Nomad Furniture: design, case studies, and philosophy

Picture of Nomad Furniture: design, case studies, and philosophy
(Dedicated to the Instructables member who said he wanted more nomad furniture essays.)

SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION --  I talk more about various thing at my blog, Tristram Shandy in the 21st Century, --wt

If any of you have a doubt after seeing the second paragraph, let me say now that this Instructable is indeed about material things you can build, and, yes, it is aptly titled nomad furniture despite that the second and third paragraph and perhaps following paragraphs (I write extemporaneously) seem at first to betray The Writer-to-Reader Contract. Enough said. I need not say anything more about lack of patience for inductive ideas in todays I want it NOW society. I need say little about some poets greatest of all lines from a poem I cant find right now (paraphrased), My students want to tie a poem to a chair and beat a confession out of it. No siree, this Instructable is and will be stripped down the merest of dripping wet skeletons....pretty soon.

The Statue of Liberty-From-Massive-Possessions would have a base inscription rather like this: Send me your over-burdened rooms, your bent-spines, your over-complexified psyches, your materially confused masses. He would look like .... (I think it should be a he in this case, and let me justify that.)

The Statue of Liberty-From-Massive-Possessions should be in the form a slender but well-made male who looks as if he would not choose to carry a lot of stuff even if offered it for free; if he looks like a weightlifter....big problems (as our Statue of Liberty does -- shes one tough one, thats for sure; if Godzilla attacked, she would thrash him to jelly with her Flaming Torch of Freedom, and head-butt holes in him with her Radiant Spike Helmet of Destruction). A beefed-up Statue of Liberty-From-Massive-Possessions would seem to have formerly lived a life-style enabling him to carry great burdens of consumer junk, and perhaps, like any addict, be ready to go back to that life again. OK.

Well, few people need to be convinced that even a settled-stuff-ridden society such as America does not have some aspects of nomad life-style. Our cars today are as good as the houses of another generation even considering the space issue (engineers can solve that easily with inflatable space) -- by the blind and earless gods! 1,000 watt radios, AC, TVs CDs, DVDs, GPS, SR, and cup holders that take, hold out, reach out, clutch dearly. With fold-down rear seats, sleeping in your car was never easier, assuming you dont have a van. What is VW Bus nostaligia but a contemporary myth used to justify our unfulfillable (if you pay taxes) yearnings for nomadism? Our daily backpacks carry survival gear that could keep us going a week (below the 40th parallel), in good books, snacks, and rain-wear, if we can only find a water source. Finally, our life-paths partake strongly of nomadism -- college-student life is the best example, but we do tend to move around a lot. Are you convinced yet?

OK, after you graduate, you may be divorced/divided (flip the coin, heads, you stay together, tails, not). You will be moving. To smaller a place. What a great time for nomad furniture? Or what if you stay married, or never marry and stay with your Other, or have a series of insignificant shallow relationships, but you have to move any way because you were laid off, fired, became bored, or promoted (Sally, you can have that vice-president job, but youll have to move or commute to Wyoming.)....?

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY -- You all need nomad furniture. Read the rest of this Instructable to see a nomad bookcase (an early and a later version), side stand/desk stand (was used for both), computer desk (alluded to in my Fun with Office Rectangles essay), map-table/map storage box, and night-stand (you will need some rest when you are finished here).

Note that all the stuff I build is so simple that the construction steps simply leap out at you without the need for extra words here; this leaves me room for the more important ideas surrounding these material things.

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MarcioWilges2 months ago

I personally prefer furniture with wheels so that it would be easy moving it around when you decide to switch the furniture pieces around for a change. I have built a mobile server tray which is very useful for when guests come over and you need to serve drinks or food to more than just a few of them. the convenience factor is truly what I prioritise whenever I think of refurnishing the house.

Wade Tarzia (author)  MarcioWilges2 months ago

Sounds like a good idea for small tables.

KTo2882 years ago
It seems that as you progressed with your experimentation, you spiralled onto a path once trod by others, your later pieces especially the map box, reminds me of the campaign furniture that once accompanied British officers around the globe.
Wade Tarzia (author)  KTo2882 years ago
I have no doubt I was solving some similar problems in similar ways = parallel evolution. :-)
dimdiode3 years ago
I very much like the whole 'Nomadic Furniture' thing - from when I bought the book of the same name, By James Hennessey & Victor Papanek - originally, I believe written in 1973. I bought mine when I first saw it in the UK, in 1974. It is still available, with Amazon selling a 2008 version. I doubt very much they updated it much, as the contents have the same relevance now as they did then. I must say, even though it's more than 30 years old, I still look through it for inspiration - it is THE BOOK, as far as I am concerned, on this subject.

Anyone with the slightest interest in this subject should grab a copy (no - I don't have a vested interest, I just say what I think.)

Well done on your piece as well, though, nicely done.
cophet dimdiode3 years ago
Yes I bought "THE BOOK" when I moved to Europe in 69 and it does give one inspiration when looking through it. That and all the Whole Earth Catalogs I still have, I just can not throw them away. I buildt several projekts from "THE BOOK "and the one I liked the most was the card-board soffa, chair. It was great and everyone liked it, maybe I will make one again someday.
Take care everyone,
there was some qusetion about the use of through tenons so i looked up a example of a shelf from the craftsman style furnature era hop it show you all the through tenon is the design feature you want for knock down furnature and it looks just great Roycrofters is the r symble stand for
Wade Tarzia (author)  rapidprototyping4 years ago
I once went to a museum with the Roycrofter's stuff feaured. Nice stuff!
gamerguy994 years ago
Oh my god. I thought I was the only one in the world with that ancient GE alarm clock, i've had that thing for at least 18 years, pure awesome! :D
its realy that old. i have one up in my room.
I also have that same clock. Been around as long as I can remember and love having it wake me up to NPR in the morning.
Wade Tarzia (author)  hobsonsp4 years ago
Mine used to wake me up to NPR, but that function did fail. Only the alarm stills works. Sounds like an aircraft cockpit fire alarm :-)
Wade Tarzia (author)  gamerguy994 years ago
Ha! It keeps on going, too! Haven't the heart to get a new one while this still works.
Topcat20214 years ago
I love the furniture that you have made and the narrative that you have created to go along with the furniture; it was a good read. I read the comments that were posted and you have no need of defending yourself, some will understand some won't. The pictures offer a great wealth of information in ideas to create furniture pieces for myself. Keep up the good work and I'm sorry that those beds you have made were never used I hope that things change for the better in the future.
Take care and strive to be as Verbose as you can.
Wade Tarzia (author)  Topcat20214 years ago
Have not logged in in a long time. Thanks for the kind words. I will continue to be verbose. it is Life Force at its most overt :-)
Awesome stuff!

I'm doing an entire building method from 2x2x8 lumber. Check my other stuff too:

If you drill the 2x2 sticks you can go crazy and make all kinds of furniture:

There is also slotted plywood furniture:
CliffyQS4 years ago
I agree with Topcat2021. Enjoyable to read, interesting projects. I'm off to re-read this one yet again, and read your other Instructables several times.

Inspiring, I hope to build more with some of these ideas, both useful items and toys. So far I have built one headboard, one child-sized bench, and little else.

on a more personal note, I'd like to say:
It's really tragic that the beds were never used as intended.
I hope that things improve, I truly do. Hopefully everyone involved will see this site and think better of you.

Best wishes for smoother sailing ahead.
oceanbaymae4 years ago
It's not ugly, all you need to do is sand it down and slap a new coat of varnish on it. Good as new. Simple but functional.
I have always kept my possesions down to what could be hauled in one van load. I'm taking about everything I own so you have to reduce your possesions down to the necessities of life. I'm packing the van for move it be ideal to break down furniture into components that lay flat on the van floor or a trailer pulled behind if necessary. I never plan to store anything i own you get more into it then it's possibly worth. but then again your furnature can be better then most othewrs as your dollars are going into stuff you use everyday. I think alot of tressel coffee tables and kitchen tables. underdressers side tables and book shelfs. I also think a entertainment cent is a necessity these days this has become a lower profile unit then in past as monitor / tv become larger less you have it wall mounted. a place for the desk top if you even own one anymore. A place to set your glasses at night or that cup water for late night thirst. keep up the good design work you have inspired other they link back to you here too cool dude.
MT-LB4 years ago
I like the idea
wallyw4 years ago
Is there a guide somewhere for cutting the tenon/wedge?
Wade Tarzia (author)  wallyw4 years ago
Maybe, but I don't know where. Any fine furniture textbook would tell you (if they had edge and tenon designs). I think an ~ 1 to 8 slope works well. If the slope is too steep, the wedge will work itself out within days or weeks from mere floor vibration from people walking. Also, depends on the hardness of the wood; a softwood wedge deforms a little and can hold like a nylock nut does, so to speak.
if your going to be cleaning under the desk why not desig it to be multi functional . look into fine wood working back issues all on cd twenty bucks back in the day they showed a fancy saw horse made of oak woods the 2 X 3 boards were hewn with an hand adze this gives the wood texture and is a vey nice look it is a style of saw horse that is built using mortices and tenons an old door laid on top makes a table a five or six panel door one of the old school doors is stromers and fir a flat top to it. the weight of the top might keep it in place or put trim on it so it fits and covers the door. wa la desk and when you need to vacuum under it move it piece by piece and re assemble piece by piece really no fastners necessary. I have my whole shop sewt up this way. open door lift saw to table plug n go next trade for router or lathe clamp to door heavy doors and saw horse dont crumble or sway. no particale board or flormaldahide in this construct
I belive there are five essential elements to the furnature of a nomad they beith a underdresser for the bed roll out bed socks on underwears on toss old sock corner basket next drawer shirt then pants both legs at once. With paractice one can get dressed fast answer the door just before they knock. two night stand essential for glass of water must stay hydrated or shrivel up and blow away. glasses and night light to see in dark room wall can break nose on way to john all that water and place to find glasses when waking that knock at door again who is that anyway. a coffee table place to eat breakfast lunch and dinner . oval is better those pesky corners are sharp and you like to wrestle company after they keep waking you up. next is book case for those manuals periodicles and your important stuff how to manuals. a roycroft design just looks great. and now a days its a monitor stand you know you want one because your tv is now your monitor as well.
and that means dresser size entainment center everything has surround sound even computers there it goes again thats that pesky sound oh it the cell phone again must be thosae guys at the door can hear them knocking with surround sound up and on. I'd add a kitchen cabinet i like this one design none of the other stuff is necessary i'm a verbose minimumalist.
bed nightstand oval coffee table bookcase and monitor stand.
davodana5 years ago
Help!  I don't quite understand the tenon/wedge method.  It appears that that the "ear" sticking out beyond the bookcase side (the part which the wedge goes through) is at a level HIGHER than the shelf itself.  So the "ear" is NOT a direct extension of the shelf which fits through a slot in the bookcase wall.  Am I correct?  How does it all go together?  How does the "ear" fit with the shelf?
Wade Tarzia (author)  davodana5 years ago
The shelf and tenon are the same piece.  Perhaps the photo angle confused you. It's just a classic tenon and wedge, no fancy tricks, no worries! :-)
 yeah... there's some crazy optical illusion going on in that picture... it looks like the tenon is an inch or so higher than the shelf. It also looks like it's a different colour.
Nothing strange in what you see, the tenon is farther back than the face of the shelf, and the angle of the camera is shot from above, so it’s natural to look higher. If you draw an imaginary line from the top edge of the shelf  and try to go around you will see that it meets the top edge of the tenon.
The change in color I will guess is from the exposure of the tenon to more light than the shelf which most of the time covered or shaded from the books. Also this can happened if the tenon got more varnish on it than the shelf, if it was varnished while assembled.
Nice clock radio. I have been using the same exact model for years. Still works great, in fact.
opanocat55 years ago
 I just checked your word count...

.... ITS OVER 5000!!!!!
Wade Tarzia (author)  opanocat55 years ago
Sorry I could not think of any more to say on the subject at the time.  I will try to say more later. I am ashamed of my brevity....
hardlec5 years ago
I inhabit a "manufactured home" (Yes, Virginia, it is a Trailer!!!)  It was furnished when I moved in, in early thrift shop.  The time will come when I need to replace things, some earlier than others.

I ould like to know if there are further resources on making furnature, but mostly I want to build kitchen cabinets that are more efficient stewards of space.

Wade Tarzia (author)  hardlec5 years ago
I'm sure there are all sorts of resources out there, but I didn't use any of them, you know as much as I.
peterlonz5 years ago
The pic shows a well made, well finished, attractive, small piece of furniture. I have done a fair bit of home furniture construction & would like to offer a few comments: Never use nails for structural fastenings in furniture, take the trouble to buy "countersinkk headed" longish screws ( longer holds better in end grain) preferably Phillips or Pozidrive (not slot headed type) with full length parallel thread. Use the screws with PVA (Gorilla what else) glue to achieve strong movement free joints. Yes it means you will need an electric drill & selection of drills plus a good quality three lobe countersink tool. But then you are set for life! Pine is a good low cost readily available material, well suited to beginner projects. Be carefull to wipe off excess glue that oozes from joints, this ensures you can stain the timber lightly should you wish ( light spirit based stains can be applied before or after glue up). Allways finish with at least two coats of a good quality satin finish polyurethane clearcoat. You need to be especially careful with brush application, everything must be spotless & dust free, use about 5 to 10% thinner (usually turps) with the first coat & do not try to build coat depth, settle for penetration. Second coat again do not attempt to build coat depth & be carefull again about dust & avoid runs at edges.
Wade Tarzia (author)  peterlonz5 years ago
I finished it in linseed oil, but I wish I had used tung oil. The nails actually look good. They are copper rse-headed boat-building rivets used without their roves; the square shafts hold well enough for the use.
I saw this when looking for furniture ideas and decided to build two wedge bookshelves for use as a desk. I am in the middle of that now and thought I'd actually read you essay. It was quite entertaining. Thanks and great job.
Done now.
Wade Tarzia (author)  WhyIsThisOpen5 years ago
That looks great! I see you also have an old electric pole insulator on your desk as I do -- always a good conversation piece.
ultrauber6 years ago
I kinda got lost at the intro. What are you trying to teach us?
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