Well this is NOT an April Fools Joke!

We give a big tip of the hat to the folks over at FOC (Freedom of Creation).   First off, on the morning of March 31 (at least here in the US), FOC displayed a picture of a 3D powder printer (perhaps a 510?) with non-standard powder inside (we call it 3DP off-roading).   We were thrilled that another group had taken up the call.  Second, we said “OH @#$#%^^$!” when we read the article, as we were about to announce that we really are printing in wood.   Twitter was exploding with FOC retweets, and various blogs were picking up the story.   Not the day to post on wood.  We made the decision to let FOC enjoy their day in the sun (and what a foolish day it was).  The next day, FOC fessed up that their 31 March story was an expert prank.  Nicely done, FOC!   They tagged their note with a challenge for someone to step up and make a 3d printer for wood.    If you think that’s a neat idea, then you should know the printer already exists–the challenge is adapting the materials and print processes to the particular requirements of wood 3dp.  We have figured out how.

If you have been following us, you know that we are relentless in our quest to experiment with a wide variety of materials for 3DP.  This story starts, again, almost one year ago.   While working with one of our DXArts PhD students Meghan Trainor, we got this crazy idea to try printing in wood (you see wood was very near and dear to Meghan’s heart as it were – something about a carpenter).

We had some issues locating a supply of wood powder (or wood flour as it’s called).   It is used primarily as a filler in various polymers and plastics OR as an abrasive finishing polish.   Most wood flours are really not wood but rather nut shell flours or even tree bark flour.

There was also some trouble getting an adhesive that really worked well.  Meghan went through a bench testing process, and everything looked quite promising (at the time PVA+Maltodextrin was the best that we had found).    She printed out our standard test bars (10 x 10 x 100 mm) but the results were never strong enough.   Meghan proved it worked, but the results left us wishing for something better.  We parked the idea.

A year passed and along came the teams of artists (composed of Juliana Meira do Valle and Kate Lien).  Juliana is a DXArts/Art major and Kate is an 3D4M/Art major  interested in sculpture.  There is nothing like an artist to push engineering in interesting (and useful!) directions.

“We would like to take another try at printing in wood using that new powdered adhesive as part of  our project!”

“Ok J, you know the process, just do the same thing that you did with the bone.”  “Come back when you are through bench testing.”

Several weeks turned into about half of the current class  term.   We saw bench results showing up in paper cups, and the results kept getting better.   We even shellaced one of the test pieces  (we were impressed).

Bench Testing Wood Powders

Photograph by  Juliana Meira do Valle @ 2011

“What are you going to print?”

“Wooden Bones! Is there any other choice?”

Wooden Bones with Test Bars

Photograph by  Juliana Meira do Valle @ 2011

Wood Recipe

Powdered Wood Flour   — 4-5 parts by weight
(use your favorite nut/wood flour @ 200-300 mesh)
UF plastic resin glue   —  1 part by weight

Charlie Wyman was not so patiently waiting for his turn at getting in the print queue for the wood powder printer.   He knew that good things wood come if he just waited.

When we print in wood, we may choose to print in any one of a variety of powder products (black walnut shells, southern pecan shells, wood bark, or maybe just wood flour).   Since many people have nut allergies, we thought that a warning sign was needed for our door.

After all, folks should take very seriously–even on April 1–a sign on a university laboratory that says,

“Caution: May Contain Nuts!”

11 Comments on Woodn’t You Know It – 3DP in wood

  1. You should experiment with making your mixture out of a couple of different types of wood flour (some lighter, some darker) and then use a non-uniform mixture to see if you can get your printing layers to resemble wood grain. This is what I assumed FOC had done.

  2. […] be fed into their machine. After half a year of experimentation and tweaking Open3DP is pleased to announce their […]

  3. ganter says:

    Dear Whos, We did something similar to your suggestion in glass (before):


    However, one can make really nice wood texture by printing out the part with a skew orientation. This produces layer contours that are interesting and often wood-like.

  4. […] Original: 3DP in wood blog comments powered by Disqus […]

  5. wtjy says:

    Wow, I think this article is really interesting… never thought you could 3dp in wood! impresseeddd :)

  6. Will says:

    “Caution: May Contain Nuts!” Ha! I love it!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Very impressive innovation. I can already see how useful this could be once perfected. Literally anyone could make anything from a simple sculpture to fine furniture right in the comfort of their own homes.

  8. Pat41 says:

    Great work, but I have some questions. How have you applied the individual layers of wood flour to get layers which are thin, smooth and plane? I can imagine that it isnt that easy, because of the structure of the wood particles. Did you use a roller or and/or a sieve? How thick must be each layer, to get a good result (0,1mm?)?

  9. ganter says:

    Patrick, the wood powder is spread via machine. Go to 3ders.org and look at the intro-to-3d-printing. You will a Zcorp powder printer in action.

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