Carpenter’s Secret

It’s “Tool Time!”

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

All those hours watching “Home Improvement” reruns paid off — you’ve finally built your dream bookshelf! But was all that sawing, hammering, and nail-biting worth it?  If only you could just bend wood to your will!

Shaoliang Xiao from the University of Maryland and team discovered how! 

They started by treating the wood so that it could absorb water more easily.  After drying it, then soaking it for a short timespan, the wood partially swelled up. And surprise! In this half-swollen state, the wood was FOLDABLE! How did that happen?

After the soak, the scientists examined the wood’s cells under a microscope. They discovered the cells have a wrinkled shape that can be compressed or pulled, like an accordion! This structure allows the wood to bend, and also makes it super strong, like aluminum!

The researchers say this flexible wood can be a lightweight, sustainable construction material!

My dreams of becoming the next “Toolman” Taylor are finally attainable! Knock on wood…

Reference: Xiao, S., Chen, C., Xia, Q., Liu, Y., Yao, Y., Chen, Q., Hartsfield, M., Brozena, A., Tu, K., Eichhorn, S. J., Yao, Y., Li, J., Gan, W., Shi, S. Q., Yang, V. W., Lo Ricco, M., Zhu, J. Y., Burgert, I., Luo, A., Li, T., Hu, L. (2021). Lightweight, strong, moldable wood via cell wall engineering as a sustainable structural material. Science, 374(6566), 465-471.