Metallic Storage Plates
replacement for presswood

worked on this idea in the spring-summer of '91 when involved in cross state relocation of the contents of my domicile in my attempt to answer the question - "Why do I have to lug around this stupid, cheap, almost worthless presswood crap chest of drawers, TV-stereo stand, desk, etc.?".

You can't just throw it away because, cumulatively, it costs too much. Yet each and every piece is all but worthless. After a year it sags (even of its own weight). It's very heavy for what it does. When you buy it in Wal-Mart you might get a hernia just getting it home!

I hate press-wood furniture

NEW --------------- After One Year

So, what are the alternatives? plastic, metal, more wood, ceramics!, bricks?
Ans: There is only one viable alternative.
It is metal. Think ... "like, as in file cabinet".

The parameters here are: Cost to the consumer per cubic foot of storage, Weight per cubic foot, and to some lesser extent - Aesthetics. Actually, what the thing looks like is probably most important to women. They have to look at it but don't have to move it or repair the stupid, cheap broken doors, drawers, shelves ... or shore up the sagging shelf that makes it look like your TV is resting in a "hammock" (for cripe sake!).

A typical file cabinet is a good example of what can be accomplished with metal and for what cost. For $100 at Office Depot you can get a respectable 4-drawer file cabinet that weighs only about half what a presswood chest of drawers of the same cubic foot storage capacity would weigh. Costs are less than or equal to Wal-Mart presswood prices (per cubic foot).

Now, a business file cabinet isn't pretty and won't fit in with the decor of any woman's boudoir. But it sure is utilitarian! The drawers don't stick ... they "roll" out on ball bearings. And the drawer comes out ALL the way ... not just half the way, because of the way the drawer tracks are constructed with an extra rail. Some file systems are quite deep as well as wide, offering superior viewing of the contents. What would it take to "liven up" the appearance?

But file cabinets are not what I wish to sell you on

I have something "almost" new. Almost because things quite similar are seen in department stores everywhere. In fact, that's where I got the idea to start working on this thing (Jamesway's in New York).

What I saw was foot square glass plates fastened together with metal "clips" to make display cases for blue jeans. Each of the cubicles formed by the glass plates had different size pants in them. You've seen this in many department stores ... everywhere.

But glass is breakable and much too heavy for home use. I want something light, unbreakable and easier to put together than screw-on-clamps. I wnat "tool-less" or forget about it.

This leaves two candidates ... plastic or metal.

Plastic is much more expensive in strength per dollar, so I went with man's best friend ... Steel.

A cubic foot of steel weighs in at about 500 pounds and I want a foot square plate weighing not more than one pound. So, 12 inches divided by 500 pounds = .024 inches. Now, that's not too thick and steel that's stamped out that thin (even when formed), bends easily. We don't want to get the "bends". Therefore, after stamping, it's off to heat treat for hardening.

Heat Treat

An amazing transformation ... I once had a piece of steel strut (used in auto manufacturing to attach a fender to the frame at a place where the fender is relatively unsupported so as to prevent vibration) about one foot long, formed and heat treated. Looked like this.

I decided to break it in half over my knee. I struggled mightily for several minutes and finally got it to snap (it won't bend 'cause it's heat treated and therefore strong as hell ... but brittle). I was never more impressed by the properties of steel as at that moment. (And it was much skinnier than my illustration indicates.)

So here's my basic plate design.

It is modified to a 9 inch plate because I wanted to get to ~29 inches with an integral number of plates. This is desk height.

The edges are rolled over to form a tube (that's the point of attachment). This is a potentially difficult machining problem at the corners ... but other options are available so it's not terminal.

Here is the "clip" ... made of not too soft vinyl. Notice that it is to be extruded not injection molded. So it's reasonably cheap.

  • The pin for hinge pieces is offset so that the "doors" will open 180 degrees. If straight across they would bind at 90 dgrees and get forced off.
  • The most common piece is actually sufficient for all constructs. I've just added the three and four way for aesthetic preference.
  • The little hole is for a "tool" to pry off the connector if too difficult or too many, i.e. stick end of tool in hole and pry off hammer claw style.
  • The thickness of these pieces (the dimension out of the page) is variable. Long holds better but is more difficult to put on and costs more.
  • Multiple colors but black or white is basic.
  • Check out these examples:

    But that's not all ! ...

    We needn't restrict ourselves to just the square shape. We can have, reasonably, 2x rectangles, trapezoids, right triangles and, just possibly, (if the weight is low enough) an octagon!

    And with any colors!
    I prefer the black to gray with speckle paint that I've seen in Sears.
    There are many new ways to paint rich looking textures on metal.

    The reason for the triangles is to make "braces" for plates which fold out of the way when not needed. Then, fold down and ... fold out and under a triangle and attach with appropriate plastic connectors ... as in a fold out desk.

    Let me illustrate

    We need here a connector made for a 90 degree foldout. The "offset hole" hinge piece won't quite do.

    Also, might as well throw in a pic of a connector used for closing a shelf door. It could require a slight modification although other connectors would do the job too. Notice that the point of close-connection has a wider opening ... easy open-close.

    "Hinge pins" are thick at one end (to hold ... in one connector) and thin at the other end to facilitate movement in the other connector. Some have short thin ends to allow three connector hinge sets (two outer stationary connectors and one inside moving piece ... the two short ends both go into the inside mover. These pieces are injection molded. However, one might just get away with a tight fitting straight, extruded hinge pin as well ... and it would be cheaper. Hmmmm ... give the customer some long, plastic, hinge rods and let him cut them to size.

    All right ... let's do some designing !

    This is the main attraction. Let the buyer exercise his artistic flair and create his own furnishings.

    • For a wall unit, you wouldn't want to waste a plate in the rear. Rather, use the wall as the backplate. What's needed here is a special connector that you screw into the wall by attaching it to an interior plate ... then mark the wall, tap a hole, insert a molly, reposition the connector and screw it into the wall with a standard wall screw (or some such device). This will give the entire structure stability as well as save money by using less plates.
    • Other special "foot" connectors are needed to set the entire structure on so as to raise it off the floor just a bit. (An aesthetic concession)
    • I am unable to draw/paint these things well enough to do the concept justice. I did cut out sample pieces (small scale) from vinyl placemats and made hundreds of designs ... some very elaborate ... enough to convince me that the entire scheme is viable.
    • There is a true "opening" in the cheap furniture business which can be exploited. I think it would not be unreasonable to take 10 - 20% of presswood's marketshare in less than 3-4 years with agressive ad campaign ... and ... mostly with simple demonstration models set up in Wal-K-Mart type stores.
    • I would consider putting anything on a completed structure with the exception of heavy, high priced items like large screen TVs, computers, etc. This type of furniture is meant for clothes, desk, nic-nacs. Not that it is unstable or will break ... you could presumably add very many connectors and make the thing strong enough to stand on indefinitely. I just don't think it's the right job for this stuff.
    • You might want to try a design for yourself. Download the gif with the different plates on it, save it by "print screen", and manipulate it as a bitmap in MSPAINT at your leisure.

    In Conclusion

    There is a huge hole in the marketplace for such a thing. When people see what can be done, cheaply, and that they can take it apart and "redesign" to freshen up their decor or modify it to suit changing needs ... they will buy ... a few pieces here ... a few there ... Hmmm ... starter set!

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