Monday 9 July 2018
Some time ago, your favourite furniture magazine commissioned a new and very enlightening series of articles on design, the first couple of which were written by Tony Wills, a partner in Wills Watson+Associates. Tony's first piece appeared in F&C 210, with the last paragraph of the article mentioning a nifty little product called 'Button Fix'. Those eagle-eyed readers who avidly devour every page won't have failed to spot that there was also a half-page advert in the same issue opposite a rather cunning and fiendishly 'difficult' Japanese floor lamp.
Having finished reading the article, Button Fix seemed to be a unique and very clever little gadget. A look at the website showed that it's clearly a lot more than the sum of its parts, but what exactly is it? Let's find out.
I was intrigued and noticed that a free and gratis sample could be ordered, simply by completing the link on the website. The small package arrived within 24 hours and on opening it, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the manufacture – all the component parts were precision made from injection-moulded, glass-filled nylon.
To put it in a nutshell, Button Fix is a way of hanging a panel of any size, of almost any thickness, in any configuration – including upside down – and to almost any material that the user could possibly imagine. In addition, the nature of the beast means that it's also quite easy to remove the panel if required. However, with a little imagination there are applications that might possibly go beyond hanging panels, which could include securing a cantilever load, such as a cabinet to a wall or partition.
The Button Fix system consists of a number of separate components: a 'Type 1', for fixing panels together across their broad faces and a 'Type 2', where one panel is to be secured at 90° to another. Both work in exactly the same way, where a circular button locates into a 'C' shaped orifice – the 'fix' – in much the same way that a circlip can be used to hold a ball bearing race in position around a shaft. Two types of buttons are supplied and are colour coded for easy identification. The lime green variety is designed to take a 5mm diameter countersunk wood screw and the orange is meant for a 6.2mm diameter Varianta Euro screw, which is suitable for material such as particle board or thin panels. In addition, there are 'Type 1' and 'Type 2' marker accessories – the red components – that are almost indispensable and make the job of marking out the various hole positions mere child's play. There's also a safety cord, which can be used with the 'Type 2' fix if there's a possibility that one panel may come adrift from the other. The final part of the system is the beautifully made, precision router template complete with four machine screws for the 'Type 1' fix. It's produced from 10mm-thick, melamine face phenolic resin and can be either screwed or clamped to one of the panels. It's used for recessing the fix into a panel and if a large number of Button Fixes are used in this way, then the not inconsiderable purchase of the template is almost mandatory.
One of the best features of the system is the website: www.button-fix.com. It's a very comprehensive, easily navigable site, giving a vast amount of technical information and prospective users are recommended to spend some time perusing it in order to fully acquaint themselves with the nuances of the system. The FAQ section is particularly informative as many of the queries that a potential user would wish to know about are answered in considerable detail.
For the purposes of this article, I used some oddments of 12mm MDF and a piece of 18mm marine ply, though any thickness of material could be used provided that the screws gave sufficient purchase to hold the panel.
I started with the 'Type 1' and drew a pencil line down the centre of my first test piece, onto which the fix was placed. Should a need arise to manually install them, there are comprehensive PDF instructions on the website giving precise hole dimensions for each of the fixes. There are a couple of tiny indents at the top and bottom of the moulding that make it easy to align the vertical position of the fix. Alternatively, the 'Type 2' marker accessory could be used with a try square to make a couple of small indentations to show the position of the holes. The screw holes in the fixes are also slightly elongated which allows some lateral movement before they're fully tightened. Having screwed the fix to the panel, push in a 'Type 1' marker accessory and offer up the second panel, so that it locates in the desired position, in this case with the edges of both panels aligned. Push down to make a mark, screw in the appropriate button and connect the panels.
It really is as simple as that!
When the 'Type 1' fix is used in this way – face fixed – there is a gap of 8mm between both panels, but by recessing the fix, the distance is considerably reduced to 3mm.
The 'Type 2' fix works in exactly the same way and is a simple click fit intended for 90° fixings. It is strong enough for the panel, but not for cantilevered loads. The 'Type 2' alignment accessory is used to mark the screw hole positions in one panel. A 'Type 1' marker is clipped in place and the second panel offered up at 90°. The indentation is made, the button screwed in place and the panel slotted into position. Should there be a danger that one of the panels could inadvertently separate, a security cord can be introduced using a second button.
As previously mentioned, this is used to recess a 'Type 1' fix into a panel. Inserting the machine screws into the threaded holes gives a matrix of round steel projections against which the panel can be located. Altering the position of the screws will allow the recesses to be positioned along the top, bottom, side or corner of a panel.
The template can be screwed into the middle of a panel without the projections for extra recesses. Once the desired recess position has been ascertained, the template is flipped over and placed on the corner of the panel. It can either be screwed in place using the countersunk holes provided on the template, or cramped into position.
A 12mm cutter with an 18mm guide bush – or any combination providing the same offset – will produce a 5mm deep routed slot, which will accept the fix so that it's around 3mm proud of the panel surface when it is screwed into place.
Separating the panel
It's quite feasible to hang a complete board of 18mm MDF in the vertical position and moreover, very securely. It's recommended that fixes are used at 600mm intervals and once together, this method of joining, especially with such a large and heavy panel, would be quite difficult to part. However, such is the subtlety of the design, the user may wonder at the little 'tear' shaped holes apparent on each side of the 'C' shape that clips onto the button. Their purpose is simple: by removing the thin sectioned material with a suitable tool – say an electrician's screwdriver – the click fit is removed, thus making it easier to take apart should the need arise.
Strength of the fix
One of the most important considerations of this system must be the strength of the fixings. As anyone will attest who has moved around a quantity of 18mm MDF boards, they're not something you want to drop on your foot, let alone fall off the wall. So just how strong is the Button Fix system?
Independent tests – details of which are available here – have shown that a single 'Type 1' fix, used on panels made from 18mm MDF with the correct screws, will shear at an incredible 391.3kg, or in old money, that's 863lbs! Which is nearly half a ton. For an application where the strength or appropriateness of the fixing(s) to a particular material may be problematic, it's again recommended to consult the website.
There is a vast amount of gadgets and gizmos produced for the market each year for all sorts of purposes. I suspect that in 95% of cases they're mostly a re-hash of something that's already been made before and, as such, could usefully be consigned to the 'also ran' area of redundant ideas. Button Fix seems to be one those products that fills up the remaining 5% as one where a genuinely innovative design, coupled with superb engineering concepts and materials, has produced a product that is now widely available, not only in the UK, but also in Europe, North America and shortly the Far East, Australia and New Zealand.