This design started with a table, which I found on a skip at Amersham Hill… February, 2011 (High Wycomb, United Kingdom).
I was studying Masters Degree in Furniture Design at Bucks University, High Wycomb. I was walking past a pile of junk, when I spotted the table. I did not have a car, and so I decided to carry the table on my back to the University. As I was walking with the table on my back, someone shouted: “look it’s a walking table”.
It was clear how the table could work as a comfortable seating… By filling the table with soft cushions and sitting “inside” the table. Though the table could function as seating, it was not yet functioning as comfortable seating. For me, anything that is stagnant and motionless has an uncomfortable “dead” feeling about it. To make a comfortable seating out of this table, the shape had to be adjusted to support the back and the head. I played around with the idea of sitting “inside” a comfortable shape and also how movement can become part of the design. My thoughts went towards a dish shape chair which could freely “rock and roll” in different directions.
I was looking at different options how this “dish shape” could be manufactured as a chair. The objective is comfort, light and motion.
The options of creating a curved shape out of wood:
1. Milling solid lumber into a curved shape
The main drawback of milling is that the strength of a milled piece falls rapidly beyond 90° of the arc. It is easy enough to band saw an arc out of solid wood, but the resulting short grain at the top of the curve makes the piece very weak. Even with careful layout much of the board becomes scrap. Milling solid lumber into curved shape is precise, easily repeatable shapes, fast once the setup is done and the process is cost effective if labour and materials are taken together.
2. Lamination bending,
Thin strips of wood are glued together around a shaped mould. The process is time-consuming. Before any lamination could take part, a mould has to be made into the right shape or form. Sometimes more than one mould is required for the shape you want to achieve. The glue must set up for an extended period, and sanding is needed after the glue sets. A bent lamination has high strength over any degree of arc. The technique offers consistent and repeatable results. The wood is extremely stable once its bent time consuming.
3. Steam bending, where solid wood is heated with steam and bent.
It’s difficult to get repeatable bends: different woods react differently and some are impossible to bend. It is possible to construct almost any degree in arc without compromising strength. The process is fast once the equipment is set up. Steaming allows an efficient and cost effective use of material and results in little waist.
Design development of Bended
The biggest challenge with Bended was the double bend. Wood is flexible being bend parallel to the grain; the problem arises when timber needs to bend parallel and right angle to the grain.
At first, I was looking at laminating bending, manufacturing this shape in the most simplistic manner so that the end product would be strong but also have a simplistic look and feel. Laminating bending is time consuming. It takes time making the mould, laminating the veneers, waiting for the glue to cure. The shape of the chair was not yet a successful solution, which means I had to produce full size prototypes first; testing the shape, size, strength, safety and the ergonomics of the design as comfortable seating. Making the full size prototypes with laminating bending and making different moulds until I discover the right shape and size, would be time consuming and expensive. I was also concerned that the laminated end product could result in a heavy chair; and I for me there is nothing more uncomfortable than a heavy chair.
The quickest way to make full size prototype and test the shape, is to mill the shape out of mdf. It will save time and money and the end product won’t be as heavy. The files for CNC milling were prepared. and the first prototype was made out of MDF:
My wheelbarrow worked hard on the farm, and after mending it a few times, there came a day I had to admit that this wheelbarrow days were over.
My friend has a very energetic 5 year old son, who wants to be a Formula One driver when he grows older. I decided to have fun and redesign the wheelbarrow wheel into a “one wheel push car”. Which means my friend’s son could play and have fun, getting fit running around and driving all over the place.