Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Distributed Furniture Making

Ana White Benchright Farmhouse Table
Went furniture shopping with the kids today. There is something wrong with the furniture industry, or maybe it's just their customer base (human beings). You can't find simple, well made furniture. Everything we saw was either too big, too short, and / or didn't have enough storage space. Argentina is supposed to be big on wood, and the furniture we saw in a couple of small shops was indeed made of real wood (as opposed to particle board like everything from IKEA, which does not have a store here).
    After spending several hours tramping around looking at what was available, I got to thinking that a distributed method of building furniture might be a good business. Building your own furniture is mostly the province of crazed do-it-yourselfers who are willing to spend thousands of dollars on elaborate woodworking machines and thousands of hours of their time building a knick knack table that will be of no use to anyone.
    Furniture manufacturers are building stuff that will sell in suburban malls to suburbanites with stars in their eyes. Simple, well made, functional furniture is the province of custom builders and they want real money for their products, more than most people are willing to spend.
    So I got to thinking. There are several steps to building furniture:

  1. Decide what you want.
  2. Draw up a plan and a Bill-Of-Materials (BOM).
  3. Select the lumber.
  4. Cut the pieces to size.
  5. Assemble.
  6. Finish.
Only you can decide what you want, I can't help you with that. Furniture plans are easily delivered over the internet. Good plans include the BOM. Selecting the lumber is the first actual physical thing that needs to be done, and who knows more about lumber, you, or the people who work with lumber all day long? I'm thinking that if you sent your BOM to the lumberyard, they would be glad to pull the correct boards out of stock. Now it might be that your local lumberyard, the one that supplies the construction industry is not going to stock a large selection of furniture grade lumber. But there are places that do. 
    Next we need to cut the lumber into the correct size pieces. A good table saw comes in handy here, but buying a table saw in order to build one table is a little counter-productive. I am willing to bet that there are a zillion table saws sitting idle in the USA right now, and at least half of them are owned by a competent person who would just love to put it to use.
    So what we do is set up a directory service. You select the piece of furniture you want to build, make any adjustments to the dimensions you want. Your order is sent to your closest lumberyard, who pull the required boards and deliver them to your local table saw man who cuts the pieces to size. Now we just need to get these pieces into your hands. Since it's a local operation, that should not be a big deal, even if you have to pay to ship it.
    All that's left is to assemble it, and that should be easy enough. You will need a few hand tools, maybe a drill and some clamps if you are using any glue, but that should do it. 
   Okay, there is also the finish. That is a personal preference and you can put as much time and effort into it as you want. We could put finishing after cutting, as it is the work of a few minutes to run boards through a sander and then spray them with varnish or paint. Then assembly really would be the last step.
    Setting up an operation like this would take a great deal of detail work. You might want to start with just one metropolitan area to see if it could be made to work. You would need to qualify your saw and finish guys and get your lumber yards sorted out. And you would need plans that would work with this kind of scheme. Making a few trial runs would probably be a good idea.

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