Instructables

Free-form curved furniture without molds / Part 1

Featured
Picture of Free-form curved furniture without molds / Part 1
Ever heard of Zipshape? It's a technique developed by Schindler Salmeron which lets you to draw a free-form profile curve for (say) a piece of furniture, and then cut a series of teeth into two sheets of thick material like MDF. Those custom-cut teeth are very specifically shaped and matched to each other such that they can "zip" together, but only when the sheets are bent into the curve that you drew at the beginning. The result is amazing: free-form bent furniture parts that you can glue up without molds of any kind. Draw a curve, cut the teeth, slather glue, stick it in a vacuum bag, and let it set.

Here's the rub: each tooth needs to be cut at a very slightly different angle in order to "zip" together properly. Thought you could rig your shopbot to do this for you? Nope, sorry. This process needs a full-fledged 5-axis CNC, or a 5+ axis industrial robot arm, or some crazy experimentation with an open saw blade. Not your usual fabber's tools. Here's how Schindler Salmeron illustrate it:



This instructable is the first in a planned series, the ultimate goal of which will be to make zipshape accessible for all with a regular 2-1/2 axis CNC (Ie, using only profile and stepped fixed-depth cuts). I will be developing browser-based online tools to handle the geometry of it, and I'll be inventing a new form of zipshape which makes it possible to cut it using only straight orthogonal cuts. Follow my series! By the end, you'll be able to draw a curve, download a DXF file, cut it on your shopbot, and glue it up into a beautiful piece of furniture. No molds required! Here's a rough table of contents for the series:

Part 1: Introduction to zipshape, my own experience with zipshape, prior work that's been done in the area, the problem to be solved, the proposed solution, tests proving the concept.

Part 2: Refinement of the tooth geometry, a more in-depth look at the geometry and math that make zipshape work. The building blocks of the future web-app to bring the process out of Rhino and into Chrome.

Part 3: To the CNC! Prior tests will have been lasercut in 2 dimensions; In part 3 we'll be moving to the CNC and fixing any bugs that come up with the shift to more furniture-like parts.

Part 4: Design of a finished piece, and Introduction of the web-based tool. Since it will be built on fundamentally different platforms, further 2D tests will be done to verify that the geometry is true to the original method. A final piece of furniture will be proposed, but for all those following along, this is the point where you can design your own.

Part 5: Construction of the new & improved 2-1/2 axis zipshape furniture (type to be determined in part 4).


 
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up
hogthrob2 months ago

Great stuff - I wonder if all the breakages will erase themselves when you extrude the form into a 3rd dimension. You must be getting twisting forces in that tight point at the bottom of the tooth.

loopingz6 months ago
Great stuff, but any news for the part2?
rbrodie7 months ago
Very cool ... thank you for sharing your research !
ToolboxGuy2 years ago
Call me obtuse, but why not simply purchase layers of veneer instead and then form the layers into whatever shape you desire? I would expect full laminated sheets would be stronger, albeit slightly less flexible. However, the total time to cut these shapes with a CNC must be enormous!

A large bending (steam?) pot/oven and a large peg table would work for most of these designs, except those curving into mobius strips....

The cost of that CNC device (while quite lovely, very unique, and yes I want one!) could pay for lots of materials and a few large hot tubs and a deck to put them on.
pseaton (author)  ToolboxGuy2 years ago
Thanks for the comment! I have used bent laminations for other projects; I actually published one in an instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Bent-Plywood-Night-Stands/

Bent laminations are beautiful and, I suspect you're right, stronger than a method like this. But they require solid-surface molds which are expensive and time-consuming to make. A pegboard is a good solution for eliminating the mold, but then you can't do wider sheets and your bend radius is pretty limited.

I'm interested in finding ways to employ CNC's for more than they are obviously useful for. I'm not imagining a paradigm of "what's the cheapest way to make a particular curved piece" so much as "what are some exciting ways we can push the limits of this new technology?" In the case of this project, I'm proposing that we replace some of the labor ordinarily involved in bent furniture parts with precision made available by the CNC. The most obvious benefits being mold-free construction and easy parametric variation: it's just as easy to make every chair seat fit an individual person as it is to make them all the same.

In the design stage, I'll try to design something that would be hard to make by other means :)
Even if you can't make a version of zipshape which is simple enough and cheap enough for rapid prototyping or rapid manufacturing, it's still a valuable concept...

In particular, zipshape is probably cheaper and faster than the conventional method for creation of solid-surface molds for bent laminations! :)

Not only is a bent lamination likely to be stronger, but if you make many pieces of furniture/whatever using a single mold, then there will be less wasted materials, per piece, on average.
paqrat2 years ago
This is amazing. I don't think I understood half of what you said (math is not one of my strengths) but I still find it fascinating
Ninzerbean2 years ago
Isn't there something you can copy from the human body to make this work - like a spine-type of form with a cable inside to tighten or loosen to get the form you want? Like ToolboxGuy I too may be obtuse but it won't stop me from following you to see where you go with this, I just think there must be an easier way - when your pieces fit together there is no play because they lock where they lock - but what if the 'locks' were somewhere else? On the sides in the form of wings that can be adjusted?

I am probably the only person that has actually gotten a chance to play with a CNC for two weeks (at Haystack) and was left cold by what came out - and by what else I have seen. Perfection leaves my eyes no where to rest, I feel like the person who can see the emperor has no clothes. I just don't like what I am seeing being made - yet. It is too static, for now anyway.

This 'ible is wonderfully simple to understand for such a complex project, thank you for sharing.
LynxSys2 years ago
This is brilliant. Pseaton, I salute you. Not only for your creative solution, but for your commitment to making a revolutionary fabrication method available to a wider audience, using more commonly available tools.

As a builder without any computer-controlled tools, I wonder if Zipshape fabrication could be accomplished using more traditional methods...

Given a well-tuned table-saw (likely capable of accuracy to ±0.2 mm), do you think it would be possible to slice the requisite 'steps' into a sheet of material? What tolerances are required for your current level of success? What tolerances are you planning to use for your next iteration in attempting to improve curve fidelity?

An unrelated question, have you found that gluing your curves improves their fidelity? It appears to me that the addition of the flexure joint is what's allowing your shape to relax. Do you think that is accurate?

You might consider filling the flexure joint with a a block (or, in the case of a wider panel, a spline) after fitting the halves together. It would make the entire construction tighter, and perhaps truer? If you used the right wood glue to fit the spline, it will swell the surrounding material (think mortise and tenon joinery) and create a tighter joint than could otherwise be achieved.

I'd be most interested to hear your thoughts. I (and my circular saw) might just have to try for a bent-wood chair; no steam-box required!

johnharvey2 years ago
I'm trying to figure out a simpler way to get the same effect - hopefully using a 3DOF router table setup. I propose:

You have two boards - I'm calling them the leader and the follower. The follower has V-bit grooves cut over the whole surface - each groove is the same depth and they are adjacenct so there are no flats.

The leader is cut with a variety of V bits. The goal is to cut the board so that each face (hypotenuse) is the same length, but the angle is controlled by the bit. If the follower is cut with a 90° bit and the master is cut with a 100° bit the assembly will curve at a constant rate. If you use two bits (cut 5 rows at 90° and then 5 rows at 100°) you will have a flat that transitions to a curve. If you "dither" the bits (rows 1,2,4,7 cut with bit 1 and rows 3,5,6,8,9... cut with bit 2 you may get a more continuous transition.

The trick here is that depth of the cut on the leader board needs to vary so that faces retain the same length. After cutting the teeth on the leader board, you want to flip it over and cut the backside so that the board is approximately uniformly thick.

The cut plan will be more difficult to compute but I think this solution will get you most of the effect with a lot less expensive hardware.
pseaton (author)  johnharvey2 years ago
I think we're after the same thing (3-axis process)... one problem you might hit is that in cutting the leader board to different depths with different bits so as to maintain the length of the sides of each cut, you would also be fixing the *spacing* of the cuts at the same time (cut deeper, and that groove is wider). The reason the original zipshape process has its extremely slight variations in angle because of this problem -- the spacing of the teeth is what fixes the curve (not the tooth angles), and then the teeth must have different angles in order to fit together in the same space.

That said, I'd be excited to be proved wrong by a test! Would you be willing/able to run a test like this? I'd be happy to help setup the geometry in any way that would be helpful.... PM me if it sounds like something you might be interested in trying out!
actimm2 years ago
I like your solution as it appears to be much faster than the other way it would be done on a 3 axis mill.

With your new method your speed is basically limited by your depth of cut, which is ultimately defined by machine rigidity, material composition, and limits of tooling. It also doesn't require a lot of passes to achieve the shape you are looking for as it is basically composed of straight lines.

However, a way to cut your original tooth form from your first design using a 3 axis mill would be to do it with two tools, the first tool, a regular endmill, would cut to the root of the tooth perpendicular to the plane you want to curve, the second tool would be a ball endmill of the maximum radius that will fit in the tooth gap and keller cut the shape using the tangent point of the radius relative to the surface you want to cut to form the tooth shape. I have used this method to manufacture complex planes in the aerospace industry, no pun intended. Of course, it takes a LONG time to cut parts this way.
pseaton (author)  actimm2 years ago
Good point! I haven't spent quite enough time on the CNC to work with tool paths as complex as the ones you describe. Would there be ridges left over in one direction or the other, depending on the direction of the passes? Or would there be a sort of micro-waffle pattern if you went both ways?

I'm curious to learn more about the "Keller cuts" you mention, but a moment of googling doesn't show much. Is there something I could read to learn more?

Thanks for the insightful comment!
actimm pseaton2 years ago
Yes there are ridges but as you tighten up the tool path you can achieve as close as a 16 or 32 RMS using moldmaker's machining practices. Typically you have your tool travel move in the direction of the longest straight line or in the case of a round object-around the direction of the largest radius so in your case you would be moving perpendicular to the direction you want to bend.

"Keller cutting" is a general term referring to the use of a ball nose or other tool with a large corner radius to achieve a complex plane. The reason you would use it in this case is to reduce the number of tools needed. I believe a newer Machinist's Handbook talks about Keller Cutting.
Jayefuu2 years ago
Looks interesting! Will be following you.

Any reason you chose 2 step heights? Why not more, it would represent the original curves more closely.

Will the depth to width ratio of the deep flexture joint you added in each tooth in one side be a problem/slow down production on a 2.5 axis CNC bot?

James
pseaton (author)  Jayefuu2 years ago
Good question! You're right at the edge of my understanding of the geometry here... I'll be more immersed in it next time and may be able to provide a better answer but at the moment I'm a little unsure myself whether more steps would necessarily reduce the gaps or not. They'd certainly be closer to the original tooth shape, but honestly I'm not 100% sure what I've done here by adding the flexure... I'll try to figure it out geometrically and include that in the next installment, which is more about the geometry anyways!

As for the depth of the flexure, it may well slow down production a bit. As I tried it it's about 3/16" thick and 3/4" deep, though the material I'd be using wouldn't be quite that thick most likely. Still, it's probably 3 passes with a 1/8" flat end mill, and that's definitely time. Not as much time as making molds for a single piece, though!
Jayefuu pseaton2 years ago
Cool, keep me posted.

I'm pretty keen on web technologies so let me know if you want any help with the web app or programming side of things, it sounds interesting. PM me if you want my email address to bounce ideas around.

James
Can't wait for the next installment, truly awesome stuff you guys are doing.
I made an account just so I could vote for this Instructable.
pseaton (author)  KitPrinklers2 years ago
Thank you -- that's awesome! I'll get installment two underway soon... it may take me a few weeks to pull it all together, but stick with me and I hope to make it worthwhile!
XTL pseaton2 years ago
Fantastic ! Please don't give up.
jeff-o2 years ago
These laser-cut pieces could be used right away as supporting "ribs". Space out a few side by side, and you could glue on a few layers of thin plywood to make a continuous surface.
pseaton (author)  jeff-o2 years ago
Great idea, and thanks for your subscription! The ribs would be much more material-efficient than curved ribs cut out of a straight sheet, although not quite as strong. If the segments were lapped somehow, you could end up with infinitely long or cyclical ribs as well.... thanks for the great idea!
Jayefuu pseaton2 years ago
Laser cutting's fairly slow. Could you cut the profile on your CNC then cut into strips with a table saw to improve production time of these "ribs"? Not sure if that'd be faster or slower than laser cutting, it'd depend on what you have available I suppose.

James
pseaton (author)  Jayefuu2 years ago
Definitely. Ultimately I'm trying to make these bent sheets rather than strips (so they'll have to be on a CNC), but for these initial tests a laser cutter was just more easily accessible. If someone did want to make these the final product (as Jeff-o suggests) a CNC would probably make a lot of sense. Avoids the burnt edges and liberates you to use thicker materials.
XTL pseaton2 years ago
Clarifying that suggestion a little...
Use strips instead of surfaces. Use the strips as ridges to support regular flexible plywood (which curves easily in one direction but not the other).

Instead of cutting the strips using a lasercutter, or a CNC machine, use a regular table or drop saw and a single axis control to feed the wood to make your simple one-axis cuts.This will lower the cost of production and enable the widespread use of this technique.

This has the added benefit of not 'wasting' as much material - a lot of wood is excavated in the CNC process and discarded (hopefuly recycled to construct MDF).
Is there a problem with the fixed length of the "solid" side of the strip?When you curve the two sides you have variations that are concentric rather than parallel. Could you make the solid edge variable by making it segmented and thereby flexible?
pseaton (author)  stringstretcher2 years ago
Hi! I'm not sure I completely understand what you mean here about the fixed length of the strip... The technique works mainly because the two outside edges are different lengths from each other, and the teeth allow them to maintain their (mis)alignment in a precise(ish) shape. It's interesting that the cut patterns do become concentric once they're bent into shape, though... I hadn't really thought about that, but it's definitely true. Later on I'll demonstrate more complex curves (S-shaped curves, for example, result in more than one "center" that the teeth point at).

One thing you could do is cut notches from both sides of the strip, but then that strip would be a sort of wobbly piece of spaghetti, i think. Are you imagining a different method for making the strip "rigid" again, and maintaining the curve?

Sorry if the response adds more confusion than it helps explain. These are tricky things to write about without lots of images to point and wave at and draw all over!
Yes, I think you got my point: If you measure the inside and outside of the same curve, they will be different lengths, even though they are parallel. You need then to "scrunch up" the inside edge and stretch the outside to make them match up... I think. Let me see that scratch paper you got out! And you can see that a line perpendicular to the outside edge and a similar line from the inside edge will point, as you said, to different centers. How to get around that...?
Covo2 years ago
I Love your in depth explanation of the problem and it's many facets, and then a peek into your problem solving techniques and how you thought the solution through. I teach an unit on inventions to 8th graders and I am trying to get the students to think the way you outlined in the the above 'ible. It is a good summary of the process.

studleylee2 years ago
Very Cool. You are Visual!
Have you ever woeked with "Bending Board" plywood, itis alot easier, and it is already slotted.
pseaton (author)  Dantheplasticman2 years ago
Hi Dan,

I have actually! It's super neat stuff, although does something a little different I think. It's flexible because of the kerfs on one side, but to make it hold a specific shape you'd need to add a rigid structure (ribs, two sheets glued together over a mold, something else). I'm hoping to make a rigid bent sheet with a specific pre-determined shape, without molds, ribs, or any other supporting structure... each individual product could be unique, and there'd never be any overhead associated with the production of molds and setup. But yes -- bending board is an awesome idea!
davidfe2 years ago
pseaton,
Thank you for sharing this. It is world class thinking.  Love what I seen and can't wait for the next installment.
Regards
I'm in. Fascinating to see something new being developed. I have to oil up the brain and think a little bit here. Squeek!
whoah, wonder if i could free-hand it? bring on the band-aids
jeff-o2 years ago
Fascinating! You've earned my attention and my subscription. I very much look forward to the next parts in the series.
That's absolutely fantastic.
Pro

Get More Out of Instructables

Already have an Account?

close

PDF Downloads
As a Pro member, you will gain access to download any Instructable in the PDF format. You also have the ability to customize your PDF download.

Upgrade to Pro today!