DIY Furniture Delivered in Bytes Not Boxes

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Do-it-yourself stores like Ikea are wildly popular among assemble-it-yourselfers. But now instead of supplying boxes containing planks of wood and funny-looking screws, one design firm is offering DIYers a greener way to get their furniture: open-source digital files. The project, called AtFAB, comes from the Lexington, Ky.-based design firm Filson and Rohrbacher. Hat tip to Christopher Mims, who described the AtFAB plans in a recent Grist post.

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I'm no fabricator (yet!), but here's my understanding of how this works: First, find a piece of furniture you like online from AtFAB's modern, prefab furniture series. Next, following the instructions on their website, request the digital "cut file" directly from the designers. Their Creative Commons licensed design file will start downloading to your computer.

A cut file contains all the information needed to make your own version of the furniture by cutting it yourself on a CNC milling machine, short for computer numerical control. CNC machines work sort of like printers, in that a computer delivers a command and the machine responds. In this case, the machines cut instead of print materials to exact 3-D specifications.

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Or, if you don't have your own CNC machine, a local fabricator should be able to make the pieces from the files. Googling revealed a fabricator near me that could probably help, but the designers also suggest looking on 100kGarages.com and at DIY workspaces like TechShop.

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Filson and Rohrbacher's furniture pieces are intended to be cut easily from whatever material you want, whether that's metal or wood, or something wackier. Instead of wondering where your furniture actually came from, and how the people who produced it were treated, you could recycle wood into a cabinet.

Maybe one day CNC files will go mainstream and we'll be able to download whatever furniture we want and have a range of local machinists to pick from. An open-minded international retailer should get on that.

Photo: Open-source cut files for furniture like this enables do-it-yourselfers to fabricate the pieces themselves. Credit: Filson and Rohrbacher.

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