This project is a prototype for a modular shelving system that uses simple boxes and connectors to create infinite sizes and configurations.The primary goal was to design a system that anyone could adapt to suit their own space and stuff. The secondary goal was to test whether minimal 3d-printed joints had the structural integrity to hold the weight of solid plywood.
Step 1: Design
I had a few critera for the design of the shelves. They couldn't have too many types of parts. They had to be modular. And the pieces all had to be simple shapes that were easy to fabricate. The complexity had to arise from the aggregate of the parts, not the parts themselves.
Most modular shelving units fit into one of two categories: they are either stacks of boxes piled on top of each other, or they are large monoliths that are not really modular at all, like the Ikea Expedit. The plus shelf invests instead in the modularity of the connector: simple, colorful, 3d-printed plusses. Each plus connects two boxes diagonally by snapping into holes pre-drilled into the edges of the boxes.
Step 2: Materials & Supplies
- (1) 4'x8' sheet of 3/4" ApplePly or some other plywood with a nice edge.
- (56) #10 biscuits
- Wood glue
- Scrap wood for tests and jig
- Hot glue
- 3D printer that can print Vero
- Table saw
- Biscuit joiner
- Big clamps - lots of them
- Drill with 3/8" Forstner bit
- Orbit sander and sandpaper in rough and fine grits
- Glue gun
Optional (for dyeing 3D prints):
- Jacquard iDye Poly
- Rubber gloves
- Metal boiling pots
Step 3: Make the +'s
I designed the plusses to fit within a 3/8" hole that would be drilled into the wood. Each leg of the plus has a little extrusion at the tip that's invisible once it's snapped into place, making the whole shelf assembly appear as if it's magically balancing on the plusses.
I printed the plusses on an Objet 3d printer in Vero White, because I knew that it would take dye well. Once printed, I followed this instructable to dye them. The colors turned out really fun and vibrant, but it turns out they eroded the prints a bit and made them more bendy, which ultimately led to some structural problems with the shelf.
Step 4: Building the Jig
Before I could make the cubbies or print the final plusses, I had to be sure the design would even work. I screwed together a couple pieces of plywood and printed a couple of plusses. Then I drilled a bunch of holes in the wood until I got some that allowed the plus to snap tightly into place. The 3d print had just the right amount of give to fit into the holes without popping back out again.
Once I determined the optimal distance for the drill holes from the edge of the wood I built a little jig that would let me place the holes in the right location every time. The jig consists of a small chunk of mdf with a hole drilled in it, and a couple dowels that are meant to rest against the edge of the cubby.
Step 5: Building the Cubbies
For the cubbies, I managed to use only 1 sheet of 4'x8' plywood (with enough extra to make a few mistakes!). Once I'd settled on the sizes and layout of all the cubbies in 3d I used a pencil to mark where the table saw cuts would go. Then I set the blade on the table saw to cut at 45 degrees and ran the plywood through until I'd made all the cuts.
Assembling the cubbies was pretty straight forward. The key was to biscuit, clamp and glue all 4 sides simultaneously to ensure that they were all at 90 degree angles. Once they were all built, I did a test of how the whole configuration would stack.
Step 6: Assemble
The shelves snapped together wonderfully, but unfortunately the new bed in the 3d prints caused them to pop out of place under the weight of the shelves. Some strategically-allocated super glue in the drill holes served to keep the plusses in place.
My next goal for this project is to modify the design to have metal connectors that provide greater structural integrity to the assembly, but I'm pretty happy with how this prototype turned out.
Thanks for reading!