A team of researchers at the University of Maryland has recently discovered a method to make wood be 23 times harder, and has developed a knife made from this material, which is almost three times sharper than a stainless steel table knife.
Led by Teng Li, lead author of the study and materials scientist at the university, the researchers managed to forge a tool that they consider more sustainable, since wood is renewable, light, naturally durable and strong, and has a life cycle cost lower than most other materials. The results of the research were published in Matter magazine.
The hardening method
The team tried to process the wood in such a way that the weakest components were removed without destroying the cellulose skeleton, its main component. “It is a two-step process”, he pointed Teng Li. “In the first step, we partially misalign the wood. Normally the wood is very stiff, but after removal of lignin, it becomes flexible and somewhat soft. In the second step, we do a hot pressing applying pressure and heat to chemically processed wood to densify it and remove water. “
After processing the material and giving it the desired shape, it is coated with mineral oil to extend its useful life. Cellulose tends to absorb water, so this coating preserves the knife’s edge during use and when washing.
“The knife cuts through a medium-cooked steak with ease, with similar performance to a table knife,” says Teng Li.
The team hopes that their method will eventually be used to make hardwood floors stronger. They also noted that the process for hardening wood was much more energy efficient than making other materials. Wood only needed to be boiled in water up to 100ºC and could be reused, while materials such as ceramics need to be heated to thousands of degrees.
“In our kitchen, we have many pieces of wood that we use for a long time, such as a cutting board, chopsticks or a rolling pin,” says Li. “These knives can also be used multiple times if they are refinished, sharpened and regularly maintained.”
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