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3D-printed ‘keystones’ open the door to cheap, sturdy DIY furniture

Back when 3D printing was just kicking off, there was much talk of a future where people could download new furniture designs, print them, and furnish their living rooms with new pieces whenever they pleased. Despite the fact that 3D printing your own custom-designed furniture is totally possible now, it hasn’t really caught on. This is mostly due to the fact that 3D printers aren’t a common household appliance yet, but even if they were, making a full-sized piece of furniture typically requires you to print a boatload of small pieces and snap them together to create something bigger, which isn’t very convenient. 

But who says you have to print the entire piece of furniture? Dutch Studio Minale-Maeda has devised an alternative with “keystones” — a series cleverly-designed connectors that allow you to join pieces of wood together with a single 3D-printed piece to create furniture. This way, instead of burning through a bunch of PLA filament to make a zillion different sections that snap together, you print a single keystone at home and get the remaining materials from your local hardware store.

Minale-Maeda showcased a handful of different keystone designs at Milan’s Salone del Mobile earlier this month, including ones for coffee tables, dining tables, coat stands, and a few more elaborate pieces that use two keystones. Despite the fact that the connectors are designed to work with plain, standard-sized lumber, the finished furniture is fairly attractive when fully assembled.

Is this cheaper than building furniture the old fashioned way with screws, nuts, and bolts? Probably not. If you don’t already have access to a 3D printer, it wouldn’t make much sense to drop upwards of $1,000 on one — especially when you can achieve similar results with six bucks worth of traditional fasteners. These connectors might not dethrone nails and screws anytime soon, but the future of 3D printing is definitely looking bright, and this kind of innovative design could push us to rethink how goods are made, distributed, priced, and used.

Find out more here.

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