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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  29 May 2014  |  Comments (0)

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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.

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  28 May 2014  |  Comments (1)

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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.

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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.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  21 May 2014  |  Comments (0)

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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).

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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."

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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).

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Posted by erika rae  |  20 May 2014  |  Comments (0)

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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.

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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:

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   8 May 2014  |  Comments (9)

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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.

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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."

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  16 Apr 2014  |  Comments (1)

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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.

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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.

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Their Evolution line looks something like a wall-mounted cabinet that has been adapted to ride on wheels.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  15 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  14 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)

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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.)

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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:

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  11 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)

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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.

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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.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  11 Apr 2014  |  Comments (8)

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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:

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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.

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  10 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)

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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 order to function 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.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   9 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)

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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.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   8 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)

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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.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   8 Apr 2014  |  Comments (7)

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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:

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   3 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)

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In 1968, the Winkler family patriarch was a cabinetmaker working in his native Austria. He needed something to help him maximize his shop space, particularly where materials and cabinet parts storage was concerned, but could not find existing products on the market to suit his needs; so he set about developing a series of rolling, adjustable storage carts of his own design.

Winkler soon began selling the carts to other cabinet shops, building up a small, successful business in Austria. But it wasn't until the '90s that his son took over the operation and hit up their first German trade show, propelling the company into the global market. Jowi, as the company is called, now does business on three continents.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   2 Apr 2014  |  Comments (2)

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I have a lot of respect for companies that can redesign basic, everyday items, like screwdrivers, to make them more functional. Wiha Tools pulls this off admirably with their line of innovative screwdrivers and bit-holders, and while their booth at Holz-Handwerk was small and humble, the demos of their goods blew me and the passersby away.

Wanna see what I saw? Check out their Magazin Bithalter LiftUp 25 Schraubendreher:

Look at the sweet design of their BitBuddy and how it works:

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   2 Apr 2014  |  Comments (5)

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You'd think the humble screwdriver has reached the zenith of its design refinement. As long as the tip type and size matches the pattern of the screw head, you can't get any more friction than that, right?

Wrong. German tool manufacturer Wera figured out that if they laser-etched diagonal grooves into the tip, the striations left by those grooves would actually bite into the screw, providing even more purchase.

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The "Don't you hate when this happens" example the demo video kicks off with is overblown, but the point is taken.

Spotted at Holz-Handwerk.

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   1 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Germany's Festool makes amazing power tools, so I expected their booth to be as mobbed as it was at Holz-Handwerk. But there was one repeating demo in particular that seemed to draw inordinate crowds, that being for the machine above, the Conturo KA 65. So what the heck is it, and what does it do that caused such a stir? Well, have a brief look at the (admittedly crappy) video I tried to capture by wriggling in and out of bodies:

Yes, it's a portable edge-banding machine that can do curves (both concave and convex) as well as beveled edges! And unsurprisingly Festool seems to have thought of everything when designing it: For you furniture designer/builders who work with plywood or (shudder) particle board and need to cover those raw edges, you know how frustrating edge banding can be—you can spend $300-plus on a fiddly machine while resigning yourself to only designing pieces that have straight edges. Aligning the two guides can be like performing neurosurgery, and once it's all done you can still screw the whole operation up by making a sloopy end-trim with a pair of snips. But by designing the Conturo to have one point of contact, curves are no prob, and they've designed a handy snipping accessory to snip the waste just right.

The following, professionally-shot video shows the entire process of edge banding using a Conturo from start to finish, including the post-application role of the trim router and a handy little scraper. (By the bye, the UK-based demonstrator refers to edge banding as "lipping." Discuss.)

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   1 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)

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We previously looked at the Gorilla Gripper and the Handle on Demand, two portable solutions for hauling heavy sheet goods. From Germany's Zieker Innovationen comes an equally portable, but arguably easier to use solution: Push rather than carry.

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Posted by core jr  |   1 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)

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If there's one thing that'll kill the creative process quicker than a computer crash with no Time Machine backup handy, it's a lack of understanding and communication when creating a new product in a collaborative environment. Our friends at IDSA have teamed up with Loughborough Design School to create a simple way to keep us all on the same page during the New Product Development (NPD) process. If you've been to a previous IDSA conference, you may remember their token informational fold-out iD cards (not to be confused with these). The cards break down the names, descriptions and images for 32 different design representations in four different groups—sketches, drawings, models and prototypes. The cards share what the representation stands for in terms of use and the information it provides.

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The new app that consolidates the cards and information in one convenient, color-coded resource, taking the mystery out of unknown terminology with straightforward appeal to all levels and genres of design, making it easy for for teams to work together cohesively. Check out the video overview of the app and its features:

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   1 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)

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From German machine manufacturer Martin comes the Speed 20/10, a rollable spray station for varnishing. The one-meter by two-meter surface is covered with a roll of ordinary, cheap packaging paper, which varnish won't stick to; so when spraying your piece, there's no need to mask the underside. And it has a couple of other cool tricks, watch the vid:

What you might not be able to see in the vid is that it's foot-pedal controlled; tap one pedal to get those two rollers to pop up, so you can lift your piece away from the sides, or you can hit the other foot pedal to either advance to a clean sheet, or roll smaller pieces off of the surface and into your waiting hands. The action requires an air compressor, being all-pneumatic; they don't want any electricity jumping around, the rep explained, if folks are spraying explosive substances.

Spotted at Holz-Handwerk.

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  31 Mar 2014  |  Comments (0)

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At the Holz-Handwerk show there are tons of circular saws, tons panel saws and tons of CNC mills. But there's only one Logosol M8 Portable Sawmill. This crazy contraption is something like a chainsaw combined with a tracksaw, and one man (or one Swedish man, anyway) can unload the thing off the roof of his Volvo, carry it into the forest, and start making boards.

You're undoubtedly wondering, from the photos above, how that lone dude got that big-ass log up onto the stand all by himself. It's not just brute strength, there's design involved, as you'll see around 3:08 in the demo video:

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  31 Mar 2014  |  Comments (0)

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A gentleman with the unlikely name of Guido Einemann sought to design and build, as Ron Paulk did, the perfect workbench to suit his needs. But unlike Paulk's mobile solution, Einemann wanted something shop-based. A master carpenter & cabinetmaker by trade, Germany-based Einemann needed something that could hold unusual-shaped pieces like staircase stringers, could expand to hold wide pieces, would feature a vise for clamping, could change height while he worked on assembling cabinetry, and could be wheeled around his shop.

Thus he developed Der Montagetisch Einemann, a line of scissor-lift-enabled worksurfaces incorporating a variety of clever features, including vacuum clamping! Check it out:

Here's a closer look at that overhead, powered, tool-holding, cable-and-hose-managing contraption (der Multischwenkausleger, or multi-swiveling boom) and how the vacuum-clamped finishing process works:

Spotted at Holz-Handwerk.

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  28 Mar 2014  |  Comments (4)

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Hey folks, your correspondent is on the ground at Holz-Handwerk, a massive trade show in Germany covering everything under the sun related to woodworking and furniture building. Here they've got machines, tools, jigs, inventions, contrapations, guys named Hans, and all manner of cool stuff that you can use to make other cool stuff. The exhibitors seem to be primarily German, though there are pockets of companies from all over the world here.

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Unsurprisingly the Italian machines (like this planer from SCM Group for when you need to work boards that are a freaking half-meter wide) have a little flair

With thousands of exhibitors spread over six-and-a-half massive exhibition halls laid out like a sprawling college campus, I realize that I could not possibly see half the stuff in here if I had twice the time, and that makes me want to cry. Plus the flowing crush of 100,000 attendees makes shooting video demonstrations of anything just about impossible. Still, the intrepid Core77 editor soldiers on, bolstered by discoveries like the following:

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Deep down inside, I always suspected this is what bored craftsman raised in rustic settings did with wood cut-offs

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  26 Mar 2014  |  Comments (4)

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First things first: This is without a doubt the worst demo video I've ever shot, in terms of A/V quality. The surly gentleman in the video refused to perform a demo for the camera, only agreed to let us shoot if he was trying to close a sale with a "real customer" and would not repeat actions for close-ups. (Plus he kept calling me "Junior.") To make matters worse, you can't really hear much after the guy in the next booth fires up his own tools.

Nevertheless, Bad Dog Tools' Bad Dog Biter is amazing enough that I had to try to capture what I could, lack of cooperation be damned. This drill-mounted nibbler is designed to cut all the tricky materials you hate cutting, whether plastic, metal or laminates, and whether they're in sheets, corrugated sheets or tubes. Check it out:

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  25 Mar 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Here's another product showing Festool sweating the details, those little things we industrial designers are trained to look out for.

If you're using a drill to drive something into an overhead surface, you'll find that pulling that trigger subtly changes the balance of your grip. This is a minor issue for the DIY'er hanging a pair of IKEA lamps, but a major issue for someone who hangs drywall for a living and will drive hundreds or thousands of screws in a day. Thus Festool's DWC-18 series of cordless drywall screwdrivers feature an "Auto" setting, where the user simply presses the attachment's plunger against the surface to drive the screw.

Ergonomically speaking, this means you're just cradling the unit in your palm and pressing upwards, rather than gripping, squeezing and pressing upwards. Multiply that subtle energy savings over a full workday, across thousands of tool-buying customers, and that small design feature makes a profound impact.

Here's how it looks in action, and you'll also hear the rep run down the full list of the tool's stats and features:

Once again we must apologize to our U.S. readers, as this was one of only two Festool demos we were able to capture at JLC Live—and both of those tools are Euro-market-only, at least for now. (If you haven't yet seen the other, the dust-free TSC-55 track saw, be sure to check that out!)