Wood itself won’t work at all in a 3d printer. DLP resin printers use UV curing liquid resin, and there’s no way you can make it out of, or add wood to, such a material. But with an FDM filament printer, you can use wood infused filament just like other plastic filament. Wood filament is available on the market anywhere you find regular PLA filament.
Wood filament is generally a mix of at least 25% wood fiber mixed with PLA plastic and extruded into a filament. It can be used in an FDM filament printer just the same as PLA. The finish is surprisingly like wood, and you can drill, sand, cut and stain the finished item just as you would a real wood object. The higher the percentage of wood to PLA, the harder it is to print, but the more wood-like the item becomes.
While it is a mix of wood fiber and PLA, it is not fully either. You will have to adjust your printer’s settings to take advantage of wood filament in your prints.
Printing with Wood Filament
Wood filament needs to be extruded at a slightly higher temperature than PLA filament. You won’t need an enclosure, nor technically do you need to have a heated bed on your printer. I do heat my Ender 3’s bed to 50°C when I print wood filament, though.
Warping is rarely an issue with wood filament, but to ensure that I am able to keep my print stuck to the print bed, I still use a brim and, as I said, a heated bed. I have only printed small objects with the material, but I haven’t had any lift or warp at all. It’s been easy to work with (like PLA). There’s no need to change other slicer settings, except the heat and possibly the layer height.
The higher the wood content, the harder the filament is to work with. It doesn’t seem to stick down to the bed as well. I haven’t experienced this, but some people have reported that 40% wood fiber filament is more like ABS in getting it to stay stuck to the print bed. As I say, I haven’t tried this yet, so I can’t provide first-hand knowledge.
You can print much more quickly with wood filament, as it has excellent layer adhesion. It sticks well to itself. I have gone up to 65mm/s with prints and not had any issues. I normally print PLA at 45mm/s. You can use thicker layers, too, with wood filament, as the layer lines are far less noticeable than they are with PLA or other plastic filaments. I think it’s an optical illusion due to the “fuzziness” of the added wood fiber, but it could be physical. I don’t have the best eyes, so I can’t really tell. I found that a print with 0.3mm layer height looked quite good, on par with PLA printed at 0.2mm layer height.
The fumes from printing with wood filament can be a problem. It smells like burned wood, and it can be a lot stronger of an odor than the smell from regular PLA printing. It isn’t toxic but it is a little unpleasant. It can surprise those that don’t know to expect it, and they might wonder if your house is burning! Good ventilation is the key to avoiding issues with the smell. And warn everyone else in the house not to panic!
Finishing Wood Filament Printed Items
The biggest advantage of wood filament is that when you print an item, you can treat that item as if it were wood and finish it in the same way. Wood filament comes in multiple color hues and wood styles. You can find cherry, walnut, and spruce, just to name a few. I was pleasantly surprised that, after printing, the smell of the item was just like wood! It came out mostly when sanding. I didn’t expect that, after the burning wood odor I got when I printed the item.
Is Wood Filament Food Safe?
No, items printed with wood filament are not food safe. The wood may trap food articles and absorb them, along with organic liquids, and allow them to sit below the surface, protected by the PLA plastic. PLA forms over 50% (and in some cases up to 80%) of the wood/PLA mix, meaning that the organic material can rot well below the surface of the object. That can be a breeding ground for all sorts of nastiness.
So please don’t print a new salad bowl. Instead, stay with decorative items or useful, non-food oriented items. Sculptures, cabinet door handles, light switch plates, and wood-look models are all perfect uses for this filament. Serving tongs for food, bowls, plates, cups, utensils or jugs are just not a good use for this material.
Is Wood Filament Recyclable?
Most wood filament is, indeed, recyclable. You’ll have to read the manufacturer’s notes to be sure, but most do state that the filament, and printed items from the filament, are biodegradable and recyclable. The wood itself is certainly degradable, and the PLA filament that forms most of the filament is also degradable.
Items printed with the material don’t compost well, due to the long time it takes to degrade (up to two years), but it is good for inclusion in your recycling waste. PLA all by itself is also the same, so feel free to include this, too, in your recycling. ABS is a true plastic, and does not degrade, but it, too is recyclable. But back to wood filament, yes, no problems there. An item printed with wood filament will take some time to break down in the elements, but it will indeed break down when exposed to UV sunlight and rain or snow cycles. Here in Las Vegas, Nevada, I’m not sure that the item will break down any time soon, but it should, in theory, break down even here with the high heat and low humidity, low rain and no snow.
Wood Filament Does Damage Your Extruder
Brass extruders are damaged by the abrasive nature of wood filament. You can degrade a brass extruder in as little as one or two spools of wood filament. Steel extruders will last longer, but they aren’t immune to the damage. They may last 20 to 25 spools before needing to be replaced. Steel replacement extruders are generally around double the price of brass extruders, but are still below $2.00USD each (as compared to brass extruders at around 60¢ USD each.
- Brass Replacement Extruders for Ender or CR-10: https://amzn.to/3mj8tg5
- Steel Replacement Extruders for Ender or CR-10: https://amzn.to/3mht848
Example Wood Filament Samples From Amazon
I buy all my filament from Amazon.Com. However, they offer basic wood filament, but nothing with more wood fiber than 30%. I have yet to find a higher percentage on Amazon.Com. Matterhackers.Com offer a better selection, as do many specialty 3d online retailers out there.
- HATCHBOX 3D Printer Filament, Dimensional Accuracy +/- 0.03mm, 1.75 mm, 1 kg Spool, Wood
- 175 to 220 degrees extruder, 0 to 60°C heated bed
- Real Wood PLA 3D Printer Filament, Wood Filament 1.75 mm,1KG(2.2LBS) Spool, Dimensional Accuracy +/- 0.02 mm, Wood Filament
- 190 to 220 degrees extruder, 0 to 60°C heated bed
- 3D BEST-Q Wood PLA 1.75mm 3D Printer Filament, Dimensional Accuracy +/- 0.03 mm, 1KG Spool, 30% Padauk-infill
- 190 to 220 degrees extruder, 0 to 60°C heated bed
Can you stain wood PLA?
Yes, you can stain wood PLA filament printed objects. Do not stain the pre-extruded wood PLA filament, as the stain will melt and/or evaporate away during the extrusion process and may affect the adhesion of the filament to the print bed or printed object. After printing, though, the object should react similarly to a true wooden item, and can be sanded and stained.
What is better for 3d printing PLA or ABS?
PLA and ABS are both good to print with when using an FDM filament printer. For most uses, PLA is cheap, easy to print and provides good results. It is a plant-based resin and will decompose after a year or two. ABS is harder to print, but provides a true, waterproof plastic. Most find it hard to get to stick to the build plate, and an enclosure for the printer is recommended.