Design, Emergence, and Fabrication Repeatability

This series of wooden objects is the latest in our design research studies. For some time, we’ve been interested in a reductive, elemental language as a counterpoint to AtFAB’s plywood austerity. We modeled these rounded shallow wooden vessels by aligning tangent, conic surfaces.

As a basic geometric element, a cone on its own has limited design versatility. By aligning cone bases and generatrices, however, we made a simple element into a building block for a complex design language. These shallow bowls are only the beginning. We’ll be able to incorporate these same shapes into objects of many proportions, scales, and functions.

Our initial solid modeling explorations involved boolean intersections of tangent cones. In the process, we found an order of operations that produced subtle but striking clefts along the points of intersection. As a result of these repeatable modeling steps, we produced shallow, multi-sided bowls, each with a corresponding cleft pattern.

CNC digital milled wooden trays

To form each object’s perimeter, we aligned conic surfaces into a smooth, continuous edge. We can easily fabricate these tangent edge profiles using with a stepped toolpath and this fixture and flip milling technique. This combination of geometry and technique gives us trays and stacks in a variety of proportions. So, as we find new forms and applications, we’ll be able to evolve this elemental component into a complex system.

Design, emergence, and fabrication repeatability fueled AtFAB and our open source Farnsworth structure for A Mies for All. And, it continues to draw our curiosity. The simplest of elements, like a pair of tangent circles or cones, has the potential to combine into a complex, adaptable language. As we develop CNC tool path techniques in conjunction with these elemental parts, we get closer to uniting design, emergence and fabrication repeatability.


In addition to modeling and fabricating, we study complex formal concepts with drawings. For us, these 2D studies illuminate the possibilities of working with a simple 3D geometry. In the process of making these particular drawings, we identified tangent perimeters, aligned center-points, and found regulating lines to govern patterns and conic intersections. These drawings even allowed us to define ratios, which yield evenly subdivided perimeters of 2, 3, and 4-sided objects. These ratios will be helpful later, when we define parameters for continuous, uniform structural framing.


In developing these objects, we fully realized the benefits of conducting design research right alongside material and fabrication research. It allowed us to design increasingly complex and varied shapes, while knowing how to fabricate each resulting object.

To fabricate this elongated tray, for instance, we employed the same fixture and flip-milling technique used in our stacked objects. Once we mill the convex Side A, we flip the stock to mill the concave Side B. These images show the slight surface texture that we produced with subtle step-down and step-over settings. Our next task involves incorporating feeds, speeds, and toolpath settings, in order to leave a tactile surface texture that eliminates the need for sanding and finishing.

The images below offer a bit more detail in how we fabricate the faceted edge profile developed in our earlier flip-milling research. We start with Side A, the simpler, convex base. Once the endmill clears the bottom surface, it clears the outer profile. As our toolpath steps the endmill down to the center of the stock, it takes the tool beyond the object’s perimeter.

With Side A complete, we flip the stock and fabricate Side B’s convex bowl. Once the toolpath gets to the outer perimeter, it follows a similar step-down to shape the outer profile. As the endmill reaches the center of the stock, it slows to gently release the part from the stock. We continue perfecting the profile and technique to achieve clean edges without the need for tabs or edge sanding.

Clearing Side A
Complete Side A, before flip
Final Side B Pass Releases Part
Parts Released & Complete