Make Your Own Furniture

From More Furniture in 24 Hours.

You don’t need a lot of tools or experience to make furniture. Over the years we’ve posted about simple DIY furniture resources, mostly, but not all, from the 1970s, and I thought I’d collect those posts into one mega post.

It turns out I’m not the only nerd obsessed with dated DIY furniture manuals. In compiling this list I came across a bibliography by designer Sam Winks that included many of the books I own or have digital copies of and many more that I’ve never seen before. You can read his post and bibliography here. In addition to furniture manuals, Winks has a bunch of DIY home building books that I haven’t included in this list. He refers to his collection of books as “The Self Determination Library.”

The plan is to keep adding to this post. If you know of books and resources for cheap, easy to make, well designed furniture leave a comment. For every resource that I’ve mentioned there’s probably a dozen more. When possible I’ve linked to free pdfs or books you can borrow at the Internet Archive.

Gerritt Rietveld
I built a set of Gerritt Rietveld crate chairs for our patio recently and I really like them. They were easy to build and surprisingly comfortable. There’s a handy, bilingual Dutch/English book of plans How to Construct Rietveld Furniture/Rietveld Meubels om zelf te maken that includes Rietveld’s crate furniture as well as many of his other designs. Most projects in this book require a table saw, but many of the designs could be built with a circular saw and/or chop saw and screws.

Enzo Mari
Root Simple reader Mosscarpet tipped us off to the extraordinary a DIY furniture manual Autoprogettazione (roughly translatable as “self design”) by Italian designer Enzo Mari. Here’s a free download of Mari’s 1974 manual Autoprogettazione.

Instant Furniture
Peter Stamberg’s 1976 book Instant furniture : low-cost, well-designed, easy-to-assemble tables, chairs, couches, beds, desks, and storage systems, provides clear plans for some of Enzo Mari’s pieces as well as Stamberg’s own designs that show a heavy Mari influence.

EOOS Open Design Manual
Originally conceived for a refugee aid project the design collective EOOS has a free Social Furniture Open Design Manual featuring some simple and handsome tables, shelves, kitchen cabinets and even a raised garden bed. The designs remind me of Joep van Lieshout’s work.

Will Holman
We had Will Holman on episode 55 of our podcast. He collected his stylish and resourceful wisdom into a DIY manual called Guerilla furniture design : how to build lean, modern furniture with salvaged materials.

Nomadic Furniture
The 1970s was a golden era for DIY furniture manuals. Two of my favorites are Nomadic Furniture, and Nomadic Furniture 2 by designers Victor Papanek and James Hennessy. Nomadic Furniture . The MAK Museum in Vienna did an exhibition of Papanek and Hennessy’s work and put out a catalog called Nomadic furniture 3.0. You can watch a 2013 lecture James Hennessy did about his work on the YouTubes.

Put That Pipe Down and Make a Chair
Bean bags, houseplants and macrame are back thanks to the Silver Lake Shaman. Sunset Magazine’s Easy-to-Make Furniture will not only help you make furniture on the cheap it might just open your third eye in the process.

Spiros Zakas and Parsons Design Students
Spiros Zakas and his students put out two classic 70s DIY Furniture manuals, Furniture in 24 Hours and More Furniture in 24 Hours. You’ve got 24 hours. Get busy.

Ken Isaacs
Ken Issac’s work inhabits the liminal space between architecture and furniture. Here’s a download of Isaac’s classic and hard to find manual How to Build Your Own Living Structures.

Hauntological Furniture
If vaporwave is your thing this is your furniture manual: Designing Furniture : From Concept to shop Drawing. Most woodworking instruction has an unintentional, high 1980s postmodernist vibe. As a perpetual contrarian I’m waiting for the big postmodern design revival. Embrace the glitch!

Now for some more advanced manuals that will require a proper woodshop:

Arts and Crafts
The ugly truth is that, while I admire 70s furniture manuals from afar, I much prefer Arts and Crafts era furniture which, unfortunately, requires a more substantial investment in tools and training. But there’s one thing this style of furniture has in common with the 70s stuff above. Gustav Stickley encouraged his readers in his magazine The Craftsman to roll their own furniture. If you’re in this camp, you’ll need to get a copy of the Great Book of Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture. I’m also a fan of Nancy Hiller’s book English Arts & Crafts Furniture: Projects & Technique and used it to make a Voysey chair. I’d also suggest taking some classes and a subscription to Fine Woodworking. Put all these things together and you’ll be down a rabbit hole deeper than those weird Q Anon folks.

From the Lost Art Press book, The Anarchist Design Book.

My Trad Life
If hand tools are your thing or if, like me, you use a blend of hand tools and power tools, Lost Art Press has some beautiful and useful books one of which I used to make a desk for Kelly. I’d also recommend By Hand and Eye and Mortise and Tenon Magazine if trad design floats your boat. Measured shop drawings for American furniture has a lot of nice early American designs some of which would be fairly straightforward builds.

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7 Comments

  1. Thank you for putting together this resource !

    I just got the Lost Art Press Anarchist’s Design Book in the mail and it’s really great. Great content and just a beautiful slab of a book; feels like it will last for generations.

    I’m also a big fan of Nomadic Furniture. I haven’t built any myself but it’s an inspiring jumping off point. Got to try out the Relaxation Cube as part of the Hippie Modernism exhibit when it was at Berkeley Art Museum – I can vouch; it really was relaxing. Here’s a good pic of one built up for that show: https://d2zfqweka4o4h0.cloudfront.net/design/files/2016/01/Relaxation-Cube_Web_gb.jpg

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