Great Woodshops: Using Wood to Make Waves


Reuben Margolin uses scraps to explore science, nature and math.
By Raphael Rosen
Pages: 74-77

From the February 2009 issue #174
Buy this issue now

At this moment, Reuben Margolin is building a gigantic wooden sculpture that moves. It’s titled “Yellow Linear Wave,” and is one of his many creations – usually built out of discarded pieces of redwood, bits of leftover metal and fishing tackle – that he calls “geometrical constructions flavored by art.”

“Yellow Linear Wave” is 16′ long, 6′ wide and has 120 rods topped with poplar blocks painted yellow. While it’s made mostly from poplar and Finnish plywood, it also includes parts of aluminum and UHMW (a slippery kind of plastic).

But what does it do?

Margolin created this sculpture to explore what happens when a sine wave with three peaks is added to a sine wave with four peaks – or, in general, to find out what happens when he adds two waves with different wavelengths. The whole thing is powered by two electric motors, and its movement mechanism is controlled by Dacron string.

Margolin, who is based in Emeryville, Calif., uses wood to explore natural phenomena,
from the motion of a caterpillar, to the way the wind blows over a wheat field. His creations use the familiar material of wood in ways that would surprise a typical woodworker, including constructions that employ wood to mimic how a drop of water hits a lake or even to illustrate a complex math equation.

While his work is definitely artistic sculpture, Margolin’s work also appeals to the mechanical mind, thanks to his own fascination with gears, cams and pulleys.


From the February 2009 issue #174
Buy this issue now