I built this Eames-like chair without touching a single traditional woodworking tool. No, it's not because I'm some kind of Luddite. I just love the immediacy of rendering a chair with 3D modeling software and then cutting out the parts with a CNC machine. Everything snaps together like flat-pack furniture, but without the cheesy fasteners—just mechanically sound through tenons and lap joints. The manufacturing process takes 2 hours.
To build this chair, you'll need a $25,000, full-size CNC router, such as a ShopBot. Oh, don't have one? Yeah, me neither. So, like me, you'll have to borrow one. Luckily, there are hundreds of maker spaces, community workshops, and educational facilities that'll let you use their digital fabrication tools. You'll have to pay a fee or join a club, but you'll gain access to expert advice on some of the more esoteric steps. Search the directories at or to find a space near you. No luck? Send your files to a digital-manufacturing service, such as , which will mill the parts and ship them to you.
Download all the files for this chair here and open the 3D model with a CAD (computer-aided design) application. I use Rhino ($995, PC/Mac beta), but if that's too expensive, use the trial version or Autodesk's free app, 123D. Later, when you're ready to create your own furniture, you can build 3D models from scratch or customize existing designs downloaded from websites such as .
I built this chair at the Visible Futures Lab of the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
(Photograph by Reed Young)
If you're working from our files, you'll see I've completed the following software steps for you. But I'll discuss them to give you an idea of the process. First, I flattened the 3D model into individual parts, or profiles, and arranged them on a virtual sheet of plywood. This is called nesting. I then moved into a CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) environment, which is where I assigned instructions, or tool paths, to the CNC router. I used software called Aspire, but Autodesk's free online app, 123D CNC Utility, works well too. I programmed the CNC not to cut all the way through in a few areas, leaving ½-inch-wide tabs of 1/16-inch-thick material to hold the pieces securely while they're being cut. And I didn't want the router chewing through the plywood in one deep pass, so I told it to make three shallow cuts instead.
All set? Load the CAM file into the CNC machine. Install a ⅜-inch down-cut bit into the router, and fasten a full sheet of ¾-inch plywood onto the bed with a screw in each corner and a couple in the middle to keep it flat. Zero the CNC's X, Y, and Z axes so the router knows exactly where it is on the sheet. Hit go! It will take about an hour to cut out all the parts. Snap them out, and clean them up with sandpaper.
Now for the fun part: the assembly. Spread PVA glue on each join, and tap the parts together with a rubber mallet. Because of the high level of precision, the parts should fit together tightly. Meanwhile, I'm already thinking about how to turn a sheet of plywood into a Wegner-inspired chair.
Download This Chair
Download all the files needed to build this chair—the CAD files (3D and flat) and the CAM file—here. If you want to cut out the pieces by hand, use the PDF version—but you'd be insane to do that.
John Thomas Heida is an architectural designer, a furniture designer, and a digital-fabrication specialist at the School of Visual Art's Visible Futures Lab. He teaches at the New York School of Interior Design and at the Pratt Institute.