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Chairs Made From Discarded Wood Shavings Solve A Sustainability Conundrum

Two London design students examine how the other half (of the chair) lives.

It’s no surprise to learn that hardwood furniture factories aren’t the most sustainable of operations. But it is a shock to hear just how wasteful. According to two students at London’s Royal College of Art, as much as 80% of the timber used in the average factory ends up in the trash, in the form of wood chips and shavings. So for every chair produced, nearly the same amount of wood ends up discarded.

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Marjan van Aubel and Jamie Shaw see no reason for the waste. As part of a group of students invited by the American Hardwood Export Council to develop wood chairs for the Michigan woodworking studio Benchmark, the duo decided to pursue a design that would make use of the timber swept off the factory floor into the garbage. This July, they travelled to Benchmark to spend a week testing new ways of manufacturing wood furniture using the wasted shavings. At night, they camped on the lawn of Benchmark’s director (“amazing,” says van Aubel).

“We went around to all the different machines in the furniture factory, and collected the different types of shavings,” remembers Shaw. They discovered that if they mixed the shavings with bio-resin, an explosive chemical reaction would occur, creating what they call foamed wood. “It’s the result of a bizarre reaction between sawdust and bio-resin, which causes it to expand massively and unpredictably into exciting, strong, lightweight forms,” they explain. “By adding color dye and varied-sized shavings from different workshop machines, a colorful, lightweight and moldable material was created, reinforced by the fibers in the hardwood shavings.” The “porridge-like” foam hardens over the course of a few minutes. Once van Aubel and Shaw perfected the ratio, they poured the stuff into a mold built from an old polypropylene chair, and affixed the seat to a base of simple ash legs.

Well Proven Chair, which debuted at the V&A during London Design Week, is smooth and strong on the seat side, explosive and drippy on the bottom side, where the foam was packed into place. “We applied the foaming material by hand to the mould which then rises up in an unpredictable manner which creating a surprising and fascinating form,” the duo adds. Different types of wood produced shavings in a multitude of textures and shades, so each chair is unique, ranging from reddish brown of cherry to bone white of Aspen.


Because the chairs are simple and cheap to produce, they’ll soon be available commercially. But Benchmark is quick to point out that chairs made from cherry wood shavings, obviously, may not be as strong as actual cherry wood chairs. “The biggest uncertainty is with the bio-resin for which little clear data is available,” warn the AHEC and Benchmark. “Van Aubel and Shaw have used it in a very different way from the manufacturer’s recommendation, and so it is hard to judge how durable the chair will be.”

We wrote about van Aubel earlier this summer, when she released The Energy Collection, a glassware set imbued with the ability to collect and store energy (based on the same chemical process used by plants). Though they couldn’t look more different, Well Proven Chair and The Energy Collection come from a similar place, conceptually speaking. Van Aubel is rediscovering resources hiding in plain sight–the sunlight in our kitchens, or wood shavings on a factory floor.

[H/t Design Boom]

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About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.

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