It started with the intention to invent a construction system that was better and different than any other existing system. Our goal was to have the following key features:

  • The builder must be able to cut the parts easily to what is needed.
  • The system should be more solid, and have user-friendly tools to achieve that.
  • The building blocks should have dimensions in 5 and 10 mm increments.
  • The Totem principle should be more open to combine with third-party parts, like electronics and mechanics.
  • Use a combination of plastics and metal to achieve light and strong builds.
  • The Totem parts must be well suited for combining with 3D printed parts.

So from these starting specifications and requirements, we invented the Totem building system.

 

Totem has adopted methods to cut parts to your need

For the first time, a small construction system is designed for cutting the parts to desired size. Just like a carpenter cuts his planks or boards to the length needed from longer pieces, Totem has adopted this. It’s about time. No need to have huge amount of parts in your workshop to be able to build your project. In addition, you can change the design underway if your initial idea wasn’t optimal.

Totem philosophy example with carpenter

Fig. 1 – Illustrating that what other systems are based on, is not a natural one. You don’t go to buy wooden planks
in all your exact needed lengths. You buy long enough planks and cut at home. This also applies to Totem,
in seconds the Beam Pro-Cutter and Board Pro-Cutter cuts the beams easily and accurately.

 

totemmaker philosophy totem beam and board cutting

Fig. 2 – Originally our tools for cutting the parts were simple, using a knife for
cutting boards and a special saw with a jig for cutting beams.

Totem philosophy totem beam pro-cutter and totem board pro-cutter tools

Fig. 3 – Now we have much more improved tools for cutting the parts, like the Beam Pro-Cutter (on the left)
and Board Pro-Cutter (on the right) you see in the pictures. They will cut parts in seconds.

 

Totem philosophy boards in various sizes

Fig. 4 – From 1 board 100×100 mm, you can cut 190 different sizes of boards.
In this drawing we only show a few. If we add triangular cut boards to the
equation, there are even more part variations.

Why is it so important to have the cut-to-need principle?

With one 40 cm Totem I-Beam, you can make all lengths from 1 cm to 40 cm in 1 cm steps. This is 40 parts already. If you have 3 colours, from 3 parts you can make 120 parts. In other building systems, you would have to have all 120 parts if you wanted to be complete.

When you then add boards, the advantage of cutting boards reduce the number of parts needed in your stock even more drastically. All possible sizes to cut from a 10×10 cm Totem perforated board is 190! If you have 3 colours, the number of parts becomes 570 different sizes.
And with strip brackets, that you cut in 5 mm steps, you get 40 different lengths from one.

From 7 parts in the Totem system, 3 colours of 40 cm Totem Beam, 3 colours of Totem Board and a 20 cm strip bracket you can generate 730 different parts!

You don’t need all dimensions in your stock of parts in a building system when using Totem. You cut larger parts to the parts you need! The Totem system is unique, no other systems has the concept of cutting parts as a core property.

Totem philosophy cutting strip bracket

Fig. 5 – It’s easy to cut the versatile aluminum strip brackets. Here we use cutter-pliers (side cutter)
to cut between the 3 mm holes. The strip bracket comes in 20 cm length.

Using tools when building with Totem

The tools you use to cut the Totem parts to your desired size are especially designed to do that in a user-friendly way. It’s super quick as well. It’s a gratifying feeling to use tools when building your project. You feel liberated that you do not need all the different parts in your stock.
And using the tools is fun. The super magnetic screwdriver makes it a joy to handle the M3 bolts. Also cutting beams and boards is quick.

Totem philosophy magnetic screwdriver and totem beam

Fig. 6 – The core method to build with Totem is to join things together with 3 mm screws, and to
insert the 6×10 mm nuts into the slots in the beams. With the super magnetic screwdriver your
other hand is free to hold parts when screwing. It’s very handy for both left-handed and right-handed.

Most other construction systems don’t use tools, it’s often a snap together way of building. Young builders will not learn much about tool handling by just using snap-together method all the time. But the tools must be user friendly, so that they are a fun way to get used to handling tools. The result is also much stronger, which makes the result more usable in a real world.

Using a building technique that is used in Totem, young people will get more into the way real mechanics is done. They will benefit from this learning if they later want to go into engineering. Learn engineering and mechanics in a realistic and fun way. Kids that use Totem will learn mechanics and engineering skills better and faster!

The Totem Beam is the core building part

The Totem Beam with its unique, patented geometry has the most directionally open building method amongst other building systems. Beams can be attached to other beam in nearly all directions, with a strong joint. Other systems can only expand with other “beams” in 2 directions, at best. The Totem Beam can easily expand in all 4 directions from anywhere on the beam. Also, with the help of 45-degree joints, many other directions are possible.

This means that you are freer to accomplish your ideas for your project. In other building systems you must back-track and remove parts more often than you need in Totem. No other building system provides such a wide number of connections possible from one beam type.

Totem beams going to many various directions

Fig. 7 – Here is an illustration of 6 beams connected together in a cross. The connections are
strong and sturdy. This connection principle and geometry is patented world wide.

The Totem Beam is patented throughout the world and differs from other traditional constructions systems. The concept of building has been re-thought and traditional ways have been discarded, or at best kept when they are the best solution.

One more important advantage of The Totem system is that it has adopted a decimal metric system for it’s dimensions. It’s all about effectiveness. Most other systems have either inch, or if they are millimeter-based, it is either 8- or 12-mm. Totem has gone for 10 mm, a natural unit, when considering ease of calculating and the future in science and technology.

The Totem Beam comes in a 40 cm length. This provides you with a way to build large models. You can make models that are lighter than other systems for the size. The Totem system is brilliantly clever in how you piece together the parts, as there are so many ways and directions you can connect parts together. Probably the best solution to this would be a Totem XL Maker Kit, which contains Beams, Boards, many various kind of bolts, brackets and nuts, and let’s you conveniently realize your ideas into projects.

totem philosophy various joints and hinges of totem beams

Fig. 8 – A selection of connection methods in Totem. These are fixed, strong connections.
In addition moving connections are possible, like hinges and rotating hubs.

totem beams strengthened with strip brackets

Fig. 9 – A few examples of how hinges can easily be made with Totem brackets.

Strong builds with Totem

Our system uniqueness is a combination of ABS plastic and metal parts. This combination provides some important features:

  • The joints between parts becomes extraordinarily strong and sturdy.
  • The beams are connected to each other without rattle or becoming loose.
  • It will take slightly longer to build, but the result is stronger than snap-methods.

totem beams strengthened with strip brackets are sturdy and strong

Fig. 10 – In constructions, made from Totem parts, 6 glass bottles can be
carried around without worrying about falling apart or wobbling.

In addition, combining beams with the aluminum strip brackets, strengthens the beams even more, if required. Thus, large structures can be made, still being sturdy, light and strong. Totem provides the strongest constructions while still maintaining a light weight.

totem building Theo Jansen Strandbeest variation robot construction

Fig. 11 – Here we are building a Theo Jansen Strandbeest robot variation construction. It shows how Totem
is perfect for building large and strong models. By the way, it might become a model for sale, when the
model is improved and made easier to build. Or feel free to build it yourself with the help of Maker Kit.

robot models built with totemmaker parts

Fig. 12 – Other examples of large models that can be realized with Totem. The models examples
shown here are more than 50 cm length, are lightweight and robust. The car on the left is a
4-wheel drive car, and can be driven outdoors off-road.

Openness of Totem system

We always wanted our system to be as open as possible, meaning the third-party parts can be connected and fixed to a Totem design. E.g. standard DC motors or Servo motors. We offer them in our store but you don’t need to buy a special “Totem motor” to have it fixed to your model. As well as all sorts of other electronics you may want to use. The world is flooding with various electronic modules, that may easily be part of a Totem construction. Totem provides brackets that are adjustable, so parts with all kind of dimensions may be easily attached.

Totemmaker examples of motors

Fig. 13 – Some examples of popular motors used for building models. Geared motors and servo motors.
We try to keep to the 3 mm standard for screws to fix the different objects.

Totemmaker Mini lab frame example

Fig. 14 – Here is an example from BioMaker at the university of Cambridge. They needed to fix many
different electronics modules together to make an experiments unit. With our adjustable brackets,
you will be able to fix virtually almost anything to your construction.

Choose your own motors and electronics to use in a Totem project. We in Totem want you to have the freedom to attach all kind of objects into your build. Our adjustable brackets are made for this. Totem doesn’t limit your possibilities by making you use special “Totem motors” or “Totem electronics”, choose your preferred ones! And that’s one more uniqueness feature of Totem system. No other system encourage you to connect with your choice of non-Totem parts. Do you have a motor of some kind? Chances are it is easy to use in a Totem model.

3D-printed parts used in Totem

The Totem system is perfect for combining it with 3D printed parts. In fact, we provide 3D-printed parts in many of our kits. This ensures a very rapid and easy way from prototype to finished product. But you can 3D-print parts yourself and easily use them in your project. The properties of Totem rely a lot on using standard bolt, 3 mm diameter. It provides a strong fix between the 3D-parts and Totem parts.

Totem also gives out printing files for free if you want to use our 3D-printed parts. Just email us! We have designed a lot of useful parts, that you can download for free.

No other construction system is this open to attaching 3D printed parts into your project. The freedom to use your own designed 3D parts opens up your freedom for creativity.

Totem 3D parts

Fig. 15 – Attaching 3D-printed parts to Totem constructions is easy. And it gives you so much freedom to
achieve what you want to build. We normally advice to use 3 mm bolts to fix the parts to either beams,
Totem perforated boards, or Aluminum Strip Brackets.

Conclusion

Well, last words so far. We will continue to develop the Totem construction system continuously. There will be more parts and design features coming steadily from us.

However the basic philosophy stands, Totem is for learning, having fun, but one reward is that your finished build can really be used. It is strong and tough enough for even professional use. And young people will learn more proper mechanics, and enjoy using our tools.