Sawdust Printer Goes Against The Grain By Working With Wood Waste

Wood-infused filament has been around for awhile now, and while it can be used to create some fairly impressive pieces, the finished product won’t fool the astute observer. For one thing, there’s no grain to it (not that every piece needs to show grain). For another, you can’t really throw it on a fire for emergency heating like you could with actual wood.

But a company called Desktop Metal has created a new additive manufacturing process for wood and paper waste called Forust (get it?) that gets a lot closer to the real thing. It might be an environmental savior if it catches on, though that depends on what it ends up being good for.

The company’s vision is to produce custom and luxury wood products — everything from sophisticated pencil cups to stunning furniture, and to take advantage of the nearly limitless geometry afforded by additive manufacturing. Forust uses the single-pass binder jetting method of 3D printing to lay down layers of sawdust and lignin and then squirt out some glue in between each one to hold them together.

Although Desktop Metal doesn’t mention a curing process for Forust in their press release, post-processing for solidity and longevity is the norm in binder jetting, which is usually done with ceramic or metal-based materials.

Let’s talk about those wood grains. Here’s what the press release says:

Digital grain is printed on every layer and parts can then be sanded, stained, polished, dyed, coated, and refinished in the same manner as traditionally-manufactured wood components. Software has the ability to digitally reproduce nearly any wood grain, including rosewood, ash, zebrano, ebony and mahogany, among others. Parts will also support a variety of wood stains at launch, including natural, oak, ash, and walnut.

Beauty and workability are one thing. But this will only be worthwhile if the pieces are strong. This is something that isn’t too important for pencil holders, but is paramount for furniture. Forust’s idea is to ultimately save the trees, but how are they going to get sawdust and lignin without the regular wood industry — they want to be circular and envision recycling of their goods at end-of-life into new goods

We wondered if the wood waste printer would ever become a thing. You know, there’s more than one way to print in sawdust — here’s a printer that stacks up layers of particle boards and carves them with a CNC.

Images via Forust

28 thoughts on “Sawdust Printer Goes Against The Grain By Working With Wood Waste

  1. I have real misgivings about the strength too. This sounds like printing particle board. And particle board has so many ways to fail that there is only one reason I don’t believe Satan invented it in the deepest depths of Hell: it burns too easily to experiment on it down there.

  2. ” you can’t really throw it on a fire for emergency heating”
    Really? I use PLA printer fails and obsolete iterations for fuel for my fireplace. It makes excellent kindling and burns very cleanly – no smoke, no ash. I would have guess the wood-filled version is just as good.

    PETG is not so good, and I would not try this with ABS.

    1. True, in a hot fire PLA trash burns like candle wax. I don’t know what pigments “they” use in colored filaments but the flame color didn’t change when burning…
      There is next to no residue and no smell is noticeable.

  3. “This is something that isn’t too important for pencil holders, but is paramount for furniture”

    Only for structural elements. This would be good for decorative faux-exotic wood inlays and that sort of thing. Or high-end car interiors.

    1. For that we already have veneers and pressed laminates.

      The question is, does the grain even look real or is it just a close approximation that looks “fuzzy” on closer inspection? How long does it take to print etc.

  4. Years ago I read about some country that consumes a huge amount of some nut, maybe walnuts. I don’t know why they’re such a mania in that country, but it creates tons of walnut-shell waste. An enterprising company started grinding the shells up and mixing them with resin to make coffins, really beautiful coffins textured to look like any wood the buyer wanted.

    Oddly enough since the advent of the Internet I’ve not been able to find any reference to this story, but it was pretty cool at the time.

    Um… yeah.

      1. I used a sandblasting machine when I worked in an aluminium foundry briefly. It was fully enclosed with gauntlets to manipulate the part, I assume because of the risk of silicosis. If ground-up walnut shells were used instead of sand then perhaps the inhalation risk would make people a bit nutty.

        I’ll get my coat..

        1. Walnut shells are a good mild abrasive used in sandblasting stuff. Good for getting rid of old paint with out damaging the base material.
          Cleaning intake valve of engines is another are as the shells are soft enough not to cause damage to the piston and cylinders (if any gets in to the engine, you try to avoid it) bit hard enough to remove the oil/carbon sludge on direct injection motors intake valves

      2. Walnut shells are used to clean the turbine side of a container vessels turbocharger while running at full speed. Something around 2 to 3 liters of shells are injected by hard air into the exhaust stream. Daily. At full speed.

        (Just for dimensions: charger weights more than a ton alone, running at 25.000++ rpm. One for every cylinder. Big fun.)

    1. I don’t know about walnuts but I think cashews and brazil nuts produce lots of shell waste, maybe you were thinking about those? And cashews and brazil nuts are produced over the need for local consumption because North America and Europe love the nuts but can’t grow them! (Like banana’s, but harder to bite through unpeeled.)

  5. Even if wood 3d prints aren’t structurally sound. They should help with prototyping a part before making test prints.

    I really want something that’s biodegradable for the prints I’m planning on throwing out anyway.

    Also I like the idea of 3d printed decorative wood paneling. Who doesn’t want wood paneling on their 3D printed nerf blaster?

  6. My dad would save the sawdust from whatever he was working on, mix it with PVA wood glue, and use it as perfectly colour-matched filler. I guess that would be tricky to extrude though.

  7. The grain looks really nice. But how they do it is their secret sauce they aren’t sharing. I wonder if it’s really anything that couldn’t be accomplished with existing wood filament solutions. Aren’t those just plastic with as much sawdust mixed in as can be w/o loosing it’s printable properties? What’s wood paste? sawdust and epoxy? Sounds mushy, like it would take longer to cure and be more prone to losing it’s shape during the print.

    Maybe they are separating their sawdust by color and printing it with multi-heads or some kind of switching system. But if so is that really any different than typical multi-color 3d printing options with filament? One could easily fill multiple print heads or a filament switcher with different shades of wood filament.

    Or maybe they do it by changing the temperature. There are plenty of scripts out there that add horizontal stripes to wood filament prints by varying the print temperature at random layers. That’s kind of old news though, they had better not be trying to patent it or anything!

    Then again, it would be hard to make anything other than perfectly horizontal lines using the temperature method. It’s bad enough having to pause and wait for the head to heat up or cool down between layers. Imagine doing that multiple times per layer!

    Unless… They’ve combined the temperature method with nonplaner printing.

    I bet that’s it!

    Alright internet, time to go make a slicer that can do nonplaner printing and vary the nozzle temperature by layer.

    1. Actually, maybe it’s not just good for wood. Combining nonplanar printing with color switching in a really smart slicer might help reduce the number of color switches needed.

  8. I don’t know if you remember a car concept launching a few years ago from Toyota, a car that uses wood panels for the entire body. It was a very interesting idea due to the fact that wood workers don’t often find a job in the automotive industry and due to the fact that you could set up shop on a garage at home and carve new wood panels.

    Car was called the Toyota Setsuna and from the commerical is represented sustainable cross generation based hand me down sedan that’s reliable sort of service perhaps Mr.Toyoda appreciates himself. I am a fan of woody family wagons and surf mobiles, the idea of using freshly cut wood bums me out because that tree looks better planted than it could ever look as a dashboard or armrest. Plus no parasites, no bugs or pests, no fungis or growth inside the wood, nothing but fresh perfect design from start to finish.

    3d printing sawdust to turn it into works of art or functioning mechanisms- this is the way to go for sure, but look I’m a big fan of wooden mechanical wrist watches and even want to be buried under a tree when I’m dead and gone so the tree gets some extra juice. The best thing about 3d printing is it will redefine technology and overtime waves of changes have already begun, only a matter of effort before printing parts is the norm.

  9. I for one find this very exciting, this gives an easier way to reproduce the compressed/steamed sawdust appliques for drawers on things like early White and Singer treadle cabinets.

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