Instant Furniture




About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

Furniture that's quick and easy to build out of stuff you find on your island.

I'll be adding to this collection as time goes on.

There are also a few furniture tricks scattered among my Fifty Handy Tricks

Furniture that interests me is usually what Wade Tarzia would call Nomad Furniture

Step 1: African Two-Board Folding Chair

These chairs are found all over Africa, at least wherever tourists go.
They're really comfortable, look great, and last forever.
This one is unusually small for the type, but is plenty comfortable.

As you can see from the drawing (picture 4) both boards are 12" wide and 3 feet long.
The slot is 11" from the bottom of the backboard.
The narrow part of the seat board is 4.25" wide.

For more details of construction, check out Jesse's Plank Chair

Step 2: Instant Cardboard Box Chair and Footstool

Very comfortable.
Perfect for warm and cold environments, nice on the skin, just breatheable enough.
This box had some wadded paper packing materials in it that gave it just the right amount of cushioning. I lounged in this chair in utter comfort and watched five episodes of "Battlestar Galactica" with the Instructables gang.

Notice my comfy stylish hat and scarf made from an airline blanket.

If you crush the box the right way you get nice armrests also.
Here's how quick it is to custom-fit it to your body:

Step 3: Milk Crate Bookshelves

Great nomadic furniture, your books are already packed for your next move.
The only problem is they may slump over time and collapse.

A friend of mine has his walls lined with these, and each time I see them they're leaning just a little more. I haven't heard from him in a while, perhaps he's trapped under a pile of books.

Step 4: Crate Clamp

Here's one way to keep your milk crate shelves from slumping.

These chunks of aluminum extrusion press-fit over two adjacent crates.
They keep the structure rigid.

I cut these from longer extrusions I bought at a scrapyard.
At the end of the shelf you could use these to clamp the milkcrates to a vertical sideboard for extra structure. If you worry about earthquakes you could anchor that to the wall.

Actually, milk crates seem to slump a lot less than they used to.
Maybe it's time to return yours and borrow some new ones.

Step 5: Folding Shelving Unit From Bunkbed Ladders and "Surfboards"

The supports appear to be ladders from a set of bunkbeds.
They're hinged to the horizontal back boards.
The shelves rest on the rungs of the ladders and can be lifted off.
The shelves are shaped a bit like antique Hawaiian surfboards.
The whole unit is lightweight and surprisingly solid.
It folds instantly for transport.

Believe it or not, one of our neighbors orphaned this fine unit at the curb, along with the usual dead vacuum cleaners and crts.

Step 6: Easy Shelves With "Slashed Box" Plywood Brackets

These were the long stock racks at Emeryville Squidlabs, built by the previous tenant.

The construction method should be obvious from these photos.
Each of the brackets consists of a diagonally-sectioned box structure.
These very simple plywood brackets are held together with drywall screws.
Very strong, very quick to build. The large protruding vertical bolts kept the pipes, boards, and other long things stored on them from toppling off sideways.

These photos were taken with the shelves partly disassembled.

Step 7: Easy Heavy Duty Shelves

These are the stock shelves by the garage door at Emeryville Squidlabs.

Look carefully. This is a very strong set of shelves made without any rabbets or mortises.
The whole thing can be made very quickly with repeated square cuts.

The vertical boards are 3/4" plywood with 3/4" square plywood cheekpieces sandwiched against them.
The ends of the 2"X10" shelves are inserted in the gaps between these square cheekpieces.
The 1"X2" end caps on the verticals keep the shelves constrained horizontally and stiffen the verticals further. The top of this shelving unit supports a storage loft.

Step 8: Many-Stick Folding Chair

It's very comfortable and has a nice flexible feeling to it.
It's held together with four threaded rods with nuts and washers on the ends.

Seen at New Hope Village near Guatemala City.

According to the photo albums in the dining room, someone built this chair early during the construction of the project from scrapwood.

Step 9: Easy Plywood Bench

Here's a slick bench that was already at Squidlabs when we moved in at Emeryville.
It's comfortable to sit on and is easy to make.

The pictures tell it all.

You could hinge the seat and use the area inside it for storage.
You could also turn it on its side and use the ribs for shelves.

I'll be adding more instant furnishings as time goes on.
In the meantime, see more instant furniture, sawhorses etc. among the Fifty Handy Tricks

Step 10: Non-Instant Ladder Chair

We've all seen Shaker "ladder-back" chairs, but howabout monastery convertible ladder chairs?

It looks like a normal but fancy chair, but it turns into a fancy but normal-looking stepladder, which...

Arwen got this from the maker who claimed it to be a copy of a chair found in an ancient monastery somewhere.



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60 Discussions


4 years ago on Step 10

That's great! Rumor has it Benjamin Franklin used one of these.


8 years ago on Step 8

What is this type of chair called? I would really like to research it a bit.

1 reply

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Bog Chairs


7 years ago on Introduction

About the 2 piece chair. Is 3/4 inch pine really going to hold my big fat, 180lb butt? Or should I use 1 inch thick oak instead? I'd love to make one of these.

1 reply

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

I weigh 290 lbs i made some of these of 3/4 plywood they won't hold up under my weight i'm making some out of solid 1" walnut this time should hold up very well the plywood ones will hold up 160# or less kids love them around the campfire

But if you do make some out of plywood don't leave them out in the weather as it makes them weak and they bend and break after a few rains .....


7 years ago on Introduction

I didn't know these were also made in Africa. I've always heard of them called "Stargazers" because when you sit back in one you're looking up at the stars. I have also heard of them called "Bog Chairs" because there was one found in a bog up north in europe and that it was made by Vikings.

I make these.

1 reply

7 years ago on Introduction

LOL video for the cardboard box chair "is that comfortable?... Hell yea" LOL


8 years ago on Introduction

liruke gave perfect directions and measurement specs.

A few comments:

The wire is just to hold the initial assembly together to verify everything was cut and drilled correctly. The chair is held together with threaded rod, but might be done with rope or even wire. The stresses are shear except at the ends, but a good knot would do with rope. Rope or wire would give the chair more "give".

The chair is made from 9--1 1/2 x 1 1/8 "sticks" if you go the 2x4 route. Any stick lumber near those dimensions will work. I have an unlimited supply of bamboo, which i plan to make one of these chairs with.


8 years ago on Introduction

This is a similar construction to a 'Holy Book' stand I got back in the '70's.


Reply 9 years ago on Step 8

You start with three six foot 2x4s ( I used pressure treated pine), ripped into nine equal 1 1/2 x 1 1/8 pieces. By judicious measuring, this should yield the following: Seat: (A) 6 pieces 15" long ) each piece has two 1/4" holes (B) 2 pieces 35" long ) drilled in the center of the wider side.Measure from the same end: 1st hole 1 1/2"; 2nd hole 12". (C) 9 pieces 9 5/8" long: Two holes, 1 1/2" from each end. Back: (D) 4 pieces 31 1/2" long) Each piece has two holes, at (E) 2 pieces 29" long ) 1 1/2" and 25" measured (F) 2 pieces 42" long ) from the same end. All held together with 9 gauge galvanized wire.. Align seat pieces as : A-A-B-A-A-B-A-A and hold together loosely at top with a length of wire through the upper (1 1/2" holes); At the lower (12")holes, intersperse each piece with a length of C. That is: C-A-C-A-C-B-C-A-C-A-C-B-C-A-C-A-C. Wire and set aside. Align back pieces in the order F-D-E-D-D-E-D-F, and again hold together loosely with a wire through the holes which are 1 1/2 from the end. Now marry the two parts by threading wire through the remaining holes, with the C pieces acting as the connectors. The new joint should have the configuration: C-F-C-D-C-E-C-D-C-D-C-E-C-D-C-F-C. Draw all wires tight, cut off and secure ends somehow (I threaded them and used cap nuts). Now take it all apart, sand as appropriate, finish as desired and reassemble. Note that this darn things folds too!


Reply 8 years ago on Step 8

Great project.
Could you explain further, or give a photo, of what you used and how to finish off the wires?
It's probably a "DUH!", but right now I don't know how to do this.


Reply 8 years ago on Step 8

I thought I should expand on my confusion -it's with your statement "It's held together with four threaded rods with nuts and washers on the ends', but later on you say it's all held together with 9 gauge wire.
I must be missing something. :-}


Reply 9 years ago on Step 8

Thank you so much for sharing. It is a beautiful chair. Where could I find the specs for this chair? I would like to know how high off the floor the seat is and the instructions can be revised to make it a little taller. Although very comfortable, the pictures seem to show an extgremely low chair. Thank you! cr


8 years ago on Introduction

Mr. Anderson, your Instructables are awe-inspiring. i always look forward to seeing new projects from you. i love the instant cardboard chair! i finally know of someone else who does that. i will certainly be putting some of your ideas to use next time i build up enough motivation to rearrange and downsize my belongings.


9 years ago on Step 1

You can simplify construction. Instead of the hole, cut a slot the thickness of the wood in each piece so they slide together like the seperaters in a cardboard wine case.

1 reply

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

It will not be near as strong as the authors chair. You may end up with a broken tailbone or more or less.


9 years ago on Step 2

My first laugh as well. Thanks!


9 years ago on Step 3

i've been doing this in my dorm room and a really easy way to make them stay together and stable is zip ties. those little plastic ties that are really cheap and readily available at hardware stores will hold them together even if you load them with books. just put about two to each side through the holes in the sides of the crates