(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, www.tristramshandy21st.blogspot.com --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.
Step 1: Early Attempts: College Student Nomad Furniture
The college student is America’s finest nomad. Grad School faces the student with the most requirments since most people have left the dorms with their minmum equipment list of furniture provided. When I moved to my Grad School apartment I needed furniture and built a bunch of it cheaply and quickly out of plywood whose edges were outlined in pine strapping to stiffen the plywood and provide a nailing surface for other sides.
First I made two long boxes (these made very strong with 2x4 structural outlining!) to hold up a queen-sized plywood bed-platform (with more 2x4 structural members) -- by the bye, the whole thing was very strong and extra quiet for non-sleeping activities such as horizontal martial arts practise. Almost all I owned could fit in those 2x2x5-foot boxes, so not only did I sleep on them, and not only did they raise the platform high enough to store duffle-bags beneath, but they also were the transport medium when my father came by with the old snowmobile trailer to bring me there and bring me back home for summer.
I also built a desk set up on two bookcases (again a simple ply top set across boxes). The desk top became 15 years later my nomad computer desk (see below). The big boxes were lost in life’s changes. The two small bookcases remain. But they are ugly, as you can see. But they are strong, and I couldn’t throw out a useful strong thing, and certainly not two of them. They are strong enough and ugly enough to duct-tape the books inside (protected by cardboard or something) when you move. I do want to replace this one -- its ugliness in my living room gets even to me -- but when a new bookcase arrives, I will relegate this one to a closet or basement for document or tool storage.
For hasty college nomad furniture, you can’t beat 3/8 plywood with structural outlining in 1x2 and 2x4 timber, and simple nails (I made bookcase shelves from pine boards because sagging shelves irk me powerful!). I recommend staining to a lighter color -- that dark stain (got for free at the time) was a bit depressing.
Step 2: Nomad Bookcase
Now jump ahead 10 years. Tired of ugly plywood, I try a new design out of pine boards. Here is a simple bookcase easily broken down flat by removing wedges from tenons. You may build size-wise to suit -- this was sized to fit a certain raised ledge and a need to accommodate my expanding book collection; otherwise I would make it larger and differently, with a lower shelf and better wood -- wedge-furniture ought to use hardwoods.
However you make it, use the tenon-wedge method because that is primary nomad furniture technique. My inspiration: I saw a finely made antique armoire thingie held with wedges at Debbie and Wade’s house (the “other Wade” in Connecticut), and I was enthralled with ‘heirloom technology’ and soon made this example.
Here it serves as my small science-book and DIY reference section, with storage under for my book bag. Originally this bookcase was on a basement ledge (built out over the ground-level foundation) in my old home that needed to be pressed into service for book space. The bottom here is open because, on the ledge, my tall books stood between the lower legs on top of the ledge, so no need to build a lower shelf. Now placed on the floor, I would not store books among the dirt, and thus that area is not for the book-bag storage, for which the bookcase serves admirably -- you can shove you boots and sneakers under there, those other things besides book-bags that are always in the way, thus its design weakness in the end becomes an elegant solution for keeping what we toss on the floor.
Note on Wedge Size -- The tenon-wedge method is surprisingly sturdy in a lateral direction but do not test your luck: large forces lever on the tenon and tenon-hole area. I recommend wedges as long as seem aesthetically pleasing to you to spread some of the levering forces out against the side of the bookcase and perhaps slightly change the force geometry (I am on thin ice here) (see the next step, the stand, with the longer wedges carved with heads). Still, this quickly made pine bookcase has always carried a good load and has now lasted about 18 years (age of my daughter: there’s a reason: when she was born, my study was kicked out of one of our spare bedrooms and sent to the semi-basement with the ledge).
More Real Practical Advice -- The hole through which the wedge goes (through the shelf) should extend a little past the plane of the side of the bookcase (i.e., into the tenon hole of the upright side-piece) to insure that the wedge will drive up tightly against the wedge-slot on one side, and the bookcase-side on the other -- I know this sounds confusing; is it really confusing? -- not much, say an eighth of an inch to account for various shrinkings and swellings the wooden parts might undergo. Who knows what dry or humid worlds your nomad bookcase will be asked to go?
Step 3: Nomad Deskstand or Low Side- Table
I made this stand very quickly -- in an hour or so -- to serve a sudden need at my second-to-last last technical writing job. UConn gave us nice desks and chairs, but the furniture did not bow to the notion of vertical space. I built this hasty desk-stand to hold current projects and references on the shelf, and to sandwich underneath anything else I had to shove under there, from books to paper piles. I used circle-cutter drill bits to make a hasty medieval looking cruciform design -- I think all useful objects should have at least a whiff of art -- even though I am an atheist, I like the looks of the ancient cruciform motif (here vaguely Celtic looking, suiting my studies in Irish folklore).
This stand served me for about 11 years and three jobs (satisfying the nomad requirement easily!) and was replaced only recently by the desk set-up shown in my “Office Rectangle” Instructable. I saved this stand as a wall-table by my office desk because I didn’t have the heart to throw it away (unfortunately, I have a hard time moving on from affection-worthy old things, and I still have a 30 year old sweatshirt that an ex-wife and a girlfriend have suggested I throw out; perhaps this explains why I was an archaeology major as an undergrad and still an obsessive explorer of stone walls in the New England woods).
The motif of the human head carved simply in the wedges was one I got from medieval art motifs and constructions, wherein animal and human forms were sometimes worked into the fastenings and supports of utilitarian things -- and of course you are also reminded of the caryatid pillars in some old Greek architecture. Back when I built it, I though that the “captured human” wedges were a metaphor for the plight of the office worker in an unrewarding and under-appreciated job, captured in The System, and nothing in the years since has changed my mind about that. You too should express ideas in the things you build, and do not hesitate to speak exegesis when people are curious about them.
Step 4: Nomad Computer Desk
I spoke about this briefly in my Office Rectangle Instructable. It is an (again) hastily-made computer desk in 5 pieces: Plywood top outlined at under-edges in 1x2 pine strap for rigidity, two identical side pieces for desk legs (made of cheap 1x2 pine strapping; make sure these are knot-free since they are inherently rather weak), each side being one-piece and triangulated for strength (seen in the photo), and two diagonal supports in the rear for lateral rigidity. The whole was made to carry in a flat package to your work site and quickly screw together with pre-made and pre-counter-sunk holes. It is light as a package (I carried it under one arm), very nomadic (moved to two of my last jobs), and my only regret is that I designed and made it hastily out of available scrap wood (some of cut down from 25 year old nomad furniture projects as mentioned in the grad-school-apartment-desk comment -- recycle everything you can for both nostalgia and environment!).
What would I do differently now? I made it for a specific context (see below), but were I to make it for a more generic context I would (1) make it out of thicker pine leg pieces or out of clear oak strap, (2) provide short triangulating lateral support pieces on the front for additional rigidity (though really the cheap desk as is has been quite strong enough if you do not brawl in your office), but not too big or they would interfere with your legs and anything else stored under the desk,(3) add a shallow draw, and so (4) I would have to lengthen the desk a foot, (5) but the depth of 2 feet has been perfect so never mind this #5, (6) make the top out of more attractive solid wood, oiled or stained, not painted, and (7) if the desk were truly nomadic, I’d use inset t-nuts and bolts to assemble/disassemble the desk.
Let me quote myself concerning the anecdote about this particular desk: “...the grey desk you see under my office typing stand was a hasty solution when I was briefly hired at Gerber-Coburn Optical as a contract technical writer. They evidently though it was OK to treat a contractor like shit, and set me up at a round conference table, so poorly designed for typing and working in general, that I was soon miserable. I schemed: at home I built a modular computer desk, adapted to the way I had worked for 15 years ... I knew I was doing something considered 'weird' in the stiff, conservative, unimaginative corporate culture, so I painted the desk the same shade of grey that was in the walls and carpets of the office, then carried the folded-flat table in without much notice. I had pre-drilled the holes, and brought in a small electric screwdriver. I assembled the computer desk in 2 minutes, (just like they would do in Mission Impossible if they had to sneak in and build a desk fast!) and slid it under the round table. The computer monitor stayed on the round table, agreeably high, keyboard and other stuff went on my table. Wonderful! People walked by for days without noticing until one day some manager noticed and said, "Hey, you can't bring in your own furniture." I said, "But I did." He went away. ... I still have it because my college had crappy computer desks made for typewriters and secretaries in dresses trained to hold their legs close together--all my colleagues are still stuck with them, for years and years! My ugly temp 'secret agent' desk is now over 8 years old, functioning well.”
Step 5: Nomad Map-table/storage Box for Horizontal or Verticle Use
Next I show a flat box that contains large flat documents under its hinged cover (maps, coastal chartbooks, and pictures awaiting use), lets its cover be used as a large map-table, and in variations also becomes a large picture frame that also stores maps inside. Of course, it is very portable and protects well all large flat documents. A lip on the front edge lets you tilt the map-table up and still hold the map for easy viewing. I use a heavy cotterpin to pin it shut, and rope handles to carry.
Here you see it lazily placed on my guestbed to serve as a side-desk and even a sewing table when I start sewing my sails. Its former use was as a vertically mounted picture-frame/map-storage box/tilt-down map table. HereÃÂ¢Ã¢?Â¬Ã¢?Â¢s why:
When my study was exiled to the split-level basement, I had also started accumulating a lot of maps for my ethnographic studies. Besides that, what is not to love about a map? (see footnote). The only room for this was the wall of our laundry room/workshop (yes, sawdust got on the clean clothes now and then, so what?). For the sake of nostalgia and decoration, I tacked there a large chart of the coast where I used to be a fisherman's mate. Inside, the maps were held vertically by a piece of plywood held in place by latches so that the maps and posters would not sag via gravity and become wrinkled. To view the maps, a door latch unhooked the front, the front tilted down over the ironing board held by chains, and I had a map table (after tilting up the bulkhead that pressed the maps flat when stored vertically).
Note: In this case, nomad furniture also implies being nomadic within your own house and having a distributed study space making use of what you have for space. We must be creative in our definitions to maximize existence.
I need say little more; look at the photos; except to say that I use large pieces of cardboard to divide the Irish maps from the Connecticut maps from the star charts from the ocean charts from the pictures waiting to be framed. Envision new ways to use as desk, or wall-attachment. If I knew I would be bringing it back up from a basement-exile, I would have made it a little more pleasing to the eye, but even, it doesn't look so bad now. Do read my footnote below if you can find it in your heart; it is well worth it.
An ode to maps, and a confession -- let me tell you about my maps. Any anthropologist or traveler who has no soft spot in heart for old maps that Showed the Way is a sad person indeed. Yes, yes, yes, maps originate in wickedness. I know that, because I treasure my beautiful maps made by The Ordnance Survey of Ireland, used in my archaeological and folkloric research into Irish folkways, and I know how these maps came to be. I'm sorry about that. Perhaps I'm a hegemonist at heart; see, I have these maps, they are the key to a nation, and a people, and they wrap communities around in powerful Explanation and encompassing Directions and Distances that can be worked into Army Marching Equations, and they pinpoint Resources and Places that armies can count on, or hide in, or crouch behind, or avoid. I know.
And the Irish people I met see that map and they know what (in this case) the English did to them, and say, "No, that isn't right. They spelled that crossroads wrong; they could've gotten that right, at least. That wall isn't there, it's on Yankee Pat's land. The standing stone was never there. It was once there. It is still there but keep an eye for the bull in the field. It moved to the next field over when someone washed clothes in the holy well nearby. They say Finn MacCool threw it there in days gone by, but I don't believe in the old pishrogues. The stone is in your mind, was in their minds, was just an old scratching post for cattle, is nothing at all, but a man who tried to drag it out had nothing but bad luck ever after. I don't understand this map." No, because they didn't make it for you, and I'm sorry, you were occupied, I mean big-O occupied, and they meant to control you with this map. Your own map is a map of words, and memories, and people and things they did, overlapping, fading, but before fading, the overlapping continues with some changes. And you see, with this map I can try to understand your own map of words and memories.
But forgive me, they are lovely maps. The folk's maps are four-dimensional, but 2D has its joys. See: the "Worm Ditch" on one Co. Cavan map is an early Iron Age ditch that crawls around Ardkillmore, and with thoughts of great Worms of Myth I biked there in 1980. Ardkillmore = Ard Cil Mor = great high church = in folk-use Great Ardkill Mountain (there's Ardkillbeg, beg=little, to the east), 880 feet, defined to be a mountain hereabouts, and the map teaches me about definition, because I biked into that townland and called it a hill, but Kathleen who lived there all her life kept calling it a mountain so that eventually I got it, "Ardkill MOUNTAIN." So be it. She taught me about folk-definition vs. Outsider's definitions (just life that movie with innocent-looking Hugh Grant (ha!), "The Englishman who went up a hill but came down a mountain"? It's all true!) -- a lesson possible only with maps, many maps promising many more lessons -- and so I need to have a special nomad map table.
Step 6: Nomad Beds
Briefly notice in the map-table photos the wooden bed-boxes under it. Two of them -- each has a mattress under the blanket (but no box springs, which I always regarded as a waste of money and space). I built these low beds for my children, who never came to use them. Dayna, if you ever read this, these are the “Japanese style” beds I said I was making for you and Brendan, and you were so interested in them when I told you, but then ‘something happened’ and you missed out on them, and much else besides (anybody can Google “parental alienation syndrome” to find out how this happens in an alarming number of households across Britain and America, and probably elsewhere too). With no regular tenants, these beds are designed to stack out of the way. They are potentially nomadic, and indeed, they do migrate from stored condition to in-use condition in a matter of moments. They are rather low, but that’s endurable for a few days, or even years, even for adults.
Step 7: Nomad Night-table
Now, as you tire of moving furniture around, go to sleep....next to your nomad night-stand. I built this one as a properly dimensioned nightstand when I slept on the floor on a futon mattress. It has holes in the raised sides for your fingers when you nomadically move the nightstand or hang it out of the ground moisture in your post-apocalypse nomad tent (note: you won’t be needing the clock-radio any more). You can’t see them here, but I used rose-headed square-shanked copper boat-building rivets (minus the roves of course) to nail the sides to cross-pieces; these rivet-nails are very beautiful if you look at them up close; it’s shame I didn’t show them here, and the simple but decorative pattern I used.
It was sized to hold alarm-clock-radio on top plus one other small item such as a water bottle, tricorder (to scan for evening criminal activity around the yard), or a pencil (I can’t seem to stop writing notes in the books I read, the curse of an education; even in an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel such as Swords of Mars I might be driven to note: “cross-reference Martian city-state politics with historical cases such as Sumeria.”).
I am quite proud of the open slot perfectly sized for a perfect number of easily grabbed books currently being perused (shown here are The Spirit Level which I read twice and a volume of Nemonymous which I couldn’t finish at all, with a comparative study of Scottish ballads and Anglo-Saxon oral poetry as a chaser.
The draw is conveniently sized for important night things such as flashlight, 100kw variable-frequency laser gun, and whatever else you need suddenly at night (Peanut M&M’s? Tums? What?). I keep a small notebook in there just in case I wake up composing an essay in my head; I used to do that, and I would always publish such an essay for hundreds of dollars, but sadly this hasn’t happened in years -- but hope never dies until you do.
Step 8: Appendix: a Brief, Selective History of Nomad Furniture
Hunter-Gatherers (or Gatherer-Hunters) were the original nomads, but not of the animal-herding variety (with almost no exceptions). They owned only what they could carry on their backs for 10 miles or so. Ethnographic analogy: Multipurpose leather hunting bags could be used to sit on and stand on: Eskimo (Inuit) hunters would stand for hours in -30F weather by a seal hole waiting for a feather ice-glued to the breathing hole to tremble with the seal’s breath, then harpoon the seal. They would stand on one of their rawhide equipment pouches to slow heat transfer to the ice; when hunting done, get off the pouch, put hunting things back in it, and walk away. (We could use very durably built dry-bags).
And consider the complex social use of sitting furs: Eskimo (perhaps the Nunamiut?) would put down a sitting-fur, usually around the camp fire when hunting beyond the community, and sat there communing. But when privacy was desired (traditional communities offer almost no privacy, yet they too want some) the Eskimo would MOVE his fur to the side of the tent, and everybody would know to behave as if he were not there. (This could not go on too, too long, of course, because humans living pre-industrial lives tend to be well socialized rather than psychopathically allied to individualism as we are, and loners would eventually be defined as anti-social and treated as such; exceptions exist, I’m sure).
For other H-G cultures, consider in general the use of animal hide as the ultimate in nomad furniture, but don’t forget hammock nets! (Trees required, but once found, a net-chair/bed keeps you away from a lot of bugs and moisture, and keeps you ventilated; see Tim Anderson’s Instructable about hammocks). We carry the modern equivalent when we camp: closed cell foam sleeping bag pad of course. I carry also a 6x12 inch scrap of closed cell pad for sitting on around camp to keep butt warm and dry and less prone to incursion of disease-carrying insects (the deer tick particularly).
Neolithic/Bronze Age/Iron Age Agriculturalists
You don’t move away from the place where you plant crops (some exceptions: hunters might plant something, wander off on seasonal cycle hunting, come back and see what grew -- a transitional state). Now you can build heavier furniture, but many societies didn’t really do that. Look at “tribal” furniture and you’ll see a lot of mats and stools (the Japanese tatami must be the ultimate evolution, though the Japanese have not been “tribal” for a very long time nor were they ever nomadic-- they have embodied nomad furniture into their lifestyle). I use stools to double as easily moveable coffee (or beer, or wine) tables as wells as to sit on and stand on. A dwelling without at least one accessible stool is really under-designed. Consider also woven baskets and mats and wooden chests.
Woven grasses and leaves are undervalued -- people make amazing things from grass, from rain-cloaks to bags to sails to chairs -- look at a rural Irish chair woven out of hay ropes. So if you want to make ancient nomad furniture, look to your lawns for raw materials.
In this period also, animal-herding nomads developed, and they could get animal hairs for weaving, and here we see the invention of the woven rug, perhaps, original to those $5,000 beauties some people can buy, and these are primary nomad furniture as you can see from many Eastern cultures (see the book _Nomad_ for a real-life detailing of such matters in a modern Iranian nomad group).
Recently (in relative terms)
Scandinavian-design (the pure form) furniture, of course; no need to say more.
Wooden chests, of course; I will say more even though I need not: blanket chests, sea chests, tool chests. I use three chests in my house: one to store blankets and sheets (was originally made to hold my children’s toys), a second (photo below) in place of a bureau for clothes that can be wrinkled without putting you at risk of social penalty (I keep as well a defensive one-way boomerang as a kind of weird joke about pistol ownership in America), and the third an antique tool chest to store antique tools awaiting their rotation into public display.
I love these chests, especially the one in my bedroom -- open it up, throw things into the right slots after the laundry is done, and then sit on top to pull on my socks. They are all very nomadic -- they have moved to three dwellings in the last 7 years, and the beauty of a chest is that usually its volume and light contents mean you can move a chest (noamdically) without unpacking it, as you would have to do for most bureaus (I usually put my very items such as gold bars inside a gutted TV for safety-in-disguise).
The great fact about chests, great enough to be emphasized, is that you can sit on them as well as put things in them, so if your aesthetic is sufficiently flexible, you can put chests in your living area, and everybody will admire them, rest on them, and need not know that inside they store your spare pots or comic book collection. If you use a side-opening door (see my toolbox/bench Instructable, which inspired this Instructable) you can both sit and open at once. You can see an antique tool chest in my living room in the background of my "Office Rectangles/satchel" photo (inside the tool chest has wonderful slide-aside ditty-trays on two levels; they slide aside so you can get at the large long objects under them).
Chests as a whole are alive and well but I think are undervalued....or insulted in the form of big plastic storage chests which encourage you to get them out of sight, though they are useful. Chests can have a third function besides storing and sitting: art objects. I carved a design on the top of my bedroom chest (see photo below).... but nobody ever sees it because I usually have clean clothes awaiting filing on top). Today I reveal this carving only to my girlfriend and you, my very dear Instructables Reader. Build a chest TODAY.
But the bench! -- While you are designing your chest, do not forget a bench! Who could record in full the many uses for a 3 or 4 foot long low bench? A bench of approximate height 12-15 inches (similar approximate width), 3-4 feet long, and perhaps built like a storage box may well have the dimensions much sought after by Unified Field Theorists and Occultists alike. Something lies in these dimensions that puts the human in a trance-like state, just as the eternally dimensioned Monolith of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
A bench of these dimensions is perfect "informal sitting" height (also "lace up my sneakers" height), is narrow enough to be scooted aside against a wall hardly noticed, and is long enough to be straddled at one end with the other end used as a work surface for your Instructable projects: that would be in the tradition of "heirloom technology": for example, refer to an antique draw-knife bench. And if the bench were made box like, it would hold many useful things inside while permitting nomad lifestyle with its convenient size and well placed handles. Add handle at one end and wheels at the other, as I did to my toolbox/work-bench (see other Instructable) to enhance your nomadism. Be sure to mount wheels so that they only contact the ground when you grag the other end of the box-bench and tilt upward for rolling transport.
Besides the example of my toolbox/work-bench, I made a three-foot long, well-braced wooden bench for weight-lifting with free-weights but to also double as a bench to sit on in the family room of my former house (second photo below). It tripled as a small but welcome coffee table in an apartment later. Now I use it for all of these functions as well as a low table for my sewing machine used for large pieces such as sails (though rather tippy for that: not recommended without more lateral bracing (feet), easily done with wood cross-pieces temporarily c-clamped to the legs, or you can inset some t-nuts for more elegant temp-screwing on of the lateral support feet).