By George Hart for the Museum of Mathematics


An interesting design exercise is to cut and fold furniture from one sheet of plywood. Peter Meijer has explored families of elliptical tables that are folded from exactly one rectangular sheet, with no unused remainder.

In one family of experiments, he systematically varies the possible leg parameters, to search for optimal arrangements.

Here are renderings of some of the elliptical table designs he found to be most promising. I’ll be curious to see someone actually make these.

See all of George Hart’s Math Monday columns

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy person’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

  • Daniel Fleck

    As an engineer, I both love and hate this design. I love it because it is striving to eliminate waste and it looks pretty cool. I also hate it because it actually creates more waste by forcing everything to be a constant thickness. In order to get strong enough legs, your plywood would have to be much thicker than necessary for the tabletop and diagonal supports.

    Also, the first rendering looks very stable and strong, the other three renderings below looks like they would flop over pretty easily as there are no diagonal supports.

    Save yourself some wood and cuts by using the full sheet of plywood for the top and building some structure with 2x4s.

  • Aaron Ramaekers

    I can agree with the troubles these designs have from the engineering perspective (I am on the path to becoming an engineer). I think it’s a practice of working with constraints, which is very important to real life application of engineering principles, though. Given a piece of plywood, some tools, and time, I think this would be an awesome project.

  • Jack Madson

    It’s very technical matter to create the furniture.It’s mind blowing design for chair.I love it because it’s giving entertainment with relax.Thanks…