This is the DIY invention the Eameses used to mold plywood in the 1940s

You probably know this chair, the Eames Plywood Chair LCW (Lounge Chair Wood):

These days they’re no doubt made in a fancy press, but you might be wondering how Charles and Ray managed to mold plywood in the 1940s.

The answer, according to Vitra, is this thing below, which the Eames called the “Kazam machine!” “.

Incredibly, the story behind making it work involves Charles climbing a pole to tap into the power lines:

“In their quest to find a way to mold plywood in three dimensions to produce chairs at low cost – as well as sculptures, airplane parts, leg splints, and children’s furniture and toys – Charles and Ray Eames were relentless.During their early years in Los Angeles in the early 1940s, the young designer couple worked from home, where they set up an ad hoc studio in the guest bedroom. workshop had expanded from the bedroom to the kitchen. Their greatest concern at the time was with developing the ability to apply pressure to the plywood without breaking it.”

“After various failures, they ended up creating a homemade device for bending wood, a kind of drying oven made from scrap wood and spare parts from bicycles. They called it the Kazam machine!. Consisting of using a hinged and bolted domed plaster mold, the Kazam! machine allowed them to create a bonded sandwich made up of several layers of veneer, which was then pushed against the plaster mold by a membrane which, in turn, was inflated manually by a bicycle pump. The starved electric coils running through it required far more current than their home circuit could supply.”

“So Charles climbed a nearby power pole, carrying a large piece of heavy insulated cable, in order to poach enough electricity to run the Kazam! machine. Charles was afraid of electrocuting himself. Luckily he survived, and in the spring of 1945 the Eameses succeeded in creating the Plywood Chair LCW (Lounge Chair Wood) made from plywood shells with compound curves.This was the beginning of the Plywood Group.

Reading the power line thing makes me uneasy. If he was wrong, our furniture landscape would be very different today.

If you have a project from last year that you are proud of, take a few minutes to send it to the Core77 Design Awards 2022. We have 18 practice categories, and for this year we have a special sustainability award for all projects that have a beneficial environmental impact. See for details and times.