In Brief: Why Your Gadgets Aren't Made of Wood

By Norman Chan

A simple answer, really.

The past weekend, Wes and I started the process of staining wooden boards for our MAME cabinet project. We had gone to Adam's shop over the holiday break to use his table saw and router to cut our 3/4-inch plywood down to size, but it was the afternoon of sanding, pre-staining, and staining that made me realize what a arduous process this project would be (many more details in the weeks to come). We only got through one coat of staining on one side of our boards, plan on applying two coats on the reverse side, and then have two more sessions of clear coating the wood for the finish. That's a lot of Saturday afternoons. It called to mind this story I read recently in FastCoDesign about why tech companies moved away from wood as a medium for hardware enclosures. The simple answer is cost and the time required to work with wood, but there's also the perception that woodworking is a mystical talent that isn't scalable from a manufacturing standpoint or appropriate for tech products. In short, a marketing effort to be able to charge more for a wood finish (Moto X's bamboo finish is a $100 premium). In those cases, as in the wood veneer on laptops and speaker docks, the material is unfortunately fetishized instead of being truly appreciated. But for someone making an arcade cabinet or shelf for themselves, wood is simply more assessable and practical a material than metal or plastic.