Rear panel with hinge and speaker grill

Novena Heirloom – Finishing the woodwork

As the last round of work continues on the Heirloom laptops, I finally managed to push one example ahead towards final assembly by finishing the woodwork and assembling a bottom enclosure. I chose one made from Makore, a wood species I used extensively in the last production run of P.90 cameras. It is a beautiful, often highly-figured material with a warm tone.

Hinged back corner @ port side
Hinged back corner @ port side with carbon fiber bottom rail pin.

Unlike those cameras, the Heirloom laptops have been made with a significant contribution from CNC fabrication. But what they do share with that well-rehearsed wooden camera production routine is a large amount of detailed handwork, continuous process troubleshooting and development, and their own share of what writer David Pye called “the workmanship of risk”.

Front corner with LCD and aluminum side plate
LCD front corner shaping responding to aluminum side plates.

Although the development of digital fabrication processes have made some of his arguments less relevant, what he intended with this phrase was to contrast a process in which the final result was continuously at risk to it’s counterpart, “the workmanship of certainty”, in which a machine-based process spits out identical copies of a product. Paring to the mark with a chisel versus the continuous, repetitive cutting action of a purpose-made produciton machine. The skill of the human maker continuously refining hand/eye coordination required to perform a task compared to the embedded precision of machine that (hopefully) repeats the precision built into its mechanisms by it’s human creators.

Front corner of LCD panel
Finger jointed front rail of the LCD panel

The Novena Heirloom brings these two means together in a hybrid that contrasts the relative repeatable precision of its aluminum side plates, peek plates, and a handful of other metal parts with the uncertainties of organic materials (wood and cork) assembled at one-off production levels with a significantly higher range of tolerance. It makes for interesting work and an equally interesting product, but does come at the cost of  a large amount of time spent sorting out all the issues that arise.

Front view at keypad lift slot
Front view with keypad lift slot visible beneath the LCD panel.

Now that the final stretch is under way, finishing the woodwork is a big part of the daily routine. Much of it has to be done prior to final assembly of the bottom panels with the aluminum side plates. But as is always the case, the point where the wood comes to life is an exiting and gratifying glimpse into the final result. The trial fitting shown in these photographs provides a hint of that experience.




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