The Crossover Between Cabinet Making and Digital Manufacture
In furniture design, the advent of CNC machines and digital printers have enabled designers to reinterpret the expectations of the medium. We can now combine traditional craft skills with complex contemporary twists made possible with elements that have been digitally manufactured.
There are some effects that are difficult to achieve solely with hand tools, and equally there are hand techniques that are not efficiently replicated well by CNC or digital printing – but the crossover of the two can push the boundaries of furniture design to make something truly unique and beautiful.
At Williams and Cleal, we have an expanding student library of design and furniture making books – which students are free to borrow at any time. The book that has the students talking this month is ‘Digitally Handmade’ by Lucy Johnston. The topic is particularly apt, since our student Jan is experimenting with digital printing to add a unique level of detail to the handles on her latest design, which would otherwise be exceptionally difficult to make by hand.
Jan comes from a background in Computer Graphic Imaging Design and Imaging, and has just invested in her own Prusa i3 M25 – kit build 3D printer. Jan has designed some drawer handles that take the shape of a small mountain range complete with contoured hills, tiny pine trees and a mountainside cabin – a scene in miniature that would be virtually impossible to create by hand.
Jan has so far experimented with prototypes made in PLA - (PLA) or polylactic acid. It is a bio-degradable thermoplastic polyester derived from corn starch, sugarcane or cassava root. Jan is yet to decide what the final handles will be printed in. It takes about 4 hours for Jan's printer to create the handle prototypes. Jan builds the designs herself in software compatible for the 3D printer.
The crossover of digital manufacturing methods and furniture design is part of our design theory sessions here at Williams and Cleal. Jane Cleal has incorporated digital production methods into her own work and shares her experiences of these processes with our students. Jane’s most recent ‘Circle’ bowl coffee table, used CNC production methods to manufacture the stack laminated birch ply of the bowl and complimented by a lid made in Macassar Ebony Veneer. Many of our students also pick out Jane’s CNC cut bowl as a favourite from the W & C gallery.
Our tutors encourage and will help to nurture the designs of students who choose to explore mixing traditional craftsmanship with digital manufacture. We will also connect you with companies to whom Williams and Cleal outsource CNC or digital manufacture work. This way, the size and complexity of the equipment and skills that we have access to, is infinitely surperior to the machines we could accomodate at our own workshop.
If you’d like to see more of the possibilities in furniture making enhanced by digital manufacturing methods, we suggest looking at the ‘Cinderella Table’ or the ‘Lectori Salutem’ by Jeroen Verhoevenm the ‘Three Drawer George’ by Gareth Neal or the ‘Fractal Table’ by Werteloberfell – or indeed many of the other artists covered both in Digitally Handmade and across the internet.
We’ll be posting more about our student Jan’s journey with her digitally printed handles in upcoming posts.