Posted by Ray
| 6 Dec 2013
The first result of a Google Image Search for "Technique"
"Is technique an example of overcoming 'bad' design, or is technique itself a form of design?"
So begins Sanjy009's inquiry into "Technique vs. Design," proceeding to illustrate the topic with a couple of examples, which have driven much of the discussion thus far. He starts with an anecdote about driver's ed in Scandinavia: "Sweden teaches drivers to open their car doors with the opposite arm, so their bodies are facing backwards and the driver is better able to check their blindspot before opening the door" (it turns out it might be Amsterdam; no confirmation as of press time), followed by a discussion of the ergonomics on musical instruments.
The latter serves as the primary talking point; to Michael DiTullo's point that "we are due for something new, but even most of the purely digital tools mimic analog inputs," I would note that:
1.) I think the Ondes Martenot is a good example of how an avant-garde instrument still requires an intuitive UI: It's essentially a theremin (i.e. a sine-wave generator) that has a graphic interface, as seen in this video overview (it starts a little slow, but gets pretty cool at 3:55; by the end, the interviewer notes that "It's definitely the most 'alive'-sounding electronic instrument... It has a very human quality to it.") Radiohead fans might recognize the coveted synthesizer, which multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood has played on every one of their albums since Kid A; it also features heavily in his solo side projects.
2.) The Tenori-On also comes to mind—the short write-up on MoMA's Inside/Out blog (they've acquired it in their permanent collection) offers a nice summary of how the 16×16 grid actually works.
Clockwise from top left: Ondes Martenot via Wikimedia Commons; Jonny Greenwood via Wikimedia Commons; Tenori-Onvia Wikimedia commons; Theremin player
I love Forstner bits as much as I hate spade bits. Is there anything as satisfying as boring that smooth-sided, flat-bottomed hinge-cup hole in a cabinet-door-to-be? If your application requires you to go all the way through your workpiece, sure, you can get some nasty tear-out; my solution is to use a backer board of wood a different color than your piece. That way, when you see differently-colored shavings start to come up, you know you've gone all the way through.
All Forstner bits are not created equal, of course. I own several makes: Irwin, Freud, and some crappy no-name Made in China and Made in Taiwan bits I bought at the local mom-and-pop hardware store (before I was thrown out and permanently banned after getting into an argument with the owner over a sink aerator. Ah, NYC). The Freud seems to do the best job of evacuating the chips, while the others require more corkscrewing/hula-hooping and/or mid-drilling vacuuming. I know Freud manufactures in Western Europe, and I suspect Irwin manufactures in China, perhaps explaining the quality discrepancy. And now I've caught wind of a kind of super Forstner bit, this one out of Germany.
If this video was just about a guy who makes things using only pre-1949 shop tools, it would be awesome (check out the wicked picket-cutting machine at 1:47). If it was just about a guy who can turn 1,200 cornerblocks by hand with machine-like accuracy, it would be awesome. And if it was just about a guy who teaches kids who have been thrown out of multiple reform schools how to make things, it would also be awesome. But it's all of those things and a fourth, much more important thing. Like inventor Ralph Baer, craftsman Eric Hollenbeck explains with brutal honesty why he continues to do what he's done for so long, and while his reason is wholly different from Baer's, it touches on a truth a portion of us will well recognize. It's no surprise this video is a Vimeo Staff Pick:
The beautifully-shot video was done by filmmaker Ben Proudfoot (who at 23, is perhaps too tender to immediately grasp why Hollenbeck didn't want to go to town for supplies). As for Hollenbeck, he runs Blue Ox Millworks and Blue Ox Community High School out of Eureka, California. For those of you living in the region, on the 29th and 30th of this month they'll be hosting their biannual Craftsman's Days local showcase event.
For those of you with access to a full shop—I'm looking at you, ID students—if I gave you a half-dollar coin and asked you to turn it into a wearable ring, which tools would you turn to? The drill press and bench grinder are probably the first to come to mind. That's why it's all the more amazing that this unnamed craftsperson did the same using little more than a hammer and a handheld drill (old-school style at that, corded and with keyed chuck) with a variety of attachments, some store-bought, some seriously jury-rigged.
The safety-minded among you will cringe—this man has no regard for his fingers, and while he never damages them on camera, it does look like the "Don't Do—" part of an industrial safety training video. Yet you can't help but be impressed by the results, and by the sheer range of uses this guy gets out of his drill.
Posted by Ray
| 19 Nov 2013
In the early chapters of The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance, Henry Petroski speculates about the uncertain origin of a certain species of writing implement, proceeding to chronicle a fascinating (albeit at-times long-winded) account of its eponymous subject matter. A civil engineer by training and professor by trade, the author takes the pencil as a vehicle for tracing a loose history of his chosen profession over the course of some 300-pages.
As in Petroski's account, FiftyThree's latest product represents far more than the everyday object that sits on or in our desk. Its name and form factor transcend mere etymology and superficial skeuomorphism: "Pencil" captures the very essence of its namesake—typically the first tool that we use in earnest as a means of recording words and drawings—a stylus that significantly expands the power of their breakthrough app, Paper. But beyond a tightly integrated hardware-software ecosystem, Pencil marks a first step towards smarter accessories in general.
"We really want the materials to be authentic—it's a big part of our brand, craftsmanship and authenticity." -Jon Harris
Pixels, in some ways, represent a digital equivalent of graphite—discrete pigment deposited on a virtual surface, which can be restored to its original state by erasing these particles. If the physical evidence of a Dixon Ticonderoga consists of an infinitesimal amount of matter transferred from one object to another, then the digital machinations behind, say, the brush tool (in your sketching software of choice) is even less tangible. With their first product, Paper, a versatile drawing app, FiftyThree harnessed this unseen magic to reveal the potential of the iPad as a mobile creativity device.
But the artifact itself endures, and that much was clear at FiftyThree's New York HQ last week, where co-founders Georg Petschnigg and Andrew Allen offered us a hands-on demo of the production version of Pencil, which launches this very morning; Director of Hardware John Ikeda and Design Co-Founder Jon Harris are also on the line via videochat from Seattle. The handsome Bluetooth-enabled stylus comes in sustainably-sourced walnut and black brushed aluminum, and it's hard to decide which one is superior. Ikeda clearly prefers the former: "We try not to coat or treat the wood too heavily—just enough to protect it from humidity and those kinds of thing—but what's really nice about them is that after a handling them for a while, they take on their own character."
Like many of his colleagues at FiftyThree, including the three co-founders, Ikeda previously worked at Microsoft: "We always wanted to build a product that we could describe with the word 'patina!'"
Meet my friend Brad, he's a pilot
The drill bits I break the most are the 1/8" ones I use for pre-drilling. Probably because I keep buying those cheap Ryobi bits (I like the hex shank), and I never stepped up to a more expensive bit because I assume I'm going to break it anyway.
Well, consider my game changed. From woodworking madman Izzy Swan comes this useful tip: How to drill pilot holes without using a drill bit at all!
Jeez Louise! The brad nail I could see working, but the framing nail? I wouldn't believe it if I hadn'ta seen it. And while I guess this is more of an "If you're in a pinch" tip as opposed to a permanent replacement for drill bits, this is bound to come in handy when you're working on something after the hardware store's already closed.
Thor's mighty hammer, Mjölnir, was forged from magic metal in a workshop of the gods, right? Well, not this latest one; it was TIG-welded out of chromoly steel in a workshop in Burbank.
Tony Swatton is a California-based master blacksmith who runs an unusual roster of employees, with a "Warlock of Animal Fibers" working alongside conventional machinists and swordsmiths. Swatton's Sword & Stone operation creates custom armor, weapons and props for Hollywood; if you need an historically accurate medeival broadsword, an anodized 14th-Century suit of armor or a silver Valkyrie's circlet with an agate centerpiece, S&S is your spot.
While they were not the ones contracted to make the version of Thor's hammer used in the forthcoming movie, Swatton & co. took it upon themselves to make a convincing replica as a testament of their skills. (Every week they make a new mythical weapon, and this week Mjölnir's number was up.) Watch as they turn chromoly, aluminum, leather and a rod of allthread into a lead-shot filled 250-pound beast, and use it to smite some of Thor's worst enemies like a lava lamp, a soda can and a watermelon:
Posted by An Xiao Mina
| 7 Nov 2013
At this point, any observant tech ethnographer knows that no one leaves their home without at least three things: wallet, key and cell phone. But lately, with the kind of short term battery life that smart phones have, I've noticed that more people are now adding another essential: some way to charge the phone. That might be a solar generator, an extra battery, a USB battery or even just a USB cord that you can plug into a power source when necessary.
But anyone who's done fieldwork knows that finding a charge can be difficult. Sure, solar panels can help, but only if it's sunny. Finding a way to keep your phone charged can mean the difference between having accurate GPS and connectivity in the field and returning to the days of paper notes and navigating by a compass. Which is why I was excited to learn about the FlameStower, which made the rounds a few weeks ago.
Posted by erika rae
| 6 Nov 2013
The design process is such a wacky, open-source process that it's easy to get lost in the creativity and excitement of a new idea and forgo the basics. But—as we all know—they're called basics for a reason. Recently, we've seen designers bring their design processes to a new environment in an attempt to bring their ideas to the top—the classroom... but not as students.
Professors are bringing their own projects-in-progress to the students in an attempt to educate on the importance of the design process. As we investigated with Kickstarter's role in Bruce Tharp's entrepreneurial industrial design course and his project, the "Cut Once" ruler, it's obvious that professors are also picking up a thing or two when it comes to revisiting the basics of the design process.
Now, Karl Ulrich, Vice Dean of Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School who has been teaching product design courses for 25 years, has a hands-on classroom experience has a massively open online course (MOOC) to thank for his newest design: Belle-V, the newest addition to the long line of ice cream scoop evolutions. Designed in collaboration with Lunar, Ulrich has developed a scoop that's righty/lefty friendly—and easy on the eyes.
It takes balls to redesign a screw, if you'll pardon my French. The incumbency of standardization is a difficult hurdle to overcome, particularly if you're going to change the screwhead pattern into something new; I don't know anyone who enjoys having to change driver bits from Phillips to #2 Phillips to square-drive to Torx, but different manufacturers' ideas of what shape will drive best without stripping necessitate it.
Still, a team of guys comprised of an industrial designer, a mechanical engineer, a contractor and "some business guys" reckoned they could invent a better deck screw, and having put in two years of development time, they'll shortly be bringing it to market.
They've named their screw Outlaw, and it's easy to see why: The driver system doesn't look like any you've ever seen. While it's hexagonal, like an Allen key, it's also tiered, which technically provides 18 points of contact between the bit and the screw head. This, they reckon, will make it strip-proof. (I do wonder, though, what the lack of cam-out will do if the screw is accidentally driven in an irresistible-force-meets-immovable-object scenario; will the head break off?)
The second benefit of the Outlaw bit/head design is that screws will stay on the driver non-magnetically, like it does with a square-drive set-up, allowing one-handed driving. Maybe I'm just a klutz, but whenever I need to drill one-handed with a conventional Phillips-head screw-—usually when I'm up on a ladder and have to stretch—that's always when the screw comes unseated from the bit and dangles from it magnetically at a weird angle, which is almost more irritating than if it would just fall off.
I am that common breed of DIY jerk that uses sheetrock screws for everything; I'm more handyman than craftsman. Were I the latter, I'd probably have a toolbox full of fasteners by Spax, the Mercedes of screw manufacturers and self-proclaimed "specialist of joining technologies." Spax has been manufacturing fasteners since 1967—its parent company has been for even longer, at nearly two centuries—and makes screws for just about every material you can think of: Softwood, hardwood, treated lumber, MDF, sheetrock, sheet metal. Head styles come in flat head, pan head or washer head, driver styles range from Phillips to Torx to hex-head to what looks like a proprietary take on Pozidrive, and the finishes offered correspond with whether you're using their screws indoors or outdoors.
The key innovation of a Spax screw is the wicked-looking serrated edges on the first few coils of the threads. These obviate the need for pre-drilling and preclude splitting, as the serrations cleanly cut into the material rather than shredding it. The serrations also mean the screws require less torque to drive which, for pros who are driving several hundred or thousand of these on a job, will reduce the time spent swapping batteries on your tool.
When did protective eyewear get so sexy? I haven't purchased a pair in fifteen years; now in the market for a new pair of safety glasses, I stumbled across Uvex's Pheos, above. The things practically look like they were designed by Oakley; I wonder if they took they step of bonding the one-piece lens to the hinges because it confers some structural benefit, or simply because it looks cool.
On a more functional front, Uvex recently released their AcoustiMaxx model, which features stereo Bluetooth earbuds. For shop guys that need to constantly field phone calls, I guess this is the hands-free way to go. I'm not sure how good the system is at filtering out machine noise, but the company claims to deliver "crystal clear, acoustically-isolated in-ear voice communication through its dual microphone technology."
As someone whose primary transportation mode is walking, I wish sneakers were designed more like cars. When your car's tires wear out, you pop them off and install new ones (or remold them if they're expensive); but every eight months I have to toss an entire pair of kicks because the treads are gone, and there's nothing for it. No local business I know of will re-sole a $100 pair of running shoes.
Rock climbing shoes are a different story, as they can be resoled and repaired. Places like The Gear Fix, which is three hours south of Core77's Portland HQ in the city of Bend, Oregon, make their living by repairing outdoor gear: bikes, climbing equipment, ski equipment, camping stoves, backpacking gear, and yes, climbing kicks. And re-soling the latter does not look easy, as it's a blend of art and science. An anonymous TGF employee undergoing an apprenticeship on how to do half-soles posted a video showing the process:
There isn't much actual material used, but just look at all of the equipment required, from the wooden inserts to the hand tools to the machinery to the cool little floor-stands. Then there's the learning time, of course; the unnamed apprentice in the video had been at it for about five months prior to shooting it. So how much do you think it costs for a job like that? I was well surprised by the low price: "Basically $35 for a pair of soles," writes the shop, "and $10 each if you need the rands / toe caps replaced." That's nuts.
A couple of climbing shoe notes:
- If you're wondering why this particular repair is half-sole and not full-sole, the area you see being replaced—from the ball of the foot to the toe—is where most of the wear typically occurs in a climbing shoe.
- The "rands" refers to the parts of rubber above the sole, like the "sidewalls" of the toe, for instance.
I was impressed when I first saw furniture designer George Berry, a/k/a "The Wood Guy" demonstrate how to cut a circle out using a table saw. (It's an oldie but a goodie, we'll embed it at the bottom.) But I've just witnessed something far crazier: A guy cutting out a wooden sphere using a circular saw.
Izzy Swan is a retired furniture shop owner who now spends his days designing and building contraptions for fun. One such contraption is what you're about to see. "With a little redneck ingenuity," Swan writes, "I built this simple jig that turned my circular saw in to a ball making machine!"
There are two looks at how he did it. The first is artistic...
Don't let the nickname fool you: Cleo "Whimpy" Hogan is a retired U.S. Army Major and combat veteran with two tours of duty under his belt. But since the 1990s, Kentucky-based Hogan has been involved in the agribusiness of beekeeping, and currently raises both Italian and Russian honeybees in such numbers that he can generate 160 gallons of honey in a single harvest.
Hogan sells not only the honey, but also the bees. To keep costs down he makes his own beehives, which are fairly straightforward woodworking projects that can be done with conventional tools; but one thing that previously stymied him was how to do the cove cut required for a concave, parabola-shaped handle.
Hogan and his pal Lawrence Bartley figured out how to do it, using just a circular saw and a simple jig:
Obviously you're not going to want to do this with your favorite circular saw, but here's the perfect app for that swap-meet Skilsaw gathering dust in the garage. And while any of you ID students oughta be able to reverse-engineer the jig just by watching the video, Hogan will send the plans to fellow beekeepers free of charge. His e-mail address is cchoganjr [at] scrtc -dot- com.
Ron Paulk has already got his own following, independent of Core77; while we don't have the demographic breakdown, we assume they're mostly DIY'ers, builders, and fellow contractors. These video extras from our chat with Ron will be of interest to Ron's following, as we get into some topics that Ron hasn't covered on his own YouTube channel: The surprising story of how he decided to become a contractor in the first place, what it was that made him expand into design, and why YouTube is an invaluable learning tool.
The summer job that changed Ron's life, and made him realize that building stuff was better than grad school:
Why (and how) Ron expanded into design and doing his own CAD work:
When we interviewed builder/designer Ron Paulk on his Mobile Woodshop and Paulk Workbench, there were some tangential things we discussed that we couldn't fit into the previous videos. We didn't want the footage to go to waste, as we thought some of you might be interested in hearing these side conversations; so we've cut them into short, one- and two-question videos.
First up, Ron discusses how he avoids the "overdesign" problem:
Ron tells us what the hardest part is about designing a large storage system, explains his design process, and tells us where he looks when he's seeking answers to problems:
As industrial designers, a lot of us dream of having product design hits, where we design something so popular that those royalty checks start piling up. But the obstacles are manifold. To sell units in the thousands you've got to find a deep-pocketed manufacturer to sign on, unless you're able to front the tooling costs yourself, you've got to hope that the raw materials supply, marketing and distribution all work out, and of course you've got to design something that thousands of people really want or need in the first place.
Ron Paulk not only has a bona fide design hit on his hands with the Paulk Workbench, but has also neatly sidestepped all of those obstacles we just mentioned. The factory is actually the end-user, and by all accounts they're happy to build the product themselves. Perhaps the most amazing part is that the marketing of it has all happened completely by accident. It is an absolute best-case product design scenario: Ron designed and built the workbench for his own personal use, then discovered there was demand—mass demand—for his design, and figured out a way to distribute it. Ron tells us the story below.
As he mentions towards the end of the video, in addition to selling plans for the Paulk Workbench, Ron is also selling plans for his Miter Stand (a standalone item) and his Cross-Cut Jig (which attaches to the Paulk Workbench).
Selling blueprints to a DIY project is nothing new; hobbyist magazines have had little ads in the back of them for decades. But with YouTube taking care of the marketing, the internet taking care of the distribution, the end-users themselves taking care of the materials supply and fabrication, and with Ron himself handling the most important element, the clever design, Paulk has pointed the way towards a potential product design future—one that's much more hands-on than 3D printing—that I could not have imagined when I was back in design school.
More Ron Paulk coverage:
» Interview on the Mobile Woodshop, Part 1
» Interview on the Mobile Woodshop, Part 2
» Interview on the Paulk Workbench
» Ron Discovers the Workbench is a Design Hit
Homebuilder and self-taught designer Ron Paulk had a problem: He needed a large-surface workbench--which is generally no problem for those of you with geographically-fixed workspaces--but he needed it to be portable, so that he could tote it to jobsites in his Mobile Woodshop. He also needed it to be incredibly sturdy. Dissatisfied with the design shortcomings of commercially-available workbenches, Ron analyzed exactly what his specific needs were, then set about designing his own.
Currently in its second generation, plans for the Paulk Workbench are available for sale online for a reasonable ten bucks; I myself purchased a set as soon as I saw the demonstration video, which we'll embed down below.
The demo video will show you the various features of the bench design, but before we get to that, we scored an interview with Ron on how and why he designed the bench the way he did:
Below is the aforementioned demo video:
We are back with Ron Paulk on the design of his amazing Mobile Woodshop! In Part 1, Ron discussed how he began the design by figuring out where the large, fixed items would go. Here in Part 2, he reveals how he began filling out the rest of design. He also explains the importance of modularity, his take on two different approaches to storage design—deep, dense and invisible vs. broad, shallow and visible—and why one of his goals is to get rid of the plastic boxes that most power tools come in.
More Ron Paulk coverage:
» Interview on the Mobile Woodshop, Part 1
» Interview on the Mobile Woodshop, Part 2
» Interview on the Paulk Workbench
» Ron Discovers the Workbench is a Design Hit
The Slingatron is a "mechanical hypervelocity launcher" proposal for efficiently launching objects from Earth into space. A company called HyperV Technologies Corp. has put a Kickstarter up for it, but with just $23,000 in pledges towards a $250,000 goal and less than a week left, it doesn't look like this one will break gravity.
HyperV's dry, underproduced nine-minute pitch video probably didn't help. But never you mind: Joerg Sprave, the maniac behind The Slingshot Channel—that is where you go on YouTube if you want to see chainsaws launched from slingshots, weaponized toilet brushes or how to separate Oreos using a crossbow—has illustrated the Slingatron concept in a much more entertaining way. Sprave is a man obsessed with DIY projectiles, and by connecting a power drill to his hacked-together wooden representation of a Slingatron, he's created a drill-powered shotgun:
Over the years, Washington-based homebuilder and designer Ron Paulk has created a number of tool trailers for himself. He put all of that expertise and experience into his latest Mobile Woodshop, neatly contained—and fully functional—inside of a 1,000-cubic-foot box truck that he can drive right up to the jobsite. We posted a link to his video tour of the truck shortly after it was finished last year, and this year we're going one better: We're interviewing Paulk himself on how he designed and built it.
Here in Part 1, Ron discusses his mobile tool storage needs, the concept behind the truck, and where the designwork by necessity must start:
Posted by core jr
| 13 Aug 2013
Photography by Mark LeBeau for Core77
The largest outdoor sports show of its kind, Outdoor Retailer takes place twice a year in Salt Lake City, and this year veteran trade show attendee and Core77 reader Mark LeBeau was on the ground to capture all the highlights. In recent years, there's been an explosion of charging solutions for powering electronic off-the-grid, an increase in the use of design as the marketing differentiator (especially in climbing equipment) and a rise in popularity of paddle boards over kayaks, not to mention the rapid emergence of GoPro as a major player in the industry!
See the latest gear for every conceivable outdoor and adventure activity from the top brands in the world in our photo gallery:
» View Gallery
The saying goes that "You can never have too many clamps." That's why you'll see collections like Lumberjock Canadian Woodtick's, below, decorating a woodworker's shop walls. Never knowing exactly what size clamp you'll need for any given project means you've really got to spend a lot to cover all the bases. Pipe clamps ameliorate the situation somewhat, but you've still got to buy the pipes—and carry them around if you need them for an on-site job.
Stanley Tools has thus introduced their new 2×4 clamp, designed for the tradesman on-the-go. The idea is that rather than needing to load the truck up with bar- and pipe-clamps, you bring only the 2×4 clamps to the jobsite; once there you grab something presumably in abundant supply—a 2×4, if you're putting up a house—and that becomes your "bar." Check it out:
The convenience of the portability cannot be denied, but I wonder how these things measure up during actual operation. I don't have much experience with clamps longer than 24”, but for those of you that do: How do you see these things working out? Do you think they'd be trickier than a pipe clamp to wield into place, requiring two people for the longer spans? What applications would you use or not use these things for?
Ben Mesker's Jokerboxes combine three of my favorite things: Industry-specific tools, objects designed to hold stuff, and the DIY ethos. Director of Photography Mesker has 20 years of shooting experience, and after the first 15 years, he had built up a steady list of "common problems found on sets everywhere." No stranger to a table saw, the handy Mesker then set about designing a portable, ultra-utilitarian way of having all the necessary grip equipment close at hand, as a way of solving those problems.
Mesker's solutions are called Jokerboxes, and while they outwardly resemble the de rigueur apple boxes found on every film set, they contain far more functionality. You need to see this explanatory video—in the following three minutes, you are going to witness an absurd amount of clever design thinking.
You catch those shots of Mesker hand-drafting? Sure to bring back some memories for a subset of us.
By the bye, Mesker has penned an article about an early on-set experience that shaped the way he approaches projects. While the central character is "The Fastest Gaffer in Pittsburgh," the lesson could well be applied to many a creative field, like industrial design, that requires technical acumen. Read it here.
Hit the jump for some cool shots of the Jokerboxes.
The GRID-IT organizer first caused a stir when it hit the market some years ago [Ed. Note: including a2011 Core77 Design Award], and for good reason: It was an affordable and clever way to bring order to chaos, lighting up the pleasure center of many a small-tool- or gadget-organizing geek. The seemingly-randomly-placed elastic straps, as chaotic-looking as they are, belie the object's ability to swallow whatever you want, in whatever order you want it.
My only gripe with the thing was that it was somewhat awkward to pull in and out of bags, with accidental friction causing some items to snag or shift, thus ruining my organizational OCD masterpiece. For that reason I stopped using mine. But Cocoon Innovations has now finally integrated the GRID-IT into its own bag, the SLIM.
Available exclusively through their website and Apple, the $80 SLIM is kitted out with de rigueur materials--water-resistant ballistic nylon and waterproof zippers--but it's got that sweet GRID-IT built-in behind the front flap, while the secondary compartmant closer to your back holds your laptop/tablet. It ain't gonna hold your gym stuff, but for folks like me who are fans of slim bags (it's just 3.5" thick) this is looking like a home run.