Furniture Without Measuring Tapes?
Triggered by the recent acquisition of a Festool DOMINO, which is ALL
metric, I’ve been investigating the “32 mm System”, developed,
naturally, by a German - right after World War II (The War to End ALL
Wars?). With a huge demand for cabinets and a severe shortage of wood,
to say nothing of a shortage of skilled workers (wars are not good for
furniture, forests or men between the ages of 14 and 70 - hell, wars
aren’t good for people in general, to say nothing of its other
problems), there was a real need for a quick, and efficient way to make
cabinets that didn’t need many highly skilled workers or a lot of
sophisticated machines and tooling. Naturally, it was an architect who
came up with a method of building “knock down, ship flat, assemble on
site” cabinets out of, let’s just say “not solid wood”, to meet a need
of the Post War period - “The 32mm System”.
The 32mm System relies on standardized parts with standardaized holes of
two standardized sizes, with standardized spacing for both assembly as
well as hardware installation, the hardware also being standardized.
Very efficient, and very simple - one “side panel”, one “top/bottom
panel” - join a pair of each and you’ve got four sides of a box - with
predrilled holes for drawer guided, door hinges, . . . All very slick
and surprisingly flexible (options wise, not structurally) - WITH the
Anyway - the Festool DOMINO is all Metric, so I’ve been converting back
and forth between metric and emperial (Interesting ‘ “emperical” -
“empire” - British Empire - but didn’t they use metric? I’m getting a
headache.). So I’ve been playing with 25.4 (25.4 mm/inch) and 0.0397
(inches/mm), along with 16mm (very close to 5/8ths of an inch) and 19mm
(very close to 3/4 of an inch) and a host of other conversions from The
32mm System back to the more familiar inches and fractions of inches,
including decimal fractions.
Now the metric system has a lot of nice features - especially if you
want to do calculations, or scale things up or down by a factor of 10.
Calculations using fractions is pretty messy - divide 1 and 15/16 inches
by three for example, or add 1/8 plus 3/16 plus 9/32 inches. On the
other hand, doubling 1/16 and doubling it again is trivial - 1/8, 1/4.
Going the other way by halves is just as easy 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, ...
Now all this converting back and forth, and thinking about “measuring”
in general, got me wondering.
What would furniture be like if there were no measuring tapes, metric or
emperial? What if all you had for measuring was a length of string and
maybe a pair of sticks (slip sticks)? Parts would be “ABOUT this long,
ABOUT this wide and ABOUT this thick” - no Rules, no preconceived, or
given - stock sizes. “Parts that have to fit between other parts” is
the only “need to MEASURE” constraint. Want the middle of something
that's "this long"? Take a piece of string "this long" and, hold the
ends together and find the bottom of the resulting "loop" - done - no
reading a tape, dividing by two then finding the nearest fractional line
on the tape.
Take a BIG piece of paper and sketch a full size drawing of a piece of
furniture - with no preconceived notion of measuring, available stock
size or how you’ll make it. What would YOUR chair, table or dresser
Throw away One Size Fits All and think in terms of a Specific Need for
the piece. If you’re tall, or short, what would you change in the chair
you’re sitting in? If you’re “slender” or “rotund” would that change
what YOUR chair would look like?
Now imagine you have all the tools and equiptment you currently own -
and could make the parts of your next piece any thickness and length you
want - and imagine that didn’t involve a lot of physical labor. Most
important, imagine not having to read a measuring tape or anything with
little lines on it? “It” just has to be “This Long”, about “This Big
How much does your tape measure - and readily available stock dimensions
- affect your design considerations? What if you knew a sawyer just
down the road?
(returning to trying to figure out the underlying reasons for the
“presets” on the Festool DOMINO mortiser)