Softwood Bike Rack

This was a fun project for a few reasons: it’s nice to make something really practical that works well on the first iteration, it’s a pleasant change to not have to worry too much about finishing, and it’s gratifying to complete a project in a single afternoon.

bike rack: easy storage for 3 bikes of almost any size and shape.

The project parameters are straightforward, but there are quite a few considerations. At the most basic, it’s a low-cost rack to store 3 bikes in as compact a space as practical. The space the rack lives in doesn’t have a wall or ceiling to hang from, and bolting to the floor is a non starter. It has to be general purpose enough to handle any kind of bike.

I started by measuring the space and some pertinent dimensions of the bikes in question.  Then I did a quick image search of different approaches others have taken.

There were three options that dominated. The approach that seems to garner a lot of drooling from those that follow the design blogs involves  hanging the bikes by  the wheels or top tube on hooks, but that requires a wall to bolt onto, a bike with a particular type of frame, and of course the need to lift and wrestle the bike into place. With a step-through framed, balloon-tired E-bike among those I need to support, this option is quickly eliminated. Roll-in, roll-out is clearly the way to go.

The second approach uses a slot that the wheel sinks down into. Some quick mock ups with scrap 2×4’s showed that this could work well if the slot was either very deep, or very tightly fitted to the wheel. This requires lots of material, or rather, material of a different sort than what I had on hand, and isn’t as supportive as I wanted anyways. To be flexible and work with both 3” knobby mountain bike tires and 23mm road tires requires some sort of adjustment of the slot width as well, and that’s added complexity I’d rather avoid.

The third option is what I’ve gone with: a vertical slot for the front edge of the wheel. This works equally well with multiple sizes of wheels and tires, and provides very secure support since the point of contact of the wheel with the rack is well off the ground, giving lots of leverage. You can envision that the bike can only lean a couple of degrees before the wheel leans against the support, even if wheel widths vary dramatically.

The rack is made from reclaimed softwood, rescued from the garbage after a previous application as some wobbly storage shelves.  There are some screw holes and rabbets in the reclaimed wood which I incorporated into the rack as was reasonable and ignored when it didn’t influence the structural integrity. The lumber was left unfinished since it’s a utilitarian piece done on the cheap and stored inside, but obviously a coat of paint or stain could clean things up a bit and enhance durability.

In keeping with the space-saving intent of the project, there is a shelf for helmets, etc. in the otherwise unused space above the front wheels, which makes hopping on a bike to get to work or ride some trails all the more convenient and pleasant.

Transforming Table: Flexible Furniture for Small Spaces

My good friends Scott and Tania recently moved into their shiny new laneway house. Tania wrote a nice review of my work on her blog, and includes a good picture of the piece in its home.

Flexible furniture is one way of making the most out of a small space. A flexible piece of furniture embodies similar materials and energy to a conventional piece, but is more valuable to the user because it fits their life better. Further, something that fits a space well and is built to last is less likely to be replaced. In this way, design effort, meaning human attention, can make a dramatic difference in the real world value of an end product.

I started with a consultation and lots of sketches, and moved on to CAD to sort out the geometry, estimate the materials I’d need, and make sure everyone was happy with how it would look.

CAD plans

I settled on birch ply for the casework and top surfaces because it’s strong, dimensionally stable, and straightforward to work with.

The legs are solid alder, to match the casework in their home. I machined custom aluminum plates to reinforce the leg joints and add a bit of industrial bling.They swing on heavy-duty gate hinges, which were needed to minimize swaying due to slop in the hinge joints.

under construction, nearing completion

The two draw-leaves are brought even with the main table top with a custom lift mechanism that uses UHMW plastic ramps and a pull handle, one for each side. The leaves and legs are mounted on heavy duty ball bearing slides, so the footprint of the table expands as the surface area does. This leaves the center free for people to comfortably stretch their legs, which was a major usability design goal, and also makes the table look surprisingly svelte in the ‘up’ configuration.

underside: how to cram a full-size table into a tiny space

The legs were finished with clearcoat, and the top was hand painted a glossy white, to match the interior of the house it lives in.

coffee table

This is a one-off and a bit of a prototype, but it still performs as expected. It’s quite the puzzle to account for the intersecting and overlapping geometry in different positions, and give sufficient tolerances for things to move without having the mechanism be loose. Doing a full set of scale drawings was invaluable: I managed to build the entire table without wasting any wood to wrong cuts.

full size dining table!

I suspect I’ll be making a lot more of these kinds of pieces as urban living gets increasingly cramped, and people come to expect more from their objects than a single static use.