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How might we create furniture from one 4' by 4' piece of plywood, and two 2' by 4' beams?



I have no woodworking experience but have been tasked with sketching, designing, and building a chair from scratch.  I can only use a 4' by 4' piece of plywood, two 2' by 4' beams, and 20 screws.

My role: 

I worked on this chair over the course of 3 weeks.

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The Process



Initially getting started on the project was extremely difficult for me. I had started out with absolutely no product design experience. The beginning stages of sketching forced me to explore three-dimensional sketching from memory (as opposed to my limited sketching from observation). I had trouble wrapping my mind around thinking through all sides and angles of a concept.I hadn’t quite settled on any of these sketches, but looked to explore more concepts. The concepts to the right were ideas I was leaning more towards, but I couldn’t quite convey properly how I wanted it to look and work. Below I continued to flesh out the idea I thought was worth exploring.



After getting a little bit of a better idea of what I wanted to do, I was able to grasp the concept a little more and create a scale model to better represent what I wanted to build. Unfortunately, because I made my scale model out of cardstock, It was difficult to understand the thickness and depth of the “wood.” I also didn’t quite think through how I would arrange the nails, or how the wood would fit together and connect with other pieces.I got started on a new scale model fashioned out of cardboard, but because it was taking too long (and the short deadline was fast approaching) I decided to go ahead and start building anyway.





Each student was alloted two 2’ by 4’s, and one 4’ by 4’ sheet of plywood and about 20 screws. I laid out a basic plan to get started - making sure I wouldn’t need to use more wood than allowed. My arms would be 2 feet each, the seat would be 1.5 feet by 1.5 feet. I wanted to cut notches sideways into the 2 by 4’s for the seat, and cut the 2 by 4 arms at a 45 degree angle and screw them together.After some consultation with others, I realized that it would be extremely difficult to execute my current design without the wood splitting or clamping it down properly. I had overestimated my ability to go through with my design, not quite considering the clamp constraints, wood grain constraints, nail constraints, and more.





Since I had prematurely made the cuts for my chair already, I had to improvise and fashion a new design out of my old one. I changed my legs so that they would be much more sturdy, but I had to decide which side I wanted the slanted legs on. After some thought, the right-most photo seemed to be the best idea as most chairs in real life have slanted back-legs to prevent falling. I wanted to cut notches into the two 2 by 4’s that held up the back seat, but I realized it would be difficult for it to fit exactly. I couldn’t screw it in either - the screws were too short. That led to my decision to cut the 2 by 4 laterally, insert two small pieces in between, and create a “torii” arch design.


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Creating the Torii Chair was definitely a learning process. I gained valuable skills navigating the woodshop and power tools. My final chair (above) proved to be much more different than my initial build plans after taking everything into consideration and making many modifications. The drawer (right) serves as a modular piece that can be used as a drawer, step-stool, and even back seat.


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