Timber Scooper Introduction




Research Summary

This design & fabrication research seeks to provide a way out to the wood recycling practice. It promotes a more sustainable design methodology to be practiced by architects when using wood as material. Such design methodology runs parallel with a fabrication technique developed for the optimization of wood re-surfacing. Architects can be well informed of the production, or re-production in this case, on construction materials and begins to take control over the fabrication process.

Why Timber Scooper

The aim of using recycled materials was to prolong the life-cycle of construction materials. It is often neglected by both the industry and the clients in the constantly changing materialistic world of consumption. The idea was to reinterpret found flooring panels its unique geometric properties and physical characters in order to generate the tectonic language of the project from the object level. Perhaps advocacy to both clients and the public about the potential of recycled materials and its impact to sustainability can begin from here.

Step 1: ​Saving Valuable Teak

Solid teak wood is one of the most expensive and rare construction material in the industry. It is one of the most desired lumber in the world due to its outstanding property. Reclaiming teak offers the best incentives for recycling. Teak is a close grained hardwood with natural oil and rubber. It is naturally weatherproofed from sun or rain. The natural teak oil makes the lumber very resistance to decay, fungi, parasites and termites. It is suitable for both exterior and interior use.

In Asian cities, most middle class families before and after the 70s used wood as flooring in their apartments. While cheaper parquet flooring was adopted by the general public as an affordable option, solid teak was widely used for the slightly wealthier as a lifestyle symbol. Southeast Asia countries like Indonesia and Malaysia were the main supply of teak wood flooring back in the days.

Abandoned teak wood flooring is seen quite often nowadays when the renovations or demolitions of buildings in the 70s take place. Teak wood is both elegant and durable. The forests that produce teak are now carefully controlled. Normally, it takes 80 years for a teak tree to grow before it is harvested. Due to its excellence durability and workability, it is often reclaimed for reuse.

Step 2: Methodology

Traditional Re-Surfacing

The fabrication technique was inspired by the re-surfacing process in the wood recycling industry. Recycling wood normally involves the collection and extraction of abandoned wood, followed by surface treatment. The worn surface of the recycled wood is planned by hand or with electric planers. The topmost surface is removed to give a uniform and level surface.

Leap forward

Reclaiming valuable timber may make a good business, but combining technology in the reclamation process will foster a great business. By upgrading the surface treatment into a digitally controlled operation that creates a subtle 3 dimensional pattern, the value of the wood is elevated. Such process can be done digitally with a computer numerically controlled router (CNC router). CNC milling is a process of digital material removal by means of moving a router head along a predetermined route. It can be used to plane the topmost unwanted layer while creating a 3-dimensional geometry for the wood surface.

CNC milling

In architecture schools and normal practices, CNC routers are used to widen the possibilities of curved fabrication and precise manufacturing. The toolpaths are generated by the computer as direct translations of the designers’ creations. The whole fabrication usually takes much time as the tools may break if the spindle speed and cutting speed is higher than what it can take. In order to create a general platform that supports various tools, it becomes a retrofitting process of translating the desired geometry into a series of controlled repetition of toolpaths for cutting certain geometries.

Understanding the limitation of the fabrication process, we found the most optimum geometry for cutting and for operating the machine by trial and error. We developed a system of surface geometry that is highly connected to the operation of the CNC router and traditional router bits. We were able to create an algorithm to generate toolpaths that are most optimized for the cutting tool and the machine. The main advantage of such is the short cutting time. The outcome geometry is basically the machine’s language.

Step 3: Timber Scooping

The way how CNC operates is to take out

material bits by bits from the stock with a spindling cutter. It follows a specific toolpath generated from a computer program. When a ball-nose cutter ramps in and climbs out of the material in a linear manner. It creates a shallow trench. When these paths overlap with each other, a scooping effect is achieved.

Parametric design is incorporated to give

architects the control of such pattern. The profile of the stroke, the depth of stroke, separation between strokes within a row and the distance to the adjacent row can all be controlled. Traditional drill bits that cut architrave and cabinets can be used. Router bits with various sections give different volumetric subtraction to the stock.

Intersections of these strokes are unpredictable as the control of each scoop is independent. Wood re-surfacing by means of organized scooping will therefore create an attractive organic pattern. The scooping effect can be continuous as well. For instance, the depth of scoop remains unchanged while the distance between the neighboring scoop can be adjusted to create a smooth transitioning pattern.

Step 4: Image Sampler Algorithm

Image Sampler Algorithm

An algorithm was written for the use of architects and designers to visualize and use the technique of scooping on any substrates. Here an image sampler is deployed for the abstraction of images into linear strokes. The depth of the strokes response to the darkness of the image. This creates a darker and stronger shadow. The overall impression is depicted by a variety of stroke shadows. The overlapping of the strokes can be randomly generated with a random seed. The width and bit can also be customized. To use the algorithm definition, knowledge on Grasshopper and Rhinoceros modelling software is essential.

Tiling and Artwork Application

Recycled teak wood can be used in both exterior and interior as tiling panels. The toolpath can be generated in such a way to create observable patterns that form impressions of a macro scale image. Due to the optimized toolpath generated, the aesthetic value added in such operation is much larger than the extra electricity and time costs than traditional analogue and manual wood planning.

Mass Custom Production

Mass production is possible when the whole router bed is fitted with recycled flooring panels slotted with each other. Multiple milling files can be combined into one to give individual customized geometries to each panels while lowering the cost of manual operation. Special jigs can be used to facilitate the process of loading and unloading and thus minimizing the idling time of the machine.

Step 5: Download

Here you can find the Rhino file, Grasshopper script and a sample image for your exploration. Have fun and feel free to update, modify and upload for others' use!


To use the algorithm definition, knowledge on Grasshopper and Rhinoceros modelling software is essential.


Supported by HKIA CPD Research Fund



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    1 year ago

    That looks beautiful! I love that effect :)