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A new timber jointing process using wood welding

1 June 2021

In a proof-of-concept collaboration between TWI Ltd and the University of Cambridge and enabled by the Construction Innovation Hub, researchers have developed a sustainable process to rapidly join timber elements using linear friction welding.

Two years into the project they have been able to join pieces of wood in two to three seconds by rubbing them together at high speeds, with the resulting welded joint being stronger than conventional adhesives and as strong as the timber itself. Scaled up, this welding technique could be applied in building construction and high-volume manufacturing of products such as furniture and packaging.

Along with industry partners TWI Ltd, Dr Darshil Shah and Dr Michael Ramage from the Department of Architecture and the award-winning team behind the HappyShield open-source PPE design, have developed a process to rapidly join timber elements using linear friction welding. In contrast with traditional methods such as adhesives, linear friction welding of wood can reliably produce high quality joints with high tolerances and does not require any filler or adhesive material.

In this energy-efficient process, joints are produced by pressing and rubbing two timber surfaces together at high frequency (50-150 Hz). The resulting friction and heat softens and re-sets lignin, the natural ‘glue’ in plant materials, as well as mechanically inter-locks the cellular material, causing the ‘welding’. In just two to three seconds, the fused timber joint is stronger than conventional adhesives, and even stronger than the native wood.

Imagine you’re out walking on a cold day and want to warm up your hands; you’re likely to rub your hands together to generate heat. ‘How do you produce more heat?’ asks Dr Shah. ‘Rub your palms faster (frequency), push your palms against each other with more force (pressure), rub your palms for longer (time) and move your palms over a longer distance (amplitude). Similarly, in wood welding, to generate more friction and heat, these are the 4 principal manufacturing parameters we can control.’

This technique has the potential to be applied not only to planed/sawn wood, but also to CLT (Cross Laminated Timber) which is the key timber-origin material used in the work by the team from the Dept of Architecture in their project.

The team continues to explore how these parameters change the process and why it seems to work differently with different woods. This will help them find the right materials and manufacturing parameters to optimise the process and scale it up for different purposes, such as construction and manufacturing.

See below a short video of the welding process.

Source: University of Cambridge

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