Guerilla Upcycling

Watching the news about the flooding in the Gulf States , I started seeing images that were exactly like the post-Katrina pictures from New Orleans…streets piled with construction materials being removed from water-soaked homes including thousands of sheets of plywood, cut to size to cover windows and doorways. It seems like at least some of those materials might be able to be upcycled into something useful instead of just ending up in the landfill? How might that work?

Working in a Makerspace or FabLab with a CNC Machine

Turning doors into tables?

Doorbles are cnc-fabricated plywood legs, attached to doors, that were developed from a need for cheap and strong work tables for our shops, simple desks for our offices, and tables for events like Maker Faires and other shows.

Although there are lots of designs for plywood tables, the cheapest and most readily available flat “slab” for a table is a door. Just about any kind of door works, but flush doors worked especially well. Legs are CNC-cut from ½” plywood, assembled in a variety of ways, and attached to doors with lag screws for strength. We call them “doorbles”…a DOOR becoming a taBLE!

We’ve outfitted our shops with doorbles and have used them in events all over the country by just shipping the legs and buying doors locally. They work really well and are cheap to fabricate and easy to assemble.

Doorble legs can be assembled using bolts and other hardware, or made to be stitched together with cable ties, paracord, or short pieces of wire

Not all old doors discarded on the curbs would be useful of course, especially after they had gotten waterlogged, but many could be good enough for a surface to work on, stack supplies on, or eat a meal on.

Suitable discarded materials like sheets of plywood could be collected and brought to a central location like a FabLab or Makerspace, for processing with a CNC machine like a ShopBot. A pile of legs could be cut, loaded in a car or truck, and attached to doors on-site leaving something useful in their place.

Three sets of legs in a 4'x8' sheet of 1/2" plywood

A digital/analog option:

If you’ve been following me on Medium you may have read “There’s more than just 0’s and 1's” on combining digital and analog techniques to help democratize fabrication. These techniques can easily be used to fabricate doorbles, with accurate templates made with CNC tools and hand-held plunge routers. This could work especially well with discarded 1/2" plywood removed from boarded up windows, since no part is bigger than 5" x 31"

Leg template attached to a sheet of waste plywood
A pair of finished legs

The collar that guides the cut is 3/8" in diameter for a bit that’s 1/4", so the template has to be “undersize“ by 1/16” to make the final parts the correct size. You can see this offset in the picture above.

The final part is the grey outline. The template outline is the red line showing the 1/16" offset to compensate for the collar

Another great example…the AtFAB Rotational stool:

The Rotational Stool from AtFAB is design that is perfect for this kind of digital/analog fabrication technique. The original design has only two unique pieces with all the legs the same, so it only needs two templates. I’ve modified their design slightly to fit this style of fabrication and to make it material agnostic, but it still only requires one template for the 4 legs and a second to make the top with recesses to receive the legs.

Being “Material Agnostic” the Rotational Stools can be fabricated from just about any material that’s close to 3/4". The one below has two legs made from 3/4" plywood. two made from 3/4" pine lumber, and a top made from a piece of formica-covered countertop. Waste management at it’s best!

A rotational stool made from plywood, lumber, and countertop material

Since doorble legs and Rotational Stool parts are small they can be fabricated anywhere and sent to where they are needed in a form of distributed manufacturing. More interestingly, though, those same CNC machines could also accurately cut templates that teams with generators and a few common power tools like plunge routers and jigsaws could use to do fabrication onsite, processing the waste materials on the curb and leaving stools, tables, and all kinds of useful items in their place.

What’s Next?

I’ve added some ideas for next steps to move this project along in a post that’s cleverly called “Next Steps”. If this project seems like something you or your group might be interested in, drop an email to bill@shelter20.com and we’ll be in touch.

Read Guerilla Upcycling Next Steps

Inspiration:

Much of this was inspired by the very cool Can City project in Sao Paulo Brazil that upcycled aluminum cans into stools at the landfill site.