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Another Weird Product Of Digital Design: Bendable Wood

Snijlab creates a novel technique to turn others on to the possibilities of digital technology.

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Digital technology has enabled designers to get their ideas into the world relatively cheaply and quickly. Now, in order to showcase the myriad possibilities of laser-cutting, the Dutch digital-manufacturing company Snijlab has created an altogether new type of material: folding wood, which can bend back and forth without snapping.

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The effect is achieved by making thin cuts on both sides of a single sheet of wood. The start of each row of cuts shifts by half the length of the previous row. The result creates enough torsion to allow the wood to bend like a hinge. “You could imagine it as a lot of matches put together,” says Snijlab’s Christian Waber. “If you take one matchstick in your hand you can twist it a bit before it breaks. You could also imagine our hinge as a very long matchstick, which can be twisted more than a short one.”

The innovation isn’t proprietary; in fact, Snijlab includes the technique in its handbook as a way to inspire people to start laser-cutting. “By using manufacturing techniques like this,” says the company’s website, “it is possible to make all product features in a single production step and in one material. Because a laser cutter is a fairly common tool, products like this could be manufactured locally, all over the world.” What’s more, products fabricated from laser-cut sheets can be flat-packed for efficient shipping.

Thus far, Snijlab has used the technique to make paper-notebook and iPad covers, though it imagines the wood could be used in doors, chairs, and cabinetry. But it invites its customers to flex their creative muscles in finding their own uses for the material.

[All images courtesy of Snijlab]

About the author

A former editor at such publications as WIRED, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Fast Company, Belinda Lanks has also written for The New York Times Magazine, The New York Observer, Interior Design, and ARTnews.

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