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School furniture

Information and guidance
for the use of schoolteachers,
school administrators, furniture designers
and furniture manufacturers on all
aspects of furniture for educational
buildings, with particular emphasis
on conditions in developing countries

Volume One
General and specificaspects
Published in 1979 by the
United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization
7, Place de Fontenoy, 75700 Paris
Printed by Imprimerie de la Manutention, Mayenne
ISBN 92-3-101554-o
@ Unesco 1979
Printed in France
Educational buildings and equipment
Titles in this series
Planning buildings and facilities for higher education
(Co-published with the Architectural Press Ltd., London,
and Dowden, Hutchinson and Ross Inc., Stroudsberg, Pa.)
Building community schools
School furniture handbook
Planning standards for higher education facilities

--. . -. _.-_-~“-” LIy-I^l--,.II t.,.. .-..- --- ..“.“.-~,__.. _-ILe...--


Since 1969, Unesco has participated in school furniture projects in more

than fifteen countries, including Algeria, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka,
Swaziland and Tunisia. In response to requests from these countries,
Unesco has provided technical assistance and advice on various aspects of
the furnishing of educational establishments of all kinds.

The purpose of these Unesco-assisted projects was to develop designs

and establish standards for furniture appropriate to present-day edu-
cational systems and teaching conditions. Educational authorities in many
countries are becoming increasingly aware of the key role that school
furniture can play in the achievement of educational objectives. It is
evident that 'traditional' school furniture, designed for conditions that
no longer exist, has become out-dated. For instance, the introduction of
teaching in small groups in primary schools requires that individual
chairs and small tables replace the heavy and inflexible desk-bench units
which have been standard equipment for nearly a century. Again, the large
increase in the number of students has completely changed the scale of
furniture requirements.

Another aspect of the projects referred to above was the desirability

of designing school furniture so that it could be manufactured in the
countries concerned, using local materials, labour, and managerial and
technical resources.

The reduction of costs was also an important objective.

Experience gained from these projects revealed that the design, manu-
facture and supply of school furniture poses a series of interrelated
problems: functional, aesthetic, industrial, technical, economic,
financial and administrative. Furthermore, the solution of these problems
calls for an interdisciplinary approach involving administrators, edu-
cators, architects, furniture designers, manufacturers, and others
directly or indirectly concerned.

In the course of the Unesco-assisted projects in various countries,

nearly all these problems were encountered (though not necessarily all
of them in every project) and they had to be faced and solved. This led
to the identification of a limited number of general principles which
need to be studied in order to prepare the ground for any school furni-
ture project at the national level.

In order to enable this valuable experience to be shared, Unesco under-

took to initiate a study for the purpose of preparing a practical manual
dealing with all the important issues and problems liable to be encoun-
tered in the course of a school furniture project.

The Swedish International Development Authority (SIDA), which had been

a partner of Unesco in many of the national projects in question, offered
to finance this study and the publication of the manual.
The result was this school furniture handbook, which is intended pri-
marily to serve as a practical guide and a source of information for
people involved in any stage of school furniture planning and development:

Educational administrators responsible for the planning and imple-

menting of school furniture supplies.

Educators who develop teaching methods the application of which

requires a certain physical environment in school spaces.
School furniture handbook

Teachers who in their day-to-day work, together with their students,

use the furniture not only in its functional capacity but also as part
of the educational process.

Architects who plan the school and its spaces and who therefore regard
the furniture as an important element of the spaces they create.

Designers of school furniture.

Manufacturers and craftsmen who produce the furniture.

Economists who plan the financing of the country's educational needs.

The handbook is in two volumes. Volume one contains basic practical infOr-
mation on the various aspects of school furniture. It sets forth and
explains the successive stages of a school furniture project frcm con-
ception to completion, and deals with the technical problems involved.
This is followed by a series of monographs examining some important and
critical ground subjects such as materials, economic evaluation, anthro-
pometry, testing and codification, together with the specifics of various
broad categories of school furniture. The third part of Volume one gives
details of Unesco-assisted school furniture development projects in seven-
teen countries, followed by a directory of relevant sources of information
and a bibliography.

Volume two complements the first volume by providing a wide range of

examples not only of school furniture and furniture arrangements, but also
of design and procurement procedures, including furniture lists, design
specifications, tender documents, etc.

For assistance in the preparation of this handbook, Unesco is indebted to

F. B. Striven and Associates and to Bo Fritzell, Architect, S.A.R.

F. B. Striven and Associates prepared the material contained in

Volume one. They were chosen because of their experience in this field,
having worked as consultants with Unesco for a school furniture develop-
ment project in Algeria (Standardisation of Algerian school furniture for
primary and secondary schools) as well as for an initial study on school
furniture published by Unesco under the title School r'umritwe Development:
an Evaluation.
Bo Fritsell, who is responsible for compiling the material in Volume
two, has worked with Unesco previously on a school furniture development
project in Spain.

While much of the material in this publication reflects Unesco practice,

the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the

Part 1 p=a=

1.1 Introduction 11

1.2 The process 15

Define objectives 17
Collect preliminary data 19
(specific educational, quantitative and financial requirements; indus-
trial production potential; administrative procedures; appraisal of
existing furniture; anthropometric data; study of examples from abroad;
interfaces; decision-making alternatives; cost analysis)
Plan 26
Design 36
Produce prototypes 38
Test 38
Produce 42

Layout 45
Maintain 45

Part 2

2.1 Commodities 47
Timber trends 48
Plastics trends 50
Steel trends 51
Conclusion 52

2.2 Materials 53
Particle board 54
Plastics 58
Adhesives 67
Other materials 70

2.3 Economic evaluation 75

Cost benefit analysis 75
Initial cost and useable life 78

2.4 Anthropometry 81
What measurements are required ? a2
Taking measurements a5

2.5 Seating 91
Ergonomics 91

The design of seating 100

The floor as seating 108
Configuration and materials II0
Compaction 115
Interfaces II6
8 School furniture handbook

2.6 Tables II9

Ergonomics II9

classroom tables 123

Drawing tables 124

Dining room tables 126

Materials and configurations 127

Table top materials 129

Grouping 131

Compaction 132

Interfaces 133

2.7 Laboratory furniture 135

Functional requirements 135

Provision of services 136

Fixed layout 138

Tables I41

Storage units 143

2.8 Lecture theatre furniture 145

Activities 145

Ergonomics I45

Choice of furniture 147

2.9 Storage facilities 150

Books 150

Teaching materials and equipment 153

Personal belongings I57

Materials, construction and finish 159

Interfaces 160

2.10 Display facilities 162

Chalkboards and markerboards 162

Pin-boards 167

2.11 Beds and dormitory furniture 169

Beds 169

Dormitories 174

2.12 Furniture requirements for open plan areas 176

Activities in an open plan school 176

Furniture as a response to difficulties posed by the open plan 176

Profile of furniture for the open plan I 76

2.13 Design evaluation lal

The ILEA evaluation lal
The Algerian evaluation 191
Conclusion 195
Contents 9

2. I4 Testing 197
Performance testing 197
Materials testing 199
Testing under classroom conditions 201
Quality control 202

2. I5 Standards 703
Why standards ? 203
Choice of standard 204
Existing national standards 205
International standards 207

2.16 Codes 213

Existing coding systems 213
Suggested coding systems 214
Sample furniture identification code 216

2.17 Competitions 221

Why competitions ? 221
The French competition, 1975 221

Part 3

3.1 Unesco school furniture development projects 227

Algeria 227
Cuba 228
India 228
Indonesia (Java) 229
Indonesia (Irian Djaya) 229
Iran 230
Iraq 230
Lebanon 23 I
Malaysia 231
Nepal 232
Oman 232
Somalia 232
Spain 233
Sri Lanka 233
Sudan 236
Swaziland 236
Tunisia 237

3.2 Directory 241

3.3 Bibliography 255

Cooperatives 255
Home economics 257
Workshops 257
The handicapped 258
Cardboard 258

Photo credits 260

Part 1 1.1 Introduction 11

Furnishing a school is not such a simple operation as it might appear to


In countries where school furniture is produced either by private

firms or by government agencies, one might imagine that supplying schools
with furniture involves no more than consulting a catalogue, selecting
the items required, and ordering them through the existing channels.

It should not be forgotten, however, that even in countries where

such favorable conditions prevail, considerable investment in terms of
research and development - not to mention financial expenditure - has
been necessary in order to arrive at that point.

The problem is vastly more complex in countries in which school furni-

ture planning and production is still in a rudimentary stage, due to fac-
tors such as limited human and material resources and inadequate in-
dustrial development,coupled with a tremendous increase in school atten-

Furthermore, even in those countries where the groundwork has been

done and school furniture is being produced locally, the task of fur-
nishing schools is still immensely complicated by changing requirements
in respect of the quantities and types of furniture needed: requirements
tied in with the parameters of the educational system, teaching con-
ditions, types of school buildings, costs, and so on.

In brief, planning, designing, producing and supplying school fur-

niture is a complicated and ongoing process. Studies have been made and
experience has been gained in this field in a number of countries through-
out the world, but unfortunately such studies and experience cannot serve
to provide universal solutions applicable in every country.

Each country has its own specific characteristics and requirements,

and consequently different procedures and methods have to be followed
from one country to another in order to meet the same objective: supply-
ing schools with adequate and appropriate furniture.

However, experience already acquired in various countries can serve

a useful purpose. It can provide guidelines for the development of tech-
niques, methods and procedures to be adopted in the light of conditions
prevailing locally, and it can help to avoid mistakes.

Descriptions of such experience, studies of specific issues relating

to school furniture, government regulations, designs, and industrial
catalogues all exist in the international literature.
The Unesco School Furniture Study was not undertaken for the purpose
of re-examining such studies and reports, or of replacing them. On the
contrary, its main aim was to fill certain gaps and provide practical
guidance through, and on the basis of, existing literature and information
on the subject.
Thus the first part of Volume One of this school furniture handbook
begins with an account of the successive stages of planning, designing,
producing and supplying furniture for educational institutions, from con-
ception to completion.

School furniture projects obviously differ in magnitude and nature.

They range from the provision of a single item of furniture, or the com-
plete furnishing of one school, to the furnishing of all the schools of a
whole country.
12 School furniture handbook

The analysis of the process begins with the definition of educational

requirements and continues through the stages of design and manufacture
to the installation and use of furniture in schools.

Not all projects will include all these stages, but it should be pos-
sible for anyone working on a project to use the chapter entitled
'The Process' as a check-list to ensure that things are done in the right
order and that nothing is overlooked. This chapter also serves as an
index to the rest of the material in the handbook; at each step of the
process, references are given to relevant information contained in other

The analytical description of the process is followed by a series of

monographs, each of them examining a specific aspect of school furniture
which has been identified as critical in the analysis of the process.

These monographs are not exhaustive; they make no attempt to cover

every aspect of their respective subjects, but are confined to what is
directly related to school furniture.

The various aspects of school furniture's interfaces with numerous

other subjects such as education, school buildings, materials, indus-
trial production, furniture in general, etc., are nearly all treated ex-
tensively in specialised studies and publications.

In short, this handbook is not encyclopaedic in scope; it simply con-

centrates on major problems which are often inadequately dealt with in
school furniture programmes.

Economic considerations are a fundamental issue in programmes invol-

ving the production of tens of thousands of furniture units and costing
millions in the long term. Thus economic aspects, including issues such
as amortisation and replacement as well as initial costs, are treated in
Chapter 3.

Since the main purpose of furniture is to provide comfortable facili-

ties for people to perform a specific task, the matching of furniture
sizes to the body measurements of the users is dealt with especially
thoroughly in Chapter 4. This is a key issue, because badly sized furni-
ture can affect the physical development of students as well as their
academic performance.

Chapter 2 deals with materials. This is a very wide-ranging subject on

which information, specialised studies and publications exist in nearly
all languages. To cover the subject in detail in this Handbook would have
been impossible. This chapter merely examines some of the most commonly
used materials for the manufacture of school furniture, and draws atten-
tion to the specific requirements of school furniture in this respect.

Subjects more immediately related to the specific problems of school

furniture, such as seating, tables, etc., are discussed in greater detail
in other chapters.

Finally, technical aspects such as testing, design evaluation, stan-

dards and codification are treated separately.

This volume also includes: a brief description of Unesco-assisted

school furniture projects undertaken in the past; a list of references
and documentation produced in connection with these projects; a direc-
tory of useful sources of information on all aspects of furniture design
and production.
1.1 introduction 13

Publications relating to the subjects covered in the main body of the

volume are listed at the end of each chapter. In addition, at the end of
this volume there is a bibliography covering subjects which are not
treated in the Handbook, either because they are of purely marginal
interest or because adequate information on them is available elsewhere.
1.2 The process 15

The process of supplying furniture to schools will vary with the

country, the level of school, the scale of the project and other
factors. No two projects will be alike. For example one country
may want to import all its school furniture, another make it all
locally in small workshops; or one country may have a centralised
supply agency, in another school districts may be responsible for
the supply of their own furniture. All these factors will alter
the steps to be taken in the process, and their sequence. The
process described here is complicated because it tries to consider
all eventualities. But it should be possible, at the start of a
project, to use this idealised and full description of the process
as a guide with which to draw up a sequence of steps to fit any
project under consideration. The table, on the next page, des-
cribes the process at two levels of complexity: as a ten-step pro-
cess and as a thirty-one step process. Each of these steps is fully
described later in the chapter. The steps can be grouped broadly
into, firstly, the collection of data: secondly, decisions taken
and a plan made on the basis on that data (a list of key decisions
is given on page 16) and thirdly, the implementation of the plan.

A certain number of decisions have to be made during the course of

a project. These decisions are outlined in the description of each
step. In order to make these decisions, certain people and organ-
isations must be involved. Decisions must be made at the right
1WJe1, in consultation with the right people. There are, however,
no hard and fast rules as to where decisions should be made. For
example, the Minister of Education could decide on the colour of
school furniture at step one, or the man who fills the spray gun
in 'manufacture furniture' at step 25, or anyone involved between
these steps. Suggestions as to who should be involved are given at
the end of each step.
16 School furniture handbook

see page

DEFINE OB.TECTIvES 1. define educational objectives 17

2. define economic objectives 16

COLLECT PRELIMINARY DATA 3. define educational requirements 19

4. define qantitive requirements 19

5. define financial requirements 20

6. conduct a survey of production potential 21

7. conduct an administrative survey 22

8. appraise existing furniture 22

9. conduct an anthropometric survey 23

10. survey existing models and methods abroad 24

11. investigate interfaces 25

PLAN 12. make choices 26

13. analyse costs 34

DESIGN 14. draw up a design brief 36

15. draw up a design contraCt 36

16. design 37

17. codify 37

18. draw up a contract to produce prototypes 38

PRODUCE PRGTOTYPES 19. produce prototypes 38

TEST 20. test prototypes in a laboratory 38

21. test protot-es under classroom conditions 39

22. draw up standards 40

23. choose a manufacturer 40

24. draw up a contract to produce furniture 41

PRODUCE 25. manufacture furniture 42

26. pack 42

SUPPLY 27. produce a catalogue 43

28. stock 43

29. deliver 43

LAYOW 30. install and lay out 45

MAIWAIN 31. use, maintain 45

1.2 The process 17


1 Define Educational Obiectives

What are the broad educational objectives at each level of education 2
Although objectives will vary from country to country, a sample of some
typical objectives may be as follows:

(1) education at primary level is to be universal and democratic

(2) cooperation between students is to be encouraged, rather than com-
(3) everyone is to be taught to read, write and count
(4) adult education is to be encouraged in rural areas
(5) self-directed work is to be encouraged at secondary level

The implications of these objectives for the design of furniture are


(1) "Education at primary level is to be universal and democratic"

This implies that the quality of furniture should not vary, either
from school to school or from region to region; there should be no
'rich' furniture and no 'poor' furniture. A way of maintaining
similarity of provision is standardisation of quantity and quality.

(2) "Cooperation between students is to be encouraged, rather than

This implies a situation where children who have difficulty with
school work are helped by others. Or, a situation of work in groups
where success of the group is more important than the success of
the individual members. Furniture should be light and mobile in
order to allow the possibility of working in groups of different

(3) "Everyone is to be taught to read, write and count"

If there are not enough teachers and if their level of training is
low, this objective may be seen to be in conflict with the pre-
ceding objective. Given small teaching spaces, the teacher may
well decide that the traditional method, of teaching all together,
is the best in order to achieve the educational objectives of
teaching every child to read, write and count. In this case there
will be no need for mobile furniture. Less costly,static furniture
can be provided. see 2.6 'Tables', pages 123-124 for an account
of the advantages and disadvantages of desks with seats attached
compared with tables and chairs.

Those involved:
(4) "Adult education is to be encouraged in rural areas"
- interministerial commission In the absence of other schools or community centres, primary
(or similar policy-making schools should be suitable for this purpose. The furniture in
them must be suitable for use, alternatively, by young children
- educational planner and adults. It is not so much the small size of primary school
- educator furniture which makes it unsuitable, but rather the fixed dis-
- schools administrator tance between seat and working surface when desks with attached
seats are used.

J (5) "Self-directed work is to be encouraged at secondary level"

18 School furniture handbook

This implies easy access to information and other resources, as

well as a quiet place in which to work.

There may be no written statement of educational objectives. It will

then be necessary to define what is implicit and deduce what effect
this will have on the design of furniture.

2 Define Economic Objectives

Economic objectives may be defined in documents or be implicit. The
overall economic objectives of a country may affect the design of fur-
niture. Some typical objectives for the school furniture industry may
be as follows:

(1) to provide work for artisans and small workshops outside the main
urban centres
(2) to provide work to check unemployment in large towns
(3) to provide an outlet for the products of a newly formed plastics
(4) to employ traditional materials that are readily available
(5) to form the basis of an industry aiming at export

(As listed some of these objectives may be contradictory: they do not

necessarily all apply to one country)

The implications of these objectives for the design of furniture are


(1) "To provide work for artisans and small workshops outside the main
urban centres
This will entail a large number of small enterprises working on
the manufacture of school furniture. They will be short of design
and testing capacity and probably of managerial and technical staff.
The design, testing and quality control of the furniture must be
done by the education authority or their agents. Working with a
large number of small enterprises requires more administrative
work than dealing with a few large ones. It entails small orders
with more paper work and frequent inspections. These factors and
the limited manufacturing techniques available to small enter-
prises will influence the design of furniture. Specification
must be precise and based on standard articles. see 2.i5 'stan-
dards' p. 203 for a definition of standard article. Designs
must take into account the low level of tooling and perhaps
of workmanship

(2) "TO provide work to check unemployment in large towns"

This may imply labour-intensive methods of production in large
factories, which will again have an influence on the design of
furniture. See 2.3 'Economic Evaluation'.

(3) "To provide an outlet for the products of a newly formed plastics
This will determine the materials used in furniture, as will any
preference for the use of a particular commodity on economic
1.2 The process 19

grounds. See 2.1 'Commodities'.

(4) "To employ traditional materials that are readily available*

This will influence design and manufacture. However, the use of
traditional materials does not necessarily imply the use of trad-
itional production methods.

(5) "To form the basis of an industry aiming at export"

Those involved: Local needs and the needs of the potential export market should
be considered together, so that the export trade can become an
- interministerial commission extension of the home market. In this way economies of scale are
- economist possible.
- educational planner
- educator The objective of a government when making investment decisions may be
to encourage the largest possible increase in the standard of living
of the population over a period of time. This means that goods should
not chosen simply for their apparent money cost but for their 'social
cost benefit'. For more information on a method of evaluating social
cost benefit, see 2.3 'Economic Evaluation'.


3 Define Educational Requirements

Overall education objectives will influence the general design of fur-
niture: specific educational requirements will condition the design in

The detailed educational requirements for each article of furniture

should be worked out with the educational authority and its advisors
Educational requirements for common pieces of furniture are discussed
in 2.6 'Tables',2.5 'Seating', 2.9 'Storage' and 2.1O'visual Communic-
ation'. A sample of some typical educational requirements may be as

Those involved: - several children should be able to work around large maps or charts
held flat
- educator - +here must be a display facility so that texts can be written for all
- furniture designer to see (because of textbook shortages)
- teacher - students, in schools organised along subject-base lines, must each
have a space of their own, to keep their belongings
- science work spaces should be designed for groups of three or five
working independently.

Educational requirements can be written down in the form pf a statement.

This statement forms the first part of the design brief in step 14.

4 Define Quantitive Requirements

How many students are there now, and how many will there be in the
future ? Furniture must be provided in four categories:

- making good any deficit now

20 School furniture handbook

- the replacement of furniture for the present enrolment

- the needs of a projected increase of enrolment
- the replacement needs of the projected enrolment increase

An inventory may be made to find.out the requirements of the

deficit in the first category. Such an inventory was carried out in
Iran in 1973. A sample of two per cent of all schools was visited.
This sample was thought large enough to be able to project the total
deficit with a fair degree of accuracy. Furniture was put in three
categories: good, improvable and to be replaced. The table of results
is shown below.

- the figure under QUANTITY refers to the number of student places

- the figure under % SAMPLE is the percentage of the total sample that
the figure under QUANTITY represents.

The amount of furniture will vary not only with the number of students
but with the type of school and the method of teaching. As a general
Those involved: I rule two things happen:

- educational planner - the more specialised the spaces in a school the more furniture is
- schools administrator required. mess furniture is required in schools where spaces serve
several functions. see 2.12 'Open Plan'.

- the smaller the school the more furniture is required per student.
The amount of such things as tables and chairs is directly related
to student numbers, but furniture for laboratories, kitchens and
administrative offices will be more intensively used in a large
school than in a small one.

5 Define Financial Requirements

Overall economic objectives will influence the general design of fur-
niture, in the same way as educational objectives. Similarly, spec-
ific financial requirements will condition the design in detail.

There may be a requirement that new furniture must cost no more than
existing furniture. It will then be necessary to define present unit
1.2 The process 21

costs. A requirement that new furniture must cost no more than existing
furniture, item for item, is particularly limiting. There is more
scope for innovation if the overall allocation per student can be
taken as the limit. In addition there may be precise restrictions on
the amount of imported materials incorporated in furniture.

There may be a requirement that furniture should cost no more than a

certain proportion of the cost of the building. For most purposes
this is a dangerous concept. There is no clear correlation between
the cost of building and furniture. The amount and cost of furniture
does not necessarily increase or decrease with the cost of the buil-
ding. I" fact in most cases, the cost of furniture increases for
most ways of reducing building costs. For example, a c0mm0* way of
decreasing building costs is to reduce the amount of corridor and
circulation space by eliminating interior partitions, leading to more
open plans and spaces with less specialist functions. Furniture such
as chalkboards and cupboards may then take on a" extra function as
space dividers leading to higher expenditure. As specialist s@aces are
r,educed furniture will have to be more mobile and serve several purpose*
both these factors will add to the cost of the furniture. see 2.12
'Open Plan'.

For how long must furniture last ? The life of furniture will affect
its cost in the long term. See the worked example in 2.3 'Economic
Those involved: Evaluation' page 6. Furniture may cost 10 to 20 per cent of the cost of
the building at the outset, but furniture will last a maximum of 20 years,
- educational planner the building 60. There will be three replacement cycles. when the cost
- acco""ta"t of maintenance and the increase in costs over the years is added furni-
- economist ture can be see" to cost as much or more than the building. The use of
- furniture designer short-life furniture, made of such things as cardboard, has been tried
OR a" experimental basis but has not been used on a large scale by any
major educational authority. Money for the purchase of furniture is
often invested over a period of 20 years. The furniture itself must
therefore last the full period, in order to justify this capital out-

5 Conduct a Survey of Production Potential

A survey is required to find out the capacity of industry, in the
widest sense of the term, to produce the quantity of furniture re-
quired, and its capability in regard to quality and type of furni-
ture. Initially, the following questions should be asked: not all of
them are applicable in all countries. Replies should take into account
regional variation*:

- what is the production volume of the furniture industry as a whole ?

- what is the production volume of the school furniture section of
this industry ?
- how many factories are there producing school furniture and where
are they ?
- what is the size of these factories ?
- is there a" industry based on artisans and small workshops ?
- what materials and productlo" methods are used ?
- which materials are available locally: which imported ?
22 School furniture handbook

- what is the quality of materials available ?

- other industries may use the same material as the furniture in-
dustry; will their demand for the material change ?
- what fixtures and hardware are available ? what is their quality ?
Are they made locally ? Are they appropriate to the furniture being
manufactured 1
- what ways of treating furniture surfaces (wood, metal, etc.) are
available 7
Those involved: - what adhesives are available ?
- how many furniture designers are there ?
- economist - how may factories have design offices ?
- furniture ;esiqner - what is the structure of the industry in terms of men and management ?
- manufacturer What is the level of competence at each level ?
- is there a furniture testing laboratory ? Could an existing labor-
atory (public works) be used for this purpose ?
- how is the furniture to be transported to schools 7
- what percentage of the cost of furnit"& is represented by transport
and packing ?
- what arrangements are made for maintenance and replacements ?

7 Conduct an Administrative Survev

Administrative procedures are an important conditioner of furniture
design, influencing such things as the quality of furniture, choice
of materials, and method of fabrication. Initially, answers will be
required to the following questions:

- where does the responsibility for buying furniture lie at each level
of education ?
- who is responsible for choosing furniture and what are their qualif-
ications ?
- how is furniture ordered ?
- where do furniture designs originate ?
Those involved: - what size of furniture order is given and when is it given ?
- what import restrictions are there on articles of furniture: on com-
- furniture designer ponents and on fixtures ?
- schools administrator - what are the restrictions on the import of machines for the furniture
industry ?
- do any standards exist for furniture ?
- who enforces standards ?
- how are furniture deliveries made ?
- are there procedure* for evaluating furniture designs ?

See 2.13 'Design Evaluation'.

8' Appraise Existinq Furniture

In all probability, furniture is being made to replace existing furni-
ture. In simple terms, an appraisal of existing furniture should be
carried out to ensure that new furniture will be, at least, as good
as the old. It is assumed that this appraisal would be carried out
by administrators responsible for furniture supply and by the users
of the furniture. Initially, answers should be found to the following
1.2 The process 23

- does the furniture suit the educational objectives and requirements

as set out in steps 1 and 3 ?
- does the furniture suit the economic objectives and financial re-
quirements as set out in steps 2 and 5 1
- is the furniture comfortable ? Is it correctly designed from an
ergonomic and anthropometric point of view ? See 2.4 'Anthropo-
- do teachers and students use the furniture in the way which was in-
tended by its designers ?
- is the furniture attractive to look at ?
- how much does the furniture cost to make and to buy ?
- is the furniture easy to transport ?
- what damage occurs in transit ? What is the cost of this damage as
a proportion of the cost of the furniture ?
- is the furniture durable ? What sort of breakages occur ?
- what are the maintenance procedures 1

For more information see 2.13 'Design Evaluation'.

The point of view of teachers and students, who are the users of furni-
ture may be completely different from that of educational administrators.
An estimation of user satisfaction can be made either from simple en-
quiry or by means of a written questionnaire.

A questionnaire to teachers may be set out in several different ways.

In a questionnaire for Algeria, teachers were asked to comment on furni-
ture, articles by article, under the following headings:

- appearance
- strength
Those involved: - mobility
- noise
- architect - comfort
- furniture designer
- schools administrator A reply to this questionnaire can be found in 2.13 'Design Evaluation',
- student page 181.
- teacher
As a general rule scope should be left, in an evaluation, for replies
outside a formal question structure. Further, some appreciation should
be given of the totality of furniture, as opposed to appreciations
made article by article.

9 Conduct an Anthropometric Survey

To be able to size furniture correctly it is necessary to know a series
of part-body measurements, corresponding to the different age-groups
for which furniture is to be designed. These part-body measurements
can be obtained in three ways:

Method 1:
Measure the standing height of a sample of children throughout the age-
g=oup. then deduce the part-body dimensions using a system of proportion
which relates part-body dimensions to standing height. A sample giving
a reasonable degree of reliability must be chosen. Choosing the size
24 School furniture handbook

of this sample is a job for a statistician. It will vary from country

to country. Sample size has been calculated variously as 200 by age-
group for the Lebanese school population and from 300 to 500 for the
United Kingdom population. When using this method it should be borne
in mind that the systems of proportion correlating part-body. measurements
to overall height have been evolved in Europe and America and may give
uneven results for populations in other continents.

Method 2:
Taking the sample defined in Method 1, actually measure all the part-
body measurements required. This has been done in the United Kingdom
where all the required part-body dimensions of a sample of 500 children
were measured.

A correlation between part-body dimensions, standing height and weight

was established. Then a random sample of the standing height and
weight of 15 000 children was taken nation-wide. Using the correla-
tion between part-body dimensions and weight found from the sample
of 500, part-body dimensions were calculated for the 15 000. A sample
of 15 000 was considered large enough to then make statistically re-
liable estimates of part-body measurements for the entire national
school population.

Method 3:
Method 2 is extremely time consuming, and even Method 3 will require at
least 800 measurements of students' standing height to cover the full
range of school furniture. When time is short it is possible, without
a significant loss of accuracy, to use data compiled for countries with
school populations having a similar standing height. Data has been com-
piled for a large number of countries and regions, see the tab1.e on
Those involved: page 81.

- ergonomist when dealing with countries that have no data for the standing height
- furniture designer of their school population the following procedure can be adopted.
- schools administrator By measuring say 100 children in one of the age-groups it is possible
- statistician to see in which of the four groups, shown in the table on page (2.3)
- student - 14, the population can be classed. It is then possible to use data
- teacher already collected for other countries within the same group to calcul-
ate part-body measurements.

For more information on anthropometry see 2.4 'Anthropometry'.

10 Survey existinq models and methods from abroad

Those involved: Before designing furniture it is useful to have details of existing designs
of the same item of furniture. They act as a warning system for obvious
- furniture designer mistakes. A good source of designs is manufacturers' catalogues.
- schools administrator List&s of manufacturers of school furniture can be found from the various
associations of school furniture manufacturers: See 3.2 'Directory;
for the addresses of these associations.

Details of furniture items already standardised in other countries can be

found from the relevant standard* organisations or manufacturers'organi-
zations. A list of these items can be found in 2.15 'Standards'.
Addresses of standards organisations can be found in 3.2 'Directory'.
1.2 The process 25

Not only the design of furniture models, but administrative procedures

and manufacturing methods in other countries may be worth study. This
handbook contains details of a competition held to choose a furniture
designer and manufacturer in France (see 2.17 'Competitions'), the
Inner London Education Authority method of design evaluation (see 2.13
'Design Evaluation').

11 Investiqate Interfaces
An interface is defined as a surface regarded as the common boundary
of two bodies or spaces. School furniture interfaces with the following:

(1) the user:

furniture must be adapted to the size of the user, that is teachers
and students. This has already been discussed under step 9 - 'Con-
duct an anthropometric survey'. Furniture must be able to stand
the wear, tear and strain that may be put on it by users. This is
discussed further in 2.14 'Testing'.

(2) materials and equipment:

storage units must be designed to store the materials and equip-
ment they are intended for. Drawing boards must be designed to
take the standard sizes of paper. Projector stands must be large
enough to take a projector and be at the right height. Etc.

(3) other furniture:

if different items of furniture are to be used together they must
be in accord - new furniture with old furniture: tables with chairs,
tables with tables (so that several tables may be pulled together
to form a continuous flat surface): etc.

(4) the building:

buildings should be designed taking furniture into consideration.
Spaces should not be over-provided with furniture. Furniture
should not be too large to take through doors or up stairs. It
should not be on naked metal runners if the building has hard
floors. Points of potential collision between furniture and
the building, such as walls and exposed corners, should be pro-
tected, especially when trolleys are being used. Furniture
should be made of fire-resistant materials if the building is a
poor fire risk, in terms of its construction, warning systems
Those involved:
and means of escape.

- furni,ture designer (5) transport:

- educational equipment advisor the means of transport should be considered at the outset. If long
- architect distances are involved knock-down furniture may have to be envis-
- transport contractor aged. In any case it should be possible to stack furniture reason-
ably compactly for transport. Units should not be too large car

The important interfaces of common items of furniture are listed in

2.6 'Tables', 2.5 'Seating', 2.9 'Stoiage', 2.10 'Display Facilities'.
26 School furniture handbook

Those involved:

- architect 12 Make Choices

- economist Making decisions and a plan for the implementation of a project are not
- educator necessarily orderly processes made after all the necessary data has
- furniture designer been collected. Some decisions may well have been taken before the pro-
- interministerial commission ject starts, others will be made concurrently with the collection of
- schools administrator data. Certain decisions may not be made until design starts, or later.
- teacher The diagram on the following page shows the main decisions that must
be made in the course of a project. Subsequently the decisions are
discussed in outline.

use existinq pro-i
duction methods i
OR develop
new methods 1
1.2 The process 27

Although, for the sake of simplicity, decisions are presented as EITHER

one OR the other, reality is more complicated. Some of one AND some of
the other is a more likely decision.

. :
use existing i OR design OR import
furniture . new furniture * furniture
I r ~~
If after consideration of the data collected as a result of step 8
'appraise existing furniture', step 9 'conduct an anthropometri'c
SWVey’ and step 11 'investigate interfaces‘ it is decided that new
furniture is required, it can either be designed for manufacture in
the country or imported. Imports may be required because educational
facilities are required quickly or because there is a temporary bulge
in demand and it is not thought worthwhile to increase local indust-
rial capacity.

import based on : ORlmport based

existing criteria: on new criteria

Imports should be chosen with care. They should satisfy the educational,
anthropometric and technical criteria of the importing country not the
exporting country. Manufacturers are usually able to make small changes
in their range, particularly to dimensions, to suit orders for export.
Furniture can be tested, by independent organisations, in their countries
of origin if so required. see step 20 'test prototypes in a laboratory

use existing
materials new materials

If after an appraisal of the existing furniture it is decided to develop

the use of new materials, the choice should be made after consideration
of the economic objectives, see step 2 and the range of materials avail-
able, see step 6 'conduct a survey' of production potential. More in-
formation on the choice of materials is contained in 2.1 'Commodities'.

new brief

The necessity or not of developing a new educational brief will emerge

after consideration of the educational objectives, step 1, step 3 'de-
fine educational requirements' and step8 'appraise existing furniture'.
The design brief is carried out as step 14.

built in : OR loose
furniture : furniture

Should furniture be built in, as a part of the building structure,

or be loose? There are basically three degrees of fixing:
28 School furniture handbook

loose fixed in built in

The figure above shows a cupboard, but the same choice exists with other
pieces of furniture, such as chalkboards, tables (particularly for dining
rooms) , desks and seating (particularly lecture theatres, see 2.8 * Lec-
ture Theatres'), even beds can be fixed or built in. Loose furniture
will have a degree of mobility. Mobile furniture, although initially
more expensive, can be used in different areas and may result in an over-
all saving in the number of items in certain cases. see 2.12 'Open Plan'.
Fixed-in furniture can be made away from the building site, under factory
conditions, where a higher degree of quality control can be maintained.
At the same time it gains in rigidity by being fixed to the building
structure. Built-in furniture is an integral part of the building. It
will usually be considerably cheaper than the other two solutions, al-
though a hidden,extra cost may be the increase in design fee taken by the
architects on an increased cost which includes the furniture. It will
be more difficult to maintain the quality of work done on the building

In the last few years many countries have managed to reduce the cost of
schools by constructing buildings which are more rational and less
monumental. Whereas furnifuure and equipment needs have become greater
as a result of a more sophisticated curriculum. Because of this as
much furniture as possible is built in, where it becomes part of the
building budget. In this way the furniture budget need not rise too

nominate designer :: OR choose

/manufacturer . by competition

A design department may be part of the education authority.

If this is not the case, a designer can be ch)sen as the result
of a competition (see 2.17 'Competitions'), on the basis of past
record, on a proposed fee, or more usually on a combination of
two or three of these. Similarly an education authority may be
obliged to use a particular government manufacturing unit. If
this is not the case, manufacturers may be chosen in three ways:
- nominated to work on a 'negotiated contract' basis
- as part of a design and manufacture competition
- by competitive tender

Negotiated contracts are usually used because the education authority

wants to develop a range of furniture in close collaboration with a
manufacturer. This means that the specification, which is the basis
of a competitive tender, does not yet exist. However, the usual
method of choosing a manufacturer at this point will be by competitive

Competition may concern Itself with the following variables:

1.2 The process 29

- cost (either in terms of money cost or social cost)

- delivery date
- integration rate of local materials and labour in articles of

Design can be carried out by a designer, or design team, employed either

by the education authority or by the manufacturer. If the education
authority employs the designer he will be near the users, and his designs
are likely to respect the users' needs better than a manufacturer's
design. On the other hand, the manufacturer should be able to exploit
available production techniques to better advantage, although there may
be a tendency to give the education authority what is available, rather
than what the education authority needs.

test in a OR test in
laboratory : the classroom

The purpose of tests is to correct faults in design before full-scale

production begins. There are two ways of testing furniture:
- tests under normal conditions in a school
- laboratory tests

Laboratory testing can only test the physical qualities and robustness
of furniture. It cannot test the other qualities that furniture must
have in use: whether it is convenient, comfortable to use and attractive
to look at. Only testing under use in schools and evaluation by the
users can reveal this.

As a means of testing robustness both methods present certain disadvan-

tages. Testing under classroom conditions will not show up faults
'which might occur after a lifetime of use. Laboratory testing is aimed
at condensing a lifetime of use into several hours of testing under
laboratory conditions. However well designed the tests,they may not
faithfully reproduce the true conditions of use in schools. often a
combination of both methods will be used. However, if the necessary
laboratory facilities are lacking, testing in schools will be the only

Tests will be based on standards. There are essentially two types of

standard for school furniture:
- standard articles
These are standards where nothing is left to the initiative of the
manufacturer. The article itself is standardised, everything is spec-
ified - detailed dimensions, materials and method of manufacture.
- performance standards:
here only the required performance of the article is specified: the
manufacturer is free to use whatever materials and methods he sees
fit to attain the performance.

The type of standard adopted will depend on the degree of sophistication

3G School furniture handbook

of the furniture industry in the country concerned and whether a labor-

atory is available for testing performance.

These two methods of defining standards can be combined. By laying down

overall diaiensional and performance standards and then, based on these,
developing one or several standard articles, with their drawings and
specifications. These will be 'deemed to satisfy' the dimensional and
performance standards already laid down. 1n this case, a country with
a furniture industry in a transitional phase, possessing several soph-
isticated factories, but with most of its industry at a more elementary
level, can have the best of both worlds. The sophisticated factories
can develop their own range of furniture, using their design and tech-
nical skills to the full, to satisfy performance tests conducted by the
ordering authority. On the other hand factories and workshops, without
these resources, can make the standard article in accordance with
drawings and specifjcation. nor more information on standards see 2.15

There are basically two ways of producing furniture:

- in factories
- in small workshops by artisans or in schools with students providing
the labour

The advantages of the systems are discussed:

- require a smaller management structure to produce a given output
- can usually take advantage of economies of scale
- can usually make better use of capital than small-scale units
- can afford electricity supply and other services
- can afford more sophisticated machinery and so produce a more tech-
nically perfect product
- find it more easy to take advantage of technical know-how and licensing
agreements with foreign firms
- can facilitate quality control
- can attract and train skilled workmen
- can attract better loan terms (small enterprises may have to pay twice
as much)

small workshops:
- can help local initiative
- can channel traditional craft skills into new lines
- can help to reduce unemployment
- tend to be labour-intensive and therefore create more employment.
for a given investment.
- allow the decentralisation of industry
- encourage the diversification of industry

The manufacture of furniture in schools is rare. It will have many of

the characteristics of manufacture by artisans. In addition, it could
1.2 The proc’ess 31

form a valuable educational experience for the students. It could

divert from the exclusively intellectual and elitist quality of much
school work.

There is little doubt, that from an economic viewpoint, small production

units usually make less efficient use of resources than larger ones that
are well organised. On the other hand, when large units are badly man-
aged there is more scope for inefficiency and large capital investments
can be put in jeopardy.

I cooperatives %iiisxz~

Many of the disadvantages of small production units can be overcome by

grouping them in cooperatives,

The cooperative might help the small producers upgrade the quality of
their produets by providing common service facilities in such specialised
fields as wood drying, pressing of laminates on wood-based panels, mould-
ing of plywood into chair seats and'back rests, tool maintenance, etc.
The smaller firms cannot invest in the type of equipment required for
such operations, because they are not large enough to make full use of it.

Some of the functions of cooperatives would be as follows:

- to evaluate investment plans and provide cheap loans
- run labour and management training schemes
- control the quality of the finished products
- buy components and materials in bulk for distribution to members of
the cooperative
- provide a design service
- provide an accounting and legal service

in existing
OR in new
factories 1
The survey of production potential at step 6 will have shown whether
additional manufacturing capacity is required. This can be provided by
expanding existing furniture factories or by building new factories.
An additional choice is to use industries unconnected with furniture.

Existing furniture industries are often geared to the domestic furniture

market, making a large variety of goods using craft techniques. This
industry may be 'temperamentally' unable to adapt to the large-scale
industrial production of a few articles. It might be more efficient to
increase furniture capacity by using related industries, that have had no
previous experience of furniture; industries such as the packing-case
industry, the building joinery industry or the steel fabrication industry

OR develop
new methods

The basic choice is between craft techniques that can be rationalised

and speeded up under factory conditions, or industrial techniques re-
32 School furniture handbook

quiring more complicated machinery and materials of a consistent quality.

When choosing between alternative methods of production the following

should be borne in mind:

The differences between the furniture industries of developed and de-

veloping countries are more than is at first apparent. Of course, the
classic difficulties of lack of infrastructure, shortage of capital and
trained manpower are there, but are perhaps less important, as a brake
on the furniture industry, than the isolation of the industry from its
suppliers of materials, components and machines. Factories have diff-
iculty in getting supplies of imported materials and components when
they are required. Import restrictions may suddenly cut off supplies
of certain materials and it is difficult to replace faulty materials.
The same applies to machines and spare parts for machines.

r use the existing



is the business of getting the furniture out of the factory and

into the school. The supply system is adequate if:
- furniture of the right type and quality in the right quantities
arrives on time
- if there is little or no breakage in transit
- if the cost of packing, transport and handling is reasonable

Furniture of the right quality and quantity must be ordered at the right
time. This will depend on the correct forecasting of school enrollment
and replacement needs.

Good packing will ensure a low breakage rate in transit. Packing will be
influenced by the way furniture compacts or stacks and by the means of
transport and handling, as well as the actual materials and methods of

Furniture is produced intermitently in batches; a buffer of stock is

required to ensure that furniture in sufficient quantities is always
available for delivery. Cataloging, labelling and quality control may
also be a part of the stock-keeping process.

To cut costs, furniture should be designed to compact and pack easily

for transport. Delivery should be arranged in such a way that optimum
loads are carried.

Furniture can be stocked in any of three places before it is required

for layout in schools:

(1) at its place of production

(2) at a depot controlled by the ordering authority
(3) at the school where it will eventually be needed
1.2 The process 33

The advantage and disadvantages of these three systems are explained:

(1) in the factory:

there will always be some finished furniture for a single school
stock capacity at a factory, there- might be produced at several
fore this should be the cheapest different factories, and be
method. The amount of handling sent to the school in small
of furniture should be reduced. quantities over a period of
The manufacturer will be respon- time. It therefore will be
sible for the safety of stock. difficult to control quality
on arrival.

(2) in a depot:

facilitates quality control which expensive buildings are required,
is made on delivery to the depot. there will be a large amount of
Makes it easier to make up full handling.
truck loads for delivery to schools

(3) in the school:

cheap with little handling special contractual arrange-
ments must be made with the
builder of the school for
storage in partially finished
buildings. Buildings may not
be finished in time to serve
as a store. Furniture may not
be safe. It will be difficult
to control quality on arrival
at the school.

use existing main-
tenance procedures jtenance procedures

The provision for the maintenance of furniture is one of the factors

that should be considered at the design stage, it will influence the
type of materials and the assembly of furniture. If provision is
made to send furniture back to its factory of origin, or to a well-
equipped, central workshop run by the education authority, there will
be no particular design considerations. However, if as is often the
case, repairs are done by school caretakers or in school workshops by
the students themselves, then this will influence furniture design.
Furniture should be designed using materials and fixings that are
easily.avai.lable and capable of being worked with simple handtools.

OR in central gov- :
: facturer or agent

Maintenance at a local level, either in school workshops with a caretaker

or students providing the labour, or in outside workshops, will achieve
34 School furniture handbook

a small economy. It will also have the advantage of convenience

and speed, but,' as mentioned above, the design of furniture must be such
that it allows repair using only handtools, this is a design restriction
which may increase the initial price of furniture. The standard of work-
manship may not be very high.

Maintenance in a central government workshop will usually be to a higher

standard of workmanship. Further, design faults can be rapidly identi-
fied and rectified at source. The workshops can be attached to a stock-
holding depot, in this way a certain amount of repaired and reconditioned
furniture can be sent out with orders of new furniture. The cost of
transport to and from the workshop may increase the price of repairs.

A maintenance agreement whereby the manufacturer takes back and repairs

broken furniture could be part of a manufacturers' guarantee. Otherwise
manufacturers may have a 'vested interest' in supplying faulty furniture.
Carried out in the same factory that produced the furniture,the repairs
should be of the highest quality, but once again transport may be an
important element in the cost.

13 Analyse Costs
Cost planning and analysis is concerned with getting value for money.
Cost planning can be used at the level of a single item of furniture
(see the Inner London Education Authority 'value analysis' described
in 2.13 'Design Evaluation') at the level of a single school or OF an
entire education system.

In the absence of any absolute criterion, costs are checked by compari-

Those involved: SO". Why does one school cost more to equip than another ? Why should
an examination table, used only once a year, cost more than a classroom
- acco""ta"t table used every day ? At the level of the individual school, there
- architect may be cause for alarm if a staffroom costs more to furnish than a
- economist library; if stools cost more than chairs: if ordinary classrooms cost
- furniture designer more to equip than science laboratories or if furniture costs more than,
- schools administrator say 20 per cent of the cost of the building.

The furniture distribution and cost table, overleaf, is a planning tool

which can give this sort of information in a way that can be easily
used by a cost planner.
1.2 The process 35

,m :
5, ;,
FURli T”RE P> :;:
1. chairs 30 2 2 0
- -
2. desks (800 x 400) 15
3. teachers tables (1400 x 800) 15
4. work table (2000 x 600) L5 15 2 3 60

5. stools 10 30
(8S)OlS - j -
- -
6. cupboards (1400 x 900 x 450) 2 6 12 2 18

7. cupboards (1500 x 1400 X 450) 4 4 2 - 2 35 630

- -
8. filing cabinets 11 2 3 LO 32;
- + -

2 - 20 1 1

9. book shelves !O 480
- -
lO.easy chairs - - - - 2 1 10 210

ll.demonstration benches 1 - - is 55
- / -
furniture price per space* . rand 9123
8 g : 0ta1:
3 m
(in any local currency) T- ,o

* The furniture price per space is found by multiplying the amount of

each Item of furniture by the unit price in column K and then adding
the totals. Thus the total cost of furniture in the staff room 2/3 is:

10x 6= 60
3 x 20 = 60
3 x 40 = 120
1 x 20 = 20
1 x 70 = 70


The figures underneath the items of furniture and underneath

spaces are their descriptions in code. For more information
on codes, see 2.16 'Codes'.
36 School furniture handbook

Answers can be given to the following sorts of questions:

Q. HOW many chairs of type (851001 are there in the entire project?

A. 339 - at J on the'spaces' axis and 1 on the 'furniture' axis.

Q. What is the total cost of all chairs of type (85)OOl in the entire

A. 2034 - at L.and 1.

Q. What is the total cost of furniture for the entire project?

A. 9123 - at L and 12.

Q. What furniture is required for space 6/l?

A. B on the spaces axis, read off the complete furniture axis.

9. What is the cost of furniture in space 6/l?

* A. 970 - at B and 12.

With a large amount of spaces and furniture, in universities for

example, the table form will become unwieldy, and computer faci-
lities will become necessary.


14 Draw up a Desisn Brief

Joining objectives to preliminary data a design brief can be made for
the furniture designer. The following are suggested headings for such
a brief:

a. Function:
- main function
- secondary function(s)

b. Interfaces:
- user (ergonomic, anthropometric and mechanical criteria)
- other furniture
Those involved: - the building (with particular attention to the layout of spaces)
- transport
- architect c. Preferred materials:
- educator (may be a factor of economic choice)
- ergonomist
d. Preferred method of fabrication:
- furniture designer
(may be a factor of economic choice)
- schools administrator
e .. Maintenance considerations:

A design brief should be written. Drawings, even of the most diagramatic

sort, tend to push the design in a particular direction.

15 Draw up a Design Contract

If design is to be carried out by the same government agency that defined
objectives and collected preliminary data, there will be no need for a
1.2 The process 37

formal contract. If a second government agency is to be involved, or

individuals and organisations outside government, then a formal contract
becomes necessary.

Because the design and manufacture of furniture are so closely linked,

it will be advisable to link the design contract to a contract for the
production of furniture prototypes,

If required,= design contract can be linked, not only to a contract to

Those involved: produce furniture but to a contract which will include:
- production of prototypes
- furniture designer - packing
- schools administrator - issue of a catalogue
- lawyer - stocking
- delivery
- installation in schools
- the supply of spare parts
- maintenance

For details of the contract to manufacture see step 24.

16 Design
The design process is circular, it consists of taking the design brief
for an article or range of furniture, conceiving a design that satisfies
the brief and then representing the design. Representation can be either
by drawings, models or mock-ups. Mock-ups are the first prototypes,
they are 'mocked up' using materials that may not be those of the final
article. For example, storage units may be mocked up using thick card-
board, wood may replace plastics, etc.

Those involved: Mock-ups are used so that de'signers may get the 'feel' of the article
they are designing. The design is then evaluated, as represented, against
- architect the requirements. If the design is considered to be unsatisfactory it

- educator is modified and the process gone through until the designer is satisfied.
- ergonomist
- furniture designer The testing of prototypes after the design has been made is also part
- schools administrator of the design process, but because this is long and complicated, it
should only be considered as a final check.

More information on design can be found in 2.6 'Tables', 2.5 'Seat-

ing', 2.9 'Storage' and 2.10 'Display Facilities'.

Those involved:
17 Codify
- furniture designer This is the point at which numbers must be found for drawings and other
- schools administrator documents relating to furniture designs. This should be part of a
general coding policy which will include codes for:

- inventories of manufacturers' stock

- the description of furniture and furniture components in catalogues
- specifications and order forms
- the allocation of furniture within buildings
- furniture inventories for buildings in use
38 School furniture handbook

A suggested coding system and further details on codes can be found in

2.16 'Codes'.

18 Draw up a contract to Produce Prototypes

Those involved:
The materials and methods of construction of production prototypes should
be as close to the final production model as possible, so that realistic
- furniture designer
tests can be carried out under laboratory conditions and in the classroom.
- schools administrator
Ideally therefore, prototypes should be produced by the manufacturer and
- lawyer
the production of protctupes should be-part of a manufacturing contract.


19 Produce Prototypes
As mentioned in the last step, the furnishing of prototypes for testing
should be the responsibility of the manufacturer: in some cases it can
be done by an agent of the education authority. A prototype should be
the exact replica of the finished article. HOWeVer, in some cases,
e.g. when injection moulded plastics are used, this is often not possi-
Those involved: ble, because of the high cost of moulds. Ideally, manufacturers should
have a laboratory testing capacity of their own before sending proto-
- furniture designer types to be tested by an independent authority. The correct number of
- schools administrator prototypes to be produced is a matter on which there are several opi-
- manufacturer nions. Very few will be needed for laboratory testing, probably no more
than ten to fifteen: for testing under classroom conditions more will be
required. The Toronto Metropolitan School Board, Study of Educational
Facilities in Canada equipped an entire school of 1 200 students. The
Algerian Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education equipped 25 stan-
dard classrooms in different regions of the country, choosing a variety
of climates in urban and rural areas.


20 Test Prototvpes in a Laboratory

Ideally, laboratory testing should be carried out by an agency which
is independent of both the manufacturer and the educational authority.
The following is a list of tests that can be applied to furniture under
laboratory conditions:

- static load
- seat fatigue load
- seat impact load
- back static load
- back fatigue load
- back impact load
- sideways arm static load
- sideways arm fatigue load
- sideways arm impact
- drop
1.2 The process 39

Cabinet Furniture:
- static load on clothes rails, etc.
- deflection on shelves, vertical panels etc.
- racking for overall strength and stiffness
- overbalancing, with drawers extended
- drawer shutting
- door shutting
- drop
- tests on castors

- static load
- overbalancing (single table)
- overbalancing (stack of tables)
- deflection of top
- impact on top
- nackinq

Tests for Materials and Finishes:

chemical resistance
degradation under infra-red and ultra-violet light
dimensional stability
enviromental attack, including biological degradation (insects and
resistance to marking by liquid
fire resistance
smoke generation
humidity (in wood)
bend (metal finishes)
adhesion (metal finishes)
tests on electroplated surfaces
tests on anodising
conformity to colour specifications
paint cover thickness
impact (finishes)
scrape (finishes)
cross-cut test on finishes
heat resistance

For more details on tests see 2.14 'Testing'.

Those involved:
21 Test Furniture under Classroom Conditions
A furniture appraisal should be conducted, investigation should be
- furniture designer
carried out under the following headings:
- schools administrator
- students
- is the furniture serviceable. In what ways does it help or hinder
- teachers
the teaching and learning processes
- is the furniture considered to be comfortable. Is it convenient: are
such things as shelves and table tops at the right height
- is the furniture considered to be attractive; what are the reactions
to the colour and finishes
40 School furniture handbook

- is the furniture sufficiently strong: what damage was noticed on arrival

- what damage has occurred during use, what is the extent of the damage
and how many items of furniture are involved.
For an exampl.e of a classroom furniture appraisal see the second part
of chapter 2.13 'The Algerian Evaluation'.

22 Drew up Standards
Standards for the production of furniture are required at this stage,
they will mainly concern dimensions, materials and fabrication. Stan-
dards can either be performance standards or based on a standard
article. The following may be included in the standard article defin-

- overall dimensions
- dimensions of members and components
- type and quality of materials
- type of assembly and fixings (screws, adhesives, etc.)
- type and quality of finishes (paint, varnish, etc.)
- colour

Standards for overall furniture dimensions can be of two sorts:

- they can be geared to the needs of a particular school system.

giving preferred sizes for various age-groups within each type of
school (for example, one size for elementary schools, one size for
middle schools and one size for secondary schools)
- or a larger range of sizes can be given with smaller size increments
so that individual schools and school districts can choose the fur-
Those involved: niture sizes they prefer.

- furniture designer This last sort of dimensional standard is particularly appropriate for
- schools administrator countries which have complicated educational systems and a large range of
- manufacturer school types, catering for a variety of different age-groups. Because a
- testing engineer country that chooses a system of standardisation based on standard ar-
ticles is likely to have a less complicated school system, dimensional
standards for standard articles will usually be of the first sort; that
is, sizes designed to fit particular types of school.

For more information see 2.15 'stan?xds'.

23 Choose a Manufacturer
A furniture manufacturer may have been chosen as part of a general de-
sign and manufacture contract, or nominated at step 16 to work in con-
junction with the designer. A common method of choosing a manufacturer,
at this stage, is by competitive tender.

Invitation to tend&r:
The authority must invite tenders from interested manufacturers.
Tenders may be accepted subject to certain conditions, which should
be made known at the start. The following may be the subject of
- organisational back-up and past reliability
1.2 The process 41

- financial viability
- level of tooling (the ordering authority must be satisfied that the
manufacturer possesses machines adequate to produce furniture of the
required quality).

The invitation to.tender should contain the following information on

the furniture which is the subject of the tender:
- range of items and quantities
Those involved: - drawings
- specification of: materials
- schools administrator finishes
packaging (if required)
- delivery date (if not a competitive factor)

The information circulated should be uniform to all manufacturers.

Tenders should be opened on the same day under the same conditions.
Evaluation should be based only on the variables which were announced
as being competitive factors.

24 Draw UP a Contract to Produce Furniture

A contract to produce furniture may be part of a 'Design and Manufacture'

Choice may have to be made between the alternatives of providing long-

term contracts for furniture or calling for tenders on each occasion
that a purchase has to be made.

Some advantages of the long - and short-term contract system are:

long-term contracts:
- long-term planning in conjunction with manufacturers may be possible
- the manufacturer may obtain economies in scale resulting from fact-
ors such as investments in equipment and tooling. Expertise may
be acquired, leading to reduced costs that can be passed on in the
form of lower product prices.

short-term contracts:
- manufacturers have an incentive to improve design and methods of
- manufacturers may pass on reduction in their costs resulting from
increases in experience and skill
- manufacturers are less likely to become complacent and lower quality
standards or become late with deliveries.

Snail modifications to the designs, due to improvements after their study

in use or a change in the materials employed, can be introduced.

A contract to produce furniture might deal with the following:

- quality of furniture
- delivery date
- specification of the furniture to be produced
42 School furniture handbook

- standards for the finished article

- standards for materials making up the finished article
- provision for quality control
- payment dates and methods of payment

Those involved: - guarantee period

- labelling
- packing
- schools administrator
- (if the furniture is to be stocked in the factory on manufacture,)
- lawyer
- manufacturer date at which the furniture will be available for collection and
limit to the period over which the stock is to be kept
- installation in schools and the clearing of packing materials
- insurance
- penalty for delivery delays
- the provision of spare parts
- the provision of a maintenance service


25 Manufacture Furniture
The choice of manufacturing method will have been made at the planning
stage. Production can be either factory production or small workshop
production. In either case fabrication in the furniture industry follows
the same basic pattern:
- raw materials supplies
Those involved: inspection
raw materials store
- manufacturer forming: cutting, machining, moulding
- materials supplier component store
finishing, painting)etc.
finished stock store
assembly on site (for certain items)

26 Pack
The packaging of school furniture is a neglected field. It should be
considered at the design stage. Because of the large variety of furniture
Those involved: types, furniture packing is usually disposable. But, because of the
repetitive nature of school furniture it should be possible to design
- schools administrator packaging that can be reused (e.g. returnable containers).
- manufacturer
- transport contractor More information on packing can be obtained from the Canadian and US
organisations concerned with packing. See 3.2 'Directory' under

An interesting article on the subject is:

'Packing Furniture for Transit - The Present State of the Art', by
C. Langston in FIRA Bulletin 49. Obtainable from the Furniture Indus-
1.2 The process 43

tries Research Association, Maxwell Road, Stevenage, SGl 2EW. UK.

When packing furniture for shipment direct to a school, rather

than to a depot, it is suggested that a label be placed on each package
and on each item of furniture. These labels should be conspicuously
placed, they should indicate where the furniture is to go, in writing
and in code. For more on furniture labelling see 2.16 'Codes'.


27 Produce a Cataloque
Whether the production unit is government-owned or independent,
whether a factory of small workshop, some sort of description of fur-
niture by the manufacturer to the client is necessary. A catalogue
should contain the following information:

- a e3escription of the item in writing and in code

- all the main dimensions of the item
- a photograph or isometric ‘drawing of the item
- a short specification of materials, method of manufacture and colour
Those involved: - a description, with illustrations as necessary, of the function of
the furniture
- furniture designer - a description with illustrations as necessary, of the way the fur-
- schools administrator niture can be combined with the other furniture, in a teaching situ-

- manufacturer ation
- graphic designer - a list of components that make up the furniture, with descriptions
in writing and in code (for ordering spare parts)
- an indication of how the furniture should be maintained

It is helpful if a standard format and presentation is used for all

catalogues. (See Volume 2).

28 Stock
Furniture can be stocked in any of three places before it is required
for layout in schools:

(1) at its place of production

Those involved:
(2) at a depot controlled by the ordering authority
(3) at the school where it will eventually be needed
- schools administrator
- manufacturer
- transport contractor The amount of stock kept will depend on the rhythm of production and
the frequency of deliveries. Most deliveries correspond with the
beginning of the school year, which requires more space for keeping
stock than if deliveries were made regularly throughout the year.
Stock should be kept in a clean dry place. The furniture must be arr-
anged to allow easy access. If the furniture is not to take up large
areas of expensive warehouse it must be designed to compact.

29 Deliver
Delivery will be made directly to a school or to a depot owned by the
44 School furniture handbook

A* informative page from the Counties Furniture Group Catalogue, UK.

- a bad example of stocking

1.2 The process 45

education authority or their agents. Delivery may form part of a

manufacturing contract, be performed by the education authority, or
form a separate delivery contract. However, separate delivery contracts,
introducing as they do another party to the process, are to be avoided.

In countries with large territories and centralised industry, trans-

port can account for from 20 to 25 per cent of the value of furniture.
Those involved:
Furniture should be designed at the outset to stack so that it can be
packed economically into trucks.
- architect
- manufacturer
Furniture deliveries should be accompanied by a 'bill of lading' by
- schools administrator
truck load, describing the articles of furniture in writing and in
- transport contractor
code and their destination. If furniture is to go directly to a
school, not to a depot, each item of furniture should be labelled
with its description and its destination within the building in
writing end in code. The quality of the furniture and any breakages
should be noted on arrival at its destination.


30 Install and lay out

Installing furniture in a school implies a degree of acceptance. In
practical terms this will be the lest chance that the education author-
ity has of checking for faults and breakages. It will be necessary to
check the quantity and quality of furniture on arrival. This is often
done by the headteacher or caretaking staff, whose lack of specialised
knowledge can lead to mistakes.

The Tunisian Ministry of Education has solved this problem by employing

technicians, who travel to schools expecting deliveries of furniture
to check the furniture as it is unloaded.

Those involved: The carrier may be required to lay out furniture in position in the
school or his contract may end at the entrance of the school, in which
- caretaker case it will be the job of the caretakers or other agents of the educ-
- manufacturer ation authority to lay out the furniture.
- schools administrator
- transport contractor In order to lay out furniture for a large project the furniture should
be clearly labelled in writing and in code. The spaces in the building
should be labelled using the code and a plan should be provided showing
the furniture and the spaces where it is located, labelled using the
same code. See 2.16 'Codes'. In simpler buildings a list on the lines
of the furniture distribution and cost table on page 35 can be used.


31 Use and Maintain

The provision for the maintenance of furniture is one of the factors
that should be considered at the design stage, it will influence the
46 School furniture handbook

type of materials and the assembly of furniture. If provision is made

to send furniture back to its factory of origin or to a well-equipped
central workshop, run by the education authority, there will be no
particular design considerations. However, if as is often the case
repairs are done by school caretakers or in school workshops by the
students themselves, using only handtools, then this will influence
the design of furniture at the outset.

Manufacturers and suppliers should make spare parts available for their
furniture, including the entire range of handles, insets, moulded chair
components, etc. Paint should be made available for retouching metal
parts. An undertaking to supply spare parts may be part of a manu-
facturing contract. Parts should be identified in a coded catalogue.

Some arrangements should be made to feed-back information to the de-

r- Those involved:

- caretaker
- manufacturer

- type
on furniture

of repair
in use. This information could include the

- schools administrator - cost of repair

- type and date of production of furniture article repaired
- students
- teachers
For this purpose and for inventory purposes, all furniture in service
in a school should be labelled. The label should be small and per-
manently fixed in an inconspicuous position. It will be entirely ih
code. A sample label is shown in 2.16 'Codes'.
Part 2 2.1 Commodities 47

School furniture made with split boards and round-wood in Wamena, Irian
Djaya Province, Indonesia

The choice of materials at the start of a project, as well as being a

matter of economics and design, will be made on the basis of the avail-
ability of materials and their price in the long term. This choice is
very important. The development of school furniture, its design, pro-
duction, testing and supply, is a lengthy process which can take as
long as three to four years. A material that might be right, in terms
of availability and price, at the start of a project may be difficult
to find and uncompetitive at the end. School furniture is usually
priced very finely and shifts in price and the availability of materials
can render designs obsolete very quickly.

Further, design and production are closely related to the materials

chosen. If materials have to be changed for any reason the develop-
ment process must usually be started again from the beginning. For
all these reasons the choice of materials at the start of a project
is very important. It is a long-term choice that should be made
with great care.

The most widely used materials for school furniture are sawnwood,
wood-based panels, plastics and metal - mainly steel. There is no
single pattern for the development of demand for materials for the
schooJ. furniture industry that is appropriate to all countries. The
most likely sequence, in developing countries, is production on a
small scale using local resources such as round-wood and bamboo, then
sawnwood, followed by the introduction of wood-based panels, steel
tube or other metal components, and then
The manufacture plastics.
of paint is usually introduced at an early stage in developing
countries because no large economies of scale are possible in this
Industry. Unlike plastics for example, a small paint plant can be

l..l --_. ^ .--_-

48 School furniture handbook

as profitable as a large one.

It is, of course, impossible to forecast world commodity prices with

accuracy. Although trends, such as supply difficulties or a more
expensive energy component, may point to higher prices and other
trends, such as new production or extraction techniques, may point
to lower prices. In certain countries, state buying arrangements
may shield some commodities from world price changes. In this case,
it is easy to forecast trends because the local price will, in most
cases, eventually adjust itself to the world price. The next few
paragraphs cover current trends in the three principal school furni-
ture materials - timber, plastics and steel. In each case both tech-
nical and economic factors are discussed.

Although glues, paints, varnishes and hardware fittings are important for
furniture manufacture they are not considered here because they represent
only a small proportion of the total cost of manufactured furniture.


Timber covers one-third oftheland surface of the earth. The natural

sources of timber are abundant and the rate of replanting is such that
constant supplies are assured in the long term.

Timber divides into hardwood and softwood. Softwood ccxnes mainly from
Northern latitudes: Russia, Finland and Canada are the principal ex-
porters. Hardwood comes from tropical areas. Some areas have no tim-
ber, notably the Arab states and the countries of the African Sahel.

- world distribution of softwood and hardwood forests

In developed countries, softward is generally used for manufactured

wood-based panels such as fibreboard , plywood and particle board or for
framing. Hardwood is used when a more hihgly finished product is requi-
red and for veneers.
2.1 Commodities 49

Manufactured wood-based panels are now used extensively by furniture

manufacturers. Particle board production is the fastest growing section
of the industry. Particle board usually uses timber which is too small or
otherwise unsuitable for sawnwood or veneers. Plywood, by contrast,
has lost in importance, in industrialised countries, as little as 25
per cent of the wood-based panels being now of this material.

In develdping countries very little particle board and fibreboard is

produced: plywood is still used extensively because it is produced

Until recently the rate of increase in world demand for softwood was
tending to slacken as a result of the introduction of substitute mat-
erials such as concrete and plastics in developed countries. But be-
cause, both these materials have important energy components, there has
been some switching back to softwoods since the 1975 oil price increases.

The demand for hardwood has tended to follow world trade cycles: demand
increases during a boom and decreases during a recession.

Between 1971 and 1973 the price of both softwoods and hardwoods more
than doubled. Then, as a result of the world wide reduction in demand
for all timbers, prices, in money terms, fell slightly. These price
reductions were the result of a short-term trend, since they were
accompanied by sharp rises in production costs due to the labour and
fuel intensity of lumbering and transportation. Because of this the
long-term upward movement of the real, uninflated prices for all types
of timber will be likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Although there has been a" over-capacity of wood-based panels in some

developed countries, which would normally tend to lead to reductions in
price, international prices have in fact risen, during the past ten years.
This increases the economic attractiveness of timber production and the
manufacture of wood-based products in developing countries as a" import
substitute. Because of this a large number of wood-based panel (partic-
ularly particle board) factories are planned or under construction in the
developing countries.

I" 1973 a UNIDO study* analysed the long-term relationship in developing

countries between the consumption per head of sawnwood and the gross
annual product per head. The study found that the general trend was
that consumption per head would grow only slightly faster than gross
product per head. But it was forecast that the consumption of wood-
based panels would rise, in all developing countries, more or less in-
dependently of the rate of rise in income.

Due to the large volume and relatively low value of logs and saw" tim-
ber, shipping costs were, in the past, usually a quite important factor
in determining the most economical sources. However, recently, the
bulk carriage of packaged lots of timber in special-purpose ships has
tended to reduce the proportion of shipping costs in the final price

+ ~t.mnitu-e and Joinery Industries for Developing Countries, Part One: Raw Material
Inputs, IO/l08 (part one), UNIW, Vienna, 1973.
50 School furniture handbook

paid by the large consumers. Because of this the availability of local

supplies of tropical sawn timber for school furniture is likely to dim-
inish as demand increases for this product abroad.
This is true of the primary (better known) species. Developing countries
possesssecondary (lesser known or commercially less desirable) species.
In many instances there is nothing wrong with these species apart from
the fact that they are not popular abroad. Using them locally would
liberate the equivalent volume of primary species for export.


Most plastics are synthetic materials based on oil and natural gas.
Plastics are produced first as polymers to which modifying agents, such
as plasticisers and fillers, are added before the moulding or extrusion
processes which form them into final shape. The volume of output of
the thermoplastic group, which can be heated and reshaped, has risen
during the last quarter of a century very much faster than that of the
thermosetting group which, once formed, cannot be re-shaped.

Apart from the supplier of polymers the plastic industry includes

moulders, fabricators and manufacturers of plastic laminates. LZllll-
inate manufacturing is usually done on a large scale, but relatively
small scale units are viable in the moulding and fabricating indus-

The price of plastics has risen with the cost of energy. Here plastics
are at a disadvantage compared with other materials, such as metals,
wood or glass, because they have two energy compbnents:

- the feedstock, based on oil and gas from which the polymers are de-
- the energy required to convert the feedstock into polymers and plas-

The conversion cost is similar to that of metals, but the cost of the
feedstock is an extra. Nevertheless, the price of finished'plastic
products compares favourably to that of similar products made with al-
ternate materials. For example, the cost of PVC bottles, in terms of
energy equivalent is about half that of glass bottles, mainly because
of savings in the volume of material used. Generally, this holds true
for furniture components, in countries where the appropriate industrial
and market conditions prevail.

The price of plastics rose very slowly until the 1973 oil crisis. Since
then they have risen sharply, but these price rises have not been accom-
panied by any slowing in the rate of increase in world demand which is
about eight per cent per annum. The increase in world demand is not of
itself likely to affect oil prices, since only two per cent of the oil
produced in the world is used for plastics. The price of the competing
materials,such as fibreboard and glass,have been forced up since 1973
and there has been little switching from plastics to these materials.
2.1 Commodities 51

About forty three million tons of plastics were produced in the world in
1973. Of this total Japan produced seven million, the EEC fifteen million
and the USA thirteen million. Middle Eastern oil producing countries
will soon be entering the plastics production industry.

Because the chemical processes required to make these substances use

technologies with high ratios of fixed to variable manufacturing costs:
the profitability of production is very sensitive to shortfalls in capacity.
This can result in short-term fluctuations in the price of polymers and
plastics as the producers try to balance supply and demand.

It seems likely that the prices of plastics materials will continue to

rise. However, this will not reduce the rate of increase in demand in
developed countries which have high labour costs. It is likely, for
example, that the volume of production of wooden furniture, which is
labour intensive compared with plastics moulding, will decline in dev-
eloped countries and be replaced by more capital-intensive plastics
forming processes.

The economic attractions of producing and forming plastics in developing

countries that are not oil producers are less certain than they are in
the industrial ones. The high cost of capital and low labour costs
that characterise some economic sectors in developing countries may
tend to hold back the production of plastics to replace traditional
materials. However, due to ease with which small business can enter
the plastics moulding industry for certain items, and the competitive
prices of its products, consumption in developing countries will un-
doubtedly continue to rise. For more information on plastics see 2.2
'Materials' under plastics.


Although the manufacture of steel is generally a capital-intensive

process, many small steel plants have recently been set up in dev-
eloping countries. These use locally obtained scrap to produce
reinforcing bar, the relatively cheap steel rod used in concrete

However rod is rarely used for the manufacture of school furniture,

thin-wall tube is preferred. This is because tube is stronger in
bending than an equivalent weight of rod. Because of the economies
of scale which exist in the manufacture of tube,and most other types
of steel product, developing countries usually import them from
developed countries with export surpluses.

In 1974 world steel output reached an all time peak of 170 million
tonnes with the USA, the Soviet Union and Japan each producing about
one-fifth of the total. The world recession in 1975 resulted in
temporary, wide-scale cutbacks in production, and producers in Europe
and Japan offered large discounts. Such short-term fluctuations are
unlikely to stem the long-term upward trend in production costs and
52 School furniture handbook

prices. It is, however, unlikely that there will be spectacular

rises in world prices in the short,or medium,term.

This may be less true in developing countries than in more econ6mic-

ally advanced areas because:

- the overall demand for steel in developing countries grows consid-

erably faster than income per head which puts a strain on foreign
exchange and may force up domestic prices
- the large producers are showing some sign that during downturns
in demand they would rather cut production than cut their prices
in foreign markets.


maw materials are not available at equal cost irrespective of loca-

tion, for they are generally distributed in a rather patchy manner
over the earth, and costs of exploitation and distribution vary
widely, even when sag materials exist, some countries do not yet
have industries for semi-finishing these primary materials for use
in secondary industries. Fluctuations in the patterns of supply
and demand for materials and the costs of resources, such as energy
used to extract and process them, can result in substantial varia-
tions in real inflated costs over time. As a result of these fac-
tors, the most economical material for a particular application
depends on when and where it is used. A correct choice of materials
in one country may be inappropriate for another. Similarly, a
choice made at one stage in a country's development may be incorrect
at an other.


World wood, 500 Howard Street, San Francisco, California, USA.

The special annual issue of this international monthly journal gives the
latest statistics on the production, consumption and'trade of wood products.

FA0 Yearbook of Forest Products, FAO, Rome.

Published annually; latest
gives figuresthe of production and trade for,
inter alia, sawnwood and wood-based panels.

Timber Bulletin for Europe, United Nations, ECE/FAO Timber Division,

Palais des Nations, Geneva.
Published quarterly.

Iron and Steel

world "eta1 Statistics, 6 Vicarage Road, Edgebaston, Birmingham, 815 3EY, UX.

Published annually.

petal Bulletin, Metal Bulletin Ltd., 46 Wigmore Street, London, WlH OBJ.

monthly Metal Bulletin, Metal Bulletin Ltd., 46 Wigmore Street, London, WH O&T.
Both these publications give world market information on ferrous and
non-ferrous metals.


Europlastics Yearbook, IPC Industrial Press Ltd., 33-40 Bowling Green Lane,
London, EClR ONE, UK.
2.2 Materials 53

The main materials and their uses in school furniture are summarised in
the table which follows. The materials listed in the heavy outline boxes
are discussed in this chapter. The most common materials - sawnwood,
plywood and steel tube - which are well known, and well covered else-
where, are not included, although there is a list of relevant publica-
tions at the end of the chapter. Fastenings and hardware are not in-
cluded. The best source of information on these are a manufacturer's
catalogue (see Re1evan.t Publications).


sawnwood chair and tdble chair seats, drawer pulls anel lipping
frames, table tops, handles,
storage units storage units, dowels,

plywood table tops table tops anels (veneer)

blczkboard laminate fraines chair seats
veneer for chairs and storage units,
tables, chalkboards,
storage units shelves, screene

particle brd. storage Cnits, .acquqr, veneer

chalkboards wood, plastic
shelves, screens
fibreboard storage units, .ntegral for
chalk and marker ,in-up boards,
biards, screens ,il tempered
PI"-xp boards for lab tables
puipfsrming drawers chair aeate
tube chair and table racks
angle fraces, beds,
rod stcrqf units,
.heet as pressa? natal chair seats drawer pulls ,itreous enamelled
sect-isns. frames lockers, shelves, handles, hinges or lab tables
for tai,L~-s and vitreous enamel coat hooks
storacje units Tar: magnetic
chalk and marker

castings table and chair bolts, sc~ewe,

forgings frames drawer pulls
handles, hinges,
castors. catches,
coat hooks
drawn wire racks and trays nails
bed springs
'steel fabric'
chair seats


and anels

mouldings chair seats and [inserts, caps, ntegral

castings chairs, drawers backrests (injec- coat hooks,
tion moulding) castors,
moulding), etor- shelves drawer pulls
(rigid foam/steel
extrusions ntegral;
anel lipping
coating revolving chalk pholstery
boards cwers
--._----- --
resins aints, varnish
I nd stain

ab tables

iwleum, paint.
arnish, oil,
54 School furniture handbook

Notes referring to the preceding Table

The materials listed in the heavy outline boxes are discussed in this

*Definition of terms:

STRUCTURE - the material is used structurally, it is unsupported by any

other material. For example, steel tube in a table frame.

PANEL - the material is used as a panel, supported and strengthened by

another material. For example, vitreous enamelled sheet steel, framed
for use as a chalkboard.

ADHESIVE - glues

FASTENING - materials used for fixing one material to another or for

such hardware items as hinges and catches.

FINISH - materials used to finish another material, such as veneer and

lipping or paint and varnish. 'Integral' means that the material needs
no finish, for example soft fibreboard used as a pin-up board or plastics
injection moulding.

l * Asbestos cement: this material should be avoided it is unpleasant and

even dangerous to work and manufacture. See the International Labour
Organisation (ILO) paper "Meeting of Experts on the Safe Use of Asbes-
tos I', GeneV.3, December 1973


board Particle board (sometimes called chipboard) is a relatively new material,

developed during the 1950s; it is manufactured from wood particles bonded
under pressure between heated steel plates. Synthetic binders are used,
usually urea formaldehyde for interior use and phenol formaldehyde for
exterior use. Typically the glue content in the surface part of the board
is from 9 to 12 per cent of the dry weight of the particles and in the
inner part from 7 to 9 percent. Various conditioning additives are mixed
with the board, the mqst important is paraffin wax which is needed to lower
the high hygroscopic quality of the material. Other additives are:
- substances to prevent bio-deterioration and infestation
- fire retardants, such as ammonium phosphate
- colourants

Particle board is available in most countries. It can be produced from

short lengths and immature trees unsuitable for joinery or structural
grades of timber.

Many countries not endowed with sufficient forest resources produce

particle boards from agricultural residues. Flax (in developed count-
ries - Belgium, Poland) and bagasse (in developing countries - Egypt,
El Salvador, Mauritius, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Trinidad, etc.) are the
two products most commonly used.

Particle board is used in school furniture for many purposes, including

work surfaces and storage units.
2.2 Materials 55

Particle board can be made using an extrusion press or a flat press. Flat
press chipboard has a truer surface and is preferred for furniture manu-
facture. There are four types of flat-press particle board:

- single-layer:
these boards are formed from particles of the same size: there is
a consistent density throughout the board. The denser the board
the higher the strength and screw-holding ability

- three-layer:
these are of sandwich construction, with high density surfaces and
a low density core, formed by bonding together different sizes of
wood particle. The low density core reduces the screw-holding ability.
The advantages are a finer, smoother surface and a saving in weight

- multi-layer:
these are similar to three-layer boards but with an increase in the
number of layers

- graded-density:
these are similar to three-layer boards but with a graded change from
one particle size to another.

The material found in single-layer and composite boards has a range

of densities classified as:
- low density (350 to 450 ks/m3)
- medium density (450 to 670 kg/m3)
- high density (670 kg/m3 and upwards).

Some school furniture manufacturers form their own particle board table
tops. using specially made steel moulds with rounded edges and corners.
A finishing material or laminate can be placed in the mould before it
is filled with the wood particles and binder, the whole is then pressed
and cured. Fixing nuts or lugs can be bdhded into the chipboard at
the same time. Chipboard forming of this sort makes a much better
product: the fixings are stronger and there is no danger that lippings
and laminates will come off. On the other hand, the moulds and presses
required are expensive. Manufacturers will usually limit their range
of table tops to one or two sizes.

Chipboard should not be left unfinished. It can be veneered or painted.

It will take coloured wood dyes which, since they penetrate the wood
particles more than the binder, show off the grain of the material in
a decorative way.

Compared with solid timber, particle board has the following advantages:
- better dimensional stability
- greater resistance to flame spread
- greater resistance to fungal and insect attack
- harder surface.
- available in large sizes, thus reducing labour costs and minimizing
waste. Particle board in developing countries is very often not
cheaper than sawn wood because of the high cost of resins, the rela-
56 School furniture handbook

tively large investment needed to produce it, and the smallness of the
local market, which makes profitable volume sales impossible; the
plants often run below economic capacity due to small market*.

It is cheaper than most grades of timber and timber products. Certain

boards will be less expensive per square metre and will be lighter for
equal st'rength, but in most furniture application* particle board will
be cheaper, because of the heavy edgings needed for other boards.

It has the following disadvantage* compared with solid timber:
- less resistance to moisture
- greater weight
particle board - the holding power of screws is less. A 4.5mm screw, in the face of
screw the board, will hold 8Okg and in the edge 68kg. Compared with about
13Okg. in the face, for most timber. Screws should have a cylindrical
section, in contrast to the carrot shape of most wood *crew*. There
should be more and deeper threads. Several manufacturers make special
particle board *crew*.
- it is not as strong in bending as solid timber, plywood or blockboard.
When used horizontally under load, as in a shelf or table, it requires
ordinary wood screw more support than these material*


Two of the desirable characteristic* which particle board possesses are

that of its non-directional grain and its gluing qualities. Pieces can
be cut from a board in the most convenient and economic way irrespective
of their orientation in the board. Furthermore, because the chips lay in
a random pattern consistently good gluing surface can be obtained from a
saw cut irrespective of the direction or angle of the cut. For the major-
ity of situations glued joints are the most appropriate and economic.
They take full advantage of the characteristics of the material and make
more complicated mechanical methods unnecessary. There are many ways of
detailing board to board joints. The selection of a particular method
will largely depend upon the finished appearance required and the equip-
ment and facilities available. Where boards are to be painted, laminated
or veneered a plain butt joint is normally suitable. If the edges have
been cleanly cut, planing will not be necessary. Both edges should be
liberally coated with adhesive and pressure applial and maintained until
the adhesive has set.

With care in the design and *election of joint*, wood particle board is
well suited to car=*** construction. Simple glued joints are character-
istic of the use of the material for this purpose and one of the main
rea*on* for its widespread application in the ma** production of furnit-
m-e. The gluing qualities of particle board are good in all planes and
full advantage should be taken of this in the design of joint*. Provid-
ed that edges have been cleanly cut a plain butt joint provides adequate
strength for many situations and is economic. At vertical corner junc-
tions a plain mitred joint can be successfully used. Some means of en-
suring accurate location of the components to be joined is often of
practical advantage in assembly: for example, a loose tongue may be
2.2 Materials 57

incorporated in a mitred joint. There are various other ways in which

such provision can be made and some of these are indicated in Figure 7.
58 School furniture handbook


The technology of plastics is complex and involves many disciplines.

The chemistry, the engineering design for production and the forming
of plastics into usable products call for very specialised experience.
Designers a?d administrators,concerned with the supply of school
furniture, will find themselves dealing with experts from the plas7
tics industry. They should be able to understand what the experts
are talking about. The following are definition* of Some of the
commonly used terms:

- polymers:

the chemical substances which form the basis for the materials used
in the manufacture of the final article. Polymers are very large
molecules which are formed by the controlled linking of a simple
molecule (monomer) such as ethylene. They can also be formed by
the successive interaction of two different molecules, for example
phenol and formaldehyde.

- plastics:
the term used to describe the composition resulting from the com-
pounding of polymers with certain additive* to form the material
used in 'plastic articles.

- synthetic resins:

synonymous with the term polymers but used more specifically to de-
scribe the polymers used in paint, glue and binders.

There is a wide range of polymers, they fall into two broad categories:

- thermoplastics:

materials which soften on heating and can be subsequently reshaped

by further heat treatment. Polyethylene is a typical example of
this class of material.

- thermosets:

materials that are cured during the forming process so that they
become infusible and cannot be reshaped by subsequent heat treatment.
A typical example is phenol-formaldehyde (Bakelite).


This section is written for all those concerned with the possibility
of using plastics for the manufacture of their school furniture, so that
they can make a reasoned choice as to whether plastics should be used and
to what extent.

Most polymers are organic, that is, carbon is one of the major consti-
tuents: they are therefore largely based on raw materials such as oil
2.2 Materials 59

and natural gas. The oil must be refined and cracked to lighter
fractions to form the feed stocks for the production of monomers and
chemical intermediates. The process of conversion from the raw mate-
rial to the finished article has the following six stages:

(1) extraction of the basic materials from the earth

(2) refining and cracking to lighter fractions
(3) conversion to monomers and chemical intermediates
(4) compounding into plastics raw materials
(5) fabrication into plastics products
(6) marketing the articles

Many developing countries which produce oil and natural gas at stage
one, jump stages two to five, to market imported plastics articles
at stage six. In general, developing countries which have oil and
gas resources are anxious to operate in as many stages of the process as

possible, in order for the economy to draw the maximum benefit from
the industry. There may be some pressure on educational authorities
to consider the use of plastics in school furniture to provide an
outlet for the products of this industry.

The plastics generally used for school furniture, are light, strong
and hygienic. In spite of recent shortages and rising prices, plastics
is still a viable furniture material, produced at competitive prices.

The conversion of plastics into finished products is generally a hiqh-

level technology requiring considerable investment and employing rela-
tively few people, but there are a number of forming techniques such
as the casting of rigid polyurethane foam and the moulding of qlass-
fibre reinforced polyester (GRP) which can be done in small workshops
with a low level of investment.

In considering the use of plastics rather than traditional materials

such as wood and metal, cost is not the only criterion. The follow-
ing points should be considered:

- in a country which has hydrocarljon resources and little timber, the

advantages of developing more stages of the plastics industry, with
its multiple applications, may outweigh the cost of importing timber.
Orders for school furniture could help to make a stable foundation
for the manufacturing section of this industry.

- high-technology plastics processing techniques are particularly suit-

able for long runs and a flow-line system of production. There are
no drying periods that require both time and extra storage space, as is
the case with wood furniture. Furniture items usually made as sepa-
rate components, can often be designed as an integral part of a
single mould (chair shells which combine back and seat, partitions
in a storage tray, runners and knobs on drawers, etc.)

- the performance of an item of furniture made with plastics as com-

pared with the same article made of traditional materials must be
considered under a number of headings:
expected life-span before replacement
60 School furniture handbook

cost of maintenance during use

suitability of plastics in terms of actual performance, that is
the ability to function adequately under all anticipated condii

- will there be a continuing demand for plastics furniture items after

the initial supply - or will it be necessary to look for export
markets to amortise the cost of toolins?

- plastics do not compare favourably with timber in regard to combust-

ability. They can be more of a hazard than timber in a fire, produ-
cing a greater amount of toxic fumes and contributing to the rapid
spread of fire.


The plastics materials commonly used in school furniture are:

- thermoplastics:

- polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

- polypropylene (PP)

- polyethylene (or poiythene)

- polystyrene (PS)
- Acrylonitrile - Butadiene - Styrene (ABS)

- thermos&s:

- polyurethane (PIJ)

- phenolics and melamine formaldehyde

- urea-formaldehyde (UF)

- glass-reinforced polyesters (GRP)

Modifyinq Aqents

Polymers are seldom used in their raw state, they are usually compound-
ed with a range of additives which affect both the forming characteris-
tics and the properties of the finished products:,

- fillers:

materials such as asbestos, chalk, wood-flour and cotton flock which

are used to reduce the cost of the plastics and in some instances to
improve their mechanical propefties

- plasticisers:

the use of these materials is limited to plastics based on PVC. They

enable products with a wide range of flexibility to be produced.

- pigments:

these are used to colour the product

2.2 Materials 61

- antioxidants:

used to retard the effect of oxygen on plastics during processing

and subsequent use

- hardeners:

agents used for the curing of thermosettinq resins-during the form-

ing process

- blowing agents:

used to produce a cellular structure (foam) in plastics

- ultra-violet stabilisers:

added to improve the resistance of plastics to sunlight

- biocides:

used to prevent various forms of biodegradation and infestation

- flame retardants:

used under certain conditions (small accidental sources), to stop

plastics catching fire, and to stop the spread of fire.

Like wood, plastics materials contain high amounts of carbon and hyd-
rogen in their structure and consequently all plastics, including those
advertised as 'self extinguishing' or 'low flame spread', will burn if
the temperature is high enough. Any discussion of the properties of
plastics for use in schools must first consider resistance to fire,
because the fear of fire is the most frequently voiced reservation in
relation to plastics as a material for school furniture.

Flexible foams are loosely structured, decompose and burn swiftly. They
are little used in educational buildings, the exception being mattresses
in boarding accommodation. Cellular, foamed plastics mattresses, even
treated with fire retardant and fitted with low fire-spread covers,
should not be used in school dormitories.

The inflammability of plastics varies appreciably with the type of

polymer used. Inflammability can be reduced by the incorporation of
fire retardant agents in the composition of plastics. These materials
serve two purposes, firstly they make it more difficult to set fire to
the plastics and secondly, they slow down the rate of burning once the
material is alight. But fire retardants do not prevent plastics from
burning if the temperature of the fire is sufficiently high, further
they many increases the amount of smoke and toxic fumes once the mat-
erial is alight.

It is useful in the context of fire to compare the behaviour of plas-

tics to that of wood:

- wood decomposes with heat to produce inflammable gases at a higher

62 School furniture handbook

temperature than the plastics used in furniture

- under certain circumstances a char of carbon is produced on wood

which tends to cut off the supply of oxygen to the rest of the
material. It is possible that char may be formed with certain
thermosettinq plastics.

- the thermoplastics usually melt before they burn, spreading fire

downwards and out, in a very different way from wood.

In conclusion, foamed plastics in school dormitories should be avoided,but

otherwise plastics need not be, and often cannot be, eliminated from
school buildings. Avoiding stackingplastics furniture may be a way of
reducing a large amount of fuel source concentrated in one place. The
use of thermosets instead of thermoplastics may also reduce the risk.

Mechanical Properties
In considerlnq plastic; for an Item of school furniture which may be
subjected to loads or sudden shocks, it is essential to have a know-
ledge of the mechanical properties of the material so that the item
can be designed to an accaptable performance. In many ways, these
properties show advantages over traditional materials; they can be
summarised as follows:

- light weight and high strength to weight ratio, this being partic-
ularly the case with glass-reinforced polyesters. In the case of
thermoplastics, the strength properties are reduced as the temper-
ature rises but this is not so with thermosets. Thermoplastics,
however, need not present a problem as the designer can make allow-
ances for any abnormal environmental conditions.

- the impact strength varies from one plastics material to another

but the plastics likely to be considered for school furniture will
be perfectly adequate in this respect

- the scratch resistance is not as good as hardwoods but is compar-

able with softwoods.

Solvent Resistance
Plastics are organic materials, consequently they will be affected by
certain solvents but it is unlikely that such chemicals will be pre-
sent in the average classroom, if the furniture is being considered
for a chemical or physical laboratory then some care is needed. It
is likely that plastics would be affected by the same solvents which
would spoil the varnish on a wooden desk. For the general solvents
such as water, acids and alcohol, plastics are very resistant and
this is why materials such as polythylene and PVC are used for pipes
in cprrosive soil conditions and also for handling domestic effluent.
Adequate information can be obtained on the resistance of the various
plastics materials to a whole range of chemicals. A range of tests
for solvent resistance is given in 'Testing' page 201.

The durability of plastics is naturally of great concern where these
2.2 Materials 63

materials are used outdoors. Plastics tend to degrade in bright sun-

light, the colour may change and in time there will be some loss of
mechanical properties. This effect can be counteracted to some extent
by the incorporation of ultra-violet stabilisers in the composition,
which can prolong the life of the plastics to an acceptable span. De-
gradation caused by sunlight is unlikely to be a problem unless furni-
ture is used outside for a substantial part of the day: in such circum-
stances it is important to ensure that a plastics material with good
properties under these conditions is used. This may impose some limit-
ations on the choice of colours.


This section describes the main plastics used I" school furniture
production and their applications, those materials which are rarely
used are not included.


Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC):

This polymer can be used to make a range of plastics materials with

varying flexibility by the addition of fillers and plasticisers. The
most common outlet in school furniture is as flexible sheet. Coated
on paper or fabric,PVC is used for covering chair cushions and as a
surface for revolving chalk or marker boards.

Rigid PVC sheet can also be bonded to panels to make durable work sur-
faces for classroom tables or work benches. Melamine-formaldehyde
laminates tend to dominate the market for these products but PVC is
more economical. Extruded rigid PVC is used for making drawer sec-
tions and runners; in strip form it can provide a hard wearing lippinq
to table tops. The strips are welded to form a loop and heat shrunk
onto the table top to form a continuous edge.

In powder form PVC can be sprayed electrostatically and used as a fin-

ish for metal parts.

Polyethylene or Polythene (PE):

Polyethylene is the most extensively used polymer, it is available in

two different types, low density PE which is rather soft and flexible
and high density PE which is more rigid and strong. The low density
polymer is used extensively for packaging, such things as bottles and
plastic bags, while the high density grade is used for those applica-
tions where higher strength and rigidity is required such as crates,
trays, drawer sides and other fittings. In powdered form, the high
density polyethylenes can be rotationally moulded to produce light,
strong furniture items such as hollow plastics seating cubes which
Polyethylene seating cubes need to be light enough to be carried by children. The common adhe-
64 School furniture handbook

sives cannot be used with the polyethylenes, therefore design should

be limited to that which can be achieved by moulding.

Polypropylene (PP):

Polypropylene has very useful properties for school furniture, it is

similar in many respects to high density polyethylene but it is
tougher and more rigid. Unmodified polypropylene is translucent and
can be easily coloured. It is widely used for the manufacture of
injection moulded chairs. Other applications for pp injection
mouldings are containers of all shapes and sizes - wastepaper bins,
tote trays, drawers and a variety of rurniture fittings such as
handles and knobs. Polypropylene sheet can be processed by vacuum
forming to produce items such as storage containers and trays. As
with polyethylene, the common adhesives cannot be used with polypropy-

Polypropylene chair shells

Polystyrene (PS):

Natural polystyrene is clear, but it can be easily colonred to any shade.

The general purpose material is rather brittle but the impact strength
can be improved by the incorporation of certain rubber-like additives
and in this form it can be used for furniture production. Polystyrene
has good wear resistance and is particularly suitable for rotational
or injection moulding. The major applications in furniture produc-
tion are for components and fittings such as trays and drawers.

Acrylonitrile - Butadiene - Styrene

This is a co-polymer. It is a hard, rigid material with good resistance

to impact and chemicals. Although it is more expensive than polystyrene
and polypropylene it has many advantages over high impact polystyrene and
its use in furniture is increasing. It has been used for the production
of injection moulded stacking chairs, filing drawers and storage trays.
2.2 Materials 65


Polyurethane (PU):

The component elements of PU can be chemically combined in different ways

to produce a range of materials of different densities and degrees of rigid-
ity and flexibility. The main use .for PU in furniture is as foam,
either rigid or flexible: flexible foam is widely used as padding in
chairs and beds. The foam has excellent resilience and seating proper-
ties, it is usually produced in the form of a slab that can be easily
cut to size.

Rigid PU foam is used for moulded items such as storage units. It is

particularly useful for this type of application, since it can be moulded
with an integral skin which can be painted without the need for laminates.
Drawings on pages 155-156 show storage units made of this material.
Rigid PU is light and strong, it is used as a core material for sandwich
panels with melamine laminates or steel sheet as the outer skin.

Polyurethane resins are used as a base for paints, varnishes and wood
stains, all of which are used for finishing furniture.

Phenolic and Melamine Resins:

The most important application of phenolic and melamine resins is for
the production of laminates: these are made by impregnating sheets of
wood veneer, paper or cloth with the resins and then bonding them to-
gether, in a solid structure, under the action of heat and pressures.
Laminates based on paper and cloth are used to surface tables and desks.
Laminates with dark coloured matt surfaces can be used for chalkboards.
They are hard and durable with good resistance to heat and scratching.
The surface of the laminate can be finished with a printed design or
plain colour. Laminates based on wood veneers are used for chair seats,
these are different from plywoods, where the same resin may be used as
an adhesive, because the wood is impregnated with the resin under pres-
sure forming a homogeneous material.

Urea-formaldehyde Resins (UF):

The most importantuses of UF resins, in furniture production, are as a

binder for the productlo" of chipboard and plywood and as an adhesive.
LIF resins can also be used for the production of laminates in the same
way as phenolic and melamine resins.

These are available as low viscosity mixtures which can be used for
moulding by casting and low pressure processes. The polyesters set to
form rather brittle products so they are always used in conjunction
with fibre reinforcement for making moulded items. Glass fibres are
most generally used in some form or other and the plastics .are refer-
red to as GRP - glass reinforced polyester. GRP is strong and durable
it can be used for small-scale production techniques such as moulding
by hand lay-up.
66 School furniture handbook


The main forming techniques used in school furniture are as follows:

- Extrusion
- Casting
- Injection moulding
- Compression moulding
- Rotational moulding
- Thermoforminq
- Laminating
- Hand lay-up moulding
- Coating


The cost of a. plastics article as finally produced and offered for

sale will include:

- design costs

- raw materials cost

- cost of equipment

- processing costs

- cost of finishing, inspecting and testing

- cost of storage, transport and supply.

The cost of plastics raw materials is one of the less important elements,
although in a highly automated process, such as injection mouldings with
long production runs, it can be as high as 60 per cent of the total pro-
duction cost. The cost of the actual amount of material required for a
given product will depend not only on the cost of the plastics composition -
the polymer with the various additives - but also on the density of the
material. It can be misleading therefore to consider only the cost of
the polymer in making an economic assessment of a particular process.

The price of equipment, in terms of the machine and moulds, is usually

the most important element of cost. Injection moulding is probably the
most widely used technique and it is also the most expensive. The
cheapest plastics fabricating technique is the hand lay-up process which
can be operated with a minimum of investment in equipment. The equip-
ment required for moulding rigid polyurethane foam can also be cheap.

Between the extremes of injection moulding and hand lay-up the various
plastics forming techniques can be placed roughly in the following
order, in terms of cost:

- injection moulding

- compression moulding
2.2 Materials 67

- extrusion

- casting

- rotational moulding

- foam casting

- hand lay-up

As a general rule, the more expensive the process the less labour is
required per article produced.

Adhesives SCOPE

Adhesives are used mainly for wood. They are used for general assembly
work and for bonding veneers and plastic laminates to core materials.
The most commonly used adhesives for these purposes are the following:
- animal glues the traditional glue of the furniture industry
- casein glues a plastics glue based on milk protein
- thermoplastic glues these include: cellulose nitrate, polyvinyl
acetate (PVA) and hot-melt adhesives
- thermosetting glues these include: phenol formaldehyde, urea form-
aldehyde, resorcinal formaldehyde, melamine
formaldehyde and epoxy adhesives

For a definition of the terms thermoplastic and thermosettinq see paqe58.

metal leg welded to plate,
plate drilled and screwed
to table top Recently adhesives have been used in the furniture industry for joining
materials other than wood. The figure below shows an application where
adhesives have replaced a metal-to-wood screwed joint and a metal-to-
metal,welded joint. It looks probable that the speed and neatness of
adhesives for such applications will lead to an increase in their use.


The properties of the ideal adhesive can be listed as follows:

_ ability to adhere to a variety ?f surfaces
- ability to spread easily over a surface
- capable of being produced in a range of different viscosities to
metal leg bonded to light suit different application methods
plastics moulding, moulding - long shelf life (before preparation)
bonded to table top
- long pot life (after preparation)
- short setting time
- low shrinkage during setting
- suitable for a wide range of assembly conditions
- little creep under stress
- high strength in close contact and gap joints
- resilient
- high resistance to moisture and heat
68 School furniture handbook

- high resistance to bio-deterioration

- good aqeing characteristics
- lo" cost

The properties of the most commonly used adhesives are discussed.

These are the basic properties of adhesives, particularly in regard to
the synthetic adhesives, modern chemical engineering can be used to
modify these properties in the manufacture of adhesives to suit special

Animal qlUeS
Made from animal bones or hide, although these glues have the advantage
of cheapness and availability they have a low resistance to moisture
and bio-deterioration and their setting time is too slow for modern
factory conditions.

-A method of preparing liquid fish glue is given in the VITA

'Handbook of Village Technology'.

Since liquid fish glues are not very water-resistant, a casein

or other glue should be used where water-resistance is needed.
Thick fish glues produce stronger joints than thin solutions.

Casein glue is stored as powder and prepared by mixing with water. It
has a pot life of from one to eight hours after preparation. It sets
by chemical reaction at room temperature, although setting can be accel-
erated by heat. It has good gap filling properties and it is cheap but
it does not resist prolonged weather exposure and is subject to bio-

A method of preparing casein glue also appears in the VITA

'Handbook of Village Technology'.

See also: Casein Glues: Their Manufacture, Preparation! and Application,

Foresty Laboratory, FOreSt Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture,
Madison, Wisconsin.

Dr. Louis Navias, VITA Volunteer, Schenectady, New York.

?hermoplastic adhesives
Thermoplastic adhesives are fusible, soluble, soften with heat and are
subject to creep under stress. They have fair resistance to moisture
and good resistance to bio-deterioration. The two most common varieties
are :

Polyvinyl acetate (PVA):

PVA is supplied ready to use as an emulsion or solvent solution. It
sets by the evaporation of the water or the solvent. It can be kept
in store for periods of up to one year. It sets at room temperature,
but setting can be accelerated by using heat not in excess of 70°C. It
is used for the bonding of laminates as well as for general assembly
2.2 Materials 69

These are mixtures of thermoplastic resins. Polyethylene, vinyls,and
polyamides are usually included. Solid at room temperature, they become
fluid at temperatures approaching 200°c. They are mainly used for the
continuous qlueinq of veneers and laminates.

These adhesives are widely used in the manufacture of plywood and chip-
board. Unlike thermoplastic materials they cannot be solidified and
remelted by heat cycling. They set in different ways depending on their
chemical types. In some cases two-part resin and catalyst systems set
by chemical action after mixing. In others one-part materials require
heat to initiate the reaction of a latent catalyst. Thermosets provide
stronger joints than thermoplastics. Resistance to creep is good but
the joints are brittle and have low resistance and impact strength.

Epoxy is a particularly useful, if expensive, thermoset. It has high
adhesion to many substrates. There is little shrinkage during setting,
it is therefore good for gap filling. It has excellent resistance to
oils, water and various solvents. Epoxy has a two part curing system.
It will set at room temperatures or higher and requires low bonding
pressures. Its disadvantages are brittleness and low flexibility.


The main adhesives used in the furniture industry are the synthetic
glues. As mentioned previously the quality of the basic materials
can be modified. For example, epoxies can be made more resilient by
tihe addition of thermoplastics and thermosets can be added to PVA
adhesives to make them suitable for hot press applications. Because
of this adhesives should always be chosen in consultation with the
adhesive manufacturers. Adhesives should never be considered in
isolation. They form an integral part of the joint. They affect
and are affected by the materials joined and performance is always de-
pendent on environment.

The most important consideration in the glueinq of wood is moisture cont-

ent. The equilibrium moisture content of the wood should be reached
before assembly of the furniture, so as to prevent stresses from building
"P. This equilibrium moisture content is 8% to 12% in temperate climates
with central heating and/or air conditioning. In many tropical climates
the figure is higher.

Of particular importance is a classification of adhesives based on

durability. British Standard 1204 gives durability ratings for ad-
hesives as follows:
INT Interior work only,these adhesives resist cold water but
not bio-deterioration
70 School furniture handbooi

MR moisture resistant, these adhesives survive weather exposure

for a few years and withstand bio-deterioration, but have
limited resistance to hot water. Resistance to boiling water
is poor
BR boil resistant, these adhesives resist weather and the boilinq
water test, although the prolonged exposure to weather ::+o
lead to failure. They have high resistance to bio-deterior-
WPB weatherproof and boilproof, these adhesives are highly res-
istant to weather, bio-deterioration, cold and boiling water
and dry heat for many years

Different types of adhesive can be classified according to their durability

ratings as follows:
animal glue INT
casein INT
polyvinyl acetate INT
urea formaldehyde MR'
melamine formaldehyde BR
phenol formaldehyde WPB
=pow WPB

Par laminating the choice of adhesive will be determined by the application

method and the type of press. Methods of application are as follows:
- flowing the pressure extrusion of adhesive on to the
bonding area. Thia ca" be 0~ec9 F?r solvent
adheaiJes ne, with heated extrusion cylinders,
for hot-melt adhesives.
- roll coating the adhesive is transferred from a trough by
means of pick-up rollers.
- spraying low viscosity solvent adhesives can be spray
coated using spray painting equipment. Care
must be taken to provide adequate vapour ex-
traction to avoid the hazard to health of solvent

Presses can be classified as follows:

- flat platen, either cold or hot, they can be used for either long or
short duration bonding. In this category are: panel presses (both single
and multi-daylight), shuttle presses and flow-line presses
- roller presses, these are hot for short duration bonding

Other Materials are also considered in other chapters -

materials 2.1 'Commodities'

The economic aspects of materials are dealt with. Trends in the main
furniture materials - timber, plastics and steel - are considered.

2.13 'Design Evaluation':

The Inner London Education Authority design evaluation described in this
chapter deals in great detail with the choice of materials for an
examination desk.
2.2 Materials 71

2.6 'Tables':
This chapter includes remarks on the choice of materials for drawing
boards and the choice of materials for table tops and supports. The
following materials are considered for table tops:
- solid wood - plywood
- steel - blockboard
- particle board - coreboards
- laminboard

2.5 'Seating':
This chapter deals with the common materials for chairs, stools and

2.10 "Display Facilities':

This chapter deals with the following materials for chalkboards:
- plastered wall - blockboard
- plywood - plastics laminates
- particle board - plastics coated fabrics
- lass - hard fibreboard
- vitreous enamel

2.7 'Laboratory furniture':

This chapter deals with the choice of materials for laboratory table
tops. The following are considered:
- timber (teak) - hard fibreboard
- plastics laminates - ceramic tiles
- mild steel - stainless steel
- glass - lead
- asbestos


United Nations Industrial Development Organization.

Furniture and Joinery Industries for Developing Countries:
Raw Material Inputs. ID-108, Part one, I, II, III (Rev. 1). Vienna 1973.
This contains the summaries of five UNIDC seminars, 1971-1975.


Balm Menon, P. K. Uses of Malayan Timbers. Kuala Lum~ur, 1958.

Bellosillo, S. B. and Miciano, R. J. Progress Report of YechanicaI

Properties of Philippine Wood. Manila, Miciano, 1959.
Boerhave, W. and Beckman. Elsevier'.s wood Dictionary. Amsterdam,
Elsevier Publishing Company, 1969 (3 volumes).
Bolza, E. and Kloot, N. d. The Mechanical Properties of 81 New Guinea ritiers.
Melbourne, 1966.
Brown, H. P., Panshin, A. J., and Forsath, c. C. Textbook of Wood Technology.
New York, McGraw-Hill, 1949 and 1952. (2 volumes).
Brush, W. D. Teak. Washington, 1945.

Nomenclature G&xSrale des Bois Tropicauw. Nogent SW t4arne, France, ATIBl', 1965
72 School furniture handbook

BOlza, Eleanor, and Keatinq, W. G. African Timbers - the properties, uses

and characteristics of 700 species. Melpourne, Australia, CSIRO,
Division of Building Research, 1972.

Dadswell, H. E. Timbers of the New Guinea Region. Melbourne, 1945.

Dadswell, H. E. and Eckerley, A. M. Some Timber Species of Papua and

New Guinea with Descriptive Notes on Properties and Uses end
Means of Identifications. Melbourne, 1943.

Desch, H. E. Timber, Its Structure end Properties. London, Macmillan, 1968.

Panshin, A. J. and others. Forest Products: Their Sources, Products end

Utilization. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1950.

Henderson, F. Y. Timber, Its Properties, Pests and Preservation.

London, Lockwood, 1946.

Kloot, N. H. and Bolza, E. Properties of Timbers Imported into Australia.

Melbourne, 1961.

Kollman and Cot&. Solid wood. New York, 1968.

Limaye, V. D. and Seaman, L. N. Physical and Mechanical Properties of woods,

Grown in India. Debra Dun, 1933.

Lonqwood, F. R. Present and Potential Timbers of the Caribbean with Special

Reference to the West Indies, the Guiana and British Honduras. Washington, 1962.

Menon, K. D. and Burgess, H. J. Malayan Timbers for Furniture

Kuala Lumpur, 1957.

Orman, H. R. Strength Properties of Some Kauris of the South West Pacific,

with Special Reference to Fijian Kauri. Wellington, 1949.

Pratt, G. H. Timber Drying Manual. Building Research Establishment Report.

London, HMSO, 1974.

Tamesis, F. and Aq, L. Important Commercial Timbers of the Philippines,

Their Properties and Uses. Manila, 1951.

Thomas, A. V. Malayan Timbers: Bintaqor, Geronqqenq and Terentanq. Kuala Lumpur, 1950.

. White and Yellow Meranti Timber. Kuala Lumpur, 1950.

. Malayan Timbers: Menqkulanq, Mersawe end Punah. Kuala Lumpur, 1950.

Titmus, F. H. Commercial Timbers of the World. London, Technical Press, 1965.

Chalk, L. and others. Twenty West African Timber Trees. Oxford, 1933.

Wallis, N. K. Australian Timber Handbook. Sydney, 1963.

Wyatt-Smith, J. Standard Timber Names of Indonesia, Valeye, North Borneo,

and Sarawak. Kuala Lumpur, 1958.

Particle Board

Wood Chipboard. Chipboard Promotion Association, 7a Church Street, Esher,

surrey, UK.

Resin-bonded Wood Chipboard. British Plastics Federation, 47 Piccadilly,

London, WlV ODN.

British Standard 2604: Pert 2: Resin-bonded Wood Chipboard. London, HMSO, 1970.

British Standard 1811: Part 2: Yethods of Test for Wood Chipboard and
Other Particleboards. London, HMSO, 1969.

Brown, W. H. Particle Board in Building. A Guide to its Manufacture and Use.

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Timber Research
and Development Association, 1972.

Fibreboard and Particle Board. Rome, FAO, 1963.

Plywood and other Wood-based Panels. Rome, FAO, 1966.

This is a report of an international consultation on plywood and other
wood-based panel products held in Rome, 8-19 July 1963.
2.2 Materials 73

Proceedings of the World Consultation on Wood Based Panels held in New Delhi,
India, February 1975. Brussels., Miller Freeman Publications, in agreement
with FAO, 1976.

Mitlin, Leo. Particle Board Manufacture end Application.

Dorchester, Dorset, UK, Pressmedia Ltd., 1972.

National Particle Board Association, U.S.A. Using Particle Board

Chicago, U.S.A., wood and Wood Products, 1972. 84 p.

Chipboard promotion Association, O.K. Data Sheets. 1975. 40 p.

Trada, U.K. Particle Board in Building. 1971. 43 p.

MerilUOtO, J. Particle Boards. UNIDO document ID/WG.105/24. Rev.1, 1972, 14 p.

Latta, D. S. and Tack, P. E. Particle Board in Developing Countries. UNIDO

Document ID/WG.105/24. Rev. 1, 1972. 14 p.

Cooper R. J. and Elliott, G. K. Utilization of Wood-Based Panel Products in

the U.K. FA0 Document FAO/FO/WCWS/75, 1975. 12 p.

Mitlin, L. Particle Board Manufacture end Application. U.K., Novello & Co. Ltd.,
1969. 222 p.


Working papers from the UNIW Symposium on "Plastics Industries in a Developing

World" held in London in June 1973 and from the symposium "Development of the
Plastics Fabrication Industry in Latin America” held at Bogota, Columbia in
November 1972, deal particularly with conditions in developing countries.

A First Look et Plastics. London, The Plastics Institute.

A Journalists' Guide to Plastics. London, The British Plastics Federation.

Buttery, D. N. Plastics in the Furniture Industry. London, MacDonald. 1964.

Plastics in the Furniture Industry - Present and Future Use. FIRA, Maxwell
Road, Stwenaqe, U.K., 1975.

Kovaly, K. A. Handbook of Plastic Furniture Manufacturing. Stamford,

Connecticut, Technomic Publishing Company Inc., 1970.

Hidden Fire Risers. Design Magazine, NO. 298, October 1973.

P.APRA. Fire end Furniture. Shawbury, Shropshire, U.K.

BOnnan, Alan. Plastics: The Touch-paper in Your Home. New Scientist,

22 May 1975.

Taylor, W. Plastics Furniture and Furnishings: A review with particular

emphasis on fire hazards. RAPRA Members Journal, RAPRA, Shawbury,
Shropshire, U.K.

Lathrop, Harrison and Custer. In Osceola, A Matter of Contents. The Fire

Journal, May 1975.

Fire Hazards of Plastics in Furniture and Furnishing: Characteristic of

the Burning. Garston, Watford, Hertfordshire, U.K. Building Research
Establishment, 1975.


Howink, R. and Salcmon, G. Adhesion and Adhesives, vol. I and II.

Amsterdam, Elsevier, 1965.

Shields, J. Adhesive Bonding. The Design council and Oxford University Press,

Adhesives Directory. A. S. O'Connor & Co. Ltd., 26 Sheen Park, Richmond,

Surrey, U.K.
This is a bi-annual review of industrial adhesive materials, their
applications and sourcee of supply.

Hindley, H. R. Adhesives in the Furniture Industry.

Stevenaqe, SGl 2EW, U.K., 1974.
74 School furniture handbook

Shields, J. Adhesives Handbook. London, Butterworths.

Casein Glues: Their Menufacture, Preparation end AppJication. Madison,

Wisconsin, Forest Products Laboratory, Forest Service, U.S. Department
of Agriculture.

Laval, G. Colles et collages dans l'industrie du bois: menuiserie, ebenisterie,

charpente, panneau. Paris, Compaqnie Frangaise d'Editions, 1968.

Forest Products Research Laboratory, Bulletin NO. 38. Efficiency of Adhesives

for Wood. London, HMSO, 1971.

BS 1204: Synthetic Resin Adhesive for Wood.

BS 3544: MeMethods of Test for PVA adhesives for Wood.

BS 4071: PVA Emulsion Adhesives for Wood.

Srltlsh Standards Institute, 101 Pentonville Road, London, Nl 9ND.

Forest Products Research Laboratory, Bulletin No. 20.

Requirements and Properties of Adhesives for Wood. London, HMSO.

Bikerman, J. J. The Science of Adhesive Joints. New York, Academic Press, 1968.

Building Research Establishment Digest No. 115. Choice of Glues for Wood.
London, HMSO, 1975.


International Labour Orqanization. Meeting of Experts on the Safe Use

of Asbestos. Geneva, December 1973.

Fastenings and Hardware

The Complete Hsifele. HZfele KG, P.O. BOX 107, 7270 Naqold, Federal Republic
of Germany.

Berm's Hardware Catalogue. Ben" Brothers Ltd., Sovereign Way, Tonbridge,

Kent, U.K.
2.3 Economic evaluation 75

Because of the growing size of the school furniture industry, the choice
of materials is no longer simply a design and cost choice. Similarly,
because of the size, and the social and economic ramifications, of the
industry it will usually be unrealistic, in developing countries, to
evaluate the price of articles of furniture, or the cost of a furniture
production project, merely on market prices (money prices in the country

Social objectives will vary from country to country, but generally

furniture made locally, with local labour, using local materials, in
factories that require little capital investment will be of greater
social benefit to a country than importing a similar article, even at
a lower price. Similarly, manufacturing furniture using a mainly "n-
skilled labour force recruited from the unemployed or from sectors with a
low productivity, such as subsistence farming, will be of more social ben-
efit than making furniture with a skilled labour force that could find em-
ployment in other branches of industry. The method of calculating this
differential is called social cost benefit analysis. This chapter describes
one method of cost benefit analysis. It also explores the effect of the
useable life, or replacement cycle, of furniture on its final cost to
the user.


Social cost-benefit analysis is concerned with the effects of a project

on the economy as a whole. The principles are simple. They involve
the "se of:

- international prices, as opposed to local domestic prices

- a shadow wage rate
- the opportunity cost of capital

The price values obtained are called social cost-benefit accounting

prices. The basic assumption underlying this cost-benefit method is
that a government's objective when making investment decisions is to achi-
eve the largest possible increase in the standard of living of the pop-
ulation over a period of time. The method also takes into account
the desire for a better distribution of income.

International Prices
Measures aimed at protecting a country's economy such as high import
duties, linked to scarcities of foreign exchange, can seriously dis-
tort local prices, The method used to correct this is to value in-
puts and outputs to projects at international border prices, exclu-
ding the effects of domestic tariffs, subsidies and excise duty. It
is also necessary to allow for any import content incorporated in
locally produced inputs. This adjustment allows for the fact that
an economy loses income if it produces furniture for its schools
which could be obtained abroad at a cost lower than the cost of
making furniture for export.
76 School furniture handbook

Shadow Waqe Rates

Shadow rates are wage rates corrected to reflect the social benefit
to the country. Typically in developing countries there is very low
productivity of labour in agriculture. Very little output is there-
fore lost when a worker moves from agriculture to a newly created job
*in manufacturing. Similarly, because of high urban unemployment, the
output lost by workers transferring or taking up new jobs is also low.
The social cost of employing unskilled workers in manufacturing is
therefore likely to be much lower than the wages earned. Shadow wage
rates used in social cost-benefit analysis for unskilled workers are
frequently as little as 30 per cent of the actual wage rates. Where
workers possess skills which are in short supply the social cost of
employing them will be higher and is likely to equal their wages. A
shadow wage rate is, of course, an estimate not an absolute amount.
usually the redistribution of income downwards will be assisted if
the accounting price of unskilled wages are reduced while the wages
of skilled and administrati've workers are not.

The Opportunity Cost of Capital

When reasoned choices are required between possible alternative cap-
ital projects it is necessary to be able to apply a method of apprais-
al that will lead to an evaluation of their real cost. An important
element ih evaluation is the time pattern of the expenditure and
accruing benefits. Choices between costs and benefits which occur at
different times should therefore not be made by comparing their absol-
ute amounts.

Instead they should be converted into their equivalent values as

measured at a single point of time; it is usual to use the present
time. To do this future flows are discounted. The process of dis-
counting is simply compound interest worked backwards. The discounted
present value is the difference between the value of all the discounted
benefits and costs.

The rate at which the future cash flows are discounted is crucial. If
an extremely low discount rate is used benefits received in Say-20
years time will have almost the same value as those received tomorrow.
With high discount rates cash flows occurring more than a few years
ahead will have very little weight.

The establishment of a discount rate which is commonly called 'the

opportunity cost of the capital' of a developing nation is usually a
political decision. On the one hand, it should not normally be set
at a level below what could be earned abroad. On the other hand, if
too high a rate is used, it may be found that there are no projects which
produce positive discounted present values.

Account is sometimes taken in sociai cost benefit analysis of other
types of possible benefits from projects. Firstly, there are multi-
plier effects resulting from the stimulation of economic activities
by the spending of income generated by projects. However, multiplier
2.3 Economic evaluation 77

effects are also likely to result from any alternative investments

under consideration and the additional income may only increase the
utilisation of existing facilities rather than result in the creation
of new ones.

Secondly, there are possible backward linkage effects with other

industries in an economy. One of these effects may be a reduction
in the cost of locally produced materials.

Thirdly, there are social changes, since industrial development involves

changes other than in the size of a nation's economic cake. There
are changes in the skills, attitudes and knowledge of the individuals
who are directly and indirectly involved. Jobs can be sources of
satisfaction in themselves. Technology is not neutral and different
styles of technology will result in different types of social development.
As a result of a project, there may be a need for changes in government
investment, leading to increased spending on education and public

Example Usinq Social Prices

The analysis of a non-capital project is illustrated in the following
example. The table shows the component costs of alternative locally
manufactured products X and Y. Items X and Y are expected to be equally


social social
cost cost

- local (all skilled labour
component, shadow wage 100%
of actual rate, eg plastics)

- local (all unskilled labour

component, shadow rate 50%
of actual rate, eg sawn-
wood) 4
- imported (including 50%
duty) 6

- unskilled workers (shadow
wage 50% of actual rate) 2
- skilled and supervisory
workers (shadow wage 100%
of actual rate) 2

Plant and Eauipment

- 20% p.s. interest component
(social opportunity cost of
capital is 10% p.a.) 4

TOTAL 22 16
78 School furniture handbook

The prices actually paid by the manufacturer and the social cost bene-
fit values are the same for the skilled component of the locally pro-
duced materials. But the social cost benefit values of the unskilled
component of the local materials is halved as a result of the 50%
local shadow wage rate. Because the shadow wage rates for skilled
workers equals their actual wages, wages of the skilled and super-
visory workers remain at their actual rate.

Because of a 50 per cent import duty, the actual prices of imported

materials are 50 per cent higher than the social cost benefit values
which do not include duty. To keep this example simple no scarcity
of foreign exchange has been allowed for. When foreign exchange is
scarce its social value may be higher than the actual exchange value.

Since the shadow wages for unskilled labour in this case are 50 per
cent of the actual wage rates, the social cost benefit values equal
half the money wages paid. Similarly, the amount of interest paid
out by the manufacturer on the money borrowed to pay for plant and
equipment is twice its social cost benefit value. This is because
the social opportunity cost of capital is only 10 per cent per annum
as oppos'ed to the 20 per cent that is actually being paid. The por-
tions of the total interest payments allocated to items X and Y
reflect the amount of the total machine times used to produce them.
The actual costs incurred by the manufacturer in producing one unit
of item X were greater than those incurred in manufacturing one unit
of item Y. After applying social cost benefit values the reverse is
true. If these values have been calculated realistically, it will
be more socially beneficial to produce item X.

The example shows that the most socially desirable alternative may
not necessarily be that with the highest local material content or
the lowest contents of skilled workers and machines.


The importance of the relationship between initial cost and useable

life can be illustrated by means of a simple example involving chairs
that have different costs and different replacement cycles.

The total cost over a given period will be influenced by the oppor-
tunity cost of capital and the rates at which the chairs will require

The example considers three types of chair:

- ‘A’ initially costs $ 4 and will require replacement after 2 years

_ 'B' initially costs $ 6 and will require replacement after 5 years
- 'C' initially costs $10 and will require replacement after 10 years

The replacement cycles of the chairs have been kept short to simplify
the illustration and to emphasise that furniture with a long useable
2.3 Economic evaluation 79

life does not always work out cheapest.

If the opportunity cost of capital was zero, that is if no interest

could be obtained by investing the money elsewhere, the cost of the
alternatives over a ten year period would be:

- 'A' $20 (initial cost $ 4, + 4 replacements at $ 4 each)

- 'B' $12 (initial cost $ 6, + 1 replacement at $ 6)
- 'C' $10 (initial cost only)

In this case the most expensive chair. 'C', would be the Least costly,
over the ten-year period. and therefore the best buy.

On the other hand, if an opportunity cost of capital of 10 per cent

is allowed for, the situation changes. If instead of investing
$10 on the purchase of chair 'C', only $6 is invested by buying
chair 'B', the $4 saved can be invested elsewhere earning interest
at 10 per cent per annum compound. This means that becasue it is
known that $6 is required to replace a chair in five years time
only $3.72 need be invested now, to produce the sum of $6 at the
end of the period. The difference between $3.72 and $6.00 is five
years compound interest at 10 per cent.

The table gives the discounted present cost of alternatives

start Of discount rate cost of alternatives

year at 10% pa
compound A B C
1 1.000 4.00 6.00 10.00
2 I 0.909 I I I
3 0.826 3.30
4 0.751
5 0.683 2.73
6 0.621 3.72
7 0.564 2.26
8 .513
9 0.466 1.86
10 0.424
Total cost over 10 year
period 14.15 9.72 10.00

The cost of alternatives is found by multiplying the cost of the chair

at year 1 by the discount rate corresponding to the year when it is
required. Thus a $4 chair required in two years time will require
4 x 0.826 = $3.30 to be invested now.

As shown in the table, the second choice (B) would be the least expen-
sive alternative from the viewpoint of the purchaser. This simple
illustration therefore emphasises that the choice depends on factors
other than the initial purchase price. Here, it depended on the ex-
pected life of the furniture and on the opportunity cost of capital.

Future inflation can be allowed for in the calculation by replacing

80 School furniture handbook

the uninflated values shown in the table by the anticipated future

inflated values. Thus if a rate of inflation of 20 per cent is ex-
pected over the next year an item costing $10 today will be expected
to cost $12 in a year's time. The discount rate will normally not
negd to be adjdsted upwards since the opportunity cost of capital on
which it is based will already have an in-built element which re-
flects anticipated price rises.

In addition to choosing criteria on which to base decisions, it is

necessary to collect data on the possible alternatives before a
choice based on the criteria is made. In this case it would be nec-
essary to have the following:

- alternative designs with their associated prices

- estimates of the usable lives of the furniture
- the likely maintenance costs
- an opinion on what is likel'y to happen to design in the future
(will cheaper designs be available in a year's time due to tech-
nical progress ?)
- an opinion on what will happen to prices in the future

It could well be hoped that, by the time the first set of furniture
was due for replacement, the available choices would have changed,
so that the second replacement cycles would not be necessary. However,
the decision-maker has to make choices on the basis of available in-
formation not supposition. By listing all the assumptions associated
with a decision, and referring back to them when decisions are made
in the future, it is possible to learn by mistakes and to improve the
decision-making mechanism over a period of time.

The economic evaluation of spectrums of alternatives taken from the

viewpoint of any interested party can be performed in a similar
fashion to that used in the example. The costs incurred in, or re-
venues received, as a result of the alternative courses of action can
be calculated for a given time horizon, opportunity cost of capital
and costs of other inputs, and then the most beneficial choice can be made.


Misham, E. J. Elements of Cost-Benefit Analysis. tindon, Allen and Unwin, 1972.

Little, I. M. D. and Mirrless, J. A. Project Appraisal and Planning for

Developing Countries. London, Seinemann Educational, 1974.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office, ODA. A Guide to Project Appraisal in

Developing Countries. London, HMSO, 1972.
2.4 Anthropometry 81

Anthropometry is the measurement of the dimensions of the human body.

Part-body measurements are required to size articles of furniture. For

Example, the height of the lower leg is used to fix the height of seats:
the length of reach is used to fix the height of shelves. Step 9 on
page 23 in 1.2, 'The Process' describes three methods of conduc-
ting an anthropometric survey to find part-body measurements. The choice
of method depends on the time available and the degree of accuracy

Although there is a wide tolerance in the fit of school furniture (see

the chapters on the different types of furniture) the measurements that
are required to establish these tolerances should be as accurate as
possible. The degree of accuracy required of part-body measurements
should be that of the measuring process - about plus or minus 5mm for
static measurements, plus or minus 2Onun for dynamic measurements (see
page 84 for a definition of static and dynamic part-body measure-
merits) .

The degree of accuracy required determines whether measurements taken

in one country can be used to dimension another country's furniture.
FOr example, if United States measurements were used to size chairs for
14 year old Indonesians, assuming the lower leg to be 0.25 of standing
height, they would be given seats 4OBmm high, instead of the 35Omm they
require. This is a difference of Wmm, which is significant. On the
other hand if United States measurements were used to size chairs for
14 year olds in the United Kingdom, the difference would only be 5mm.
which is not significant.

The table shows average standing heights of school populations, boys

and girls combined, in various countries.

Aqe I 7 8 9 1 10 ) 11 1 12 / 13 1 14 1 15 1 16 1 17 ( 18

Philippines 115 116 122 125 134 138 142 148

C Thailand 114 119 123 128 133 138 144 149
India 112 117 122 127 132 137 142 147
D Indonesia 110 113 118 122 127 131 136 140

The table has been divided into four groups - A, B, C and D. There is
the equivalent of a year's difference in standing height between each
group (see heavy lines). There is a total of four years difference be-
tween the United States, at the top of the scale, in group A and Indon-
esia, at the bottom of the scale in group D. That is, a 14 year old
Indonesian has the standing height of a 10 year old North American.

Statistical differences will be insignificant within groups but signif-

82 School furniture handbook

icant between groups. For example, furniture designed to fit children

in the Philippines could be used in Thailand without the need to collect
statistics in that country. By checking the measurements of say 100
children in one of the age-groups it is possible to see in which of the
four groups the population should be classed.


The main measurements required for school furniture design are shown in
diagrammatic form. In the case of a chair the lower leg measurement,
from the popliteus (the point where the leg bends at the back of the
knee) to the heel, is required to fix the height of the seat: the upper
leg measurement from the popliteus to the back of the buttock to fix
the length of the seat; the hip width and the shoulder width to fix the
width of the seat. See 2.5 'Seating' for the precise method of sizing

A - lower leg (from popliteus
to heel)

B - upper leg (from popliteus

to back of buttock)

- -JYiE! C - hip
D - shoulder


E - near point
F - height of elbow
G - thickness of thigh
H - reach forward
I - eye height (for carrels,
lecture theatres,


(E)- near point


J - height
arm at
of hand with
20° below
K - forward reach

Anthropometry 83


L - upper reach
M - lower reach
N - eye height
0 - elbow height

P - reach into top shelf
(sight into a shelf may also
be important)
Q - reach to front edge of top

R - reach

The method of sizing other furniture using these measurements can be

found for sitting and standing working surfaces in 2.6 'Tables' for
vertical writing surfaces in 2.10 'Display Facilities', and for stor-
age and coat hooks in 2.9 'Storage'.

Taking average measurements is usually insufficient. For example, set-

ting a coat hook at the average reach height above the floor will mean
that half the students will be unable to reach it. Coat hooks should
be set at the reach of the shortest student. Other dimensions such as
the thigh clearance between table and seat should be based on the mea-
surement of the largest students under consideration. Then again,
fixing dimensions such as seat height requires a knowledge of both upper
and lower measurements.

In practice it is not possible to design furniture to suit the entire

84 School furniture handbook

range of sizes in a group: it is usual to aim at suiting 90% of a

group: between the 5th and 95th percentile.

- percentiles can be defined as fOllOWS:

if a sample is arranged in order from the shortest to the tallest,
the mean will be the point where half the sample have measurements
lower and half higher. This is expressed as a percentage.
f x 100 = 50% and is called the 50th percentile. Similarly the 5th
or 95th percentile point indicates the percentage of the sample at
or below a given figure.

The part-body measurements required are of two sorts:

- static measurements, based purely on the size of the body and
- dynamic measurements, based on what can be performed.

The height of a chair can be based on a precise body dimension - the

height of the lower leg, but not the height of a shelf. It will be
based on the ability to reach or see an object on a shelf, which will
be a function certainly of body dimensions but also of joint flexi-
bility and the dexterity of the person reaching.

static dynamic 5th 50th 95th

\ lower leg 0 0 0
B upper 1eq 0 0 0
C hip width 0 0
D shoulder width 0 0


E near point 0
F height of elbow 0 0
G thickness of thiqh 0 0
H reach forward 0 0


L upper reach 0 0
M lower reach 0 0
N eye height l 0
0 elbow height 0 0

P reach into top shelf 0 0
Q reach to front edse of shelf a l

R reach 0 0
2.4 Anthropometry 85

The table below shows whether the measurements required are dynamic or
static measurements, in the 5th. 50th or 95th percentiles.


If no part-body measurements are available, there are basically two ways

of finding them:

- measuring the whole range of part-body dimensions

- measuring only standing height then deducing the part-body measure-
ments using a system of proportion which relates part-body measure-
ments to standing height.

For both methods a sample of children must be selected, a sample for

each part-body measurement or a sample for standing height from which
the part-body measurements are to be deduced. The number of children
to be measured by category to provide accurate data must be deter-
mined. A category can be defined as the group for which furniture is
to be designed - usually an age-group. Thus if furniture is being
designed for the 6 to 18 age group there will be 13 categories. The
size of the sample by category will be a function of the following:

- the accuracy of the measurements required

- the spread of sizes within the category
- the total size of the category

Sample size has been calculated variously as 200 by category, for the
Lebanese school population, and from 300 to 500. for the United Kingdom
school population.

The Department of Education and Science (DES) in the United Kingdom has
collected both static and dynamic part-body measurements. Two DES Buil-
ding Bulletins describe the procedure. The methods described in these
bulletins appear statistically reliable and could be used by other
education authorities wishing to launch full-scale part-body measurement
exercises.The first bulletin is:

- British School Population Dimensional Survey, 1971, Building Bulletin

46,DES. Her Majesty's Stationery Office, (HMSO), London, 1972

The survey establishes the following part-body measurements for the

school population in the 3% to 18 age range:

1 - sitting height
2 - sitting eye height
3 - shoulder blade height
4 - elbow height
5 - sacrum height (hip height)
6 - thigh height
86 School furniture handbook

7 - sole to popliteus
8 - sole to top of knee
9 - shoulder width
10 - hips width
11 - back of buttocks to popliteus
12 - back of buttocks to front of knee

The statistical method was as follows: all the measurements mentioned

above, were taken of a random sample of 500 children in the age range
in the English town of Stevenage. Constant mathematical correlations
were found between these part-body dimensions, standing height and
weight. The", a random sample of the standing height and weight of
15 000 children was taken nationwide. Using the correlations between
part-body measurements standing height and weight found from Stevenage,
part-body measurements were estimated for the 15 000. A sample of
15 000 was considered to be large enough to make a statistically rel-
iable estimate of the whole national school population in the 3$ to
18 age range.

The second DES bulletin is:

'Standing and Reaching - School Furniture Dimensions', Building Bulletin

38, DES, HMSO, London, 1967

This bulletin recommends sizes for the following in the 3% to 18 age

- mirror - standing work planes
- shelves - sewing table
- coat hook - drawing table

Measurements are dynamic, expressed in terms of performance rather as

part-body measurements. For example, the limits of a student's reach
into a shelf is given, rather than a static body measurement with the
arm extended. Performance trials were conducted with a sample of 325
students from Stevenage, England. Data is presented in relation to
standing height rather than age. For example, instead of giving the
reach of an eight year old, the reach of a student 4 feet 3 inches tall
is given. Non-metric measures are used throughout the Building Bulle-

Deduction from Standinq Heiqht

Using this method only the standing height of a sample of students is
measured, the standing heights at the 5th and 95th percentile points
are found and part-body measurements are deduced, using a coefficient
which relates part-body measurements to standing height. The sources
for the calculation of coefficients are:

- British School Population Dimensional Survey 1971, DES, Building

Bulletin 46, HMSO, London, 1972.
- 'Human Engineering Guide to Equipment Design' sponsored by Joint US
Army-Navy-Air Force Steering Committee, edited by Morgan, Cook,
Chapanis and Lund, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1963.

It is difficult to find statistics for 'near point' which is the nearest

2.4 Anthropometry 87

point to which the eye can be sharply focussed. This is an important

measurement for the design of school furniture, it is at this point
that things, such as print on a page, will appear largest. According to
E. Grandjean, "Ergonomics of the Home", children's near points are much
shorter than adults. Although near point should always be borne in mind
in fixing the height of working surfaces, accuracy of measurement is not


A lower leg 0.25 0.26
B upper leg 0.29 0.29
C hip width 0.23 0.20
D shoulder width 0.25 0.22


E near point
F height of elbow 0.15 0.14
G thickness of thigh 0.08 0.09
H reach forward: comfortable (standing ht. - 40) x 0.35
maximum (standing ht. - 325) x 0.56
I eye height 0.46 0.45


J height of hand (arm at 20~) (standing ht. + 247) x 0.47
K reach forward: comfortable (standing ht. - 152) x 0.44
maximum (standing ht. - 339) x 0.75


L upper reach (standing ht. - 272) x 1.38
M lower reach (standing ht. + 1357) x 0.32
N eye height 0.93
0 elbow height 0.62

P reach into top shelf (standing ht. - 348) x 1.17
Q reach to front edge of top shelf (standing ht. - 140) x 1.22

R reach (standing ht. - 217) x 1.29

* measurements in millimetres

- Part-body measurements as a proportion of standing height

The table on the previous page contains statistics from both the United
States and the United Kingdom. The United States Statistics relate
mainly to adult railroad travellers: the United Kingdom statistics
relate to school children. Since the US population is more diverse,
the American figures should give more accurate results. However, since
the dynamic measurements in the UK statistics relate to performance
specifically in schools, these have been chosen in preference to the us
statistics which are more general. The United Kingdom statistics are
expressed as a constant factor only after addition or subtraction from
88 School furniture handbook

standing height. All coefficients refer to nude body measurements.

The coefficients refer only to the population between six years old and
adult, below age six the body proportions change. Coefficients for ages
below six can be deduced from United Kingdom statistics contained in
'British School Population Dimensional Survey, 1971'.

The weakness of this method is that human body proportions are not uni-
form from race to race; the drawing shows the basic variations. stat-
istics of the precise variation are difficult to find. Existing statistics
tend to suggest that for equal stature there is a difference of 2Ch~n in
sitting height and 3Omm in reach between US blacks and US whites.

'Human Engineering Guide to Equipment Design'.

Difference Between BOYS and Girls

The figures used so far combine male and female statistics; this may not
give sufficiently accurate figures for single sex schools.

The graph is that of the British

school population. It can be
seen that the difference be-
tween the sexes is insignificant
until puberty.
2.4 Anthropometry 89


Inforrcation Originating from Developed Countries

Diffrient, Neils, Tilley, Alvin R. and Bardagjy, Joan. Humanscale.

Designed by Henry Drefuss Associates.
This is a pack containing a series of three plastic selector charts with
windows. Rotary dials, turning behind the windows, give a series of part-
body dimensions for different standing heights. The part-body dimensions
refer mainly to furniture and industrial equipment. An illustrated booklet
explains the charts; the measurements are based on US statistics.

Human Engineering Guide to Equipment Design. Sponsored by Joint Army-Navy-Airforce

Steering Comittee, edited by Morgan, Cook, chapanis and Lund, New York,
McGraw-Hill, 1963.
This book contains a very complete set of part-body measurements for all
sections of the American population. The ergonomics of a large range of
military and non-military equipment are considered.

Croney, John. Anthropometrics for Designers. London, Batsford, and New York,
"an Nostrand, 1971.

Panero, J. and Repetto, N. Anatomy for Interior Designers. New York, Whitney,

Dreyfuss. Henry. Design for People. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1962.

Martin, W. E. Children's Body Measurements for Planning and Equipping Schools.

Special Publication NO. 4, U.S. Department of Health Education and welfare,

Department of Education and Science. Standing and Reaching - School Furniture

Dimensions. Building Bulletin 38. London. HMSO, 1967.

Department of Education and Science. Furniture and Equipment Dimensions -

Further and Higher Education. 18-25 Age Group. Building Bulletin 44.
HMSO, 1970.

This bulletin recommends sizes for the 18 to 25 age range for the following:
- seats and sitting working plans
- standing working plane
- shelves.
Data is given in terms of part-body measurements and performance.

Department of EduCation and Science. British School Population Dimensional

S"Z-"ey, 1971. Building Bulletin 46. London, HMSO, 1972.

Department of Education and Science. Furniture and Equipment: Working Heights

and Zones for Practical Activities. Building Bulletin 50. London, HMSO. 1973.

Information Originating from Developing Countries

The basic measurements used in the publications listed in the previous section
are for the population in the countries where they were published. As a better
basis for the design of school furniture in developing countries, the Asian
Regional Institute for School Building Research (ARISBR), has sponsored anthro-
pametric studies of school children in India, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines,
New Guinea, Sri Lanka and Iran. These studies deal only with standing height.
They are published under the following titles:

- ARISBR Occasional Papers, Colombo: Comparative Anthropxnetric Data:

- No. 3 A for "se in Indian Schools

- NO. 4 S for use in Thai Schools
- No. 5 C for use in Indonesian Schools
- No. 8 E for use in Philippine Schools
- No. 14 Papua and New Guinea
- No. 15 for use in Ceylon Schools, 1971
- No. 16 for students in Iran, 1972

Comparative Anthropometric Data: Application of Data. School Building Occasional

Papers No. 6. Bangkok, ARISBR, 1964.

All the above publications can be obtained from the Regional Office for Education
in Asia (FOEA), P.O. BOX 1425, Bangkok 11, Thailand.
90 School furniture handbook

Bussat, Pierre. Propositions de SPlection de Dimensions PrPfPrentielles pour la

Normalisation de 1'Egujpement et du Mobilier Scolaire au Liban. Regional
Office for Education in the Arab Countries, P.O. Box 5244, Beirut, Lebanon,

El Jack, Kamal, Bussat, Pierre and de Bosch-Kemper, J. M. School Buildings fos

Somalia. Khartoum, Regional Education Building Institute for Africa, 1971.

Gammelgaard, J. Classroom Furniture for Sudan Schools. 2nd edition. Regional

Education Building Institute for Africa, 1971.

Indian Standards Institution. Anthropometric Dimensions for School Children.

IS: 4838 Part I, age Group 5 to II years. Indian Standards Institution,
Manak Bhavan, 9 Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi, 1, 1970.

Fernkdez, Valentin. Planeamiento de una Investigation AntropomGtrica. CONESCAL

Bulletin 16, Mobiliario Escolar, June 1970. CONESCAL, Ap 41-518, Mkica,
10 DF.
2.5 Seating 91

This chapter deals with the ergonomic requirements of seating and their
implications for design. A method of fixing the dimensions of seats is
given. The common configurations and materials used for seating are
discussed and their advantages and disadvantages considered. The way
seats interface with working surfaces, other furniture and the school
building is considered. There is a section on the floor as seating.


f------ The
two most
the following:
sitting positions assumed by students in the

Position One:
- sitting, viewing and listening, usually to a teacher in front of a
chalkboard. The eyes are fucused at a distance of several metres.
The head is held erect. The weight of the body is supported by the
back, the buttocks and the feet.

Position Two:
- sitting working at a table. The head is tilted, the eyes are
focused on the work. It should be possible to work without strain
at the visual near point, this is the point at which such things
as print on a page appear largest. The trunk slopes forward. The
body is supported by the buttocks, the feet and, to a certain ex-
tent, the arms on the table.

Factors Affectinq Comfort

Lack of strain, comfort and therefore working efficiency in these
two positions will depend on a number of physiological factors, that
can be summarised as

- skeletal
- muscular
- visual
- absence of undue pressure on arteries, veins, nerves and soft
- body heat stabilisation
- visceral
These factors are discussed in turn:
92 School furniture handbook


The spine has a 'normal' or relaxed curve which it is comfortable to maili-

tain. In this position the muscles that support the spine are balanced and
the discs that separate the vertebrae are not unduly compressed. This is
the position shown in the figure. Characteristic of this position is a
lordosis, or concave curve, of the lumbar vertebrae.

The position of the thighs in relation to the trunk is the main factor
in determining the curve of the spine. The spinal curve will be normal
when the line of the trunk to the line of the thighs makes an angle of
130°. which is the position in which many people sleep. Movement to a
right-angle sitting position will result in the loss of the normal
curve. This is because when the thighs are at 90° to the trunk,only
60° of bending comes from articulation of the hip joint. The other 30°
of movement comes from a flattening of spinal curvature away from nor-
ma1 at the lumbar vertebrae.

The position of the pelvis in relation to the sitting plane is also of

the greatest importance in maintaining normal spinal curvature. The
figures show the position of the pelvis in various sitting positions:

(A) a right-angle sitting position on a horizontal seat, without a

backrest. The weight of the trunk transmitted by the spine, tends to
rotate the pelvis backwards. The spine is arched and its normal lord-
osis is lost.

(B) the seat angle is inclined backwards, pushing the pelvis and lower
spine against a curved backrest which prevents rotation of the pelvis
and maintains the normal curvature of the spine.

2.5 Seating 93

(C) the seat angle is inclined forwards, the thighs slope downwards
forming an angle of about 130° with the trunk. In this way the weight
of the trunk is transmitted through the spine and pelvis in a balanced
way which does not result in rotation of the pelvis. Normal spinal
curvature can be maintained without a backrest.

The main elements of skeletal comfort can be summarised as:

- maintaining lumbar lordosis, and

- preventing rotation of the pelvis

Both positions one and two require continuous isometric tension, or
static contraction, of the back muscles to maintain the normal curve
of the spine and support the weight of the trunk. The energy con-
sumption in static muscular work is disproportionally great compared
with mechanical work. Because of this,continuous static contractions
are fatiguing. In position one, the weight of the trunk can be sup-
ported on a backrest. In position two, some of the weight of the
trunk can be transferred to the table by the arms.

In position one.the weight of the trunk on the backrest tends to push

the buttocks forward on the seat. This is counteracted by contraction
of the abdominal muscles. The effort involved can be minimised by in-
clining the seat backwards and providing it with a rough texture.
Similarly, in position two the buttocks tend to slide forward on the
seat. This is counteracted by the static contraction of the leg muscles
with the feet on the floor and contraction of the upper arm muscles
with the elbows on the table. The effort involved can be minimised by
providing a rough texture to the seat.

There is always some degree of static muscular activity, so

that even the most comfortable posture tends to be tiring after a time
as the muscles add up their energy consumption to a fatiguing level. Fat-
igue can be delayed by making postural changes.
This happens in two ways,
the new posture may decrease the amount of static contraction required
by engaging a new set of muscles and the mechanical work involved in
changing position is a relief from the static contraction.

The main elements of muscular comfort can be summarised as:

- minimising the muscular work of trunk stabilisation

- minimising the muscular work of counteracting sliding forward
- allowing postural changes
94 School furniture handbook

III position one,students, and especially younger students, will want their
work to be at their visual near point. This is the nearest point at which
the eyes can focus.

At this point print and other work will be seen at its largest. Child-
ren's near points are much shorter than adtilts', at about 8cm from the
working surface. They will also want to place their work so that it is
at right angles to their line of vision, in order to minimise visual
distortion. The trunk must lean forwards, and the working surface be til-
ted upwards, to allow this and to minimise the distance between eyes and
working surface.

The main elements of visual comfort can be summarised as:

- allowing work at the near point without strain, and

- allowing work at right angles to the line of vision without strain

Arteries, veins, nerves and soft tissues:

The skin covering the ischial tuberosities (see the figure on page 92
is, after that of parts of the feet and hands, the best adapted to
tolerate weight bearing, although the epidermis is not as thick as
that covering the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands, it is
considerably thicker than that in other regions of the body. While the
corium (the layer of skin beneath the epidermis) of the buttocks is
usually as thick as that of the soles of the feet. The blood supply
of the skin overlying the tuberosities appears to be modified to with-
stand prolonged pressure. When weight is carried by parts of the body
other than the ischial tuberosities discomfort results. Supporting the
body on the thighs when a seat is too high, on the area of the buttocks
beneath the coccyx when the body is slid forward on the seat, or put-
ting excessive, localised pressure on the back due to a badly designed
backrest results in compression of arteries, veins, nerves and soft
tissue leading to increased blood pressure and numbness and tingling
in the parts of the body affected.

The main elements of comfort in relation to arteries, veins, nerves and

soft tissue can be summarised as:

- avoiding undue pressure on the soft areas of the buttocks, the back
and the underside of the thigh.

Body-heat stabilisation:
The heat exchange between the body and the environment is effected by
the evaporation of perspiration and by heat loss or gain by radiation
and convection. The wearing of clothes restricts the efficiency of
evaporation and sitting in a chair further reduces it.

The material of the chair is also a strong barrier against heat exchange
due to radiation and convection. The factors that increase or decrease
heat exchange are the surface of the seat in contact with the body (a
soft material will have a greater contact with the body and form a more
effective barrier), the permeability, or ventilative quality of the
material, and the thermal conductivity of the material. These factors
are of particular importance in hot, humid climates.
2.5 Seating 95

The main elements of comfort in relation to body heat stabilisation can

be summarised as:

- avoiding the large areas of body contact that occur with soft materials
and increasing the permeability and ventility of chair materials to
allow a greater evaporation heat loss
- using materials of a high thermal conductivity when cooling is import-

A hunched over posture with no lumbar lordosis has the effect of reducing
the volume of the internal cavities of the body, especially the abdominal
cavity, and to a lesser extent the thoracic cavity. Compression of the
abdominal cavity has the effect of hindering the working of the digestive
organs and compressing the thoracic cavity results in breathing diffic-
ulties which can reduce the oxygen intake.

The main elements of visceral comfort can be summarised as:

- avoidinq.the compression of internal body cavities.

Seat Profiles
Designing seats which allow these comfort factors to be taken into con-
sideration for the two sitting positions mentioned at the start of the
chapter will result in the following profiles:

Position One:
a seat with a backrest

- inclined backrest
- seat slightly inclined backwards, in this way the buttocks are pushed
back and the back is kept in contact with the backrest
- a slight curve in the backrest, in the region of the lumbar vertebrae
to maintain the normal spinal lordosis

--2 --- - a rough

- the
- a rounded




seat at
leg, or pop-

Position Two:
a stool without a backrest

- the trunk is leaning forward and therefore no support can be given at

the back of the spine
- seat inclined forward slightly to decrease the head to spine angle and
bring the eyes nearer to the working surface and allow a normal spinal
- inclined working plane so that the work is approximately at riqht-

s -__-
angles to the line of vision
- bottom edge of the table at the level of the elbow for ease of writing
- a rough surface to the seat to stop the tendency to slide forward
- the front edge ot the seat slightly higher than that of the lower leg
- a rounded front edge to the seat,
96 School furniture handbook

The Effect of Comfort on Size, Profiles and Materialb for Seats

The elements of seats for positions one and two (see page 95) and their
interrelations are as follows:



These are:

(1) seat height

(2) seat depth
(3) seat width
(4) seat inclination
(5) transverse seat curvature
(6) lonqditudinal seat curvature(s)
(7) backrest lower edge height
2.5 Seating 97

(8) backrest upper edge height

(9) backrest to seat angle
(10) backrest transverse curvature
(11) backrest longditudinal curvature(s)
(12) working surface lower edge height
(13) working surface inclination

The important qualities of materials in relation to comfort are:

- softness and texture

- ventility
- conductivity

allowing work at the near point


When fixing dimensions, deslqning profiles and choosing materials for

seats the comfort factors,
mentioned on the preceeding pages and listed
here, should be taken into consideration. Which factors influence which
decisions are summarised in this table.

Existinq Standards
All the present standards for school seats listed in 2.15 'Standards',
are based on position one. Their criteria for a comfortable chair can
be summarised as follows:
98 School furniture handbook

backrest giving support in the lumbar region of the back

no undue pressure between the thigh and the front edge of the seat
sufficient clearance between the leg and the underside of the table
elbow at, or slightly below, table level
feet flat on the floor, lower leg vertical or slightly extended

The comfort of students in "position two" is ignored. It is assumed that

when a student writes at a table that it is done in the position shown

This is in fact an unusual posi-

tion. In order to reduce the focal
length and to have the writing
surface at right angles to the
line of vision, the student arches
over the work to assume the posi-
tion shown in the photographs

These are uncomfortable and unhygienic positions for the

following reasons:

- the head is bent at an angle greater than the normal putting strain
on the muscles of the neck
- the normal spinal curvature at the lumbar region of the back is
flattened to form a round back
- the intestines and stomach are unduly compressed,impairinq digestion
- either the student sits on the edge of the seat or there is too
much pressure between the thighs and the front edge of the seat

To avoid these uncomfortab&positions students take up the sort of

2.5 Seating 99

positions shown in the photographs below.

The Importancb of Comfort and Good Posture

The design of seating for schools is a matter of compromise. Postural
considerations point to the provision of two sorts of chair, or a chair
capable of adjustment. Similarly in relation to the working plane, an
inclined surface is best for writing but is not convenient when several
tables are grouped for team work. Only in certain cases can the ideal
configuration be given to school furniture without compromise. The
question then arises of the relative importance to be given to comfort.
Further, seat6 in school must be designed for a range of ages. When
seats do not fit the person using them they lead to incorrect, uncom-
fortable posture. There is a further compromise to be made here be-
tween the extent of a range of sizes and individual comfort.

Bad sitting posture can possibly cause deformation of the spine, which in
turn can affect breathing, nerves, liver, kidneys and the circulation.

On the other hand static posture, as distinct from posture in movement,

appears to be a relatively minor cause of spinal deformation.

School seating cannot be compared to other types of seating, such as

office or industrial seating, in which factors such as vibration and
excessive fatigue are involved.

Students no longer spend long hours sitting in one position, especially

in primary schools. In regard to comfort, what is intolerable for a
long period in perfectly tolerable for a short period.

Children have a greater chance to change position, to get up and move

around. A recent Department of Education and Science (DES) survey in
the United Kingdom found that children in the three to five age-range
spent 14.4 per cent of their time seated on chairs, 2.9 per cent of
their time seated at a working plane and 29.3 per cent of their time
at other activities and moving from place to place. In the 13 to 16
age range, students spend 76.4 per cent of their time seated on chairs
(80 per cent of this seated at a working plane) and 9.1 per cent of
their time standing at a working plane. The pattern for the inter-
100 School furniture handbook

mediate age-ranges lay broadly between these two sets of figures. The
relative importance of comfort in the sitting position can be gauged
from these figures. Even in secondary schools, where students spend
more of their time sitting, the schools are organised with subject
bases not class bases. The day is divided into 40 minute periods with
students moving from one subject-room to another. There are periods
of practical work and physical education interspersed with the class-
room work.

For all these reasons comfort will take second place when there is con-
flict with other considerations such as the desirability of flat tables,
the necessity of keeping down costs or of reducing inventory.


Considering the optimum profiles for positions one and two and super-
imposing them shows the difficulty of providing one seat that will
satisfy both conditions.

Providing two sorts of seat will be too costly and usually not practical
because of the constant change from one posture to another - from
writing, to listening, to watching the chalkboard - that goes on through
out the day in most school rooms.

A chair has been manufactured in Denmark capable of adjustment from posi-

tion one to position two. The seat has a tilting mechanism - the angle
is changed by shifting the weight of the body - and a swivel mechanism
for changing seat height. Because of the expense of its moving parts,
this chair will be too costly for most school systems.
2.5 Seating 101

Fixinq Dimensions
The elements whose dimensions must be fixed are listed on page g6.It is
relatively easy to size a seat to fit an individual. Sizing furniture
to fit an age-range is more difficult. In this context a more important
concept than fit, is that of 'margins of tolerance' that is the toler-
able misfit of furniture. Defining the permissible margin of tolerance
will fix the number of size increments in a. range of seats.

1. Seat Height
The height of a seat, for good fit in position one, is generally
considered to be the lower leg height, from the heel to the back of
the knee although the exact margin of tolerance will be a matter of
opinion, the following is given as a guideline. Margins of toler-
ance will vary with the type of seat. There will be a larger mar-
gin of tolerance in the height of an auditorium chair than in a
chair used for sitting up to write.

Little experimental work has been done on establishing tolerances. A

tolerance above fit of 3Cmun and a. tolerance below fit of 4Chm is given
for chairs in 'Furniture and Equipment Dimensions - Further Education:
18 -'25 Age Group, United Kingdom, DES Building Bulletin 44. It is ad-
mitted in the publication that these tolerances are "somewhat arbitary".

There seems to be no justification in making a smaller tolerance above

fit than below, on the assumption that a tall person will be more com-
fortable, sitting on a chair that is too low, than a short person
sitting on one which is too high.

Sitting on a chair lower than fit and leaning forward to write com-
presses the internal visceral cavities and makes it impossible to
maintain a lumbar lordosis, because of the small thigh to trunk angle.
102 School furniture handbook

Counteraction leads to the postures illustrated at the top of page

99. Further too much weight is brought down on to the buttocks which
makes it difficult to change posture. When sitting on a chair that
is too high there is pressure on the thighs, but this can be mitig-
ated by making the seat as short as possible and rounding its front
edge. There are therefore strong reasons for reversing the propor-
tion in order to have a greater tolerance above fit.

In the following exercise the tolerance below fit is kept as 4Omm

and the tolerance above fit has been increased to 7Omm. This order
of tolerance is still considerably less than that accepted by most
parents for their children at home. When a six year old sits in an
adult chair at the dining table the tolerance above fit is about 1lOmm.

In the diagram opposite, these tolerances have been applied to the entire
6 to 18 age-range. The tolerances have not been scaled down proportion-
ally to the stature of the students, on the basis that the smaller the
children, the more tolerant of misfit they will be, because they spend
less time sitting. The table refers to the lower leg dimension, with
25mm added to include the thickness of a shoe heel, of the United Kingdom
school population and is taken from 'British School Population Dimensional
Survey', 1971 DES Building Bulletin 46. For other school populations
where only the stature is known, the lower leg measurement can be calcul-
ated as 0.25 of stature, see 2.4 'Anthropometry'. Only 5 per cent of
the school population will have a measurement the same or less than the
second column. Therefore furniture designed within these limits will fit
90 per cent of the school population of that age-range; this is considered
a reasonable figure to aim at.

The height of seats for position two will be slightly higher than those
for position one, as can be seen from the figure below. This height

Yk*% --T--
ii? ---~- z!
2.5 Seating 103

difference will vary with the angle of inclination of the seat and the
depth of the seat. Deep seats for position two will generally be of
the order of 8 per cent higher at the front edge, narrow seats, of the
sort used for laboratory stools, 20 per cent higher.

To establish a ranqe of seats to cater for the 6 to 18 age range, start

AGE 5%
with a chair with a seat at 460 mm for 18 year olds. This is 40 mm (the
acceptable tolerance below fit) below 500 mm, the lower leg measurement
16 420
for 18 year olds in the 95% column. At the lower limit, this height of
seat will then suit 14 year olds in the 5% column with a lower leg mea-
17 420 surement of 400 mm, being 60 mm higher than fit at 400 mm, the acceptable
tolerance above fit is 70 mm.

16 420

15 410

14 400 Fix the next chair seat height at 420 mm, this 40 mm (the acceptable
tolerance below fit) below 460 mm which is the lower leg measurement
for 13 year olds in the 95% column. At the lower limit, this height of
13 385 460
---_ seat will suit 10 year olds, in the 5% column, with a lower leg measure-
ment of 350 mm, being 70 mm higher than fit. 70 mm is the acceptable tol-
12 370 445 erance above fit.

11 360 425

10 350

Fix the next chair height at 350 mm, this is 40 mm (the acceptable tol-
9 330
erance below fit) below 390 mm, which is the lower leg measurement of 9
year olds in the 95% column. At the lower limit, this height of seat will
6 320 suit 6 year olds in the 5% column, with a lower leg measurement of 290 mm,
being 60 mm higher than fit, the acceptable tolerance below fit is 70 mm.
7 305 360

6 290

2. Seat Depth
Positions One and TWO:
As mentioned on page 94,the skin covering the ischial tuberosities is
the only area of the buttock suited to beer the weight of the trunk.
Taking weight on the thighs and other areas of the buttocks will re-
sult in discomfort in the long term. This area of the buttocks is
quite small, but the seat area must be larger to allow changes 6f

Position one:
The maximum depth of seat from its front edge to the backrest, should
be 5Omm short of the upper leg measurement, from the buttock to the
popliteus, to allow clearance between the edge of the seat and the
back of the legs, so that the legs can be tucked under the seat with-
104 School furniture handbook

out discomfort, with the back still in contact with the backrest. In
practice for chairs designed to suit a large age-range, the seat depth
will be considerably less, so that students, with a shorter lower leg
measurement than the seat height, can use it without discomfort.

3. Seat Width
Positions One and Two:
The seat should be wider than the width required merely to support the
ischial tuberosities, in order to allow for changes of posture.

4. Seat Inclination
Position One:
An inclination is required so that the back is pushed in contact with
the backrest: An inclination of from 3O to 5O is usually recommended.

Position Two:
There should be enough inclination to produce a sufficiently wide trunk
to spine angle, in order to maintain a Lumbar lordosis. The Danish
chair illustrated on page 16 allows a forward inclination of 15O.

5. Transverse Seat Curvature

Positions One and Two:
A flat seat is recommended, any curvatures makes posture changes more
difficult and causes pressure to be distributed to area of the buttock
other than those directly under the ischial tuberosities, leading to
discomfort in the long term.

6. Longitudinal Seat Curvature

Positions One and Two:
The front edqe of the seat should be well rounded to prevent undue
nerves and tissues of the thighs.

can not be pushed back enough for the back to gain support from the
backrest at the lumbar vertebrae.

7. Backrest Lower Edqe Heiqht

Position One:
The backrest can start at the plane of the seat provided that a slight
outward curve is given at the height of the lumbar vertebrae. The max-
injum height of the lower edge of the backrest should correspond to the
level of the first lumbar vertebra .

8. Backrest Upper Edqe Heiqht

Position One:
As far as muscular comfort is concerned, the more of the back that is
supported the better. But a high backrest will limit the possibility
2.5 Seating 105

of changing posture. A backrest that stops at the height of the last

lumbar vertebra is all that is required for skeletal comfort, in order
to encourage a spinal lordosis. This is the usual height for school
chair backrests.

9. Backrest to Seat Anqle

Position One:
The backrest to seat angle should be sufficiently wide to allow a
spinal lordosis and a relaxed balance between the muscles along the
front and back of the thighs. This angle is 130°, however this is too
sloped for comfortable viewing in school conditions,putting strain on
the neck. Further, with an angle as large as this weight will be
carried on areas of the buttocks other than those under the ischial
tuberosities. Compromise angles of from 95O to 115O are commonly

10. Backrest Transverse Curvature

Position One:
The backrest should be curved at the height of the lumbar vertebrae
to support as much of the back as possible at this level. At the
same time the curve should not be too sharp so that postural changes
are restricted. A radius of 40cm is commc~n.

11. Backrest Lonqitudinal Curvature

Position One:
There should be a shallow curve in the backrest at the height of the
lumbar vertabrae to encourage a lordosis of the spine.

In cases where longitudinal and transverse curvature of the lumbar

support is not possible, for example chairs made of saw-wood boards,
the lumbar support should be dispensed with. A hard straight board
will compress the skin and tissue over the spinous processes (the
part of the vertebrae that can be felt by touching the back) causing
discomfort. In this case the backrest should be moved to the more
fleshy area of the thoracic vertebrae just under the shoulder blades.
The backrest should be given a greater slope, in this way the pelvis
is allowed to rotate until a certain amount of weight is takers by
the buttocks beneath the coccyx. Although spinal lordosis can be
maintained without lumbar support this seat wi41 not be as comfort-
able as one with this support because weight is not supported ex-
clusively on the buttocks beneath the ischial tuberosities, but it
will be more comfortable than one with a straight bar at the lumbar

12. Workinq Surface Lower Edqe Heiqht

The fixing of table heights is fully discussed in 2.6 'Tables'.
The height is fixed in relation to two main comfort requirements:

- visual comfort: the height should allow work at the near point of
the eye without strain
- muscular comfort: it should be possible to write at the table with
106 School furniture handbook

the arms lying flat against the trunk.

13. Workinq Surface Inclination

Position Two:
Inclining the working surface reduces the distance between the eyes and
the work and allows work to be held at right angles to the line of vi-
sion. However in practice, tables are often flat, because inclined
surfaces make the grouping of tables difficult. This is further dis-
cussed in 2.6 'Tables' on page 125.

The Implications of Posture and Fit on the Desiqn of Seating

In the exercise on the preceedinq paqes,a range of three sizes of chair
has been chosen to fit the 6 to 18 age-range. Even when a more complete
range of sizes is provided, it is difficult to ensure that students
have the furniture which corresponds to their stature in all cases, for
the following reasons:
classes are usually selected, not in accordance with stature or even
age, but by level of ability, making for wide variations of stature
within classes
in secondary schools organised on subject-base lines, children of
varying stature will use the same subject rooms
in many countries primary schools are organised on a two-shift basis,
often with children of two different age groups using the same class-
in team-teaching or open plan situations a whole range of ages and
statures are grouped in the same space
in many countries primary schools are used for adult education

The conflicting needs of the two common school postures has already been
mentioned. There is a clear need for seats designed specifically for
a large age range and a loose fifconsistant with a variety of postures.

Considering the two basic school room aostures, the front edge of the
seat should allow the leaning forward position.

The figure above illustrates a compromise, it is not the ideal con-

figuration because the seat height should be greater in the leaning
forward position; see the diagrams on pages 100 and 101.

In regard to fit the important problem arises when seats are too high.
Seats will rarely be seen to be too high in the leaning forward position
because more height is required. It is in the leaning back position
that comfort will be compromised.

A way of approaching this problem is to look at seats that are too high
to see how people sit on the%, then suggest modifications to make the
chair comfortable and therefore suitable for an extended age-range.

When a chair seat is too hiqh,people adapt to it in two ways:

(1) they slip forward on the seat so that the feet are flat on the ground,
losing contact with the backrest in the region of the lumbar vertebrae, at
2.5 Seating 107

the same time supporting the thighs on the front edge of the s&t and the
back at a position just below the shoulder blades.
(2) they retain contact with the backrest but tuck the legs under the seat
and gain support from the toes.

Of course, long periods in either of these positions are uncomfortable.

I" order to make the positions more comfortable, the backrest and the
front edge of the seat, where the body is supported, should be well rounded
and the seat itself should not be too deep. The backrest should be high,
to support a deeper area than the region of the lumbar vertebrae.

Based on these observations and the calculations to fix seat heights,

the profile of a chair designed for a large range of statures, as
opposed to one designed for fit, can be defined.

It will have the following characteristics:

- a higher seat height

- a higher backrest, reaching higher up the back than the lumbar verte-
- a shorter seat depth
- a front edge to the seat inclined forwards and well rounded
- a back edge to the seat inclined backwards
- a well rounded, or inclined, top to the backrest

- .I”..,---- --.- -
108 School furniture handbook

The width of the seat is less critical, but it should not be too large,
otherwise it will inhibit movement.

It can be seen that the chair which results is quite a complicated

object. Some sort of moulding of the seat and backrest is required,
plywood or plastics come to mind. If moulding is not available this
configuration should not be adppted. The lumbar support should be
well rounded to encourage the normal curve of the spine at this point.
If only a straight bar is available it will be ineffectual and un-
comfortable. In this case support should be moved up to under the
shoulder blades to encourage the posture shown on page 105.


Squatting or kneeling is the traditional way of sitting for a large part

of the world's population. However, almost everywhere, squatting is
giving way to sitting on chairs.

In Japan people still use the kneeling and squatting positions at

home, but not in schools. Traditional school furniture was replaced
by European-type furniture at the time of the Meiji reforms at the
turn of the century.

A whole range of crafts and other activities can be done squatting.

The position has the advantage that use can be made of the thighs,
knees and feet for holding objects.
squatting includes a variety of
postures Although posture has a cultural element, that is to say one becomes used to
a posture assumed since childohood, because the body itself makes a series
of slight adjustments, none of the squatting positions appears to be
anatomically or physiologically comfortable based on the criteria out-
lined in the first part of this chapter. The kneeling position is the
best, but even here too much weight is carried on the small areas at
the knees and feet, in addition the veins and nerves along the thighs
and lower leg will be too compressed for comfort.

Squatting means that rooms are unencumbered by furniture, only storage

is required. Groups of any size and shape can be formed and reformed.
with a minimum of effort and disturbance. Because of this the squatting
position is gaining favour in progressive Western nursery and primary
schools. The following quotation from an Educational Facilities Labor-
atories publication sums up this tendency well:

"A table plus chair, plus a child, equals ten legs. Multiply that
number of tables, chairs and children in a conventional classroom
and the decapods become a thicket of multipedal inhibitors".

The following sp~ace requirements for the squatting position are given
A school in the southern Sudan in the ARISBR publication 'School Building Design for Asia' available
2.5 Seating 109

A North American school. The floor used informally in a highly equipped

school. Between these two extremes, the vast majority of the world's
school children are sitting up on chairs.

The same book also illustrates tables suitable for use by school child-
ren in the squatting position and gives guidelines for setting them out
Squattlnq Table in schools.

from UNESCO Paris. The measurements are expressed as a proportion of

standing height.

The floor is usually considered bnly as a continuous horizontal plane.

If this is changed, and steps and other sculptured indentations are made
in the floor surface, it can serve for squatting, and sitting in the more
usual way. The stepped area shown (photo overleaf) is in a North Amari-
can primary school. It can be used for such things as large group acti-
vities, drama and story telling, or merely as somewhere to sit and read.
110 School furniture handbook

The publication 'Single Teacher School Buildings' from the Indian

Central Building Research Institute gives the following space require-
ments for groups of students squatting.


Seats attached to tables are considered in.2.6 'Tables'. seats for

lecture theatres are considered in 2.8 'Lecture Theatres'.
2.5 Seating 111

Benches designed for two are in many ways more useful than individual
chairs. Shown here is a school bench designed for Nepal (photographs
of this bench are shown on page 232). They are cheaper to
make and the disadvantages of greater weight, no back-rest and a cer-
tain lack of manouverability are compensated for by the variety of
other uses to which they can be put. It is used as a bench at two
heights, 374 and 25Omm. If space is short, it can be used to seat
three. In addition:

- it can be used as a squatting table (at two heights)

- piled up to form shelving
- assembled to form a platform
- made into tiered seating
- two, fitted on top of one another,make a sitting-height table
- three, fitted on top of one another, make a standing height table.

A stool can be defined as a chair without a backrest, alt&ugh seats

with backrests for standing-height tables are also referred to as stools.
As mentioned in the section on seat height, page 101, stools should
have seats 8 to 20 per cent above the lower leg height to encourage
a comfortabl'e posture. Low stools are tiring to sit on and have only
a limited use.
112 School furniture handbook

The seat height of stools for working at standing-height tables can

be calculated as follows:

- take the seat height of a chair designed for use at a sitting-height

table (x) and add to it the difference in height between a standing-
height table and a sitting height table, designed for the same age-
group (Y).

If possible footrests should be provided at height (y) on the table

and on the stool. Stools should be designed with a sho-rvtnr
seat depth, to allow a further sitting position with feet on the ground,
giving a choice of three possible postures.

Stools with footrests have been designed by the Rural Projects Agency
in Ethiopia in order to fit an extended age range. The same stool and
table can be used by students varying in standing height from 1lOcm
to 170cm.

The stool illustrated was done as part of a UNESCO furniture

project in Sri Lanka. It will stack. See 3.1 'UNESCO Projects' for
Stool from Sri Lanka further details of this project.

Wooden chairs

The drawing(P.113)is of a school chair developed for Sri Lanka by

the Asian Regional Institute for School Building Research (ARISER).
The traditional joints have been replaced by glued and nailed (or
screwed) contact joints. Triangulation is introduced and the contact
area of the joints is increased by using flat boards instead of the
square or round sections of the United Kingdom models.
2.5 Seating 113

Because of the recent steep rise in the price of wood, chairs with
steel frqes and plastic seats and backrests are replacing woodeA
chairs in developed countries.

Plywood and Tube Chairs

Moulded plywood is used with light weight mild steel tube. Many firms
make up their own moulded plywood components from veneers, using heated
presses. Although curves will be mainly along one axis, a slight dish-
ing at right angles to the main'bending axis is possible. Because of
the difficulty of storing and handling veneers, many small firms glue
two sheets of factory produced 4mm three ply together to make curved

The light weight mild steel tube used varies in thickness from about
1.2nu.n to 1.5mm. Sections can be bent one by one in a simple plumber's
pipe-bending machine or more sophisticated machines or presses can be
used, which can bend several pipes at a time. Plywood and tube furni-
ture can therefore be made profitably in either small workshops or
large factories.

A variety of welding techniques can be used. Common processes are co2

shielded metal arc, or gas welding using oxygen and acetylene, brazing
is also possible.

If the price of chairs is to be kept low, there must be as few bends and
welds as possible. If stacking chairs are required, the number of pos-
sible configurations will be limited. The drawing shows two canmc~n

Generally, it is cheaper to bend rather than weld. The second solution,

although more expensive, will be stronger. The welds in the first
114 School furniture handbook

solution are tangential and occur in a 'hinge' position.

The unrestrained front legs tend to be weak.

1. 2.
- two welds - four welds
- six bends -three bends

The cheapest method of fixing the plywood elements to the tube is

with rivets. In use, the rivets tend to work loose, so that when
the chairs are dragged Over a hard floor, a drumming noise is produced
between the plywood and the tube. Other methods of fixing that keep
the plywood in firm contact with the tube are preferred.

Steel rod instead of tube is also used for making chairs,

although a greater weight of materials is required to attain equal
strength. This is because rod can be 'flash welded' semi automatically
which reduces labour costs, end because riveting end screwing is more
secure. Rod can be drilled and threaded across its entire section.
Many developing countries produce mild steel reinforcing rod from scrap,
which could have a similar use in school chairs.

The all-plastics chair is a rarity. None have been made sufficiently
cheaply for use in schools. The usual arrangement is a steel tube frame
with plastics seat end backrest. The seat can be made in a piece with
the backrest. This is known as the 'shell chair'; see the photograph on
page 64. Although this is an elegant solution, and often preferred for
aesthetic reasons, it has certain disadvantages from an anatomical
point of view. Because of the requirements of the moulding process,
shell chairs are usually made with a large curve between the seat
end the backrest areas. Because of this the coccyx and not the lum-
bar vertebrae is in contact with the backrest. Leaning back further
is more comfortable, the spine assumes the position shown in the
figure on page 105. Chairs of this sort.are therefore only recommended
for the relaxed listening and viewing position.

The chair with separate seat and backrest avoids this drawback. Further,
2.5 Seating 115

when producing a range of chairs, the same set of seats and backrests can
be used for two different sizes of chair, whereas with the shell chair,
a moulding must be made for each chair in the range. This can mean a
considerable saving in moulds.

Polypropylene is the most usual mouldiqg material. See 2.2 'Materials'

under plastics.


The compaction of chairs or stools is often required in schools, in

order to clear auditoriums and dining rooms, or to make space in class-
rooms and laboratories. Compaction is also a requirement of stocking
and transport. Folding and stacking are the two methods used.

Folding chairs are not common in schools. The'pivots of folding chairs
tend to be fragile, and if they are strengthened the chair becomes expensive
Further the folding mechanism is a possible cause of crushed fingers
in primary school classrooms. The drawing below illustrates a folding
chair designed as a part of a UNESCO project in the Sudan.



116 School furniture handbook

Stacking is the most common method of compaction. Chairs stack in
the same way as tables by forward stacking or by spiral stacking.
Spiral stacking is hindered by the backrest, although feasible with
stools. Most chair manufacturers make dollies to move piles of chairs.


Seats 'interface' or are in contact with the following:

Materials and EquipmeQt

Only applies if the furniture has functions other than seating, for
example a stool that doubles as a projector stand.

Other Furniture
Chairs should be made to accord with tables and other working surfaces:
see 2.6 'Tables'.

spiral stackinq stools The Buildinq

Chairs are highly moveable objects. They are often set against walls
where their backrests may damage paint and plaster. It is advisable
to provide a chair rail at these points. Chair rails should be made
sufficiently deep to protect against table edges as well.

The main point of contact is with the floor. The way chair and stool
legs are finished will depend largely on the floor finish. Chairs with
tubular metal frames should be fitted with plastics or rubber inserts
if the floor has a hard surface such as concrete or ceramic tiles. Caps
are less effective than inserts, tending to be pierced by the chair
leg after a certain time.

With soft floor finishes, such as linoleum, plastics, cork, carpet, etc.,
steel domes should be used. These tend to slide more easily than rubber
inserts, and are much more hard-wearing. This is an important consideration,
because a steel chair leg, can cause a great
Forward stackina chairs deal of damage to floors of this sort. Chairs with skids can also be used
Only a certain number of on soft floor finishes.
chairs can be stacked in
this way before the stack Fixing buffers to skids for use on a hard floor is usually unsatisfactory;
tips forward. they tend to last only for a short time.
2.5 Seating 117

The stability of chairs is also an important consideration. The photo-

graph below shows a not uncommon sitting position in school. An impor-
tant factor in chair stability is the quality of finish to the bottom
of the chair leg.

The following cogent on the floor interface is taken from ‘classroom

Furniture for Ethiopian Schools':

"The performance of furniture is very closely related to the per-

formance of the flooring. The flooring types found in Ethopian
Elementary Schools are very different. There are smooth, hard
cement tiled floors at one extreme,with very rough, soft soil
surfaces at the other.

In this respect, it must be accepted that since local resources

must be used for the construction of buildings,different kinds
of floor materials will be found. Thus, the flooring may be of
packed soil, stone, cowdung, or concrete, sometimes the floor will
be covered with a bamboo mat.

Some of these floors will be of a fairly soft nature, the furni-

ture load should therefore be spread over a large area in order
not to make unnecessary marks in the surface. Steel legs, for
example, with their very small contact area, will very soon destroy
skid base chair a packed-soil floor.

However an uneven floor can not be accepted, because,whatever the

design,the furniture will then be unstable and this will be a
nuisance to the students."

The need to be able to stack chairs for transport 'and storage is dealt
with on page 116.
118 School furniture handbook


Man&J, A. c. The Seated Man iHorn Sedensl - The Sitting Position its
Anatomy and Problems. A. C. Mandal, Taarbaek Strandvej 49,
2930 Klampenborg, Denmark.

British Standards Institute. Anatomical, Physiological and Anthsopometrical

Principles in the Design of Office Tables and Chairs. BS 3044. British
Standards Institute, 101 Pentonville Road, London, Nl 9ND, 1958.
The research contained in this standard was adapted and used to define
the British Standard for school furniture.

Asatekln, M&met. Postural and Physiological, Criteria for Seating - a Review.

Middle East Technical University Journal of the Faculty of Architecture,
Ankara, Turkey, Vol. 1, NO. 1, Spring 1975.

Keegan, J. J. Alterations of the Lumbar Curve Related to Posture and Seating.

Journal of Joint and Bone Surgery, Vol. 35, NO. 3, 1953.

Floyd, W. F. and Roberts D. F. Anatomical and Physiological Principles in

Chair and Table Design. Ergonomics, "al. 2, NO. 1, 1958.

Keegan, J. J. Evaluation and Improvement of Seats. Industrial Medicine and

surgery, "01. 31, NO. 4, 1962.

Grandjean E. in Ergonomic Investigation of Multi-purpose Chairs.

Human Factors, vol. 15, NO. 3, 1973.

Sitting Posture: Proceedings of the Symposium, Zurich, 1968.

London, Taylor and Francis, 1969.

ARISBR. School Building Design in Asia. Colombo, Sri-Lanka, 1972.

(available from UNESCO, Paris).

Akerblom, A. Standing and Sitting Posture. Stockholm, AB Nordiske Bokhandeln,


ARISBR. School Building Digest IO - A Simple Multi-Purpose Furniture Unit.

c010*0, Sri Lanka, 1972 (available from UNESCO, Paris).

ARISBR. Classroom Furniture Technical Notes No. 7. Colombo, Sri Lanka,

1972 (available from UNESCO, Paris).

Department of Education and Science. British School Ponulation Dimensional

Survey, 1971. London, HMSO, 1972. (Building Bulletin 46).

Grandlean, E. Ergonomics of the Home. London, Taylor and Francis, 1973.

Single Teacher School Buildings. Roarkee U.P. India, CBRI, 1971.

Soderberg, Bengt . Classroom Furniture for Ethiopian Elementary Schools.

Rural Projects Agency, Ministry of Public Works, Addis Ah&a, P.O. BOX 2193,
2.6 Tables 119

School tables can be classed in two broad categories: general purpose

tables and specialist tables. The latter are specific to schools. This
chapter deals with the ergonomics of both standing and sitting height
tables, table configurations, materials and interfaces. In addition,
classroom tables, drawing tables and dining tables are dealt with in
detail. Specialist tables for laboratories are dealt with in Chapter
2.7, and tables for lecture theatres in Chapter 2.8.


Fixing the dimensions of school tables, more than any other piece of
furniture, is a questinn of compromise and of reconciling conflicting
requirements. There is, therefore,. no one 'right' answer to many of
the questions raised in this section.

Sittinq Workinq Surface

Table height is fixed in relation to three requirements:

- Sufficient clearance between the underside of the table top, and the
seat of a chair placed at the table, for the thighs of the person
sitting. The measurement taken should be in the 95th percentile, see
2.4 'Anthropometry' for a definition of percentile.
- For ease of writing, the table top should be level with the elbow of
the person seated working at it
- For visual comfort, when reading m writing, it shald be possible to
work with the eyes at the near point (the nearest point at which the
eyes can be focused) without strain.

The part-body measurements are those for an adult with a standing

height of 170cm. The proporti&xs derived from US statistics on page
(2.3) - 10, have been used to establish the part-body measurements,
as follo"s:

height of elbow . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.15 x 170 = 25.5cm

thickness of thigh . . . . . . . . . 0.08 x 170 = 13.6cm
eye height . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.46 x 170 = 78.2cm
120 School furniture handbook

The figure shows that there is little conflict between these require-
ments for adults. By leaning forward slightly and bending the neck,
the 52.7cm eye to elbow height can be reduced to about the 40 to 25cm
"ear point. I" any case, adults are used to working at distances
greater than the "ear point.


The part-body measurements are those for a ten year old child with a
standing height of 140cm. The proportions derived from US statistics
on page (2.3) - 10, have been used to establish the part-body measure-
merits. as follows:

height of elbow ............ 0.15 x 140 = 21.0cm

thickness of thigh ......... 0.08 x 140 = 11.2cm
eye height ................. 0.46 x 140 = 64.4cm

It is with children that the age conflict occurs. They have much
shorter "ear points. But the eye to elbow height is 43.4 cm,
hence the typical 'hunched over' posture see" in many schools. One
solution is to slope the desk top up from the elbow and incline the
seat forward. The sloping desk is acceptable for examination.tables
and in lecture theatres but not for general classrooms, where the in-
clined top means that tables cannot be pushed together to form large

- sloping desk, seat inclined forward

2.6 Tables 121

surfaces and such things as science, in a general classroom, are ruled

out. Further, forward inclined seats are not always possible, because
seats must also serve for the reclined viewing and listening position.
For visual comfort, therefore, the working surface should be higher
than the elbow height. But for comfort when writing, the working sur-
face should be at the elbow height. It would seem reasonable, there-
fore, to make wgrking surfaces for'younger children slightly higher
than the elbow height, and those for older students at elbow height,
when they have become accustomed to working at a distance greater than
the near point.

Standinq Workinq Surface

Standing to work at a table allows free movement around the table.
This is useful for‘laboratory experiments and for such activities as
cutting cardboard or drawing on.large sheets of paper. A seat with a
footrest, set at the table, gives a chalice of sitting
or standing to work. There is the opportunity to change position, to
stretch, to stand and to continue to work. The standing table was widely
used in the past. In schools, it is now only seen in laboratories and
drawing offices, it is neglected in general teaching spaces. This is
to be deplored.

There is a strong urge for students to continually change position.

A high table, designed either for sitting or standing, will allow this.

The wide variety of activities carried out at standing height tables and
benches make it extremely difficult to fix a standard height. some of
these activities are listed below:

- experiments of all types in biology, chemistry and physics

- drawing
- collating the pages of a book
- sawing
- filing
- drilling
- clay modelling
- washing dishes
- cooking
- ironing
- cutting cloth
- cutting cardboard
- book binding

Not only is one standard height impossible, but it is not even possible
to choose standard heights for activities normally carried out in the
same room. Such thihgs as chemistry experiments and metal work require
tables at various heights. The comfortable height at which to work is
based on a compromise between ease of manipulating equipment and nea;
point. Thus, for marking out wood the work will be held approximately at
the near point, but for sawing it will be held much lower, for a better
sawing action.

The problem of fixing the height of standing tables is well described

122 School furniture handbook

in 'Furniture and Equipment Dimensions, Further and Higher Education:

18 - 25 Age Group' United Kingdom, DES Building Bulletin 44. The con-
elusion, after fitting trials, was that it is better to have bench
heights that are too low rather than too high. If equipment was too
low for convenient use at this level it could be stood on suitable
blocks, scaffolding or similar equipment which is now commonplace in
laboratories and other areas where a standing working plane is necessary.
The standard working plane height was fixed by measuring a sample of
students standing with the forearm making a downward angle of 20° with
the horizontal, and the upper arm vertical. The height of the work
surface that just touched the clenched fist was the" taken as the
standing working surface height. This measurement can be expressed in
relation to stature as: (standing height + 247) x 0.47, see 2.4 'Anthro-

Size of Table Top

The size of a table top is determined by the following:

- the use to which it will be put

- the measurements of the person working at it
- the pcssibility of different table grouping
- the size of the room.

These factors are considered in turn:

A variable height workshop vise for adjusting
work to the optimum height for a given task. The use to which it will be put:
For example, low for sawing, high for filing.

A headteachers or administrator's table will need to be larger than a

table used for examinations.

The measurements of the parson working at it:

The important measurements are reach and shoulder width. Based on

United Kingdom statistics contained in 'British School Population
Dimensional Survey, 1971' and 'School Furniture Dimensions: Standing
and Reaching', reach can be calculated as follows (in mm):

- Working Surface Sitting:

comfortable reach forward................ . . . . ..(stature - 40) x0.35
max~~?um reach forward..........................(stature -325) x0.56

- Working Surface Standing:

comfortable reach forward................. . . . ..(stature -152) x0.44
maximum reach forward..................... . . . ..(stature -339) x0.75

In order to measure reach children were asked to do the following, for

comfortable reach:
- 'without touching the near edge of the table, mark the table in a
2.6 Tables 123

sweep sideways, as far forward as you can, with both hands'.

For maximum reach:

- 'mark the table in a sweep sideways, as far forward as you can, with
both hands: you may lean against the table'.

Shoulder width has been calculated variously as 0.25 of stature, based

on US statistics, and 0.22 of stature, based on United Kingdom statistics.

A standard double table designed for two students to work at, measuring
60 x 120cm gives the following clearances, for students'l69cm in stature.
Using round tables slightly improves the clearance per person and more
people can be fitted to an equivalent perimeter.

II* 31 ,j/ 23 * 31 *ll

m + m 0 this... not this.

The possibility oi different table groupings:

It is often useful to be able to assemble tables to make large flat sur-

faces. For convenience, the width of rectangular tables should be half
the length, in order to produce the largest range of assembled siees.

Adjustable Tables
It is usual to have tables of different heights corresponding to the
different heights of chair. Therefore, if there are three different
heights of chair, in a range of furniture, there will be three diff-
erent heights of table. A way of reducing inventory is the provision
of variable height tables. Such tables, and indeed adjustable furni-
ture of any sort, is a rarity in schools. The table illustrated
is used in many North American schools. It has tubular legs
which telescope to provide adjustment from 457mm to 711mm. in 50mm
increments. The table has skids for use on carpets or soft floor


Desks with seats attached or table with separate chairs

Most children are still taught in classrooms containing 20 to 40 children,
by a teacher standing in front of a chalkboard at one end. The classic
piece of furniture provided is the double desk with seats attached.

Certain education authorities prefer the single desk with seat attached
which gives students a more clearly defined space of their own within
Tunisian double desk the school.
124 School furniture handbook

The desk with seat attached has several disadvantages:

- it is heavy and difficult to move, it cannot be stacked: consequently

it is difficult to organise rooms for work in groups
- it is unnecessarily constraining for students, only a limited number
of postural changes are possible
- the distance of the seat from the table is fixed, which limits the
use of the furniture by a large age-range: adults have difficulty
sitting at primary school desks. This is important if primary schools
are to be used for adult education
- because the furniture is hard to move, floor cleaning is made difficult

- because the bench is fixed to the table, the student gets in by sitting
down and swinging the legs round under the desk: instead of sitting
down and pulling a moveable chair forwards. This means that the desk
top must be cantilevered, a source of structural weakness. It should
be noted that many free-standing desks used with chairs are quite need-
lessly cantilevered.

However, the double desk with seats attached does present the following
advantages, compared with the more modern, double table and two chairs:

- it is invariably cheaper to make: the extra weight needed in the frame

is easily compensated for by the fact that only four legs are needed
instead of twelve. See the Tunisian example
- there is no noisy movement of furniture, a very important factor if
the floor and all the other surfaces in a room are hard
- the sloping desk top lessens the students' need to arch over their work
and allows a better posture with less compression of the stomach and

Summarising these arguments: when mobility is a requirement or when

primary schools are to be used for adult education, tables and chairs
should be provided, otherwise, desks with seats attached can be used.


Many educational authorities waste large amounts of money supplying

'industrial drawing' tables where they are not needed, because the prin-
ciples of mechanical drawing are not understood. Over-specialised equip-
ment should be avoided.

For engineering, industrial or architectural drawings to scale, a board

with a straight, smooth edge is required. It must be possible to attach
the paper to the board so that it does not move. The traditional solution
to this problem was the drawing board, made of strips of pine, soft
enough to take a drawing pin (thumbtack) and framed in such a way that it
would remain dimensionally stable. Modern developments have made drawing
boards of this sort unnecessary: polymer adhesives make plywood and particle
board stable enough dimensionally to serve as drawing boards. A straight
edge made of an aluminium extrusion can be clamped to a roughly sawn edge to
make it suitable to work with a 'T' square. The use of adhesive drafting
2.6 Tables 125

tape as a means of attaching paper to the board has eliminated the need
for a soft surface to take drawing pins.

In most cases, ordinary tables, if their surfaces and edges are not damaged,
can be used as drawing boards for most secondary school mechanical draw-
ing exercises. Increasingly, flat drawing tables at normal table height
are being use< for drawing. This' sort of table works well for drawings
not in excess of Al size, 841 x 594mm. For drawing deeper than this an
industrial drawing board should be used.

A cheap way of having an inclinable drawing board using a horizontal draw-

ing table is to supply each working position with a rectangular piece of
wood, roughly 100 mm x 150 mm in cross-section, and as long as the draw-
ing board. This Q, placed under the drawing board and can be adjusted to
give variable inclinations.

The main disadvantage of an inclined drawing table is that it is a spec-

ialised piece of equipment that can be used only for drawing. The
inclination of the table should be no more than 209 otherwise the 'T'
square will slide down the board. As shown in the diagram,the draftsman
does not have to lean forward to reach the top of the board and his
reach is increased. The inclined surface allows round objects, such as
pencils and pens, to roll down: as well as being an unstable surface
for ink and colour pots: an adjoining flat surface is required for these

Industrial drawing boards are designed for work on large sheets of paper.
They have no advantage when paper size is small (less than A2). They
can be rotated through any angle from vertical to horizontal and the table
can be set at any height.

Since the table can be used in a vertical position, and raised and
lowered in a vertical position, very large sheets of paper can be used.
126 School furniture handbook

It is obvious that the ordinary 'T' square and set are not practicable.

The usual mechanism that replaces the 'T' square is a drawing arm fixed
to the top of the board, it tail pivot to any position on the board keeping
two straight edges in any predefined position. It is an expensive piece
of apparatus.

A cheaper and less elaborate system is a parallel motion, a horizontal

straight edge which moves up and down the board by a system of wires
and pulleys and which will stay fixed at any desired position. The
Drawing arm disadvantage of this system is that the set square has to be held onto
the board when the board is at or near the vertical position.

Industrial drawing boards are invariably used in industrial and engineering

drawing offices. The technique of drawing on a vertical or near vertical
surface is slightly different from drawing on a flat surface. Students
in colleges of technology should certainly be given some experience of
working on tables of this sort before moving out to commercial drawing

Drawing boards interface with drawing paper, the international paper sizes

A0 1189 x 841 mm
Al 841 x 594 mm
A2 594 x 420 mm

The following board sizes are proposed to fit these paper sizes:

A0 1270 x 920 mm
Al 920 x 650 mm
A2 650 x 470 mm


Tables for dining should be at the same height as classroom tables so

that they can be used for school work if this is required. The number
seated per table will be based on the method of serving and personal
preference. Since dining rooms often serve purposes other than dining,
some form of compaction will be required, see 'Compaction' page 132.
The size of table top is fixed according to the criteria listed on
page 122. A list of minimum sizes for various types of table suitable
for adults is given below as a guide.
2.6 Tables 127

The table requiring the least amount of space in a dining room is the
table for four, with a person on each side, placed diagonally.
There should be a minimum passageway of 60cm between tables.


Wooden Tables
As mentioned in 2.5 'Seating',page 91,the traditional cabinet maker's
wooden joints are not suitable for school furniture, especially if
the wood used is only partially seasoned and liable to shrink. The
drawing below is of a school table developed for Sri Lanka by the
Asian Regional Institute for School Building Research (ARISBR). The
traditional joints have been replaced by glued and nailed (or screwed)
contact joints. The contact area of the joints has been increased by
using flat boards, instead of the usual round or square sections. Be-
cause of the recent large rise in the price of wood, tables with steel
frames and manufactured wood panel tops - mainly particle board - are re-
placing wooden tables in developed countries.


aI jants an.3 ccmtocl surlocos

to be coated with PVA ochosive
128 School furniture handbook

Mild Steel Sections

The common sections are: round tube, rectangular tube or angles.
Table frames can be entirely of round tube or entirely of rectangular
tube (usually square) or a combination of the two with round legs and
rectangular tube to support the table top. Materials for table tops
are considered later. They can be broadly divided into solid board -
particle board, plywood, etc., and core or sandwich boards. Solid boards
are usually fixed through the steel section to the board. Because
of the larger area of bearing it is easier to fix to rectangular sections
than round tube.

Fixings to round tubes should be care- The light-weight mild steel sections used vary in wall thickness from
fully designed; some common methods about 1.2mm to 2.Omm. Mild steel sections can either be bent or welded,
are shown below. Example (1) a mild screwed connections are also a possibility.
steel lug welded to the tube, and (2)
the saddle, are the most effective. Bending can be either radial bending or crush bending. Only round
Example (4) is the most common method sections can be radially bent, although both square and round tubes
and the least effective. A slight can be crush bent. Sectlons can be bent, one by one, in a simple plumb-
torque on the tube loosens the screw er's bending machine or more sophisticated machines or presses can be
as it will to a lesser extent on used, which can.bend several tubes at a time. The radius of the bend
example (3). should be no less than three times the diameter of the tube, except
with crush bending when it can be considerably less. The photograph
below is that of the second prize winner in the French Competition
described in 2.17 'Competitions'. Crush bending is used both in the
table ahd the chair. The table also uses screwed connectors.

The cellular nature of coreboards presents a fixing problem. Solid

fixing inserts can be provided but a more convenient method is to fix
to the solid lipping which is required to edge the boards. The detail
below is used for the polyurethane coreboard top of the table illust-
rated on page 124. Clips are welded to the tubular frame of the table.
The clips engage with the rigid PVC lipping of the coreboard. The table
top can be slid out of the clip to be used as a screen or as a top for
a different base.

Table and Chair using Crush Bending

2.6 Tables 129


I" terms of structure, tables can be divided into two categories: tables
where the top is used structurally and tables where the top is supported
on a frame and has no structural role.

Materials must have a certain rigidity, thickness and dimensional stab-

ility to be used in category one. Thinner, less rigid materials can be
used in category two.

Solid Wood
Well seasoned timber, cut radially and glued under factory conditions,
(2) using synthetic resin adhesives, is a splendid but expensive material
that can be used structurally. When timber of a lower standard is used
it must be restrained by a frame, used in narrow sections (5Omm) and
jointed with slots on the underside to minimise the contact surface be-
tween boards.

The above is only one way of assembling solid wood tops. Others include
dovetail housings, holding the top together with a tongue and grooved
edge rail at the two long ends. The important thing to remember is that
the movement of the wood due to changes in humidity must not be totally
prevented, otherwise the planks will crack.

Solid timber is strongest across the grain. Its dimensional stability
varies under different conditions.of temperature and humidity, with the
greatest movement across the grain. It tends to split along the grain.
Plywood minimises these less desirable qualities while taking maximum
advantage of the best qualities of timber.

Arranging the grain of each ply at right angles to the next (crossbanding)
results in a board with the following qualities compared to solid timber:

- greater overall strength for an equal thickness of board

- less movement due to humidity
- greater impact resistance
- can be screwed or nailed close to the edge of the panel
- greatly increased screw and nail holding.

Plywood can be obtained in any combination of veneer grade and adhesive.

It can be used without edging, lipping or surfacing, although the material
itself is expensive, this may make plywood competitive with cheaper
materials for many applications. This was the case with the examination
table considered by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) in the
evaluhtion described in 215 'Design Evaluation'.

Particle board
This is possibly the most common material for table tops, although it is
somewhat too heavy for tables where mobility is required. See 2.2 'Mat-
erials, for more details on particle board.
130 School furniture handbook

Other drawbacks are poor surface strength, poor screw holding properties,
and swelling due to moisture.

Blockboard and Laminboard

Blockboard and laminboard consist of a core of wood strips between outer
veneers with their grain direction at right angles to the grain of the
core. Blockboard cores are strips up to 25mm wide placed together,
with or without glue between each strip. Laminboard cores are strips
or veneers 1.5mm to 7nun wide glued together face to face. Laminboard
is heavier and more expensive than blockboard. Blockboards and lamin-
boards may be three ply(core plus two outer veneers) or five ply (core
plus four outer veneers). They can be made lighter than plywood of the
same thickness, by using low density timber for the cores. They have
good fixing properties but require edging.

All coreboards require edging or lipping which may make them expensive
for small table tops. The following are the common varieties:

Cardboard Honeycomb:
This consists of a honeycomb structure of cardboard bonded to outer
skins of either plywood or hard fibreboard. This material iS commonly
used for flush doors in buildings. It can be manufactured under fac-
tory conditions or on a craft basis. It is light in weight and cheap.

Polyurethane Foam:
Polyurethane resin is poured with a blowing agent between outer skins
of plastics laminate, steel or any other sheet material. Poured in-
to a cooled mould it can be made to self-skin if required. See 2.4

The finish can be an integral part of the board or a surfacing mater-
ial can be applied (sui-faces for laboratory tables are dealt with in
2.7 'Laboratories'). The most common surfaces are:

Hard Fibreboard:
Hard fibreboard is made of compressed and bonded,wood fibre. It is
inexpensive and hard, without being sound generative. Hard fibreboard
can be left unfinished, or varnished, or else oil tempered board can
be used.
A material made from natural substances, mainly oxidised linseed oil
and fillers such as woodflour, cork, or chalk. Linoleum is a soft,
sound-deadening material, warm and agreeable to touch.

Polyvinyl Chloride((PVC):
Flexible PVC is similar in aspect to 1inOleum. PVC sheets are tough
and scratch-resistant. They are not damaged or marked by water or
grease and if soiled may be wiped clean with soap and warm water.
2.6 Tables 131

On the other hand, they are softened by solvents such as dry cleaning
fluids. Either flexible or rigid PVC sheets can be used, they vary
in thickness from 0.2nun to 0.4mm.

Plastics Laminates:
Usuglly melamine laminates (see 2.2 'Materials'), these are hard
and durable with a high resistance to heat and scratching. They are clean
and attractive to look at, but rather too hard and sound generative for
most school uses. Matt surfaces should be chosen in preference to sur-
faces with a high gloss. When only the top side of a table is faced with
laminate, the underside should be well framed to stop the tendancy of
the support panel to warp under varying conditions of humidity. The
bonding of laminates to support panels should be done under heat and
pressule in clean factory conditions.

Blockboard, laminboard, particle board and coreboard all require lipping.The
most effective lipping for school tables is either hardwood, PVC or other
plastics extrusions. Plastics 'should be thick heavy-duty sections heat
shrunk onto the panel, unless polyurethane coreboard is used, where
lipping can be used as part of a permanent mould, forming an integral
part of the board. The sketches below show the common forms of edge de-
tail using a surfacing material.

Edge Bandinq

Particle board may be edged or lipped in a variety of ways. Edges can be

veneered easily to provide a matching finish to the surface. Provided
that a clean saw cut has been made, further treatment of the edge surface
is unnecessary. Veneers can be applied by hand or machine and the use of
a ureaformaldehyde adhesive is suitable for most situations. An alterna-
tive edge detail is to use a plastic strip with a toothed tongue on the
back face which is pressed into a thin groove out in the edge of the
board. Solid wood lippings of any suitable width can be satisfactorily
glued with a plain butt joint direct to a cleanly cut edge of particle
board. While the use of a tongue and groove detail may be used it only
serves to facilitate accurate location, but when it is used the groove
should be in the particle board edge.


It is often useful to be able to assemble tables to make large flat sur-

faces. Linking devices can be used or tables can be simply butted to-
gether. The qrouping of rectangular tables has already been mentioned
on page 123.

Trapezoidal tables
x: These allow a large range of grouping.
132 School furniture handbook

Another common form of trapezoidal table has an angle of 67"30' instead

of 60°. Here eight tables instead of six are required to close a circle
WALL and the triangular configuration is not possible.

Half-Round Tables
These can be made to coordinate with rectangular tables or to form cir-
cular tables.

The corners of tables should usually be rounded to avoid sharp corners

that can dig into the thighs of the unwary. However, when tables are
grouped these rounds form holes. This illustrates well the kind of com-
promise required for table design. The corners should not be too sharp;
-I- -+- then again, they should not be too rounded so that objects will fall
not too sharp... not too rounded. through when the tables are grouped.


Tables that stack or fold are often required where space in schools
serves several purposes. For example, dining/assembly or even
in a classroom situation where a new layout may require more or
less tables. Some form of compaction is also desirable so that
tables do not take up too much space in transport vehicles. Folding
tables require moving parts and are generally less rigid for a
given weight of material than non-folding tables. They are often
made with cross bracing which restricts their use from all sides.

Rigid tables can be stacked in basically two ways:

- forward stacking
- spiral stacking.
For forward stacking, two legs, one on each side of the table, are
placed beyond the vertical projection of the table top. In this
way tables can be slid one on top of another. However. the proiecting
legs may restrict passageways and be a source of bruises.
This disadvantage is ivoided in the trapezoidal table,whose legs can be
kept within the vertical projection of the table top and the table will
still stack.

For spiral stacking the legs on the four corners of the table are
placed as near as is possible to the edge of the table top, so that the
table will stack spirally. Pads must be provided on the underside of
table tops so that damage is not done to the top side of the table
during the stacking operation. Spiral stacking requires that the
tables be lifted until the bottom of the table legs are above the top

Frame for forward stacking: the dotted line indicates the extent of the
table top. It should be possible to slide the flat top of the legs outside
the vertical projection of the table top, under the tops of other tables
when assembling tables. A more simple frame can be made of crushbent,
square-section tube. Thus avoiding the welding of a square-section frame
to round section legs.
2.6 Tables 133

of the preceeding table. This is far less convenient than the sliding
required for forward stacking.


Tables 'interface' or are in contact with the following:

Materials and Equipment

When making short runs of tables the panel size interface should be con-
sidered. Support panel and surfacing sheet sizes vary from country to
country. The size of facing sheets may not accord with that of the support
panels. Table sizes should be chosen bearing in mind the panel sizes
Spiral stacking available.

The materials that the table will support may influence design. This
is particularly important for craft tables. The standard sizes of paper
should be taken into account in the design of drawing boards and easels.
In regard to equipment, things which generate vibration ,such as vises
or typewriters, will lead to more rigid table construction. Tables for
science and crafts should be capable of taking the standard types of
clamp along their edges.

Other Furniture
Tables and working surfaces should be made to accord with seats.
It is quite usual for chairs to be placed on top
of tables when cleaning floors. This should be taken into account when
choosing materials for table tops. It is useful if low storage units
and trolleys are made at the same height as tables, so that they may
serve as extensions to the tables Tables may be pushed against high
storage units and other furniture. Vulnerable surfaces and things such
as knobs and handles should be avoided at the point of contact.

The Buildinqs
Tables are moveable objects. They are often set against walls where they
may damage paint and plaster. It is advisable to provide a rail at these
points. The rail should be made sufficiently deep to protect against
chair backrests at the same time.

The main point of contact is with the floor. The way table legs are
finished will depend on the floor. Careful design will avoid noise
and damage to the floor finish. Wooden table legs ,will usually require
no special treatment. Tables with tubular metal frames should be fitted
with rubber or plastic inserts if the floor has a hard surface. caps
are less effective than inserts tending to be pierced by the table leg
after a certain time. With soft floor finishes, steel domes should be
used. These tend to slide more easily than rubber or plastic inserts
and are more hard wearing. Tables with skidscan also be used.Built-in
tables may interface with sinksand plumbing fixtures.
134 School furniture handbook

The need to be abLe to stack tables for transport and storage is dealt
with on page 132. Within buildings transporter dollies can be used to
move Stacks of tables from place to place.

Berglund, E. Bard. Stockholm, Svenska Sldjdfdreningen IThe Swedish Society

of Industrial Design), 1957.

ARISBR. Technical Notes: Classroom Furniture. COlOmbO, Sri-Lanka, 1972.

(available from UNESCO, Paris).

Sparkes, A.J. The Production and Use of Double Skin Hardboard Panels frx
Furniture. FIR?+, Maxwell Road, Stevenage, Hertfordshire, U.K.

Hindley, H. R. Veneer Substitutes. FIR?+, Maxwell Road, Stevenage,

Hertfordshire, U.K.

Floyd, W. F. and Roberts, D. F. Anatomical and Physiological Principles in

Chair and Table Design. Ergonomics, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1958.
2.7 Laboratory furniture 135

The ergonomic and other requirements of furniture for laboratories are

little different from those of other rooms, and have been considered in
the preceeding chapters. Only the ergonomic aspects of storage and the
particular problems of laboratory tables and table tops are dealt with

A great deal of school science is done not in laboratories, but in gene-

ral classrooms, especially at lower secondary and primary level. Useful
in this connection are kits and mobile science units: both are mentioned
in this chapter.


The functional requirements set down below are for laboratories where
experiments are carried out both by the teacher as a demonstrator and by
the students themselves. Laboratories have many functions and their de-
sign is inevitably a compromise between conflicting demands. Generally
the following are required:
- a demonstration table for experiments carried out by the teacher
- one or several means of visual communication - chalkboard, marker
board, wall charts and overhead, slide or film projectors.
- tables used for students' practical work. Sufficient space is recessa-
ry for the range of experiments the students may be expected to per-
form, and appropriate services required
- the same tables are also used for making notes of theoretical lessons
and writing accounts of practical work. It is therefore important
that the tables should be sufficiently near for the students to be
able to see the display wall and demonstration table satisfactorily

- there will probably be individual experiments, which may extend over

several weeks and require some degree of privacy and protection.
There may also be displays of long-term class experiments, models and
- spaces are needed for sensitive apparatus requiring special care,
such as balances, radioactive materials, and their associated elec-
trical equipment
- facilities may be needed to receive sound and television programmes
- space is needed for technical books of reference and general interest,
- laboratories can be dangerous places, especially chemistry labs.
The following are required, with easy access,to minimise any accidents:
fire extinquisher, fire blanket, eye and face spray, first aid kit,
neutralising solutions.
136 School furniture handbook


Laboratories are traditionally highly serviced areas. Because of the ser-

vices required - piped gas, low voltage electricity, running water, drai-
nage, evacuation of noxious gases - they usually have structured layouts
and the furniture is fixed to the floor. They are more expensive than
equivalent general teaching areas.

Although this sort of laboratory is designed for repetitive exercises

there are changes from year to year in the approach to the teaching of
science and in the type of operations carried out. The traditional
fixed furniture will not allow for this evolution.

Overhead Services
Overhead service lines allow a greater degree of flexibility than ser-
vices in the floor or on the walls. This is true for machine shops and
other areas for practical activities as well as for laboratories. The
Department of Education and Science in the United Kingdom has developed
designs for laboratory furniture and equipment, called the 'Scope'
range. This system uses pverhead lines for gas, electricity, water and
waste evacuation. A system of flexible leads takes the lines down to
benches and apparatus. More or less service lines can be plugged in, as
required, to the overhead boom and tables are moveable. Overhead services
are easier to install and maintain than under-floor services. The only
disadvantage is that waste must be pumped out of sinks.

Laboratory with overhead services

2.7 Laboratory furniture 137

.Mobile services
Analyses of science curricula and what actually happens during science
periods, have revealed that the services as they are now provided are
not always necessary. Considering the services in turn:

This is in most cases required in comparativelysmall quantities. PrOCi?SSeS
requiring running water, such as distillation, are rare. One tap in a
room is enough to replenish containers at each table. One drainage
outlet is sufficient to empty the containers.

Heat is usually needed for very short periods, the provision of piped
gas is not always necessary; small bottles of gas with bunsen burners
at each table can be used. Other solutions are possible, depending on

The main need is for low voltage direct current which can be obtained
from rechargeable lead-acid batteries or dry cells, rather than pro-
viding mains electricity which has to be transformed from alternating
current to low voltage direct current.

Several furniture manufacturers have designed units that contain in a

more neat and convenient way all these mobile services. The unit
illustrated comprises a sink and drainage container, fresh water tank,
bottle gas and batteries for low voltage electricity. A small hand
pump above the sink maintains water pressure and is used to evacuate
the drainage container.
Mobile services unit

A simpler mobile unit was designed by the Asian Regional Institute for
school Building Research (ARISBR) for use in schools in Sri Lanka, see
the drawing below. Here bottles of water, a container for waste water
(simply emptied into a sink at the end of the lesson) paraffin stoves
and lead-acid batteries are carried on a small trolley.
138 School furniture handbook

Fume Cupboard
The introduction of semi-micro methods
of chemical analysis means that smaller
quantities of noxious gases are produced.
It is therefore possible to provide
smaller fume cupboards. The traditional
built-in fume cupboard is no longer nec-
essary. Mobile units can be provided
that need only be connected to ventila-
tion ducts for successful operation, or
led through a hole in a window, as shown
in the illustration.

Mobile services enable general classrooms to be used for science. Kits
further simplify the logistics of science teaching. Kits contain, in
a single box, an instruction manual or text book, material chemicals
and equipment for science experiments. When designed for use in under-
Semi-mobile fume cupboard equipped schools the kit box should form a storage cabinet. When science
teaching takes place in general classrooms tables should have a horis-
ontal, easily cleaned surface.


Where fixed layouts are required with fixed service points, there are
basically three layout possibilities:

Perimeter Services
Benches, equipped with all the required
services, are fixed around the outside
walls. Moveable tables are placed
in the centre of the room. The dem-
0 r----T---y
L-l--J q onstration table can be either fixed

II II I or moveable.

I ’ El 0 0 n
This layout has many advantages. The room can be laid out easily for
a variety of uses - lectures, demonstrations or experiments. The peri-
pheral benches can be used to set up experiments which extend over
several days, without inconveniencing other work. There may be a certain
amount of trailing electrical lines and pipes, because the tables are
not serviced, but they are mobile and can be moved to the perimeter to
be near the service outlets.

A more elaborate chemistry laboratory with perimeter services is illus-

trated overleaf. This is taken from 'Science Laboratories for Second-
ary Schools'. Ontario Department of Education, 1968.
2.7 Laboratory furniture 139

Chemistry Perimeter Laboratory-floor plan C-2


alternative layout for

chemistry laboratory
140 School furniture handbook

r Traditional
of services
the centre of the room. It is a
fairly good layout for carrying out
experiments in groups,although the
benches are too long for convenience,
but it is unsuitable for almost all
the other functions of a laboratory.
The furniture cannot be rearranged for
lectures, demonstrations or visual
presentations. There is no space where
experiments that extend over several
days can be set up.

Island Service Points

These are small service stands,
just large enough to contain a sink
and the usual service outlets.
They are used in conjunction with
moveable tables, thus bringing the
services nearer to the tables than
in the first example.
HOWeVer, the islands hinder,
to a. certain extent, the rearrangement
of furniture within the laboratory.

- 'dry' and 'wet' service

stands from the Counties
Furniture Group catalogue

- An island, service stand illustrated

'School Building Design Asia',
see references.

Service stands should be designed with a clear separation between elec-

tricity and water to avoid the possibility of accidents.
2.1 Laboratory furniture 141


Tables are used for both experiments and notetaking. It is usual to

work at experiments standing. When working with hot liquids and acids,
standing is no doubt advisable as it enables the student to move away
more rapidly in case of an accident. when notetaking students will be
sitting, the ergonomic design of standing height tables is referred to
on pages121 and 122. Laboratory tables should be more rigid than
tables for general classroom work.

Demonstration Tables
Demonstration tables also have their place in science lecture theatres,
see 2.8 'Lecture Theatres'. Except in lecture theatres it is a
mistake to build demonstration tables on platforms as it prevents
students from clustering round the table which is the best way to see
a demonstration.

Trolleys are extremely useful in science laboratories. Their design
can be similar to the mobile services unit illustrated on page 137. Used
in conjunction with a preparation room, trolleys allow a more intensiveuse
to be made of laboratory space. Equipment and materials can be prepared
while a lesson is taking place. Then as a lesson finishes, materials and
equipment can be wheeled out and a trolley of fresh material and equipment
wheeled in. Stackable trays can be used to distribute materials to
students. The top surface of trolleys should be made level with the
working surfaces of tables.

Materials for Table Tops

The tops of laboratory benches and tables, their material and finish,
is an area of particular concern. They should have a variety of qual-
ities, depending on the range of experiments and activities carried
out on them:
- resistance to heat
- hardness
- levelness
- bacteriological cleanliness
- resistance to acids and alkalis ) a range of simple tests for these
- resistance to a range Of Solvents. ) qualities is given in 2.14 'Testing'.

Timber :
Traditionally, teak (tectona grandis) is the preferred wood. This wood
has a combination of desirable properties - stability, strength with
moderate weight, durability, good appearance and comfortable touch.
Other hardwoods similar to teak, such as iroko or afromosia, are often
used. Softwoods are generally unsuitable. Blockboards with thick (3mm)
top veneers of teak can be used to replace the solid timber.

Wood is of course attacked by a. whole range of chemicals and solvents:

142 School furniture handbook

its resistance is increased by continual waxing, oiling or treatment

with acid-resistant lacquers. An immaculate finish is not expected
of wood, a certain amount of burns and stains is acceptable. Wood has
a fairly good resistance to heat, but it is not a good surface where
bacteriological cleanliness is a requirement. It is expensive

Hard Fib'reboard:
Fibreboard is made compressedof and bonded wood-fibre, it has many of
the properties wood.of Oil tempered hardboard is frequently used for
laboratory tables. It is cheap and can be easily replaced. Mounted on
particle board panels, with removeable lipping so that it can be replaced
every five years or so, it is perhaps the most practical surface for
laboratory tables.

Plastic Laminates:
Laminates are useful where bacteriological cleanliness is a requirement.
They can have good resistance to heat if the appropriate grades are
chosen. They have a good resistance to most organic solvents, but
poor resistance to prolonged contact with strong alkali solutions and
inorganic acids. The surface of laminates may be damaged and chipped
by the use of clamps and other laboratory apparatus. They have an
immaculate finish and therefore any damage to the surface is considered

Ceramic Tiles:
Tiles are heavy and are not generally suitable for moveable tables.
They have good resistance to acids (except hydrofluoric acid) alkalis
and solvents. However, the joints between the tiles are the point of
weakness. They collect dirt and most commc~n jointing materials are
subject to chemical attack. Tiles do not provide a level surface.

Asbestos Cement:
Asbestos cement is hard and heat resistant. The normal grades are
not usually suitable because they have poor resistance to acids and
stain easily, but special grades can be produced with a fairly high
general resistance to acids. Asbestos cement can be polished to pro-
duce a level surface suitable for biology laboratories.
However, asbestos is not recommended, because when it is not well
finished or when it begins to deteriorate, asbestos dust is formed,
and this is a health hazard.

Stainless Steel:
The common varieties of stainless steel are not as acid resistant
as is generally supposed. Austenitic alloys, with a high nickel and
chromium content, are the true 'stainless steels'. They have certain
uses in research laboratories but will usually be too expensive for
school laboratories.

Mild Steel:
Vitreous enamelled mild steel is suitable for table tops and sinks,
but it is liable to chip if struck by a sharp object. Mild steel,
and metal of all sorts, should be avoided in physics laboratories,
where experiments with magnetism may take place. Untreated mild steel
2.7 Laboratory furniture 143

may be used on benches to support equipment such as combustion CIL

muffle furnaces.

Lead is resistant to sulphuric acid and is frequently used for accu-

mulator charging benches.

A durable but brittle material, not particularly good for tops, except
where resistance to liquids and cleanliness are important. It is only
affected by hydrofluoric acid and hot, strong,caustic solutions. Glass
requires edging unless the more expensive toughened variety is used,
which has a greater resistance to breakage.


The design of storage units is considered generally in 2.9 'Storaqe'.

All laboratory storage can be kept outside the laboratory in a preparation

room, this is sometimes required for reasons of security. Trolleys are
then used to distribute chemicals and apparatus within the laboratory.
Storage within laboratories is traditionally placed under the work benches.
This has several disadvantages:
- it is too low for easy reach
- it restricts knee space for seated activity
- access to the storage can be blocked when mobile equipment is brought
up to the bench.

The photograph illustrates a good

example of laboratory storage:
notice the trays and the mobile unit
under the bench.

The storage of concentrated acids is a particular problem in the design

of chemistry laboratories. Acids should always be kept locked, prefer-
ably in a preparation room. The design below, for an acid storage cabinet
is taken from 'Directives sucla Conception des Laboratoires de Sciences
des Etablissements Secondaires en Afrique', see references.

School furniture handbook


Production of Low-Cost Teaching Maaterials for Primary Level Science and

Mathematics. Final Report of a Regional Workshop sponsored by Southeast
Asian Ministers of Education Organization and Deutsche Stiftung f8r
Internationale Entwicklung (The German Foundation for International
Development), Panang, Malaysia, 1973.

EVE Science ROY. 2. New York, UNICEF, 1973. (Second Revision of the Science
Teaching sections of UNICEF Guide List EVE.)

Sharma, 8. K. and Bukhalov, B. I. Improvising Science Teaching Kits for

Schools. New Delhi, National Council of Educational Research and
Training, 1972.

Warren, Keith, and Lowe, Normal K. The Production of School Science Equipment.
London, Commonwealth Secretariat, 1975.
This pamphlet contains an appraisal of several science teaching kits
produced in a variety of countries.

'Steban, M. Storage of Apparatus. Hatfield, Hertfordshire. U.K.

Association for Science Education.

Branton, A. J. and Drake, F. P. Adaptable Furniture and Services for

*Education and Science. London, Department of Education and Science.
(Paper 6, Laboratories Investigation Unit sponsored by the Department
of Education and Science and the University Grants Connnittee, 1972.)

Department of Education and Science. Designing for Science: Oxford School

Development Project. London, HMSO, 1967. (Building Bulletin 39).

Science Laboratories for Secondary Schools. Toronto, Ontario Department of

Education, 1968.

CONESCAL. Mobiliario Basic0 Escolar. CONESCAL, AP 41-518, Mexico 10 DF,

1971. (Document0 TBcnico 9).

ARISBR. The Design of Biology Laboratories for Asian Second Level Schools.
Colombo, ARISBR, 1968. (Study 3)

ARISBR. The Design of Chemistry Laboratories for Asian Second Level Schools.
Colombo, ARISBR, 1968. (Study 3)

ARISBR. The Design of Physics Laboratories for Asian Second Level Schools.
Colombo, ARISBR, 1968. (Study 4)

Beynon, J. The Design of Spaces for Science Teaching. Paris, Unesco, 1969.

Laboratory Design. Report by Edinburgh University team, obtainable from Factorial

Secretary, Old College, South Bridge, Edinburgh, ES8 9YL, 1971.

Sousa? Book for Science Teaching. Paris, Unesco.

ARISBR . School Building Design Asia. Colombo, Sri-Lanka, ARISBR, 1972.

(available from UNESCO, Paris).

Bureau Regional pour 1'Education en Afrique. Directives sur la Conception des

Laboratoires de Sciences des Etablissements Secondaires en Afrique.
Bureau RBgional pour 1'Education en Afrique, 1975. (available from
UNESCO, Paris)
2.8 Lecture theatre furniture 145

For reasons of safety and convenience lecture theatres are usually built
with seating fixed to the floor. There is a close relationship between
the space and the furniture: the shape of the building will have a direct
influence on the design of the furniture.


The activities that take place in a lecture theatre can be classified

as follo"s:
- speech/listening/notetaking
- projection (overhead, slides, film)/viewing
- demonstration (usually scientific experiments)/viewing
.- writing on a vertical surface/viewing

The activity which determines the shape of the space more than any other
is demonstration. If students are to be able to see a teacher doing dem-
onstration experiments on a flat table, they must be able to see down on
to the table and not be too far distant from it. This implies a steeply
stepped floor. On the other hand,if the lecture theatre is designed only
for speech and visual display then the floor can be much flatter.

Another activity which is important in determining the shape- of lecture

theatres is note-taking. Making room for a writing surface in front of
each student takes space, putting a greater distance between students
and the speaker. It also complicates the design of furniture, because
of the need for tip-up seating to provide free access to fixed rows of
seats. The need to take notes in lecture theatres should diminish no"
that lecture notes can be photocopied easily and cheaply.


because the ergonomic requirements for the different types of activity

tend to be in conflict, the design of lecture theatres will usually be
based on a number of compromises. A common-compromise makes the front
two rows of seats unsuitable for viewing demonstrations, in order to
lower the incline of the floor and the overall ceiling height of the room.

_---p/-- Viewinq

_/--$----- B
the purpose
a fan or
a display
a screen,
the commonest
of a

------- are


up or
up or
in the
in the
the viewers
and loo
If the

d to
row of
slump or
seats should
lean forward
be equal
in their
to or
twice the
to the
of the
display or screen.
146 School furniture handbook

Sight lines
There are two methods of seating. One is to arrange seats so that each
student looks over the head of the person in front. The other is to
stagger seats so that each student looks over the shoulder of the person
in front.
I The horizontal angle of the field of view is a function of both the
lateral separation between seats and the separation between rows.

The diagram below shows a standard lecture theatre to seat 120 people
for Algerian middle schools. Source: 'Constructions Scolaire: Recueil
de Names'. Minister= des Enseignements Primaire et Secondaire,
Algiers. 1971.

projection screen
chalkboard with
two hinged end
frame for dis-
playing maps and
4. projector (slides,
16mm film)
5. pin-up board
6. position for tele-
vision receivers
7. working surface
provided with sink,
running water and
electric outlets
8. mobile demonstration
hooks for the
t 121 possible fixing of
a curtain
Switch o electric outlet l table (mobile)
first row of seats


2.8 Lecture theatre furniture 147

TWO alternative sections are proposed. Section 2 will be the most con-
venient for demonstrations. Services are provided at a wall bench, not
at the demonstration table which is mobile. With mobile demonstration
tables, such things as science experiments can be set up in a prepar-
ation room and wheeled into place in the lecture theatre. If there are
two or more mobile demonstration tables, no time need be wasted between
lectures in setting up experiments. As one lecture finishes the dem-
onstration table is wheeled out with a finished experiment on it and
another one wheeled in with a fresh experiment set up. An alternative
is to provide mobile demonstration tables which contain their own ser-


Type of Seating
There are two possibilities in addition to the conventional bench
and desk configuration:

- the hinged writing tablet: tablets will necessarily be hinged from

one side only, but they should be large enough for left-handed people
to use in comfort. The advantage of this system is that when the
tablet is not required it can be folded to one side, leaving the
space in front of the seat unencumbered, as in a theatre.

writing tablets
- low seating, or the steps of the lecture theatre used as seating:
a pad for notetaking can be held on the knees. This makes for a less
encumbered space and requires simpler furniture - or no furniture at
all. The seat should be low enough so that the thighs slope upwards,
enabling a note pad to be held, in an inclined position,on the knees.
For grater flexibility rostrums (moveable platforms) can be used.
These can be grouped in a flat floored space to give a number of
different configurations suitable for lectures. Rostrums can be made
with hinged frames to fold flat.

plastic moulded
shell fixed to
lecture theatre steps used as
seating in a Tunisian secondary school the step
148 School furniture handbook

Desk and Bench

For adults the distance between the front of the desk and the back of
the seat, in the vertical position, should be at least 35cm to allow a
clear passage for the speedy clearing of a lecture theatre in an emer-
gency. In addition the following dimensions must be fixed:
- height of desk
- depth of desk
- height of seat
- depth of seat
- height of backrest
- distance between front of desk and front of seat

The height of the desk, the height of the seat and the depth of the seat
can be fixed by reference to 2.6 'Seating' and 2.7 'Tables'. The desk
should be sloped at an angle between 15o and loo to reduce the distance
between eye and note-pad, to allow a better posture. The lowest part
of the desk working surface should be at elbow height. The distance
between the front of the desk and the front edge of the seat should be
no more than 10cm. otherwise the situation illustrated in the photograph
will occur.

The diagram illustrates the two tip-up methods. A larger free passage
can be left with the spring-loaded seat while still maintaining a correct
desk to seat relationship, but it will be more expensive than the counter-
weighted seat.

Furniture will usually be fixed to the floor for several reasons:

- if the lecture theatre must be cleared quickly, in case of fire or an

emergency, fixed furniture helps to funnel people towards the exits,
whereas moveable furniture may hinder exit
2.8 Lecture theatre furniture 149

- because of their stepped or inclined floors, lecture theatres cannot

be used for purposes which would require the clearing of furniture
- furniture fixed to the floor gains rigidity and can be lighter than
mobile furniture

pedestal fixing:
usually used with writing tablets. convenient
for inclined floors. The floor surface is
uncluttered, making carpet laying and cleaning

floor fixing:
used for lecture theatres with shallow steps

step fixing:
gives greater rigidity, used in lecture theatres
with steep steps.

The overall acoustic design of lecture theatres is outside the scope of
this chapter. But in relation to furniture, it is considered desirable
to make the sound absorbancy of the empty seat equal to that of the seat
with a person seated in it. This avoids the unpleasant 'hollow' effect,
felt when the theatre is only partly full, caused by sound reverberation
from hard seats. This factor is only important in large (more than 250
seats) lecture theatres.


Human Engineering Guide to Equipment Design. Sponsored by Joint Army-Navy-

Air Force Steering Committee. Edited by Morgan, Cook and Lund.
New York, McGraw-Hill, 1963.

Smith, Peter. The Design of Learning Spaces. London, Council for Education
Technology for the United Kingdom, 1974.

Taylor, J. R. B. The Science Lecture Room. Cambridge University Press, 1967.

Ramsey, C. G. and Sleeper, H. R. Architectural Graphic Standards for

Architects, Engineers, Decorators, Builders and Draftsmen. New York,
John Wiley and Sons, 1956.

Modern Physics Buildings: Function and Design. New York, Reinold, 1961.
2.9 Storagefacilities

Storage facilities required in schools include:

- storage for books

- storage for teaching materials and equipment
- storage for students' clothes and personal belongings

These three sorts of storage and their ergonomic requirements are con-
sidered separately. Their interfaces are considered together in a sec-
tion at the end of the chapter.

Books may be stored in a school in several places and in several ways:

in classrooms, libraries, laboratories, etc. The fundamental problem
is shelving.

Shelves are usually made of wood or steel or a combination of both.

Shelving in stacks can be supported in two ways:

(1) it can bridge between horizontal supports, ttie most usual method,
the shelf surface is then divided by the support uprights. A common
span between supports is 90cm

(2) it can be cantilevered from a wall or from centrally placed panels

or posts. In this ca*e the shelves can be continuous without any

Stacks may be single or double sided, free-standing or fixed. Single

sided stacks will be fixed to the wall. The stability of free-standing
stacks is a cause for concern; there have been instances where free-
standing stacks have overturned. Free-standing stacks will be svable
if the base is a third greater than the shelf dimension or, with the
shelving the same width as the base, positively fixed to the floor
'or ceiling.
2.9 Storage facilities 151

fixed to the walls or...

free standing

both rooms have the same length of shelving.

The following dimensions are proposed in 'The College Resource Centre',

Ontario Department of 1971.Education,
A stack unit height of 228cm. with the top shelf 193cm from the floor.
A 1Ocm base with shelves at 30cm intervals. Studies have shown that
90 per cent of books are less than 28cm high; special provision is
made for the 10 per cent of larger books. Books on the top shelf can
be reached by a person 172cm tall: see 2.4 'Anthropometry'.
A distance of 90cm is allowed between stacks. Ralph Ellsworth in 'The
Planning Manual for Academic Library Buildings' proposes a larger minimum
of 127cm between stacks. In either case, the distance between stacks
should be sufficient to allow:

- adequate light to fall on the bottom shelves

- two users to pass one another
- a reader to squat down to read the labels on the books on the bottom
- a book truck to be wheeled between the stacks.

46 * sl \I, 46 \I, 90 v/ 46
m m 0 m

measurements in cm.
152 School furniture handbook

Shelf Capacity
The following figures are taken from 'The College Resource Centre',
Ontario Department of Education, 1971.

Volumes per metre of shelving:

non-fiction 26

general literature
history 23
art (excluding folios)

technical 20
scientific I
public documents
bound periodicals

Book heights and depths (academic libraries):

height. % of ) depth, % of ;
collection collection

13cm or less 25
15~x11 or less I I 54
18cm or less
2Ocm or less 25
23~x11 or less 54

Shelves are often supplied with means of allowing adjustment. Adjustment

is a way of increasing shelf capacity by varying shelf depth to suit the
size of book. The diagrams below show some of the c,ommon systems:

peg and hole system: the pegs are made of wood,

metal or plastic. The pegs tend to get lost.

One version is to drill two small holes in the side of the shelf at the
same level, roughly at l/4 of the width from the edges. A groove having
the same width as the diameter of the holes is made in the middle of the
thickness of the ends of the shelf for just over three quarters of the
width of the shelf, terminating just before the front edge of the shelf.
2.9 Storage facilities 153

A metal rod shaped like a very wide "U" is inserted in the two holes at
the level required, and the shelf is slid into place.

cantilever pegs of pressed metal or plastic engage

in two holes to form a strong triangulated support.
This is usually used in a 'ladder' system of adjust-
able shelving. The system is stronger than the
first example, but it does not eliminate the prob-
lem of the lost peg.

a formed plastic liner is bonded to the inside of

the shelf uprights. This system dispenses with the
peg altogether. It has the advantage that drawers
can be used interchangeably with shelves.

a shelf between masonry uprights, the cement render

is formed as a ledge to support the shelf.


The problem is one of a great variety of different objects of varying size

and weight. Objects can be divided into those used frequently and those
used infrequently. In addition, fragile objects and valuable objects both
have their special requirements.
The usual way of storing such items is
in cupboards, either built-in or free-standing. The sketch below shows
three different cupboard configurations. In order to contain diverse items
of equipment the cupboards may be fitted with drawers, shelves, pigeon
holes (horizontal and vertical divisions), card indexes, files and bins.
154 School furniture handbook

The drawback of (1) the traditional school cupboard is that it gives a

fixed mixture of these elements. It might be suitable for the storage
needs of a particular group of people, at a particular time, in a part-
icular space or room, but it cannot be adapted to changing needs. Al-
though the cupboard can be used under changed circumstances, it will be
found to be inconvenient and to contain more empty space than equipment.
A first step (2) is to replace fixed drawers and shelves with a system
of rails that can take either shelves or drawers and at any given height.
However, the outer dimensions of the cupboard carcase hinder flexibility
in use. File drawers and plan drawers, for example vary greatly in
width and are not conveniently fitted into the same carcase.

A further refinement (3) is to make carcase units or 'containers' of

varying sizes that can be used individually or piled on top of one an-
other. The containers can then be fitted out with the different compon-
ents, in order to contain the various items of equipment. Containers
can be added or subtracted as the need arises.

One good system consists of nine different sizes of container made

of self-skinning, rigid polyurethane foam. The largest measures 1.44 x
0.96 x 0.72m, the smallest 0.36 x 0.48 x 0.48m. The containers can be
rigidly clipped together, either back to back, side by side, or on top
of one another, to form any required size of storage unit. The inside
surfaces of the containers are drilled and slotted so that they can be
fitted out with any of the following:

- shelves, either solid or open wire

- vertical divisions, either solid or open wire
- pigeon holes
- cupboard doors, hinged from the top, bottom or sides, with or without
- different types and depths of drawer
- card catalogue drawers
- coat hook bar
- periodical racks
- record racks
2.9 Storage facilities 155

In addition, the containers can be mounted on wheels to form trolleys,

or mounted on specially designed plinths that can be slid, with a tow
bar, over a carpeted floor. Further, panel units can be clipped to
them to form tables, screens or pin-up boards. This form of storage
is particularly useful in open plan areas, (see 2.2 'Open Plan') where
it can be used as a space divider.

The disadvantage of the system is its expense. It can be seen that when
units are put together there is a duplication of horizontal and vertical
divisions. Fixed-in wall storage will be cheaper because it gains rig-
idity from the wall and borrows it as a back. But the fixed position
of wall storage will limit the possibility of changes in furniture lay-
out. The following is proposed by the Counties Furniture Group (Cm)
for a typical primary class area.
156 School furniture handbook










The following points are to be noted in regard to the correct ergono-

metric design of these elements:

(1) sufficient clearance for the foot at plinth level

(2) the correct height of the working surface this can be calculated
es (stature + 247) x 0.47 (see 2.4
(3) the correct depth of working surface, this will be dependent on the
reach at standing height. This has been defined as: comfortable
reach: (stature - 152) x 0.44 and maximum reach: (stature - 339)
x 0.75 (see 2.4 'Anthropometry')
(4) depth and height of upper storage unit. This will be dependent
both on reach and on the sight line to the edge of the working
surface. Eye height standing can be calculated as 0.93 of stature
(see 2.4 'Anthropometry')
2.9 Storage facilities 157

light objects
infrequently used

light objects
frequently used

heavy objects
frequently used working surface
light and medium
weight objects
frequently used

i i Id I heavy

The following hierarchy of storage is proposed bytheDepartment of Educ-

ation and Science in the UK for use in colleges of further education.


Students will usually have the following to store:

- text and exercise books, pencils, etc.