Nobody likes waste, and nobody wants to pay for it.

It’s important to us here at Cord to make the most of the raw materials that we use and we always work with this in mind. The hardwood that we use comes in varying lengths because trees don’t grow to uniform dimensions, but we purchase timber specifically for each order and so can select planks that are as close as possible to the dimensions specified by the customer. When it comes to birch faced plywood however, we know that we’ll always be working with standard 8’x4’ (2440 x 1220mm) sheets. This allows us to design products that make the most of the full sheet. We don’t want any large offcuts, and we certainly don’t want to design a product that uses one and bit sheets, for several reasons.

We call this “chickenomics”. Let us explain: if you were a chicken farmer, then the very best scenario for you would be to sell whole chickens at the market. If your customers only wanted to buy chicken breasts from you, then for every two chicken breasts that you sell you’re left with the rest of a chicken. What do you do with the rest of the chicken? Well, you could market and try to sell the thighs, and maybe the wings too. But then you’ve got to spend time butchering each chicken. Perhaps after that you could cook and strip the rest of the carcass and make soup, or pies. But then you’ve got to buy all of the other ingredients for your soups or pies, and cook it all – which requires a kitchen and equipment. No, the very best scenario for a chicken farmer is to sell whole chickens. This is chickenomics.

Let’s apply this to a sheet of plywood; the best thing that we can do is design items of furniture that use either an entire sheet of plywood, or a half or quarter (so that we can make multiples of the same product from a single sheet. We don’t want to have to absorb the cost of offcuts, or pass it on in our pricing, and we don’t want to have to come up with supplementary products to use those offcuts that might require additional time, equipment and components to produce. We design, then refine, adjusting dimensions and how we lay out each component on the sheet material in order to get the most out of it – this is called “nesting”, and closely nesting components, often rotating and tessellating them, is the key to getting all of the components onto a single sheet.

The concept of single sheet design is nothing new – it’s been around since sheet materials such as plywood became widely available around a century ago.  There are ingenious examples of single sheet tables and chairs in London’s Design Museum, and an active community of amateur boat-builders continually experimenting with single-sheet boat and canoe concepts.  Whether pursuing the perfect single sheet design for economic or environmental reasons, or for the enjoyment of the design challenge, for us it is not only rewarding, but important to our business.