Wood Grain Collage Tool

Production systems are streamlined for homogenous materials. Most technologies ask us to crudely reshape the natural world into the uniform shapes they require (think tractors and factory farms). In contrast, the Wood Grain Collage Maker embraces the irregularity of natural materials.

Screenshot of a collage

The Wood Grain Collage Maker is a web-based tool (built with ReactJS, Fabric.js, and P5.js) for planning a collage using the grain in a piece of wood and a sketch. It allows users to drag, rotate, and scale selections and placements of wood to construct a collage. Once finished, the user can export the cut and layout files to make the collage IRL.

Wood Grain Collage Maker Demo


The collage maker tool is part of a larger work flow:

Overall work flow from source material to artifact, with some ideas that I scratched for now… AI-powered placement and a CNC router work flow ended up being out of scope.

Step 1: Collect the materials: wood with visible grain and a sketch.

A piece of plywood from the hardware store is not a completely natural product, but its wood grain is a heterogenous material and serves the purposes of this project.
Sketches from a museum.

Step 2: Make a collage with the Wood Grain Collage Maker.

Demo of tool in action
Sketched plan the major parts of the software

Step 3: Make the artifact.

Work flow after collage maker. I projected the cuts on the original piece of wood, cut them out with a jigsaw, and assembled them on a board.
Cut file from collage maker ready for projection onto the original board. The red is the overlap that also needs to be removed. In the future, a SVG file could be generated for a CNC router.
Layout file from collage maker.



Tracing out the cut file on the piece of wood.
The physical artifact arranged according to the layout designed by the test user. It is glued together and wiped down with tung oil to bring out the grain.


Originally, I planned on making a collage design machine that acted as a thoughtful, “creative” partner. It would suggest new, provocative ideas while the user worked. The tool would help the user quickly navigate and make leaps through the design space. However, before I could do this I needed a digital collage tool in which to integrate the assistant.

The design space as an archipelago of islands and the designer as a small boat. Tools that make a process more convenient help the designer cover more ground and expand the search area for design treasure. But what about great leaps to distant new continents? Could a “creative” machine help with this?

I created the Wood Grain Collage Maker to facilitate the collage work flow, calculate overlaps, and produce the documents necessary for the physical realization of the collages. My hope was that the tool would allow me to be efficient enough to find a state of creative flow.

When tested with a small, captive audience of one, I received positive feedback that using the collage tool was fun and soothing, much like a puzzle.  In addition to the enjoyment of making the design, it was also exciting to put together at the end. As it turned out, the software showed more potential as a form of puzzle than as a tool for production. Maybe adding an intelligent system is unnecessary…