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Fall 2003 - Furniture torture

Destination Purdue > Fall 2003 - Furniture torture

Off with their legs: Torture chamber tests furniture weakness

By Katie Chodil

Purdue University has its very own torture chamber, but you won't hear screams of pain or pleading.

Henry Quesada tests chair durability

Photo provided by Tom Campbell

Chair Torture: Henry Quesada, a Purdue graduate student in wood processing and industrial engineering, tests the durability of a chair on the torture chamber. Students use the torture chamber in Purdue University's Wood Products Lab to determine the strengths and weaknesses of furniture.

You won't even see large, burly men in black masks dragging people through its doors. What you will see is a wooden chair go in and only slivers and chunks of wood return. This torture chamber is actually a furniture-torture chamber in Purdue University's Wood Research Lab. The chamber was designed to determine the strength of furniture for the furniture industry and for wood research.

The torture chamber simulates a person standing and sitting down on a chair. That might not sound too torturous for a piece of furniture. But after that happens 25,000 times on one load level, the load is increased until the chair breaks, said Carl Eckelman, wood science professor and designer of the torture chamber.

Once a piece of furniture goes through the torture chamber, the results show the weaknesses in the furniture's design, Eckleman said. The makers can then go back and redesign a more durable piece of furniture.

Wood research goes international

Haviarova designed school furniture able to withstand the humid environment and daily use by elementary schools students in Costa Rica. She created furniture that can be assembled with minimal technology and low-cost wood. She used the torture chamber to test out her design.

Over spring break 2003, six Purdue students spent a week in Costa Rica building and delivering the furniture to elementary schools.

The furniture torture chamber is one of the highlights in the Wood Research Lab. The lab also has a variety of other equipment and uses. It provides essential hands-on experience for forestry and natural resources students majoring in wood production manufacturing technology. "Soem students are coming with no skills, and we expect that is because they don't have the chance to learn them somewhere else," said Eva Haviarova, the wood research lab manager.

Students in both the forestry and natural resources department and the art and design department take FNR 484: "Furniture design for the Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) Manufacturing." The class is centered around using the lab's $200,000 CNC router to create artwork and, well, furniture. This class was designed in cooperation with the art and design department to bring some creativity into the lab, said Rado Gazo, associate professor of wood processing-industrial engineering.

In the class, students design a wood product, such as a piece of furniture, with a computer program. Then they load that design into the CNC router's computer, and the router cuts out the design on a sheet of wood.

Most students in the class don't have wood-working skills, but they are good with computers, Gazo said. "They can create a furniture piece within one semester because they don't need to have hands-on experience," Gazo said. "They can come in and put everything into the computer, and the CNC router will do the job."

Thanks to the class's popularity and the students' interest in furniture design, Gazo said a furniture design minor is currently in the works.