Flexible wood

Snijlab's wood flexes and folds thanks to an intricate pattern of laser-cut grooves. The best part, however, is that the materials and hardware required to do it yourself are commonplace.

"Because a laser cutter is a fairly common tool, products like this could be manufactured locally," write the creators on their website. " ... For us this means we can make everything in-house and we don’t need to produce in big quantities to make it affordable. This is really the power of digital manufacturing and personal fabrication."

Pictured above is Snijlab's first offering, a booklet holder you can buy for €25.

Snijlab homepage via Freshome.


  1. Yes, the commonplace laser cutter.  Why just this morning I actually had to move a pile of laser cutters out of the way so I could get into my kitchen to laser cut laser toast. 

    1. I have the same problem. Where I had issues accessing a “laser cutter” in my days as an arch-nemesis, now I have them coming out my proverbial-hole.

      Who knew that yesterdays future was today’s “oh crap, where do I put this?”.

  2. Because a laser cutter is a fairly common tool…

    “The future is already fairly common — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” 
    — William Gibson (paraphrased)

  3. I lost my laser cutter when I had to move it out of the way for my 3D printer.

    You’d think the wood would fatigue really quickly.

  4. As far as tools go, they are fairly common.  Small ones sell for not much more than high end wood working, or low end metal working equipment ( eg mill, etc. ).  More, they are a common feature of hackerspaces, college labs and other relatively accessible workshops.  Unlike many other CNC tools, they are relatively easy to use, and difficult to damage if you don’t know what you are doing.  Even if you don’t live in a major metropolitan area, services like Ponoko provide access to the service, if not the tool itself.  

    In fairness, I do run a company that owns two of them.  However, our local hackerspace also has one, and I know of at least 15 local engraving shops that have one or more, and at least 3 local makers own small tables of their own.  I do live in a fairly large city, but still, “fairly common” in terms of tools does not mean “I can buy at my local home depot”.

    1. “Small ones sell for not much more than high end wood working, or low end metal working equipment ( eg mill, etc. ).”

      So $2-4k then. Yeah, I think you need to work on your definition of “common”.

  5. I more curious about how long such a hing would last. Would it be more durable that a plastic equivalent?  A flexi-wood billfold would make my pocket smile.

  6. I think calling them common is fair enough. They are available and affordable.

    Although it does remind me of the “portable” mechanical telephone exchanges my Dad worked on, which were the size of a wardrobe and took 10 men to lift.

    In flexible wood news, I saw a dining table recently that used a set of laser cuts in the middle to stretch from 6 to 10 places.

  7. This discussion of what constitutes a “common” tool reminds me of colour printer/copiers. When I was in a college in the sticks, our colour copier could print in black or blue or red or brown. My first job in a bureau, I think after a year or two, we installed a proper four-colour printer/copier, among the first in the area. Then big clients of ours bought their own, and they started showing up in local print shops. My next job had two of the beasts. Now, we have one in the local library, which can be accessed from the library’s PCs.

    At one point they didn’t exist, and at another they’re common enough that I can get something printed in colour at any of a dozen places around town. They’re still big, expensive beasts that require a certain amount of specialist care, and I’m never going to have one of my own, but for big, expensive beasts, yeah, they’re relatively common.

  8. There’s a lot of “common tools” in this thread whining over semantics.  I would get on topic and talk about the product itself, but I don’t want to derail this derailed thread about the affordability of common-folk laser accessories.

  9. I guess, for those of us who don’t have laser cutters in the tool box next to the Allen wrench set and somewhat temperamental changeable-head screwdriver… we could make these fancy tablet holders with… TAPE for the fold-over part.  

  10. Perhaps we can pull the discussion of how common this is back into a discussion of how to actually make this.  So, help me out:

    I live in the Bay-area.  I am not a member of any hackerspace, university, etc.  Say I want to use a laser cutter to make this or another cool project.  What should I do?  Can I show up somewhere and say, “I’d like to use your laser cutter.”  Or do I contact them first and make an appointment? Do I need to know someone?  Pay something?  Do I need to know how to operate it, or will they help me? 

    Answering these questions would: a) help us actually do something like this, and b) help end the discussion of whether this is a common tool or not.  If it is a common tool, it shouldn’t be that hard for me to access it without:  paying a huge amount, going through a long process or knowing a guy who knows a guy with a laser cutter.


    1. There are two hackerspaces in the bay area with laser cutters, Ace Monster Toys (disclaimer: i’m on the board) on the border between Berkeley/Oakland/Emeryville, and Noisebridge, in San Francisco’s mission district. Then there is also techshop in SF, which is a more commercial (and expensive) place, but you get fancier tools. However Ace Monster Toys has a bigger laser cutter :D

  11. super!  i know the happy mutants at snijlab and they built their own laser cutter from open source designs and cleverness and they’ve started an independent small business renting it out to others.  so happy to see them boinged! :D

  12. Googled ‘Bay area laser cutter service’: about 1,010 results. 
    Second one looks like a good general service to me, about the same as you’d look for from a copy shop – tells you the area they can cut, the materials usable, the file types they accept, and gives contact details for the helpful chap/ess who should be able to answer detailed questions.
    Give me another 3-4 months and I should have one up and running here in Edinburgh alongside the 3D printer and large cnc router I’m building (on the cheap, from commonly available parts, mostly according to designs and advice freely available on the internet).  If you’re ever over in the UK and need such assistance, I’ll be happy to help…

  13. If you live in the Bay area the immediate and obvious answer is TechShop. Plus the many shops that will laser-cut for a fee- all you send them is a sketch or a CAD file.

    Compared to some of the other laser systems out there, $4k laser cutters are indeed common. And cheap.  

    And nobody is sniggering about the flexible/wood dichotomy? Where are the people who got all worked up about the banana/doughnut photos?

  14. Commonplace? I don’t think that word means what you think it means.
    Hammers are common. Saws? Common. Screwdrivers? Very common. Drills? Also common. Computers? Extraordinarily common.
    Laser cutters are definitely uncommon. They’re around. You can get one without too much work if you poke around – though they are rather expensive for most people. There’s probably at least one or two places around providing laser-cutting services… but defintely not “common” as of yet. Maybe in a few years.

    That said, I’d like to have one myself, but not going to be able to afford one anytime soon.

  15. I love me some snark.  But, although ‘common’ was probably a poor choice of words, it’s not preposterous, just an excuse for some cleverness.

    Assuming for a moment that the figure of $2-4K quoted early in the thread is correct: most cars cost more than this.  And I would expect broad agreement that they are common.  Any facility or even a group of people with enough projects to justify one could afford one.

    That said: sweet idea.  Gives me the same itch as Pacific NW bentwood furniture.  Want.

    (edit: I see that the car reference has already been made. Still valid, but kudos above.)

  16. Not even going try entering the argument about laser cutters being common or not, I guess I could find one fairly local to me here in North Wiltshire, in the UK, but I love the idea of the actual artifact, it’s just beautiful. I guess it would last pretty well, there are flexible plastic products that eventually fatigue and split, so this would be no different. But at least it’s biodegradable.

  17. Could not possibly care less about anyone’s personal feelings on the definition of of the word “common”, the real hacking seems to be the very clever way- these inventors have come-up to take advantage of a property of a material in a way that is new, and while modern plywood’s many other  properties are well appreciated, this directional springy-ness as used in the product seems really new. The kind of precision needed to cut this material just so would have been seemingly impossible before this laser cutting with digital controls became accessible to the serious designer/fabricator. It speaks towards an increased application in using materials in new ways. Cheers 

Comments are closed.