Make Your Own Transparent Wood

Want to bring your fine antique furniture into the 21st century? Make it clear with transparent wood. That’s what [blorggg] is doing over on, and it looks cool enough to have a some interesting and novel applications besides small, clear test pieces.

The recipe for transparent wood is surprisingly simple, and all the ingredients are readily available from a drug store or home supply store. First, the wood is soaked in a bath containing lye and sodium sulfite for several hours. The wood is then bleached in a bath of hydrogen peroxide. After this, the wood is transparent, but very weak. Infusing the wood with epoxy resin strengthens the wood.

We first heard about this process back in May when the the paper [blorggg] based his recipe on came to light. the lye and sodium sulfite are frequently used in the paper industry to dissolve the lignin in wood. By removing the lignin, the microscopic structure of a piece of wood becomes just a series of tubes and thin cell walls. After bleaching, adding the epoxy shores up the now exceptionally weak structure of a block of wood.

While the original researchers only made two pieces of transparent wood – end grain and cross grain basswood, inexplicably referred to as R-wood and L-wood – [blorggg] is taking this much further. He’s using plywood to great effect, and the process is simple enough to expand to woods a bit weirder than basswood. If you have some scrap walnut, burl, or some exotic wood, this might be something to try out.

39 thoughts on “Make Your Own Transparent Wood

  1. Interesting project but dissolving / removing the lignin from wood is the main reason why the paper industry is very toxic for the environment. Not sure we need transparent wood so badly when we already have glass and plastics.

    1. Sure. But the paper production companies has some recycle process for most of the chemicals products from digesters because is cheaper than throw to the drain.

    2. The chemical used to remove lignin is basically lye, nothing else. Compared to the chemicals used in plastics, this is nothing.

      The resulting liquid is extremely rich in energy and is used to fuel a furnace, which used to drive a generator, producing more electricity than the pulp mill is using. The ash is used to make new lye and the circle is complete. This is how we roll.

  2. Please! Stop to call it “Transparent Wood”. Wood is a natural product and has lignin on the composition.
    This process is very similar to the cellophane production.

    1. So I should not call it “transparent wood” to distinguish it from regular wood? The nice thing here is that I can take a block of wood, carve it how ever I please, then render it translucent and strong. I don’t care what you want to call it or not. It’s a winner in my book (even my transparent book haha)

  3. … now if you have some novel method of turning the lignin in to something edible, or indeed useful in some other way, I might be interested. Your novel method would of course have to be both clean and energy efficient.

  4. To add to the tips I gave in May, try looking into the “Synthesis and Thermal Properties of Epoxidized Vegetable Oil” to make the entire product more renewable. The yellowing in the samples shown is probably just an issue with production control. As for choices of wood I’d try and find a reference that listed relevant structural data for each species.

    This is one, but it may not be the best,

    Some ratio of porosity and fibre length should give you the strongest, yet still process friendly, wood to turn into a plywood.

  5. Is it stronger than plain epoxy? Use significantly less epoxy than a block of plain epoxy the same size? Is there a reason to actually do this, since it really isn’t in any way wood anymore?

    1. one possible special purpose would be water proof plywood — I think the lignin and cellulose are pest and rot resistant. So the resultant material could be quite useful. We only have to make some and set up some scientific experiments.

      BTW, I have an art/practical project where I would love to make some of this stuff. PM me if you are in the Washington DC area and want to experiment.

    1. Try resins other than epoxy. How does it work with urethanes or polyester? Does the remaining wood structure add significantly (if at all) to strength over a plain slab of resin?

      Of course you should follow any post-cure heat treat method recommended by the resin manufacturer. I find what works very well is a countertop convection oven, or for lower heat applications a food dehydrator. Flowing hot air is a must. When I started out working with resins I tried using an old oven, just radiant heat. Failed big time.

  6. How do you make transparent wood? Let the invisible man into the women’s change room! Still interesting question, how much stronger is polymerized soft wood (say pine) than regular soft wood? What about other polymerized plant fiber? Recycled polymerized paperboard?

  7. Dammit, I should have asked when this first came out:
    Where, specifically is sodium sulfite “readily available from a drug store or home supply store.”?
    Would be really handy to know…

  8. can anyone explain how to clean up / dispose of the waste in an ecologically sound manner? If I am not mistaken all of this should not just be poured down the drain (without possibly neutralizing). I am also interested in looking at compressing it along the lines of . From what I understand the processes are similar.

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