A bunch of industrial designers sitting around a table and poring over research can come up with some awesome stuff, but I also love seeing that breed of object designed by insightful end-users. Those items that a person is subconsciously designing in their head, out in the field, while performing a task over and over again with its predecessor and thinking: Wouldn't it be cool if this object had X right here, wouldn't this work better if this part was shaped like Y, et cetera.
Enter Andy Tran, a cinematographer who makes his living shooting outdoor and sports footage. When he's not on the clock, Tran is out in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, shooting educational wilderness videos for his InnerBark YouTube channel. Informative and (naturally) well-shot, Tran's videos aim to teach you how to get by "If hiking, camping, hunting and fishing were a day job," and among the product reviews and tutorials, his latest videos feature a well-thought-out knife of his own design.
As an avid outdoorsman who was taught outdoor living skills by his father, Tran has had a knife strapped to his hip since the age of 7, so the design of his Tahoma Field Knife must've been brewing a long time indeed. Check out the features and functionality of the design, produced by Rocky-Mountains-based TOPS Knives:
Posted by core jr
| 20 Aug 2014
Yesterday, our friends at PSFK released a report on a movement that is within our purview much as it is in theirs: The first edition of the "Maker's Manual" "provides insights into how people can learn, program, prototype and even sell their projects." Available for free download, it goes beyond your average trend report to offer "a wealth of tools, support and services available for every project size—from the hobbyist's tinkering to the entrepreneur's hack."
The "Maker's Manual" a fluent top-level survey of the technologies, services and communities that are out there today, online and off, and while the the report is not by any means comprehensive, it's certainly an excellent place to start if you're looking for, say, a Maker Shop or Collaboration Hub. There are nods to the usual suspects—Inventables, Makerbot, IFTTT, Techshop, etc.—but also more obscure or otherwise emerging projects and companies such as
GaussBricks and Craftsman Ave. Sure, there's a good chance that some of these resources may be too experimental or as-yet-inchoate to have a long-term impact, but this is precisely why the "Maker's Manual" serves as a kind of State of the Union. Indeed, the introduction includes a pithy Obama quote, from the recent White House Maker Faire: "Today's D.I.Y. is tomorrow's 'Made in America.'"
And although some of the headings and copy might read as hype, the "Maker's Manual" does well to addresses pragmatic issues such as fundraising and IP. All told, the 33 pages are chock full of solid information, presented in an appropriately skimmable format, one that invites readers to further investigate the companies and services that strike their fancy.
Unfortunately, the PDF is encoded in a way such that the text isn't searchable; not only does this mean that there's no quick way to find a keyword but also none of the links are clickable—not even the one for Intel, which underwrote the whole thing—which, considering the inclusion of bit.ly links, seems like an egregious oversight. After all, the availability of new tools and resources is a cardinal tenet of its subject matter, and the utility of the "Maker's Manual" as a reference guide is rather diminished by the lack of search- and clickability.
[Image via Gary Katz]
As capable a builder as you might be, there are lots of building projects that simply require an extra set of hands. So I think tradesfolk and DIYers will always appreciate product designs that allow them to do something alone rather than having to pull in an extra body.
Along those lines, check out this clever little gizmo from Festool, called the CT Wings. It's demonstrated below by the master finish carpenter Gary Katz, of the Katz Roadshow traveling training courses:
Pretty neat, no? I love the design of the fins and how they can be flipped out to accommodate different thicknesses.
When a product design asks for $7,000 on Kickstarter but nets $228,000, it's worthy of study, particularly when the design is not an obvious home run. Any product designer should be asking themselves: What is it that these guys tapped into, in the backers' consciousness, that made it such a hit?
First let's look at the product in question. The mininch Tool Pen is a hollow, magic-marker sized hexagonal rod that holds six driver bits, with the frontmost ready to use. It's essentially a bit-storing screwdriver in a more compact form, and with a pen-like cap to prevent the front bit from spearing the inside of your pocket or bag.
Posted by core jr
| 21 Jul 2014
Figure 1: Digital CAD used to communicate form and design aesthetic. All images Courtesy of Younghoon Hwang, UNIST, Korea
From thumbnail sketches to low fidelity models and prototypes to test rigs, CAD concept renderings, illustrations, mock-ups and visualizations, designers embody their design intentions using a variety of Tools of Design Representation (TDRs) during conceptual design in an attempt to provide creative solutions to often ill-defined design problems. The industrial designer employs TDRs with two objectives in mind. First, they provide a means to describe, explain and communicate design intentions to others. Second, they are used to reflect upon and develop one's own design intent towards emergent—but still conceptual—solutions. As such, TDR use is a critical component of conceptual design practices. In a previous Core77 article (CAD vs. Sketching, Why Ask?), I responded to what I see as a limiting and somewhat circular debate on the role and use of CAD tools during conceptual design, drawing attention to the fact tools are only tools insofar as they are used as such to achieve a purpose. That is, the effectiveness of TDRs (CAD and sketching included) is dependent upon both context of use and, critically, the designers' own skills, knowledge and judgment in their application.
In light of the dizzying array of digital, conventional and hybrid tools now available to the designer, this article builds on some of the issues previously touched upon. I aim to move beyond anecdotal accounts of this or that best tool, way of working, method or media in this or that context or working environment towards the fundamentals of TDR use during conceptual design practice. What kinds of fundamental designerly knowledge, skills and practices underpin effective and productive engagement with and use of TDRs during conceptual design? I believe that knowledge of these fundamentals is required both to develop more effective digital design tools and to contribute to design pedagogy alongside the more traditional studio teaching environment of practical skills acquisition.
Fortuitously, design research over the past 30 years provides us with important insights into the act of designing and the kinds of thinking it involves. Donald Schon's seminal work (The Reflective Practitioner, 1991) on the notion of design as a reflective practice has been influential in providing a means to understand design activity and tool use. Briefly, considered through the lens of reflection-in-action, design activity is characterized by reflection (considering what has just been done, such as reflecting upon a sketch) and action (revising a sketch or CAD model in light of reflective understanding). Within this iterative process of reflection and action, the representation or embodiment of design intent is critically important. The designer must externalize design intentions through TDR use—sketches, drawings, notes, CAD models, physical prototypes, etc., of varying levels of fidelity—in order to reflect upon, test, and develop design ideas.
Important in influencing the nature of this reflection-action is the distinct character of the design problem. Design problems, unlike problems in the sciences, may often be ill-defined or wicked. The primary feature of these ill-defined problems is that there is and cannot be a single correct solution to the original problem but that there are many possible outcomes. In fact, there may potentially be an infinite number of possible solutions and a limitless number of ways to proceed towards a final design solution.
Harold Nelson and Erik Stolterman (The Design Way: Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World, 2012) describe this engagement with the design problem as a search for an ultimate particular. The designer must come to a solution that is itself new or particular in relation to any other solution that may have come before, one that must provide a best or ultimate possible result given the designer's emergent understanding of the design problem.
Figure 2: Sketch illustration to reflectively explore design intent
Photo by Christopher Schwarz & John Hoffman's Lost Art Press
Behind the Berrybrook School in Duxbury, Massachusetts, stands an old beat-up shed. Teachers were using it for overflow storage in 2012 when Michael Burrey, a restoration carpenter working on a project at the school, came across the building. Inside, looking past the scattered toys and tricycles, he recognized the space for what it was: A woodworking shop. An extremely old one that predated electricity, judging by the "1789" painted on a roof beam and the remains of a treadle-powered lathe.
Photo by Christopher Schwarz & John Hoffman's Lost Art Press
Photo by Jeffrey E. Klee, Architectural Historian of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
"All the benches were there," Burrey told The Boston Globe. More giveaways as to the structure's purpose: "The way the benches are in relation to the windows, how the light comes in to light an area, the location of the tool racks on the walls."
Photo by Christopher Schwarz & John Hoffman's Lost Art Press
Posted by Kat Bauman
| 2 Jul 2014
Cool update in a running techno-anthropological mystery: A sizable stash of quipu have been found in Peru. Quipu are systems of knotted, colored strings believed to be the Incan Empire's method of recording numeric information. Despite existing as a large and complex culture for centuries, no clear record of Incan written language has ever been found. To be clear, the Incan Empire was the largest pre-colombian civilization in the Americas, with a tightly structured monarchy, a footprint of over two million square miles and upwards of 12 million citizens. In addition to participating in large scale trade and governance, it appears that the Empire's growth was largely supported by a labor tax—a type of mandated tribute in the form of work done for the state. Not a small undertaking to organize. Bureaucracies, as a rule, depend on written communication and documentation to keep the wheels of state turning, and quipu may provide clues.
Having overlapped with Spain's invasion of the Americas, many basic facts about Incan government and society were wiped out by material conquest and cultural erasure. Quipu in particular were destroyed intentionally as "idolatrous," and only a few hundred have survived. Similarly, knowledge of the quipu methodology was enthusiastically stamped out. They were used longer in more remote areas, but as the Spanish conquest spread all use was eventually eradicated. This is tragic for obvious human suffering reasons, but also for the hit to our historical understanding of a seemingly divergent system of communication. The Inca were (to the best of our knowledge) the largest empire to never develop written language, which challenges deep assumptions about the nature of a complex society.
Posted by erika rae
| 17 Jun 2014
It's pretty easy to get overwhelmed by all of the stylus options out there. But just as a chef might search for that perfect knife year after year, a designer might undertake a similar quest to find the smoothest / best-weighted / most ergonomic digital drafting instrument. Dominic Peralta, the lead industrial designer at Speck Products, and Jon Corpuz, Lead Industrial Designer at Nook Media/Barnes & Noble, have entered the fray with Timbrr, a new stylus based on the iconic pencil silhouette and designed to be produced locally.
But before we get to all of that pencil-making and local sourcing, let's start from the beginning. "Timbrr's story actually started with a simple game app that took over all the iPhones at one point of time," Peralta says. "We were absolutely obsessed with Draw Something and wanted to have a stylus that said 'I'm playing!' So, we ran to the shop, grabbed some dowels, drilled holes through them (don't try this at home!), inserted a thin stylus, sanded it and painted it pencil yellow."
While the inspiration remained the same, it was obvious the duo pair needed to rethink their materials if they were going to be making these for more than just themselves. After testing about a dozen different wood varieties, Peralta and Corpuz decided to go with an incensed Western Cedar. While many designers turn to wood for its aesthetic or trendiness, a functional criterion informed the Timbrr team's material selection: "It has a high resin content, meaning that a natural resin that grows along with the tree is impregnated into the wood," Peralta says. "This resin helps to transmit static electricity from your hand, through the cedar wood, into the copper core and down to the touch screen device." Other wood varieties with a lower resin content don't hold work as well with touch screen capabilities. Luckily, it turns out that one of the largest cedar mills in the United States is located a mere three hours from their studio in California, anchoring their local sourcing efforts.
While Timbrr 2.0 might have followed true pencil form by sporting a bright yellow coat, the duo chose to go with a more natural aesthetic for the production version. "It was when we machined our first husks of cedar that the realized how beautiful and unique the grain was and decided to ditch the yellow paint," Peralta says. "Keeping it natural also brought out the aroma of the cedar and most importantly encourages the wood to patina over time, so that each Timbrr is unique and special to its owner."
The team used Shopbot to bring their design to life—which seems like a completely natural choice, except for the fact that neither of the designers had any experience using a CNC mill on their own before. Peralta and Corpuz had seen the machines in action at many a Maker Faire and wanted to find a way to forgo expensive classes or costly memberships to tech shops. Peralta shares more on the decision:
We learned lots of skills in a traditional woodworking style shop and had a little experience using a basic hand operated mill... but nothing like this. Early on in the process, we made it a goal to teach ourselves CNC'ing. We decided to go with a Shopbot because they are the tried and true company in that space. The team there has lots of working tribal knowledge of CNC'ing and after talking with them several times on the phone, it made me feel really confident that this was the right direction.
I occasionally see a septic collection truck in my neighborhood with a big motto painted on the side: "We're Number One at Picking Up Number Two." That's a pretty good one. Artist David Rees' motto is somewhat similar, as he terms himself "The number one #2 pencil sharpener in the world."
In this hilarious and spot-on video, Rees calls out the nonsense of faux hipster craftsmanship by revealing his Artisanal Pencil Sharpening trade (which clueless YouTube commenters apparently think is real!). What do old rap group T-shirts, a leather strop mined from your grandfather's tomb and the criticism of luthiers have to do with sharpening $40 pencils by hand? You'll see:
None of you clicked onto Core77 today to read about impacted fecal matter, but design touches all aspects of our lives, including the gross ones. Don't worry, and don't put that sandwich down yet; I'm not going to dwell on the scatological. I am writing this entry out of amazement that some people do not understand the ingenious design of plungers and how they are meant to be used.
It's bad enough that this lack of understanding exists among consumers, but I find it unforgivable for product designers. When designers fail to understand the very devices they're designing for, it becomes what we call Epic Fail. First off, look at this design and see if you understand why it is flawed:
You either know right away why the design is fundamentally incorrect, or you don't. Read on.
We previously covered Ron Paulk's Mobile Woodshop in depth, interviewing him in a two-part series. Well, there's fresh news of the Mobile Woodshop: It's for sale!
Izzy Swan has much in common with Ron Paulk: Both guys know their way around a shop and ran their own businesses, neither guy went to D-school yet both design things that lots of other people want to buy.
Swan developed his Pallet Pal tool as a simple way to dismantle shipping pallets to reclaim the wood from them. The design of the tool relies mechanical advantage and body weight rather than physical strength to produce the power; Swan posted a video of his 7-year-old daughter demonstrating how to use the tool. Well, people started ordering the thing in droves, and then a company looking to kit their workers out with the device ordered a boatload. Swan was faced with the classic independent designer's problem where you've got to move from tinkering to reproducing—quickly.
To crank these things out in batches, Swan devised a number of clever workshop solutions that would maintain consistency while speeding production time. First off, check out how he turns the handles. Lathe? Nah, not fast enough—try a power drill and a table saw with a dado stack:
As we saw in Accidental Designer's True I.D. Story, production work can be one of the biggest challenges faced by an independent furniture designer/builder. Never mind the months you spent getting your prototype right—can you now design a process, using conventional shop tools, to quickly and affordably manufacture consistent multiples of your design? If you can't, as Accidental Designer learned, it can break your business' back.
Design-build guru Izzy Swan knows a thing or two about introducing efficiency into production work; he not only runs his own well-trafficked, jig-showing YouTube channel, but he formerly ran his own furniture company and now does consulting for other shops looking to speed their own production times. In this video, he reveals a very simple, gear-based tip that can speed productivity by some 20% (hint: it involves leather). In the second half of the vid, he shows a highly specific, multitask jig he designed to make short work of manufacturing a particular component of a tool he sells. Check it out:
That jig is just one component of a highly efficient and ingenious system Swan came up with to produce that tool (and we're loving the self-made toggle clamp). Coming up next, we'll take a closer look at both the tool and the system, which includes Swan's innovative, socks-knocking method for turning the handles.
The simple combination cutting board below features multiple plastic sheets that allow the user to cut different items—raw meat, vegetables and bread, for instance—without cross-contamination.
We've all seen swappable plastic sheets before. But Fiskars added that nice little touch in the grippy rubberized grommet hole, providing a place to register the sheets as they're stacked on top. It also gives you a handy way to grab the cutting board and the sheets, and provides that splash of their distinctive orange for branding purposes.
It's not a game-changer or an earth-shattering design, and it won't have an impact on the company's fortunes the way their scissors did. But the designers among you will recognize this as one of those tiny triumphs that you pore over in anonymity; it's a thoughtful little touch that makes the experience of using this cutting board incrementally better. And for Fiskars, that's part of their strategy to conquer the competition-heavy kitchen space.
In a talk given at Fiskars HQ, Petri S. Toivanen, who heads up their Kitchen Business Unit, provided answers to some niggling questions that many designers have faced: How do you design a new product that can compete in an extremely saturated market? And if there are already thousands of products out there, what's the point of designing yet another one?
We recorded and transcribed Toivanen's talk, printed below. It has been edited for clarity and brevity; if there are any technical errors, the fault is ours.
Petri S. Toivanen:
When we set out to conquer the kitchen market, we started with the consumer, with the end-user. We spent a lot of time looking at how our products are used, how people cook, how they behave in the kitchen, how they go shopping, and we also looked at the social aspect of cooking. We learned a lot of interesting things, and I would like to share just a couple of them with you.
One thing you have to understand about this business: If you go to pretty much any household in Europe, all the [kitchen] drawers are full. Everybody has pretty much everything, knives, spatulas, et cetera. So our challenge was, How do you make a compelling proposition to consumers that already have everything? Well, we believe very strongly that we can improve even the simplest things, and make things that are already good even better, to bring us forward. And we are very diligent in doing so.
This month Core77 was invited to a Fiskars press event on the occasion of their recent anniversary—their 365th, to be precise. We say no to many such opportunities but the company's long history and iconic designs spurred us to take up their offer to fly us out. The following series of articles is a result of the trip.
To cut things you need metal, and to design cutting tools you need a deep understanding of metal. So it's fitting that Fiskars, a company specialized in designing cutting tools, actually began as an ironworks—way back in 1649. That means the company has turned an astonishing 365 years old this year, having weathered everything from economic storms, material shortages, changing technologies, and classic game-enders like war and famine. By our reckoning that makes them one of the oldest companies in the world that designs and manufactures such a broad range of consumer products and tools (which now extends well beyond cutting implements).
The company has managed to survive for this long by continually evolving while correcting previous missteps—an impressive act to sustain for more than three and a half centuries, from Fiskars founder Peter Thorwoste up to the current CEO Kari Kauniskangas. "And with a heritage that long, no one," Kauniskangas points out, "wants to be the CEO that was at the helm when the company went astray."
With that in mind, since 2008 Kauniskangas has been wrangling the sprawling Fiskars empire into a multifaceted entity whose individual parts have at least one goal in common: To be recognized for their design prowess. Different design-driven brands have been acquired both before and after Kauniskangas took the wheel, and under his guidance these disparate elements are being forged into "a focused and efficient branded consumer goods company" with an easy-to-grasp mission statement:
Our mission is to enrich lives with lasting products that increase enjoyment and solve everyday tasks through their functionality, innovation and design.
With a mission statement like that, the company is not limited to cutting tools. They see themselves as problem solvers, ones particularly interested in solving "the unmet needs of the consumer," as Chief Strategy Officer Max Alfthan puts it, and they are not afraid to forge into new territory. The design teams are tasked with both improving old tools and creating entirely new ones, an approach that has yielded an impressive breadth of product: The Fiskars brand alone makes everything from axes--arguably one of the first human tools ever invented—all the way up to the Indoor Garden, a portable, countertop greenhouse that grows fresh herbs via an LED light that can be adjusted to game the growth speeds. The two objects have seemingly no connection until you re-read the mission statement (and spot the little herb snips included with the Garden).
Posted by erika rae
| 20 May 2014
It might only be a concept, but this knife design from National Taipei University Of Technology student Chia-yu Yeh is something for our inner sci-fi and culinary nerds to get excited about. The Lightsaber Knife was an entry in this year's Electrolux Design Lab competition and brings in a few sci-fi aspects past its namesake, starting with a "liquidmetal" blade that can be interchanged with the press of a button.
The tool features a fingerprint scanner that identifies the user—helping keep sharp objects out of the hands of children. Just imagine the damage they could do with a bit of Force:
When I think of carbon fiber, I think of its automotive applications, like F1 guys making monocoques out of the stuff. But it never occurred to me that carbon fiber could be used to make the hand tools we use to work on cars. A company called CarbonLite Tools is now producing a line of carbon fiber box-end wrenches.
The wrenches are, of course, insanely light; a set of five weighs just 6.7 ounces (190 grams), which the company reckons is lighter than your average steel single 15mm wrench. And yet they're not made completely from carbon fiber—the teeth are made from hardened stainless steel inserts, which you can see in the photo below, so that stubborn nuts won't shred those expensive layers of fiber.
And yes, they are expensive: A set of five—metric on one side, Imperial on the other, from 3/8" & 10mm up to 5/8" & 15mm—will set you back US $140. Beyond the price, the only thing that might give you pause is this caveat from the company: "We recommend using gloves as there is a small possibility the carbon fiber can leave splinters in your hand if the carbon fiber is damaged. The possibility of splinters from the carbon fiber wrench is about the same as with a wood handle on a shovel or hammer."
In this four-part look at different toolbox designs, finally we come to Parat, which has one of the larger tool storage catalogs of any company we've seen. Like Tanos, the company's desire is to produce storage for every single thing any tradesperson could possibly carry; but unlike Tanos, Parat has foregone any notion of connectivity and modularity--perhaps due to legacy issues--and instead produces a bewildering array of form factors, giving the end user a wide variety of options.
Their Paratool line is a unique-looking sort of wheeled briefcase, which can be rolled or carried depending on the load and terrain. The interesting design feature is that it's meant to serve as a mobile tool platform; with the telescoping handles extended, the box can be opened and set at a particular height to allow access to the tools.
Their Parapro line will be familiar to anyone who's used Pelican cases, often the mobile storage unit of choice for photographers and military outfits. Like the Pelicans, the Parapros are 100% waterproof, dustproof and airtight, and molded from nearly indestructible polypropylene.
Their Evolution line looks something like a wall-mounted cabinet that has been adapted to ride on wheels.
Tanos is a spin-off of engineering outfit TTS Tooltechnic Systems, and their sole purpose is to build out TTS's Systainer storage system. (Festool users will recognize the Systainers, as they come bundled with Festool products; no surprise as TTS is the parent company for both brands.)
The design approach of the Systainer system is simple in concept and complicated in execution. They've created a full line of ABS cases to hold every single thing an end user could ever need, from large pieces of kit down to the tiniest part, and they've built in such modularity that every single case of every size will all physically connect with or nest within one another. This allows users to mix and match to build their own storage monoliths.
Here's the basic idea in video:
The case interiors can be further subdivided with a variety of accessories and placed on optional wheeled bases.
German manufacturer S+L Tischlerei's approach to tool storage is modular in concept and monolithic in appearance. In contrast to OPO Oeschger's line of wares, which require the carrier to pick and choose which box is the right one to bring to the job, S+L Tischlerei's MobilMarie system is meant to transport a far denser variety of hand tools, power tools, hardware and parts to the jobsite. (It also presupposes being used in an environment with a fair amount of infrastructure: Trucks with hydraulic lift gates, buildings with elevators and wheelchair ramps, etc.)
MobilMarie consists of a series of stacking boxes on a wheeled base. The boxes are made from birch plywood skinned in PVC and reinforced along the corners, flight-case style, with aluminum fittings; popping open the front lid reveals individual drawers on ball bearing slides. Here's how it looks in action:
At Holz-Handwerk we saw not only thousands of tools, but several companies creating systems to store and transport those tools. You'd think that there are only so many ways mobile tool storage can be designed, but we saw at least four different approaches.
First up is OPO Oeschger. This Swiss trading company distributes some 35,000 items to tradesfolks around the world, so we can't really say these few of theirs that we're going to hone in on are indicative of their sole approach to tool storage, but it's a good place to start. On display were their collection of box-based tool storage objects in two form factors: A sleek-looking briefcase style, and a series of deeper boxes meant to be dense enough to store a variety of hand tools, yet manageable enough for one person to carry. And they all come pre-loaded with the tools.
Starting with the boxes, their Comfort model is made from birch and features a lid that slides rearward into a fixed vertical position. Interestingly enough, this model contains a built-in battery, a power cord and four sockets; the idea is that you plug the box into a wall when an outlet's available, and this charges the on-board battery; later when you're working and no outlet's available, you plug your devices into the box's sockets and draw juice from the battery. This box is designed to hold 67 specific tools.
Their smaller Compact III model is also made from birch, though this one's made for those who solely use hand tools, no on-board power. It features these little removeable wooden boards mounted with like tools, presumably so the user can install the appropriate boards for the day's work, carrying only what's necessary for the particular job. Fully laden, the Compact III is designed to hold some 34 tools.
This beautiful-looking tool is called a Latthammer, and it's Germany's version of the carpenter's hammer. The square head ("for greater precision," as Picard's booth representative explained at Holz-Handwerk) is the first thing you notice, and then a closer look reveals this groove at the top:
The sales rep's English wasn't great and my German is non-existent, but through pantomime he explained what it was for. There are times when a carpenter needs to drive a nail in a location over their head, where they cannot reach their other hand up to steady the nail. In these cases, the nail is placed into that groove, where it is held fast by a magnet. The carpenter can then single-handedly whack the nail into the surface far enough to get started, and can then drive it in the rest of the way with the same hand. Observe:
I call that brilliant.
Picard is a German tool manufacturer that's been around since 1857, by the way, and they make every type of hammer you can possibly imagine.
Here's an interesting design challenge that extends beyond the design of the object you're trying to get into people's homes: Imagine you and your team have designed your thing, whatever it may be, and have engineered the parts to be manufacturable. Now you have to design an additional line of objects that people can use to assemble the initial object with complete precision.
That's the challenge faced by companies like Häfele, Hettich and Blum, as the fittings they devise in their respective studios must be physically installed at the end-user's location by a legion of independent tradespeople. While Ikea handles this by using simple designs, knockdown screws, cam nuts and black-and-white illustrations that any idjit can follow, the fixtures by the previous three companies—just look at Blum's Legrabox, for instance—require ultra-precise assembly by a professional in orderfunction properly. And because most European cabinetry is made from melamine-covered particle board, there's no margin for error: Holes must be drilled perfectly perpendicular and at the correct depth on the very first try, as there's no patching up marred laminate and shredded screw holes.
So we found Blum's side booth at Holz-Handwerk pretty fascinating, since it was aimed not at consumers or designers but at the tool-toting tradespeople who will be installing Blum's designs in their own clients' homes. Blum has produced a line of drilling machines, assembly rigs and clever jigs, along with CG videos, that tradesfolk can use to get everything together. And these assembly devices, which will never be seen by the general public, are all beautifully designed in their own right. Here's their drilling jig for installing cabinet door dampers, either into the edge of the cabinet wall or affixed to the side of it:
This jig for drilling mounting plates uses a simple trick that carpenters who've ever drilled holes for shelf pins will recognize: A metal pin, placed into the first hole, ensures the second will be precisely spaced.
If you're a furniture builder who likes the vacuum clamping set-ups we looked at, but don't have the four- and five-figure budgets to add them to your own shop, there are lower-cost alternatives. Schmalz is a Germany-based global company that's been in the vacuum technology game for some 30 years, and they manufacture everything from high-end vacuum clamping tables used in CNC operations to small desktop units. Their Multi-Clamp VC-M is the entry-level product, aimed at the lone tradesperson who wants to bolt it to their own workbench in place of a vise.
The benefits of vacuum-clamping versus a vise or mechanical clamping are manifold: You don't need to take any protective measures to shield the piece from the vise's jaws or the clamp surfaces, you can get at five sides of a piece at once, and the articulating nature of the clamp means you can quickly reposition the piece—for example, to go from sanding the face to one of the edges—without having to unclamp and reclamp. And the second-tier version of the VC-M can not only be tilted, but rotated and swiveled as well.
Every workbench needs a vise—or at least they did, until the advent of vacuum clamping. After seeing Guido Einemann's homegrown table at Holz-Handwerk, we spotted a multitude of more big-dog versions made by Barth Maschinenbau, a Bavarian engineering company whose goal is "to optimize the work processes in both craft and industrial businesses" for furniture- and cabinet-making.
Shots from the German catalogue. Read it and weep, Yanks
To an American, the old-world European way of doing business can be frustrating to encounter. You have these companies making incredibly refined, sophisticated products, yet their websites are from the '90s, they often lack high-res video demos on their YouTube channels, and many do not bother distributing in the 'States.
At the Holz-Handwerk show I snapped up the very last 808050P Ratcheting Screwdriver at the Bahco booth, as it's not currently for sale here in the 'States (even though the Bahco brand is owned by U.S-based Snap-On!). At press time there was no demo video of this new product on their website, so I just shot a rather lousy one at my workbench. Check it out: