Make Architecture



3- Waterjet gearbox//crank

My goal this week was to make a venture away from the practical (last weeks’ magazine box) into the absurd (final Rube Goldberg machine).  I wanted to make a tiny tiny box that could only be opened with a huge, oversize crank handle…

Materials Required:

  • cardboard + chipboard for mockups
  • 12″x24″ sheet of 1/8″thick aluminum
  • handle hardware: 5/8″ coupler, 5/8″bolt at 1.5″long plus 2 fender washers
  • gearing hardware: (sized for a 10-24 machine bolt) one bolt at 3″ long, lock nut, 5 nuts, 2 washers, 2 lock washers
  • 2 wrenches (one adjustable, one needle nose) for tightening gears into place


  1. mock-up in cardboard
  2. design/draw out pieces
  3. practice cut box in 1/8″ chipboard to save you aluminum in case of mistakes!
  4. cut in aluminum
  5. assemble box by hand
  6. with wrenches, tighten nuts and lock washers around the gear and handle to lock them into place


I started by mocking up the box by hand to get proportions right (a problem i had last week)

I decided to make a box 2″x3″x2″deep that would open with a 1foot long crank handle.  I also planned to use one toothed gearwheel that would meet with visible slots in the moving door as the mechanism for opening the box.


After laying out/designing all the pieces in AutoCad, I cut the box out of 1/8″ chipboard to test fit before getting hardware.

(box in pieces)

Then I experimented with ways to lock the gear and the handle into place on the bolt threads so that turning one would turn the other.  Eventually, a combo of lockwashers and nuts locked onto one another were easy enough to assemble the parts into their places.  see lots of tiny hardware…

(hardware image)

winning hardware combo.

(gearbox close up)

handle hardware assembly.

(handle pic)


I set it up to cut out pieces for 4 boxes+handles on my 12″x24″ sheet of aluminum.  I left some strategic places on the sheet for clamp heads but otherwise tried to use every inch of the material.

waterjet in action

the aluminum looks exactly like my cad drawing of the cut sheet… except.

5 counts of FAIL:

  1. you need to leave a 2″ border around the edge of your cut-sheet for the clamp heads.  if you don’t, you will move the clamps around during your cut and your material will incrementally get out of place, then your piece outlines/holes will no longer be aligned.
  2. all pieces should be separated by 1/4″.  the waterjet needs to start a ‘lead-in cut’ before it hits the outline of your piece and you don’t want that cut in another one of your pieces!
  3. make multiple cut-sheet layout for one project. for example, think of the sheet in 3 horizontal zones.  put 1/3 of your project in each zone, then you have smaller files to cut each time and if one gets messed up you can reset the x,y for the second sheet without losing all your material.
  4. have time to experiment with tolerances. you may need to do a couple sample joints, test tolerances, adjust your drawings and THEN set up your full cutsheet.  aluminum on the waterjet is really different than mattboard on the laser cutter.
  5. there’s no wasting space here. where its really smart to be economical with cuts on the lasercutter, you need to waste way more material on the waterjet.  luckily metal is fully and easily recyclable.  don’t let your lasercutter instincts guide you through making your waterjet cut sheet.
  6. tab your pieces. unless they’re huge pieces, make a small tab in your drawings so that the pieces will stay connected to the sheet, not fall into the waterbed, and you will be able to snap them out by hand after the cutting is done.  it is nearly impossible to catch small things before they fall through the bed.

to see this project get successful follow the RE-DO!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


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.


%d bloggers like this: