Variable Sawmilling: Multi-Axis Actuated Strategies for Non-standard Timber

Mechanical Engineering; Forestry and Forest Sciences; Modern Art and Architecture

This project will develop techniques for milling raw logs into specialized non-standard components. A custom CNC sawmill will be designed, constructed, and applied to demonstrate its capabilities.

Research Interests
  • Architecture and urban design
  • Intelligent Processing of Materials
  • Digital Fabrication
  • Robotic Fabrication

Since the industrial revolution, timber construction has relied on the reduction of trees into mass-produced, standardized parts. Recent developments in mass timber have generated a renewed national interest in timber construction but rely on the same processes of standardization that generate material waste in the forest, at the factory, and on the job site. Customization of these standardized components occurs largely through subtractive manufacturing methods. Variable Sawmilling proposes a shift in this paradigm, embedding customization of timber elements into the earliest stages of the process, when the raw log is milled into non-standard parts.

The project will see the creation of a multi-axis CNC sawmill capable of milling raw logs into specialized timber components. This sawmill will be designed with novel architectural timber assemblies in mind and developed to enable these possibilities. It will be constructed and applied to demonstrate its capabilities in creating non-standard parts including tapering, twisting, and other irregular geometries.

The project will collaborate with UVA Sawmilling to utilize raw logs harvested from UVA Grounds, diverting this material from the waste stream so that it can be utilized for research and teaching purposes.

Desired outcomes

1. Evaluate current forestry and sawmilling practices and technologies.

2. Design ground-up multi-axis CNC sawmill aimed at the production of several types of novel timber components.

3. Realize successful construction of a fully operational CNC sawmill.

4. Apply CNC sawmill in the creation of novel, non-standard timber components to demonstrate its possibilities in creating novel architectural assemblies.

5. As a team, seek grant opportunities (NSF, USDA, USFS, etc.) to continue the work through the development of future non-standard timber building systems.