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Getting Grain Effects in Wood Composite 3D Printing

24. February 2020 10:35

 Wishing you could print wood in a 3D printer? Hatchbox is among a number of firms that offer filaments for 3D printing. The Wood PLA Hybrid is universally designed to be compatible with printers using 1.75mm diameter filament, with a dimensional accuracy of +/- 0.03mm.

Wood PLA Hybrid - Polylactic Acid with fine wood particles mixed in (below)  is a commonly used thermoplastic material that does not require the use of a heated print bed. Blending a mixture of plant-based materials, polymers, and wood particles creates a material that is more earth-friendly than plain plastic.

Hatchbox notes you'll be able to sand and stain the finished product to give it a wood finish, and that is exactly what Justine Haupt did in replacing the moulded wood top plate on her concertina using its wood composite filament. A concertina is a free-reed musical instrument, like a small accordion.  It has an expanding and contracting bellows, with buttons (or keys) usually on both ends.  

The Suttner concertina shown here by way of explanation can be ordered with flat ends made from German silver, rosewood, ebony or cocobolo, or raised ends made from German silver or hardwood in black. Haupt was replacing an end piece that was raised, and so decided to replicate it with a  printed piece using Hatchbox Wood-Filled PLA. After printing it was sanded, stained, and varnished. 

"Fresh out of the printer doesn't look like wood at all," Haupt notes. "I used 60-grit sandpaper to completely remove the printed surface finish. 60-grit might seem excessively course but I feel the results are better this way, in part because one must be sure to completely remove the natural finish. Also, the deep gouges left by the coarse grit seem to more closely match natural wood grain."

Since the sandpaper is what leaves a wood-like grain, "It's important to sand in one direction only. In this case, it was much easier to sand the perimeter wall, as I was able to take advantage of the printed layer lines. In hindsight, it might be better to print something like this on-edge to take advantage of this effect where it most matters. In the end, even with all the sanding, the perimeter walls were most convincingly wooden. " 

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