We get to see a lot of amazing uses for 3D printing here at Shapeways, but this technique is new to me! Ben Godi from Italian company 3D Wood shares a really interesting technique that combines 3D printing and traditional wood turning.
In his words…
Hi I’m Ben and I would like to share a production process I have developed this year, together with a local wood carving company 3D Wood. We already use this production pipeline daily now, because it has so many advantages and Shapeways plays a major role! (how could it be otherwise!) I’m going to explain the steps with the help of two models that are for sale on my website.
1. Digital Sculpting
I use Pixologic ZBrush for sculpting. It allows me to create and sculpt the model entirely on the computer from concept to final sculpture. I’m able to change things based on client’s feedback quickly, with no need of making laborious changes on a clay model for instance. What I have to keep in mind is, that the outcome will be a physical object and in this special case, an object made out of wood. As you already know for sure, wood consists of fibers that grow in a certain direction. Therefore it’s necessary to avoid thin parts that go across that wood grain. They break easily.
2. Preparing the model for 3D Printing
When I’m done with sculpting, I make use of ZBrush’s “decimation master” plug-in and reduce the polycount. A super-highres mesh isn’t necessary for printing. I use Magics RP from Materialize to combine all shells to a single shell and to fix mesh errors, in case the model has any. Removing shells is necessary for giving your sculpture a wall thickness later on. In Magics RP I also perforate the sculpture, so the dispensable powder can be removed after printing.
3. Prototype and Production 3D printing
For production on the pantograph (see point 4 below) you need to work on a reference model that is at least twice as big as the final wood figurine.
That’s necessary for transferring all the small details to the wood and makes it a lot easier to work with, because you must trace the surface by hand on the profiling machine later on. But before I order the big printout for production, I get a small version, ideally the size the final wood sculptures will be, to see how the model looks as a physical object. Whenever I feel something doesn’t look right, I go back to ZBrush and try to fix it things like composition and balance.
Shapeways full color sandstone material is fantastic for printing prototype models it’s really affordable and looks great. For production, I go for Strong and Flexible with a wall thickness of 1.5 mm. These models are pretty big, up to a total height of 50 cm and sometimes more. 
4. Production on the Pantograph (3D profiling machine)
I fill the double sized plastic 3D printout with a special resin and mount it on a metal plate. Everything has to be assembled very strong to prevent it from bending or changing its position during tracing on the machine. The tracing itself isn’t an automated process yet; you still have to do it by hand. And you have to be super careful. Oh boy, in a moment of carelessness you can ruin the whole row of figures! You start with some bigger milling heads for rough machining and switch to the smaller once for detailing. I use maple wood for my work. It doesn’t change its color over the years and allows very fine details.
5. Finishing and Refining
The figures that come straight from the pantograph look great but aren’t finished yet. They need a lot of sandpaper work to smooth the surface. I add details with my set of small carving knifes and boost the ones that disappear during milling. Finally I paint the parts I want to be painted and add a thin layer of wax that prevents the wood from getting dirty.
6. The final product
If you keep an eye on some production restrictions, (wood as a living material, the dimensions the pantograph allows, avoiding spots that are difficult to reach with the milling heads and so on), the possibilities are endless!

Ben’s cowgirl model is available in his Shapeways shop or you can visit his website, and see more examples of this technique at 3D Wood.

Do you know an innovative use of 3D Printing? Let us know in the comments and we can feature it!