Carrying an Idea Farther Posted February 7, 2020 by Kelsey Rose Williams

In the September 1946 issue of Arts & Architecture magazine, Eliot Noyes wrote about an industry-wide interest in maximizing plywood’s flexibility in furniture production. From the text, we learn that the Eames Office applied methods and materials from the automobile and aircraft industries.

Drawing courtesy of Arts & Architecture September 1946 issue.

“All the pioneer designers of modern furniture have been occupied with trying to make chairs which will move or flex as the sitter adjusts his position. Significant progress was made along these lines by such men as Mies van der Rohe, Aalto, and Breuer. Eames carried this idea farther. 

“His molded plywood chair parts are flexible in themselves to some extent. This flexing is then increased by the use of rubber shock mounts in connecting all the parts to each other. In themselves, shock mounts are not new. The mounting of engines on rubber blocks to reduce vibration has long been a standard practice in automobiles and aircraft, but this is the first time that it has been used on chairs. On Eames’ pieces, this mount is a thick rubber disc which is used between the various chair parts where they are joined. To make a firm connection between these rubber mounts and the parts of the chair posed still another new problem. 

“Here Eames borrowed a technique which had been highly developed in wartime industries. Instead of attempting to attach the chair back, rubber mount, and wood frame to each other by bolts or by any usual cementing system, a process called ‘Cycleweld’ was used. In this, a sheet of synthetic resin is placed between parts to be joined. A special electronic instrument then transmits heat by radio wave directly to the resin, which ‘cures’ or bonds the parts to each other without injuriously heating the wood. The process requires only a few seconds, and gives a permanent waterproof joint, which is actually stronger than the wood itself. This welding process is versatile in that it can be used to join almost any two materials, and it offers many important advantages:

“First, it can be used as the adhesive to bond the various laminations of the plywood itself, giving a finished piece in which the plies will never separate, and which may be subjected to extreme conditions of heat and moisture. 

“Second, the speed and precision of operation makes it an important technique for mass production. 

“Third, when used as in the furniture to attach chair parts to shock mounts, it distributes stresses over the total area of the mount rather than letting the entire load be concentrated at a single point, which is the case where a bolt is used, for example. 

“Finally, it solves for the first time the difficult problem of making a neat and permanent connection between upholstery material and wood, which becomes another cleanly articulated detail on these chairs. Where, in a chair seat, a foam rubber pad is covered by fabric or leather, this covering material is brought to the edge of the plywood just as if it were another ply, and is bonded there without covering up the expressive plywood edge.”

To read the full article, view the September 1946 issue of Arts & Architecture.