A team of researchers from the University of Maryland made a wooden knife that is "23 times harder" than wood and almost three times sharper than a stainless-steel knife, which is typically the sharpest material made for knives. In addition, the team also made wooden nails that aren't prone to rust and can be nailed in with a hammer.
Led by Teng Li, a professor of mechanical engineering at the university, researchers were able to forge a utensil they believe is more sustainable since wood is "renewable, lightweight, naturally durable and strong, and possessing a lower lifecycle cost than most other materials." The findings were published in the journals Cell and Science.
To make the wood stronger, the team removed lignin from the wood, which makes it rigid. The removal of lignin also made the wood more soft and flexible, and the team hot-pressed it to remove water. Then, the wood was "water-shocked" by re-introducing water to it to combine with the chemical in wood known as cellulose, which absorbs water, to keep the shape and sharpness.
"The resulting 3D-molded wood is six times stronger than the starting wood and comparable to widely used lightweight materials like aluminum alloys," Liangbing Hu, director of the university's Center for Materials Innovation, said in a statement.
The wood was not only stronger than before, but cut through food easily. A coat of mineral oil added to the wood also prevents it from water damage, making it washable and reusable.
"The knife cuts through a medium-well done steak easily, with similar performance to a dinner table knife," Li said. "These knives, too, can be used many times if you resurface them, sharpen them, and perform the same regular upkeep."
The team hopes the successful use of sharper and more durable wood in the knives and nails will eventually be used to make hardwood floors more resistant to wear and tear. The team noted that the process to harden the wood was far more energy-efficient than making other materials.
The wood only needed to be boiled in water that was up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit and could be reused, whereas materials such as ceramics need to be heated up thousands of degrees Fahrenheit.
According to USA Today