Make Architecture



03 – Abrasive jet: Tension table

The aim of this project was to become familiar with the basic operations of the abrasive water jet cutter by assembling a steel and plywood table. While etching is possible, the basic abrasive water jet operation used was cutting.

To do this project you will need:

  • 1  x  Sheet of 1/36″ mild steel welding plate
  • 1 x Sheet wood veneer or 1/36″ plywood sheet
  • 1 x Braided steel cable (approx 1/36″ diameter)
  • 1 x 1/8″ acrylic sheet
  • Wood or plywood for bending jig
  • 1 x Waterjet cutter
  • DWG file with design
  • 3 – 5 hours


  1. Cut steel plates
  2. Cut cable tabs
  3. Assemble jig for bending
  4. Bend steel and wood pieces
  5. Optional: Stain wood, brush steel)
  6. Cut acrylic tabletop
  7. Assembly

1. Cut steel plates

For this exercise three steel plates of approximately 4″ x 16″ were cut with the abrasive waterjet cutter.The dimensions of all the lates differ slightly to account for the geometry of the design. The top plate includes holes to reveal the second layer of veneer.

The design work was done in Rhino after which the cut file was exported as a dxf.

Cut paths and lead-in and lead-out settings, were set in OMAX LAYOUT after which the file was exported to be read in OMAX MAKE which serves as the cutter interface.

To download cut file click here.

The settings for the cut were Mild steel with 1/36″  (0.03) thickness. The total cutting time for this project was 16 minutes with lines set at quality 3.

Video of abrasive water jet cutter cutting

2. Cut cable tabs

Tension in the final product is produced by connecting the two ends of the steel sheets with a tension cable. The cable connects to the sheets by means of two laminated acrylic tabs. These tabs were cut on a universal laser cutter with the surfaces later covered with mild steel cover plates.

3. Assemble jig for bending

In order to bend the steel plates accurately a plywood jig was built. This was to ensure that an accurate bend could be made without accidentally distorting the steel sheet while bending it. Since permanent deformation of the sheet will occur when bending it past the elastic region it is important to make the first bend accurate so that the secondary sheets can have the correct curvature.

4. Bend steel and wood pieces

The steel pieces were bent over the jig. The veneer and plywood sheets were submerged in water to increase the elasticity and and then bent over the steel sheets.

5. Optional: Stain wood, brush steel)

As and experiment the top steel sheet was brushed to create a ‘brushed steel’ effect. The second layer (wood veneer) was stained using a commercial acrylic teak wood stain.

A Dremel tool with wire brush was used to brush the surface.

Brushed steel surface.

6.  Cut acrylic table top

For the tabletop, a sheet of clear acrylic was used. The sheet was cut down to the correct size using the universal laser cutter.

7. Assembly

The table was assembled by bending placing the bottom steel sheet in tension and then adding each layer one by one, incrementally increasing the tension in the cable.


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Instructor: Nick Gelpi TA: Skylar Tibbits TA: Varvara Toulkeridou
Class Times, Monday, 1-4pm - room 5-216
4.184 is an intensive introduction to methods of making explored through a wide range of brief but focused 1-week exercises. We'll engage the real and leave behind representation in the focused context of this class gaining skills for utilizing a range of fabrication machines and technologies from lasercutting, waterjet, 3D printing, welding, formworking-molding, casting, gears, joints and composites.
In this workshop we'll constrain ourselves to the territory of the 1:1. Students will represent architectural constructions at full scale and develop a more intimate relationship with technology by engaging the tools and techniques that empower us. We will gain access to the most cutting edge machines and technologies in the MARS lab at the Center for Bits and Atoms.
The second layer of information for this course will be to look at a series of case studies in which construction methods and technologies have played a dominant role in the design process .
Over the past 20 years, architects have focused on the technology of representation to create new ideas of what architecture could be. Looking back today, much of that research failed to substantially change the way we design buildings by focusing on apriori formal configurations. This class makes the contention that this failure comes from a lack of considerations of the potentials within fabrication knowledge. We look to the future of what building might become, given the expanded palette of personalize-able technologies available to us as architects. Students will participate in curious technological and material investigations, to discover the potentials, known and unknown, for these various technologies.
The sub-disciplines of what's drawn and what's built have been compartmentalized and disassociated as the representational tools of architecture have distanced themselves from the techniques of making. At the same time the technologies for “making” in architecture have provided us with new possibilities for reinventing how we translate into reality, the immaterial representations of architecture.


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