More often than not, the furniture you put in your home says a lot about you as a person. Whether you’re into more classic or even vintage pieces, or you like funky shapes and colors speak to your personality. Tom and Tracy Hazzard get into one of their fields of expertise, furniture design—specifically of the 3D-printed variety. Apart from smaller knick-knacks and tchotchkes, 3D printing technology has more utilitarian uses, and this list now includes furniture. Tom and Tracy take a look at the possibilities that 3D printing has now offered the furniture design industry.
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3D Printed Furniture
3D printed furniture is the topic for Design Inspiration Friday, it’s my favorite subject: furniture. We have designed a lot of furniture in our careers. It’s my favorite thing to design because it can be personal, and it can touch so many people when you design great furniture.
Also, this is our anniversary episode. It’s been one year. It’s one year today. Tom didn’t realize this, I might have held that one back from him – he thought it was just Design Inspiration Friday. It’s tax day, which is why we all really need some inspiration, but that is when we started it. That’s why I can’t forget it. We started our podcast on Tax Day last time. So it’s been a year and 230 episodes. We took a break in the fall from five days a week while we were traveling so much around the country attending 3D printing events. 230 episodes. That’s pretty big.
I can’t thank our listeners, especially those binge listeners, enough. Thank you so much for helping us make it to a year. It’s because of you that we are still doing this and are still excited every day and we still have great new content like today’s. I also want to say definitely the dialogue that we are having with you that is increasing every week is great. Keep it coming. We will continue to do the show and make it what you would like it to be. Thanks, everybody.
But the idea of 3D printed furniture… I have seen a few pieces out there like those vase-looking tables that are done on the giant machines. We saw something on the Big Rep Machine at 3D Print Show in Pasadena last August. They were doing a coffee table-sized item entirely printed in plastic on their bed. It was a normal-sized end table, among other things. They also had a coffee table. It’s not that that wasn’t cool-looking, and I loved the ombre color. I thought it was pretty, but it is still plastic.
If we open up our minds, and this project certainly did, of it not all being 3D printed, then there really is a good spot for 3D printing. I agree. I think it all depends on the context of the material and the application.
The design we are going to highlight today is by Russell Singer. He has been a guest on the podcast, not because of his designs—he is actually an industrial designer—but he is also the Director of Design & Development as a principal partner at MAKEiT, which is a 3D printer manufacturer in Pasadena. He spends a lot of his day working with their printers trying to improve them and testing them, even sometimes building their printers when they need some extra hands on the production line. He wears several hats.
But he is actually an industrial designer. He has done a great job creating a design here that we are highlighting, which is a hybrid product. That is really where you get to 3D printing being able to be used in appropriate and unique ways to achieve a vision of your design. Especially when you want to think about making a small run of something, this is a perfect application for it.
All of the parts he has done you could have made in a small run. He has a round glass top that you could have multiples cut. You could make a very small ten-piece run, or you could make one. You could do the legs and have them all pre-cut ahead of time. This is something you could make to order pretty quickly with the parts you have. It’s also something you could pre-make for a very small run.
The other thing is you are talking about the glass or the non 3D printed parts. You really could use existing, off the shelf parts. You don’t have to make anything special. A round glass top part like this is available off the shelf probably. Is there any reason to go have a custom one cut for you? Only if you needed a special size. If you were going to make a run and sell them, no, I would go with standard. It will be cheaper that way.
It creates a really nice look. It’s very modern, and I like the style of it. You could put it on Etsy or Amazon and sell a bunch of these very successfully and not have to invest in it if it went really well, then you could go ahead and tool for parts or have them machined or however they were going to be made in the final version.
We are talking about a round coffee table-sized table. Maybe it’s 36 inches in diameter. The beauty in this design is in the leg structure that is supporting this top. It has these oak wood rods or dowels, cylindrical structures that are creating the legs of this. They are creating a complex X structure with four legs going diagonally from the top of the table to the opposite side under the tabletop to the floor. There are four of them rotating at 90 degrees all going through the center.
What he has done is create a spherical structure that is 3D printed in the center that serves two purposes. It is a design element, but it is also the connecting structure for these four legs. Those wood dowels are sliding through here, and the 3D printed part keeps them where they need to be so they are not interfering with each other, but it also holds them in place and it creates a really strong structure when it’s done.
At the very top, at the glass end, and at the bottom by the floor, is a 3D printed foot, a different part he has created, which has some nice taper and curve and bend to it. It’s a 3D printed part. It has some grip on it to hold onto carpet well. With the glass, it does a similar thing. It’s a two-piece part at the top where it tapers and curves, but then a secondary part printed separately that is made of ninja flex. It is a soft, flexible material that really grips the glass so it won’t slide.
He took these found objects: the dowels came from closet rods. They were oak, so it’s good quality wood. He trimmed them down and had to make some connections with the 3D printed parts. That is where the complexity comes in.
I just want to jump in and say the glass top came from Pier 1, and they have different types of glass tops at reasonable prices. You can get them cheaper online. With shipping and breakage, it is probably better to go to the store and pick one up. He found it as a found object. He had originally tried to make it out of wood, but he discovered the perils of trying to cut a circle perfectly with not the right equipment. He abandoned that after putting way too much effort into it for the glass top.
A couple of things to note; there are other parts that he might have considered using off the shelf had he had more of a furniture background like we do. Those grips to grip to the tabletop, they are very standard, cheap, and easy to get, to get the glass top to stick. You wouldn’t need to custom 3D print one. It’s fun, though, and he is into 3D printing. I’m sure his made a more solid connection to that transition piece to the leg. It wasn’t just peel and stick.
I did not mention that I bumped into Russell Singer at a local meet-up in South LA County a few weeks ago. He had some of these parts there that are the transition from the wood to the glass. I was checking them out. They are nicely done 3D printed parts. We got into a conversation about it, and he told me about this table. That’s how I got turned onto it and decided to highlight it here today.
I think that it’s admirable. It has a nice look. It’s fun and interesting. It cost $180. $100 of that was the glass top itself. No surprise. Very common for it to be one of the more expensive parts of any piece of furniture. I should have sent him to some local glass buyers here; he could have gotten it for cheaper. Regardless.
This is a great example of a DIY project. Currently, Russell’s plan is to offer this for limited release sale as a completed product and then some time later the files will be made available. But you could see totally doing a hack on an IKEA table: changing out a base or other pieces and making it your own and giving it a better style than it normally has.
He is experimenting with some different materials here. The material that I saw in person, and that he settled on in his final design, is a PLA that has stainless steel mixed into it from Proto-pasta. After you print those parts, you can buff them on a buffing wheel or brush them and it actually brings out more of that stainless steel shine. It looks like a brushed metal more than a plastic. That’s great.
He realized the PLA was starting to wear a little quickly. So having that mixed material or using something stronger is a better solution. He also made some different feet that had some rubber grip as well if you are going to be doing it on a wood floor. It is more refined.
I want to talk about the transitions in materials here. When you are talking about a hybrid product, there are things you really need to consider in your design. Wood is a wonderful material. It is beautiful and high-quality, but it is a natural material and hydroscopic. It actually absorbs water. It will absorb it, and it will shed it, depending on the ambient humidity of your environment.
If you live in Phoenix or southern California, the air is very dry, so the wood will probably be more stable. If you live in Louisiana or Florida or the Northeast in the summer—actually that will be worse because the cold air is dry in the winter but the humid air in the summer… It’s been worse when you have a sudden influx of moisture and then a sudden dry-out. If we experience the El Nino that has been predicted here, and you have wood products outside or with windows open, we would have more of an extreme happening than our furniture is used to, and that can cause various problems like cracking or shrinking or other connections issues.
The expansion of the wood is my biggest concern and is something you have to consider in design. You can research online: oak will expand or contract such a distance over any linear foot. Maybe this dowels are thin enough that it won’t expand that much. But you are either going to have joints that get looser at certain times of the year, or the wood swells and expands, and it will fight your 3D printed part. I have a feeling the stainless steel/PLA hybrid filament is pretty tough stuff, and it may withstand some of that extra pressure. Certainly a spherical structure is a strong structure to help withstand that.
When you are doing something with hybrid materials that have different properties, you want to think about the geometry of it. Certain geometric structures have more integrity and can withstand more pressure than others. A cylinder is one of them. I think that was a wise choice on Russell’s part.
These are good challenging issues. I think the part that may have the biggest challenge in the future is that center spherical piece because you are fitting these wood dowels through it. That is holding everything together. If you ended up with a whole lot of slop, if the tolerance loosened up, your table may lower a bit or twist on you. I think that it is smart that he has the angles, and that will help him because you are shifting into the edge of that, and they have some play already. So I think he may be okay on that. It won’t be extremely noticeable. This design may be just fine with it, but I bet if you measured it in the hottest summer day or the coldest winter day, you might find that table is a quarter inch lower than you thought it was.
I think the most interesting thing is that where are you going to go with this? He said a friend commissioned him to create a dining table version. From a design perspective, that is really challenging. Not every design translates in scale really well. You think you can just grow it up. That looks okay on the computer screen, but it doesn’t look okay in person. You find greater challenges with spanning that big a distance or in the case of a dining table, you have to put people under it. You have legs to contend with. There will be another whole host of issues, so I look forward to seeing how he resolves those issues.
I look forward to that, too. Russell, we have some experience with this. Listen to this, and in the future, we can have a conversation about this. When you transition in scale, let’s say it’s simple and round. You have to realize a dining table has to withstand a lot more weight and forces, tipping; the scale of those round legs may really need to be scaled up significantly in diameter in order to have all the materials together in combination be able to withstand that weight.
What if you made a racetrack-sized table? Think two circles put together. It’s wider. It’s for 6-8 people. You are going to make a big tabletop. You may need two of these bases, but you are going to have to connect them together along the bottom, like a trestle table. You have different forces and structures. Furniture is a wonderful thing, and it teaches you a lot about geometry and physics. It’s a great STEAM project when you think about it.
That’s the thing, though. To not have those cross pieces that are necessary to bridge the weight and to keep tipping and racking happen, which happens all the time, and not make it look like you slapped on a support piece, to choose a different material, or to choose a different thinness or texture level, to be able to do those things is where the art of the process comes in and where a really skilled designer will succeed.
I feel strongly about what I’ve seen of Russell’s work so far that he has a great eye. I know he will resolve it. He came from a place at which it looked a little matchsticky. He was great to show process photos. Definitely the glass top elevated the quality and appearance of the table, but the legs looked like matchsticks before. Part of it was a color choice he made. Part of it was the roundness of the way he resolved the feet portion of it. He definitely has an eye for how to resolve these things properly. The details are what really separate a great designer from someone who can make it.
The design would not be nearly as interesting if he had not followed through with the glass tabletop. It allows you to see through to the beauty of the whole support structure and the 3D printed section in the center.
I think it would be really cool not to have it be a solid 3D printed sphere in the center, to do something more fun where you can see more piercings and have more functions. When you are looking down that glass top, it’s even more interesting. Or some of the translucence, you can illuminate that with LED lights. There is more to go with this design. That is the sign of a really good design. When it opens up more possibilities for variations on it, that is a good sign.
Good job, Russell. Thank you for sharing it with us.
I want to make a mention of something that came into the news early this week. MakerBot has been celebrating their 100,000th printer sold worldwide, and there is a competition called the Maker Milestones Giveaway. Tracy and I are now on the panel of judges for this competition, and we want everyone to know about this. We want to encourage everyone to enter. It’s really easy to do, and you do not have to have a MakerBot printer.
By entering in this, you will be able to share your work with a huge audience over social media, and you will get a chance to win a free MakerBot printer and be a guest on the WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast after the competition is over. The top three winners will be guests on our show on a Design Inspiration Friday episode. They win other various things as part of the contest, too.
Make sure to enter. It will be on for quite some time. It goes into early June. They want you to post whatever your milestone is in 3D printing, your best achievements. You put the hashtag #makermilestone in there. They have some contest rules and basics, but really it’s about pushing it out on social media with that hashtag. They will find you because they will search on it on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and you are entered into the competition. We encourage everybody to go out and do that. Many of you have achieved some great things, so submit!
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