This is a story about the stools that most skillful carpenters refused to work on and a man who made impossible manufacturing possible utilizing FabCafe machinery.
- Product Development
Here at Hidakuma, we make our space available to manufacture furniture for architects and furniture designers. Among those who come to use our studio, we occasionally have hands-on professionals who enjoy working on products staying in Hida.
Shigeru Kuwahara is one of those architects we worked with, who created SLANT – stool that each piece supports one another. This represents the environment of Hida woods, where trees support one another as they grow.
So, this is the story and its process on how the stools were made utilizing digital fabrication and wood machine at FabCafe.
1st class architect, no. 312653, Lecturer at Meiji University and Tokyo City University
1971 Born in Tokyo
1994 Graduated from Tokyo City University with B.E. in Architecture
1996 Graduated from University of Southern California with master’s degree in Architecture
1997 Graduated from Columbia University with master’s degree in Architectural City Landscaping
1997-98 Greg Lynn Form（U.S.A.）
2005 Founded First-class Architecture of Shigeru Kuwahara Office
Announced the collaboration furniture work with Hidakuma and architects at Sympo-sium of Town with Hardwood Trees.
In April 2017, Hidakuma announced creative furniture with small-diameter hardwood trees at a symposium organized by Hidakuma city. Four architects and furniture designers were invited to the event where they all had their design manufactured by four different craftsmen in Hida.
Small-diameter thinning wood: making use of the smaller materials
Cutting small-diameter wood creates flat wood plate.
Bending makes the material three-dimensional.
Bending diagonally makes the strength higher by 22%.
Load vector is distributed diagonally, which helps rigidity increase.
One piece of plate is cut into 4 pieces.
Kuwahara’s work is stocking stools with three different wood materials connected diagonally. This diagonal design has benefit of stronger bearing. With this design, the stools are made stronger to deal with weight from certain angles. By having three legs supporting one another diagonally, the stool has better load-bearing features. While this was all good, and other projects of other furniture designers made progress, this particular project was found hard to find a craftsman to work with.
・The three dimensional cut in diagonal is difficult.
・Complicated jigs may be required and therefore the project would not finish within the time frame.
・Product may take at least one week for completion.
・Not sure if we can create enough strength to support the stool, which may require extra hours to try and experiment.
Those are some of the reasons that professional craftsmen turned down the opportunity to work on this project. Before we know, there is only 3 days left before the symposium event. And it does not help that many craftsmen claims the project may take up to a week. It is rather a devastating situation.
Those are some of the reasons that professional craftsmen turned down the oppor-tunity to work on this project. Before we know, there is only 3 days left before the symposium event. And it does not help that many craftsmen claims the project may take up to a week. It is rather a devastating situation.
Considering the rather challenging situation, Kuwahara decided to come to FabCafe studio himself to manufacture the furniture with us. In spite of his cold, which he had caught the day before due to his sleepless nights, just like little children get over-excited the night before their birthday, he bounced back to work at full speed after a restful day upon arrival in Hida.
Creating a complicated jig to diagonally cut wood pieces with laser cutter.
Jig is a tool that assists creating a material. For instance, saw bench is designed to cut wood in straight line, not diagonal. However, with additional ruler attached to saw bench, diagonal cutting may be possible.
The main reason for the craftsmen to turn away from this project was the challenge to make this unusual jig. They assumed that it might take a length of time to create this tool. In spite of their anticipation, Kuwahara created this jig in a short period of time. This was because he used his original furniture design in 3D data, in which the drawing lines helped to cut down the time in creating jigs. By cutting plying wood with laser cutter, the jig was ready to use in almost no time.
So this is the jig for diagonal cutting. The project requires more than 5 diagonal cuts altogether, which explains why the craftsmen refused to work on this project. This would have involved tedious hard work.
The photo shows how using the ruler helps accurate diagonal cutting.
Once cut, all left to do is to assemble the pieces. It was not an easy process, but we managed to finish. At this point there was only 8 hours left before the symposium!
Employed the concept of “helping one another” structure.
Expressing the rich woods of Hida with various wood types.
SLANT Stools assisting one another. Shigeru Kuwahara
Stools can be stored away easily as they can be piled together.
Stools can be set up in any way, in any forms.
The stool may not look strong enough as the craftsmen were concerned, yet there is not even a hint of it as you sit on the stool. As the diagonally stretched legs structurally support one another, which makes it load bearing. The original concept of the stool proudly present itself in its structure.
Possibilities expand with the use of digital fabrication.
Kuwahara is one of the pioneers who made use of digital production in the essence of his work. In this stool project, he utilized the feature of Rhinoceros, 3D modelling software. The shape of the legs, like origami folding, would not have been invented without 3D mental approach.
With digital machine and wood machine both available at Hidakuma, Kuwahara worked well here in his element. As a result, the project took only two days instead of one week as many had suggested. Technology-based digital fabrication and traditional and physical manual craftsmanship have their own pros and cons each. Taking advantage of the two extremes going between the two, new ideas and complex process have been developed, which never existed before.
During those two days, the stool in which the Hida hardwood trees support one another presented a good example of a new era in creation and manufacturing.
Other designer/Hidakuma collaboration products on display at Symposium of Town with Hardwood Trees
Great friendship between Kuwahara and Asaoka of Hidakuma has developed after sharing two intensive days of work.
He had trouble sleeping prior to the projects as he was too worried. After the completion of the product, he had trouble sleeping again as he was too excited about the product that he had just completed. Glad to see his sleepless nights in Hida ending.
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