Introduction: Transparent Wood

Picture of Transparent Wood

Make strong and CLEAR composite materials with natural wood! Get all the strength of wood without all that darn opacity getting in your way! I figured out a quick and simple recipe with some cheap ingredients you can do right at home! Build wooden windows, or clear, wood cell-phone cases!

This video gives a quick overview of the whole thing, and shows some examples of the material in motion!

Theory

This is based off the paper by Zhu et al, called "Highly Anisotropic, Highly Transparent Wood Composites" http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.sci-hub.cc/doi/10.1...

The basic idea is that wood can be thought of as two parts:

Cellulose: Strong structural strings which are naturally clear

and

Lignin: a sort of opaque glue that holds all those strong cellulose fibers together

If you can strip away the opaque (and non-structural) parts of the wood (the lignin) and replace it with clear epoxy, then you will have all the strength of the Cellulose fibers, but also be able to see through it!

In this way, you are making a composite material, much like fiberglass! One of the extra cool things about this, though, is that you are able to retain the existing structures formed by the way the wood grew, to theoretically make it extra strong and lightweight!

Why This?

I saw lots of articles discussing this clever idea when this scientific paper first came out, and I wanted to see how do-able it would be as a simple process people can do at home. Turns out even with my basic, modified recipe, you can get some great results!

It's a pretty simple recipe that would be a fun experiment to do with kids to share ideas about chemicals and materials properties of wood. It can also as part of a design process

Note: This involves using some caustic chemicals. This is a first for me, so it was a bit out of my comfort zone, but I came through unscathed, and you can too! just use safety glasses and gloves!

Step 1: Materials and Recipe

Picture of Materials and Recipe

Materials

  • Thin pieces of wood (mine ranged fro .75mm-3mm - thicker takes more dissolving time)
  • Large pyrex container (chemicals won't corrode it or react with it) (I used a glass brownie pan)
  • Small scale (for weighing chemicals)
  • Hot Plate
  • Mixing Cups
  • Popsicle Sticks
  • Safety Glasses
  • Safety Gloves
  • Smock / Chemical Resistant Apron

Chemicals

  • Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) ($14)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B013KMNCJU/ref=o...

  • Sodium Sulfite (Na2SO3) ($6)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00IABL43S/ref=o...

  • Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) ($18)

The official recipe in the calls for about 8% H2O2, which you can make from 35% H2O2

available here: https://www.amazon.com/Hydrogen-Peroxide-Filled-Dr...

or I just used a whole bottle of regular cheap 3% H2O2 that you can get at the grocery store! It didn't bleach it that much, but it got it pretty transparent.

  • Rubbing Alchohol ($2) (buy it at any store)

Epoxy

Aeromarine 300/21 -The official type they used in the paper: https://www.amazon.com/AeroMarine-300-Epoxy-Resin-... ($63)

Smooth-on (similar kind) (20$) https://www.amazon.com/Smooth--Smooth-Cast-Liquid-...

Table-top (kinda flexible) ($43) https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00V2GKMWW/ref=o...


Recipe

This recipe is a modified basic version of comes from a paper by Zhu et al-

Highly Anisotropic, Highly Transparent Wood Composites
Mingwei Zhu, Jianwei Song, Tian Li, Amy Gong, Yanbin Wang, Jiaqi Dai, Yonggang Yao, Wei Luo, Doug Henderson, and Liangbing Hu*

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adma.20... or Sci-Hub to get more Open Access: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.sci-hub.cc/doi/10.1...


Basic Recipe

  1. Make a bath from 1 liter water, 100 grams of NaOH, 50 grams of Na2SO3.
  2. Put in wood and heat at a low temparature for 10 hours
  3. Drain bath, rinse wood with water
  4. Create new bath from 1 bottle of H2O2 and heat for 2 hours
  5. Rinse and preserve in Rubbing Alcohol
  6. Take wood from alcohol and place in epoxy
  7. Vacuum the epoxy through the wood 3 times over 30 minutes
  8. Let cure


Full Recipe

From their paper, here is their full recipe-

"Materials and Chemicals: Basswood from Walnut Hollow Company

was used in this study. The chemicals used in removing lignin contents

from wood were sodium hydroxide (>98%, Sigma-Aldrich), sodium sulphite (>98%, Sigma-Aldrich), and hydrogen peroxide (30% solution, EMD Millipore Corporation). The polymer used for infiltration was

epoxy resin (#300 resin and #21 nonblushing cycloaliphatic hardener,

AeroMarine Products, Inc.). The solvents used were ethanol alcohol

(190 proof, Pharmco-Aaper) and deionized (DI) water.

Lignin Removal from Wood: The lignin removal solution was prepared

by dissolving NaOH (2.5 mol L−1

The wood slices were immersed in the lignin removal solution and kept

boiling for 12 h, followed by rinsing in hot distilled water three times to

remove most of the chemicals. The wood blocks were then placed in

the bleaching solution (H2O2, 2.5 mol L−1

without stirring. When the yellow color of the sample disappeared, the

samples were removed and rinsed with cold water. The lignin-removed

samples were preserved in ethanol.

Polymer Infiltration: Epoxy resin was prepared by mixing the two liquid

components (#300 resin and #21 nonblushing cycloaliphatic hardener)

at a ratio of 2 to 1. Then the lignin-removed wood was placed at the

bottom of a dish and immersed in the liquid resin. The solution was

then degased under 200 Pa to remove the gas and ethanol solvent in

wood. Approximately 5 min later, the vacuum was released to let the

resin filling into wood structure by atmosphere pressure. The process

was repeated for three times. All the above processes were finished

within 30 min to avoid the polymer solidification. Finally, the dish

containing the wood sample and resin was kept static at 30 °C for 12 h.

The resin-infiltrated wood sample was peeled off from the dish after the

resin was completely solidified.

) and Na2SO3 (0.4 mol L−1)"

Step 2: Prep the Bath

Picture of Prep the Bath

First, fill a bath with 1 liter of water. Remember to use a chemical-resistant container that you can heat up (like a nice pyrex glass).

Put the container on your heat source (like the hot-plate). Rig up a ventilation system (there aren't really many fumes, I was just worried there might be, but it is nice to turn on a fan).

Get all your safety glasses and gloves on (these are like the burny chemicals that they scar their hands with in "Fight Club".)

Measure out 100 grams of Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH - Lye). Be careful to not drip water into the powdered chemical.

Slowly pour the chemical into the bath while stirring to prevent the lye from clumping up.

After it has all dissolved clear, measure out 50 grams of the Na2SO3. Again, slowly pour into the liquid while stirring.

Gently set your wood into the bath. Don't fill it up too much as the liquid will evaporate, and wood that dries out will start curling in an annoying way.

Step 3: Dissolve the Lignin

Picture of Dissolve the Lignin

Heat

Bring your mixture to a boil. The scientific recipe calls for boiling the wood in this mixture for 12 hours. With my simple setup, that made the water evaporate too quickly. Instead I just set the hotplate to its lowest setting (around 250 F). I kept it warm like this for 10 hours. Longer would have probably helped even more! Im not sure what will happen if you leave it for too long.

The biggest problem you can encounter in this step is if the water evaporates. This will make your wood curl and get all wavy-which is annoying. If you lose too much liquid, just add more in.

In my initial tests, my basin almost dried up twice, and I added 500ml of water each time.

Rinse

After the time is over, and your liquid has turned nice and brown, rinse out your wood with water.

You can take a look at your wood, it should have become much more translucent (but probably not that transparent yet).

Step 4: Bleach the Color

Picture of Bleach the Color

Next soak your wood in a bottle of Hydrogen Peroxide! This is fun and satisfying. Again keep the heat on. This is the process that will really bleach out lots of that final color and leave your wood as nice diaphonous films.

Let cook for 2 hours minimum. Add more Hydrogen Peroxide if your wood stops bubbling.

Rinse it all off in water.

Step 5: Preserve the Wood

Picture of Preserve the Wood

After you took all that lignin, "glue," out of the wood, you need to keep it from falling apart. If it dries out now, all the little cellulose fibers will just curl and peel away from each other.

  1. Rinse all the chemicals off.
  2. Lay them all in a container.
  3. Pour rubbing alcohol over them.
  4. Store them in the alcohol until ready for epoxy.

Step 6: Set in Epoxy

Picture of Set in Epoxy

Prepare surfaces that you can mold you wood into the epoxy. I lined buckets with some silicone (since the epoxy won't stick to the silicone), but you could also grease your containers with some oil (like Pam Cooking Spray).

  1. Drip off excess alcohol
  2. Pour a thin layer of epoxy
  3. lay down your chunk of wood
  4. pour a little bit more epoxy on top

Step 7: Vacuum the Epoxy

Picture of Vacuum the Epoxy

Your vacuum times will have to depend on your epoxy (in case its pot-life is too short), but the basic workflow I did was this:

  1. Bring to a Vacuum
  2. Let sit with the alcohol and epoxy bubbling through for 10 minutes
  3. Release Vacuum
  4. Repeat 2 more times

Towards the last time, you will notice far fewer bubbles going through the epoxy!

Step 8: Let Cure

Picture of Let Cure

The time depends on your epoxy, but generally leave it alone for a couple of hours. Heat will help it cure quicker!

Step 9: Results

Picture of Results

From my first try at figuring out this recipe, I was quite pleased with the results!

Step 10: Improvements

Picture of Improvements

My first examples here surprised me with how well they worked (for not really knowing what I was doing). Here's some tips on how to potentially improve this basic recipe to get even better results:

  1. Don't use wood laminates (like plywood)
    • The layers just dissolve in the bath, and start curling up
  2. Use some kind of lid on the bath
    • This will help your solution evaporate less, and prevent the wood from curling more

Comments

LeoF34 (author)2016-10-13

Hey, thanks for all the help!! just curious, before i buy the epoxy, (cause its a little pricey) which kind did you use for your wood, I was going to buy the smooth-on cause it was the cheapest but i noticed it said "white" on the bottle in the amazon picture.

maxseech (author)LeoF342017-11-02

it is not THAT pricey.

Laurenciafernan (author)2017-10-27

Sir, we've tried this experiment for our project. We got it as translucent after heating with H2O2. But after preserving in alcohol, it became opaque. We've also impregnated in the polymer, still no change. Can you suggest a solution..

leoleoleo24 (author)2016-10-21

Hello, aside from this "vacuum" process, what else can we do as a substitute for this process?

Lab_ (author)2016-09-15

Thanks for sharing this interesting experiment! I tried it out - only the first two steps now. without the resin. After NaOH my wood looks a bit transparent but only when wet. 3% H2O2 bleaches it out but it is not transparent. I added it first to 30% H2O2 but hte wood completely decomposed. 3% is better I guess.
My question is: is the wood becoming transparent only when adding the resin? I would expect id to be a bit transparent also before adding that.
I used balsa wood :-)

blorgggg (author)Lab_2016-09-16

Yep, it only becomes transparent when the resin has bubbled through all the fibers

dsweitzer (author)2016-08-21

If anyone is interested, there's a new paper on transparent wood, apparently discussing it's optical, mechanical, thermal, etc properties. (Same group of researchers)

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160816140701.htm

AaronZ16 (author)2016-08-09

What is the thickest piece of wood you have used? I'm thinking .25" thick transparent oak coasters, or a tabletop if you could do large enough pieces of requisite thickness, true up the edges after casting and laminate them together.

Gursimran Singh 425 (author)2016-07-27

Congratulations on winning! Well deserved! Have you received email regarding it, I hadn't so fat!

hahah nope! thanks for letting me know!

FO The Turk (author)2016-07-18

Is it possible to reserve areas as they are (opaque) by something that you can paint with?

blorgggg (author)FO The Turk2016-07-18

Worth a try!

DariuszM7 (author)blorgggg2016-07-25

I wonder if such "delignified" wood could be used as a kind of microporous filter material (the epoxy part of the protocol would probably be omitted then).

blorgggg (author)FO The Turk2016-07-18

My guess is maybe a little bit, especially for a thin piece, but they get pretty soaked through :)

FlorinJ (author)2016-07-17

I must have missed something. What's the vessel you use for vacuuming? Did you build or buy it?

blorgggg (author)FlorinJ2016-07-17

Just a vacuum chamber and a vacuum pump. The chambers come in lots of sizes, but are basically just a pot with an acrylic lid with a gasket on the edges. You can get em cheap from harbor freight!

PLLman (author)blorgggg2016-07-19

I know that vacuum pumps are available at HF, but I have never seen a vacuum chamber there.

samsanca (author)2016-07-18

Just wondering : maye that material would be great for solar heaters (put the pipes behind a wooden transparent plate). Wood retains heat easely but I don't know if that would compensate for the loss of heat due to the more opaque plate (less light entering).

SoakedinVancouver (author)2016-07-17

Niiiiiice! Great for having LED based indicators disappear from a wooden front panel when not turned on, this will come in handy, thanks!

cool thinkin!

blorgggg (author)blorgggg2016-07-17

Though also a lot of LEDs will just be able to shine through a thin wood veneer anyway!

True enough, some of them are blinding, but I was thinking more of LED digit displays, even backligthed LCD displays! 8)

jck61 (author)2016-07-17

Be careful with 35% hydrogen peroxide. I got some on my thumb once, when it ran down the side of the bottle. It hurt like getting hit with a hammer and bleached the skin pure white. After a few hours the pain was gone and the color came back.

mazhar5012 (author)2016-07-14

Oh, i want to try it, but i think i need many tools to do it.

blorgggg (author)mazhar50122016-07-17

The vacuum chamber is the most exotic part

BrendanG6 (author)2016-07-17

Very nice! I remember seeing an article about this development and I'm happy to see that someone made it doable for the layman!

How thick of a piece do you think you could get to? Did you notice significant increases in the required soak time with the thicker pieces?

blorgggg (author)BrendanG62016-07-17

Thanks! I bet you could do half an inch easily with plenty of soaking!

PhilipB14 (author)2016-07-17

I'm also wondering about the vacuum vessel. I don't have one and wouldn't know where to start acquiring/making one as it's not in the list of ingredients. I'm not sure what is had as far as specifications/nomenclature.

blorgggg (author)PhilipB142016-07-17

Just a vacuum chamber and a vacuum pump. The chambers come in lots of sizes, but are basically just a pot with an acrylic lid with a gasket on the edges. You can get em cheap from harbor freight!

brianchadorourke (author)2016-07-17

You are well on your way to making transparent aluminum and transparent steel.

"Aye.... That's the ticket, Laddie." - Montgomery Scott

Super. Someone get trek.

Hahahah this is all great!

Thanks Scotty. I still get a kick out of him talking to the computer.

Yea, with the mouse! Great image.

Transparent aluminium is basically sapphire:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapphire

Search transparent aluminium on youtube (turn aluminium can transparent with a blow torch) or google it.

However, transparent aluminum is the only thing that can hold back the vacuum of space and survive super-luminal velocities of warp field mechanics; and it is much more plentiful than sapphire. I am still waiting for Montgomery Scott to come back from the future to teach us how to make it.

Well there is a variation of it (Aluminium oxynitride) used for bulletproof glass. Maybe that helps you with your specific application? ;)

Talima (author)2016-07-17

What kind of vacuum is that you're using, and where do I get one? Also, is there a way to do this without using the vacuum?

blorgggg (author)Talima2016-07-17

Just a vacuum chamber and a vacuum pump. The chambers come in lots of sizes, but are basically just a pot with an acrylic lid with a gasket on the edges. You can get em cheap from harbor freight!

BrendanG6 (author)2016-07-17

One more question: Do you plan on doing any kind of strength/toughness tests on some pieces?

nqtronix (author)2016-07-14

Just a few days ago I was searching if such a thing as "transparent wood" existed and all I could find was news articles about the cited paper. Now I have both, the origional paper and a diy walkthrough, awesome!

I kinda hoped it would be possible to make a partly transparent piece of wood, but that doesn't seem very likely possible. Do you think it could work to gapless fuse a solid piece and a thin transperant piece together using epoxy?

Can you tell how scratch resistant the transparent wood is?

Best whishes for the contest, it's hard to get more out of the comfort than by using somewhat dangerous chemicals, you deserve it!

DejayRezme (author)nqtronix2016-07-17

There is also stabilized wood and hybrid stabilized wood that might be what you are looking for.

You can probably just leave the wood soaking for 5 hours vs 10, etc. to get it partly transparent.

blorgggg (author)nqtronix2016-07-14

Thanks for the kind words! I hope it works out for you! I bet you can fuse woods easily with epoxy! The scratchless-ness depends on the epoxy

BryanB7 (author)2016-07-11

I tried to vote for you but it would not let me. Sory

blorgggg (author)BryanB72016-07-12

Thanks anyway! i wonder why it wouldn't let ya! ? thanks!

BryanB7 (author)blorgggg2016-07-13

I tried again hope it worked. I will try to contact them. This is one of the most interesting Instructables I have seen. Hope you win.

Ganhaar (author)2016-07-12

would this work for bamboo?

blorgggg (author)Ganhaar2016-07-12

I bet it would!

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Bio: I want computers to be wilder. https://www.instagram.com/hikinghack/ https://twitter.com/HikingHack https://www.youtube.com/user/blorgggggg https://github.com/quitmeyer
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