Everyone knows wood comes from trees, right? Israeli scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem are working to expand that maxim. They’ve developed a wood-based ink that can be used to 3-D print “real” wooden objects. Is this the furniture or building material of the future?
Small items from the lab of Doron Kam, a doctoral student at the Hebrew University, twist and warp as they dry. Some end up looking like potato chips or pieces of spiral pasta. They are made of a mixture of wood shavings and other natural ingredients.
Length, breadth, and depth make up the three dimensions (3-D) that reflect shape. Kam and others describe their printed wood as 4-D. The fourth dimension refers to time. For the lab-made wood, 4-D means that the shape changes over time.
God designed the structure and orientation of natural wood’s cells to change shape as wood dries. Many factors, including size, thickness, and weather conditions, affect shrinkage.
Researchers like Kam make their ink from wood waste—like bark, sawdust, stumps, shavings—and other natural ingredients. Once the fluids in the wood-ink evaporate, the objects shrink and warp.
Scientists have developed ways to program and control the shrinkage. By printing in a certain pattern and adjusting the number of layers and printing speed, they can determine how the ink will warp as it dries.
“If we are printing in high flow rates or high speeds or slow flow rate or if we’re doing different patterns of the printing, . . . the end result will be different,” says Kam.
The end product is designed to be recyclable and sustainable, and to “mimic nature.” Kam says such qualities are needed in a world that suffers from long-lasting, non-biodegradable materials like plastic.
“If you have a broken chair we can take the broken chair, chop it down, and then you can print your own chair again, again, and again,” he says.
Scientists hope that in the future, printing wood will allow manufacturers to produce complicated objects.
“We’re trying to deliver a message to engineers and to designers that you can use this tool to produce other stuff,” Kam says, hinting at other uses for wood ink. “I think it’s a really, really nice fertile ground.”
Why? Seeking to rebuild something broken is an impulse given by God, who alone can fix human brokenness. It’s also often an act of mercy as well as innovation.