piece. That’s what I’m saying.

Crappy Coffee Table Concluded

So we got a real coffee table of Craigslist for free. It’s nice, much better than this thing. I still went ahead and made the table though. There was no real reason not to, since we can find something to use it for. I give it a C in high school shop. I talked to my dad, and put it together with pocket screws using a Kreg Jig Jr kit. I tried using the right angle clamp, but I never got it to work. Whenever I’d lock it down, it would pull out of the pocket hole just enough to slide down, destroying the flat inner surface so you couldn’t put it back in the same hole. (My dad gets the clamp to work, but I never did.) If I had to do it over again, I would have gotten just a normal corner clamp.

I don’t really like it, but I guess it’s okay for being made out of scraps. I just wish I paid more attention when put the pocket holes in.

It’s heavy, and it’s square. I’ll give it that.

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Crappy Coffee Table

A couple of months ago Ming and I decided redo the closet in the bedroom, since it was falling apart. We replaced the rod, and was going to replace the bent shelf with a new shelf long shelf, and then add some side shelves. So we went down to Home Depot and bought one of those crappy particle board covered in white melamine. Unfortunately, we had the guy cut the side shelves an inch too narrow, and left the long board way too wide. (Lesson: Always bring a ruler, and know exactly how big you’re talking about.)

While we were able to hack together something to use side shelves, we were left with three unused side shelves and long shelf. Since we need a better coffee table than the one we’re using, we decided to knock together one from the failed closet attempt. I think the only parts I’m going to need is a saw (probably will by a handsaw since this isn’t really worth buying a jig for), and probably a four half inch square by 18 inch long blocks so that I have something to screw into. Maybe, I’ll need another two solid blocks that are 23 inches long for the back as well. Maybe even four more 23.5 inches long to run along the top too.

While I like the idea of building a table, this is going to look so horrible, it’s not even funny. Wood screws right through the sides, chipped melamine, and peeling edge tape. It’s going to pretty embarrassing. So why am I posting about this? I don’t know. I’m stupid I guess.

Well, maybe it won’t look that bad.

Sketch Up Model

LED Tables

Alex Schlegel‘s Day Table uses a photoresistor located in one corner, and eight ShiftBars (for a total of 24 channels) connected to an Arduino to play back the sunlight that fell on the table during the course of the day.

Macetech built this table to demo their shiftbrite RGB LEDs and a Seeeduino. It’s a 9 x 9 grid, but since each LED has its own controller, the cost quickly climbs.

While not a table, Dave Clausen‘s LED Cylinder is a good resource for discussing how to wire up set of addressable RGB LEDs, along with some good resources to parts and the like.

Recently I’ve been thinking about a LED displays. Originally, I was thinking about a full 640 x 480 display, but after doing the math, that idea quickly shrank to a more manageable 32 x 24 display. While part of me thinks that having one of these tables would be interesting, I can’t help but think that in reality they’d just be ugly and too bright.

I started to think about LED displays because my “coffee table” (It’s actually more an end table.) has a glass top and holes cut out in the back for electrical cables to pass through. What I really want is a multitouch display like either of these two guys are building. However, a multitouch is still pretty hacky and more DIY than I want right now. I like the idea of owning one of these tables, I just don’t want to build it.

The Splinter

NC State industrial design grad student, Joe Harmon is building a car by hand. Not just any car. A sports car that can reach 240 MPH. Not just any 700 HP, 240 MPH sports car. A 700 HP, 240 MPH sports car made almost entirely of wood. The body? Wood. The dash? Wood. The seats? Well, they’re wicker. The wheels? Oh, they’re wood too. The suspension? Yes, it’s wood too.

Because he wants strength, but also a reduced weight (wood has a higher strength-to-weight ratio than steel or aluminum), he is creating the body out of custom made plywood that consists of layers of eighth inch wide cherry veneer strips that are then weaved together, and glued on top of a weaved birch veneer, a core of balsa wood, and then another woven layer of birch. The panels are then vacuumed formed into shape, using the same technique that’s used for carbon-fiber composites. All told, about 30 species of wood are used to make up the car.

According to the last update, which was about a year ago, the outer shell was complete, but the internal components such as the V8 Cadillac Northstar engine and six speed Corvette transmission were yet to be installed. However, the car has drawn industrial sponsors like Delta/Porter-Cable, and has been making the rounds at different car shows.

Thanks Dad!

Wall of Boxes

Since previous project, I’ve been thinking about creating a new cabinet. Something lots of little drawers. Sort of like either a Chinese pharmacy cabinet or a secretary cabinet.

The problem with secretary cabinets is that they’re not useful as furniture today. They used to be used as the nexus of all bills and correspondence of the house, but now the laptop has replaced this. I kind of like the look of an open secretary, but it’s completely useless due to the specialized nature of the furniture.

I think what I like about the Chinese pharmacy cabinets is that mystery they project. All the drawers look the same, but no matter what ails you, the pharmacist can open up some seemly random drawer and give you a potion to cure you. As a design per se, the cabinets are just more stylish filing cabinets.

I have no idea what I would do with a drawer cabinet, but I think I want one.

After the jump are some cabinets that I’ve been trying to draw inspiration from.

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Media Cabinet


A couple of years ago, just before I moved to California, I made a cabinet to store my CDs and DVDs. Ironically, I never took it with me.

I grew tired of my CDs and DVDs simply sitting a shelf, and appearing nothing but a big wall of media. I wanted something that could store the CDs behind a door, but not use those individual slots, since they can’t handle double CDs, and keeping CDs in order when new CDs are purchased is just too annoying. This meant I needed shelves, but I didn’t want huge shelves. I solved this problem by creating a series of bins, each of which can hold either 20 standard CD jewel cases, or 8 standard DVD cases. (8 DVD cases are almost exactly the width of a CD case.)

This cabinet has 24 bins, for a total capacity of either 480 CDs or 160 DVDs. The bins are wider than a standard CD jewel case, so that they can store the widest CD case in my collection, Johnny Cash’s Unearthed Box Set. (My other box sets have to sit on top due to their book-like formats.)

Below are the initial plans I made for the cabinet, along with photos of the final project.

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