Letter Re: Grid Beam Construction

Hi Jim, Memsahib,
Gridbeam” is a building system that’s been getting some attention recently among do-it-yourselfers. I’ve seen references to it on Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools and the Makezine web site. Gridbeam is described as a sort of “Erector Set system for adults”. It’s simply a length of squared wood, aluminum or steel with precisely drilled holes [at regular intervals] along its length. Holes are drilled in both directions so that they intersect in the beam’s middle. Sections are simply cut to desired length and pieced together. Additional pieces can be designed and added on to connect pieces at different angles; otherwise all of your constructions are going to have a very square shape to them.

Although the proponents of the system seem to be suggesting that all sorts of things can be made from it, I see it as being most useful for basic functional constructions and low-tech prototyping.

-Can be used for basic furniture, shelving, workbench.
-Prototyping of “ideas” for construction: build something, take it apart, re-size it. When it’s put together how you like it, leave it as-is or take measurements to build a more aesthetically pleasing version.
-All pieces can be re-purposed later if needed.
-Design is non-proprietary and patent-unencumbered. The originator of it is simply trying to get the word out. You can take the idea of Gridbeam to any machine or woodworking shop and ask them to make it for you; if you’re handy, you can make it yourself.
-Assembly of pieces is fairly simple.

-Most of the things you’d make with this aren’t going to be especially attractive.

I haven’t used this myself at all, so I can’t provide any sort of informed review. Take it for what it’s worth. A quick web search will show other references to it.

Keep up the good work on the site, and have a nice day. – Brian

JWR Replies: I’m also a fan of grid beam for prototyping. The basics are a stack of grid beam stock, a bucket of nuts and bolts, a socket set, and a Sawzall. (Or a hacksaw if you aren’t in a hurry). Just keep in mind that because of the perforations, the lateral (bending) strength of gridbeam is a bit less than that of standard square stock of the same dimension. As I mentioned in the blog last month, the reader-generated KK Cool Tools web site has posted a review of the recent book How to Build with Grid Beam. This echoes my advice on building a very versatile stationary bicycle frame for generators, grain grinders, and even meat grinders. While welding is a great skill that I consider a “must’, with grid beam you can fairly rapidly reconfigure prototypes.

Oh, and I’d also add one item to the “Cons” list: Sharp corners and protruding hardware. Be sure to file or grind down any rough edges and the protruding ends of any bolts–especially those that have been shortened!