Building a plywood house

Produced as part of Plywood: Material of the Modern World

On now until Sunday, 12 November 2017

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The WikiHouse Foundation has developed a plywood building system that can be downloaded anywhere in the world. Plywood pieces can be cut locally on a CNC router and assembled on-site by anyone, using readily available tools.

A CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine is run by a computer programme. Plywood is cut by two types of CNC machine: CNC routers, which cut both two- and three-dimensionally with rotating cutting bits called end mills, and CNC laser cutters, which use laser beams to cut two-dimensionally. Both machines allow much faster, more complex and precise cutting than was previously possible.

Building plywood house router
CNC router cutting parts for a WikiHouse. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Plywood is a particularly good material for CNC cutting because it is strong, stable and made to a standard, worldwide specification. Its strength and stability mean it can be easily jointed – pieces can be cut from a sheet and notched together, without additional fixtures. Due to the material's standardisation, a design can be reliably cut anywhere in the world, using a single digital file.