Introduction: Rubik's Cube Chest of Drawers

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30 years on from its invention, Rubik's Cube is still instantly recognizable. People like picking it up, turning it a few times, maybe doing a side or two (or five, as a braggart in my class once memorably claimed). Solving the cube remains a reasonably rare feat - you're either smart enough to have figured it out yourself, or geeky enough to have followed a how-to, and most people are neither.

Rubik's cube is not just the quintessential hand-held puzzle, though: it's also an iconic piece of design, so I co-opted it when making a new chest of drawers for my son's room. This cubic piece of furniture has only one of the three required axes of rotation, so is unsolvable in the conventional sense, but can be arranged in any configuration you like by non-sporting means. The drawers do pose a brain-bending challenge: the first thing you have to solve is detecting that they're there, and all three have hidden locks in different locations.

Step 1: Design

Unsurprisingly, there are lots of bits of furniture around that are based on the Rubik's cube; coffee tables are particularly popular, and for 980€ (!!), you can even buy a Rubik's cube locker. I wanted to do something different, and use lazy Susan bearings to achieve at least one axis of rotation - they're cheap, really strong, and add a wacky dimension to a chest of drawers.

The design is simply three boxes, each containing a single drawer. Their construction is basic - they're made of 1/4" and 1/2" plywood (which you should get precut at the lumber yard into two 2'x8' sheets), and assembled using a brad nailer and wood glue. This method of construction is super fast and precise, and results in really strong objects. The main challenge in this build is cutting the pieces with high precision - if you can't cut plywood to within 1 mm, you should probably practice on something simpler until you can. Having said that, I'm no pro and I've never made a chest of drawers before, so this project is NOT fancy woodworking by any means! If you weren't fussed about the drawers, it would be dead easy - it's just three boxes and a couple of lazy Susans, and you'd have a cool coffee table with no additionally functionality aside from rotatability. Deluxe Scrabble, anyone?

I was going to simply glue the "stickers" on to decorate the outside - or even just paint them on - but the future owner insisted he had to be able to scramble and "solve" the cube, so I enabled this with the help of rare-earth magnets for holding power and short dowels for positioning. I'm glad I did - it's more fun now, and the colors can be selected to match your mood or decor, including impossible combos of color (insofar as the real cube goes).

The puzzle is a little under 60 mm across, and this chest of drawers is exactly 600 mm across, so it is in approximately 10:1 scale. 1000 regular Rubik's cubes would therefore fit inside.

There are cubes that are 2x2, 4x4, 5x5 etc, so if you need more (or less) drawers, there is an obvious design solution...

Step 2: Materials and Tools

One and a half sheets of 1/2" plywood
One and a half sheets of 1/4" plywood
Two 12" lazy Susan bearings
Three pairs of 22" full extension slides
Shorter screws than those provided with the above, say 60 1/2" flat head screws
36 3/8" rare-earth magnets (in hindsight, the 9 on the top are not really necessary, so 36 would be enough)
54 3/8" steel washers (note there is nothing special about the 3/8" - use whatever thin magnet/washer combo is convenient)
54 6 mm x 30 mm dowels, cut in half
Wood glue
Epoxy glue
Brad nails
Gloss paint in six different colors of your choice. I used spraypaint, as it's a relatively cheap way of getting small quantities of paint, they keep well, and they're handy to have around.
Black gloss paint

Close to $200 all up.

Circular saw, table saw, miter saw, router, orbital sander, cordless drill with a 3/8" forstner bit , and a brad nailer.

Step 3: Cut Your Plywood

Cut the plywood into the following dimensions. You'll notice that my extra half sheet of 1/2" ply actually came from offcuts I had lying around from other projects (yes, even after making the Lego construction table, I still had a few old cupboard doors left over...).

1/2" plywood (11 mm thick)
6 of 600 x 582 mm (tops and bottoms of cases)
6 of 582 x 178 mm (sides of cases)
3 of 600 x 200 mm (drawer fronts)
6 of 543 x 160 mm (sides of drawers)

1/4" plywood (7 mm thick)
3 of 600 x 200 mm (backs of cases)
3 of 550 x 550 mm (bottoms of drawers)
3 of 550 x 160 mm (backs of drawers)
54 of 165 x 165 mm (the "stickers", see later for more detailed instruction on these)

I always cut using a straightedge with the circular saw, which gives you a perfect straight line but requires a few clamps. Get a decent finishing blade, you'll save yourself a lot of sanding. I use Freud thin-kerf blades in all my saws - the quality is excellent, and it reduces the load on the saw and the amount of sawdust produced. I used the bench saw and miter saw wherever possible, because the set-up is quicker. Cut to a stop using the miter saw to ensure reproducibility.

Step 4: Add Drawer Slides

These are best attached BEFORE you assemble the individual cases. The exact height doesn't really matter, but make sure they're square, parallel to each other, and 5 mm back from the front edge.

Step 5: Assemble Cases

Assemble the cases with wood glue and brad nails, as shown. Leave to dry overnight, then sand, fill any imperfections with wood filler, and sand again.

Step 6: Build Drawers

Build three more boxes, without a top or front, that fit nicely inside the runners. I made the base and back with 1/4" ply and the sides with 1/2" ply. Nailing into the edge of 1/4" ply is perfectly doable, but you do have to be a fair bit more precise than for 1/2". Sand and fill.

Step 7: Add Drawer Faces

Attach the drawers to the slides, and check the fit (whether they slide in and out nicely). Put the case on end, and drop something in behind the drawer so it will sit slightly proud when closed. Line up your drawer front, and mark and cut to fit. Glue and nail to the drawer, again taking care with the nailing (I recommend transferring the lines to the front to avoid errors). Round the edges of the drawer front to match the case, remove the stop, and sand, fill and sand again.

Step 8: Groove the Faces

To create the illusion that the cube can spin conventionally (i.e. on three axes, not just one), I faked it using a router with a V-shaped bit to cut grooves in all the exposed faces. Use a guide - because it's hard to clamp on to a face, I just tacked the guide in place temporarily using the brad nailer the correct distance from the desired groove. I ripped a piece of wood exactly the right width so I could rout both sides using the same guide (with my router, it needed to be 56 mm). The groove doesn't look exactly like the horizontal gaps, of course, but the visual illusion holds at least at first glance.

Step 9: Cut Squares

I measured each cubie to be 19.1 mm on a side, and each sticker as 15.6 mm, about 81% of the size. So I rounded up to the nearest 5 mm (165 mm for a "sticker" for a 200 mm cubie) and ripped much of one sheet of 1/4" plywood into 170 mm strips. I then set a stop on my miter saw to 165 mm and made two cuts for every square, to ensure the 54 squares were as close to perfect as possible. I ganged them all together with a strap, and routed and sanded the corners of all squares simultaneously. This step was pretty quick, and all the components were done now. Just painting and hardware to go!

Step 10: Paint Case and Drawers

Remove the drawers, and take the hardware off them. Undercoat everything except the inside of the cases (you don't see them), then sand. Paint the cases and drawer fronts gloss black to give it a shiny plastic look. Three coats should do nicely, sanding lightly between coats with very fine sandpaper.

Step 11: Washers and Dowels

Make a template for this step. Drill two dowel-sized holes part way into each "sticker" (about 3/4 the way through), and with the Forstner bit, drill a shallow (just deep enough for your washer) hole in the center. Repeat 54 times! You really need two drills, or the swapping of bits will drive you nuts. Now cut 54 dowels in half by taping them to a scrap piece of plywood and running them through the bench saw. Glue the half-dowels into the holes. Epoxy the washers into the shallow holes in the center.

Step 12: Paint Stickers

Undercoat, then spray paint the edges and top of each sticker in whatever combination of colors you like - we stuck with the conventional white/yellow/orange/red/green/blue. I let the future owner pick exactly which shade of each he liked of each. I spent a few minutes painting one coat, then returned about 15 minutes later and did another. I used about half a can per set of nine, I reckon.

Step 13: Holes and Magnets

You'll need to use a template again. Use the previous template to make this one; it needs to be 200 x 200 mm. Make the dowel holes slightly bigger (I used 15/64" for the dowel holes, and went to 17/64" for these). Drill just deep enough for the magnet to sit flush with the surface (conveniently, this was just into the second layer of ply, so I just eyeballed it), but bore all the way through for the others. Repeat 45 times (you don't need to do the base, for obvious reasons!). Glue the magnets in the holes using a thin layer of epoxy.

Step 14: Lazy Susans

The 12" lazy Susan bearings are pretty low profile (9 mm), but I reduced the gap between cases further by routing out a layer of plywood from the cases (3 mm from each) to set them into. I just freehanded it after marking the lines carefully. I greased the ball bearings - this makes it stiffer but quieter, both desirable for this application. The lazy Susan bearing has to be PERFECTLY centered. I screwed one side on and just epoxied the other.

Step 15: Add Locks

I added a simple hidden lock to each drawer, all in different places. I just drilled holes through case and drawer from the side, and stuck a dowel in. To unlock, you just remove the correct sticker and push in the dowel. It's low tech but effective, and I don't anticipate it spending much time locked, but it's nice to know you can.

Step 16: Solve the Cube!

Add the "stickers" however you like to get the design you want (store the leftover nine stickers in one of the drawers, of course!). Change the stickers and make a new piece of furniture. Take it for a spin. Play some Scrabble (or 3D Settlers of Catan). Leave it in the middle of your living room as a coffee table. Bring it with you to a park and confuse strangers. Organize your underwear in high geek style. Talk to it. Sit on it and slowly orbit. Put your favorite boardgames in it. Challenge people to solve it one handed, and/or blindfolded, and time them. Use it as a stand for your prize-winning laser-cut, LED-lit, Arduino-controlled, solar-powered, steampunk-themed, EL wire-crocheted Halloween cupcakes...

Many thanks to the following sites for featuring this build: make, boingboing, hackaday, neatorama, ohdeedoh, geekosystem, technabob, manmade, babble, wins.failblog, design-milk, storagegeek, discovery, thisiswhyimbroke and others; thinkgeek for tweeting about it, and of course instructables users for all the great feedback. Cheers!

Some people have even made replicas! See
here, here and here. If you make one, please send me a link or post a picture in the comments.

4th Epilog Challenge

Second Prize in the
4th Epilog Challenge

Make It Stick Contest 2

Grand Prize in the
Make It Stick Contest 2