The Snaptastic Room Divider

Snaptastic Room Divider

The Snaptastic Room Divider is an attractive modular wall made up of an array of panels that are fit together with slotted connectors to make a large freestanding room divider.  It can be expanded or reduced to fit the space it’s being used in.

It’s always tempting to put up a project and only show the ‘straight line’ from concept to result-  Get these materials, do these steps and voilà a finshed project!  I don’t know about you, but my path is usually a little more meandering.  I thought I’d share the design process and some of the mess-ups on the way because it’s interesting.

Inspiration

mag pic

I saw this picture of a cardboard room divider in a magazine a couple months ago and thought it was pretty cool.   Originally I was thinking that I would make my divider out of cardboard too.  I paged through a couple books on tiling and M.C. Escher for inspiration then moved on to Google to research various paper folding techniques.

I was looking for some sort of modular interlocking design.  The paper folding patterns I found were very cool but a little too intense to imagine making in cardboard on a room sized scale.  I scaled back my ambitions and started sketching some ideas.

pair sketches
I ended up with two designs that called to me.  One looked sort of like large dominoes and the other had a star design made out of the negative space where the pieces came together.

Refine the Design

cb model

I made small cardboard models of the domino and star panels just to get a sense of what they would look like in 3D.  After sitting with them for a couple days the star design won out.

I still needed to decide how many and what size the panels should be.  I knew I wanted the overall divider to be taller than me and at least 6′ wide.  I wanted an odd number of panels vertically and ended up with 40 panels.

I drew it up more accurately on the computer and liked how it was looking.

Mockup

screen

My plan was to laminate six layers of cardboard together for each panel. 40 panels x 6 layers = 240 pieces!   That’s a heck of a lot of cardboard. Luckily there is almost always someone who has just moved to town and is looking to get rid of their moving boxes for free on craigslist.  I snagged a batch to make my prototype pieces.

I cut enough pieces to lay out a 3 x 4 grid on the floor.  This would let me see if the idea was headed in the right direction.  I’d be able to tell if I liked the star pattern made by the negative space or if should reconsider the dominoes.  After spending the evening cutting out cardboard pieces with my CNC machine I came to two conclusions:

First, there was no way I was going to have the time / patience to cut out 240 pieces.

Second, the recycled cardboard looked kind of crappy and the design was cool enough to deserve a better material.

1/4″ plywood perhaps?

Making a Connection

cardboard connectors

Now that I had a bunch of panels to play with it was time to figure out how to hold them together.  I started with circles of cardboard, cutting slots in them to make connectors.  Pretty quickly I settled on a zig zag pattern for the panels so that the room divider would be self standing.  I messed around in cardboard with a few ideas for the connector shapes and then started drawing options out on the computer.

Connector Drawing

I decided on with an almond shape for the vertical connectors and a soft triangular shape for the horizontal connectors.

One Last Trip to the Drawing Board

cardboard model

As I was playing with the cardboard panels, trying different ways of putting them together, it was clear that they were too square.  It was difficult to tell which was the vertical axis and which was the horizontal one.  I squeezed them in the computer so that they became 13″ x 15″.  I cut a couple samples out in ‘plywood’ (really mdf with a veneer on the outside).  Much better…

Production Time

mike

Now it was just a matter of cutting everything out.  Even though I had worked out the design and tested it on the CNC machine I’m always a little leery of this step.  More than once my homemade machine has left me in the lurch when it comes to production runs.  Sometimes the machine gets CNC Alzheimers.  It kind of forgets where it is and then carries on merrily cutting out a messed up piece.  Other times it has just crapped out on me.  Once it even required a full brain transplant!

sawing
So it was with a little trepidation that I set out one Saturday to cut my 40 panels.  I figured it would either take 4-5 hours or 4-5 days depending on the machine’s temperament….

Things went relatively smoothly only taking 7 hours or so.  Each panel took about 5 minutes to cut out.  I spent the time waiting for each piece to finish by lightly sanding the edges of the previous one.

cut outs

The next day was another six hours spent cutting out the connectors.  They took a while to calibrate so that the slot sizes were perfect. The difference between too loose and too tight is just a couple hundredths of an inch. Even though I had tested to get the right size earlier in the week I ended up having to completely recalibrate them.  Just part of the CNC magic.

Here’s the CNC in action:

 Assembly

snap section

All the pieces came out looking great and the tolerances for the pieces ended up just right.  Snug enough to hold together firmly with no wobbliness but still able to be slid together by hand.

Nice.

partial

We brought the room divider over to a friend’s minimalist contemporary house to assemble it there and take some classy photos (it didn’t fit in our doublewide anyways ;) ).

Here’s the divider coming to life:

All in all I’m really pleased with the project.  It was fun to watch the design evolve and the finished product looks really sharp.  It may even be marketable.  I’m definitely going to explore more interlocking techniques as they really lend themselves to the strengths of the CNC.

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12 Comments

  1. Posted March 5, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    I absolutely love it! You could make a killing selling these I am almost positive of it. Love the starburst too!

    • Posted March 8, 2012 at 6:26 am | Permalink

      Thanks,
      I’m really happy with how it came out too.

  2. Grumpyrumblings
    Posted March 6, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    Wow!

  3. Posted March 6, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    So trendy and I love the starburst design.  Probaby could make some good money off of those if you could find a place to market them.

    • Posted March 8, 2012 at 6:23 am | Permalink

      Thanks!
      What I’d like to do is license the idea to a manufacturer.  Ikea are you listening?

  4. Posted March 8, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    This is so cool. Snaptastic indeed. I agree, you need to sell these in droves. 

  5. Goat_girl
    Posted March 24, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    Damn!  what the hell won then?!?!?!

  6. Natcarter505
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Mike, First of all, you are amazing! I really appreciate your engineering rigor and process in making practical and aesthetic products.

    Second, this (and many other) product would be a hit at the Maker Faire.  

  7. Posted May 22, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Very very cool. I’m embarking on my own room/wall divider project, and NOW I have to DIY my own CNC machine… thanks! ;-)

    Nice writeup, and great to see it came out well for you — I think the star design was the way to go.

    • Posted May 24, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      Good luck on your divider(& CNC).  I just came across an elegant design for a room divider that would be super fast to put together.  Post some pics when you get yours made.  We’d love to see it.

  8. Lindseyloo92
    Posted June 4, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    If you don’t mind, what did this project cost you in materials and supplies? My roommate and I are on a somewhat tight budget and we’re look to make our own room dividers instead of purchasing them.

    • Posted June 8, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      I believe this took 2 1/2 sheets of plywood.  The cost depends on the sheet stock which can range from $12 for luan to >$30 for oak ply.  The stuff I used was $20 a sheet.  You could also do something like this with hollow core doors which are super cheap at the re-store.  Post a pic of your dividers in the comments if you build them.  We’d love to see them.

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  1. [...] blog discovery Mike and Molly’s House, just as we were planning to feature their unbelievable Snaptastic Room Divider, an ingenious modular wall made up of an array of panels that are fit together with slotted [...]

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