Tuesday, 8 July 2014

3D Wood Grain

Using a block of wood and a plane Keith Skretch made something amazing. He snapped a picture of the wood, then planed a thin layer off, snapped another picture, planed another layer off, and repeated this hundreds of times. In the resulting timelapse/stop motion video you fly through the wood structure, and can see knots and grain in the wood ripple by.

Waves of Grain from Keith Skretch on Vimeo
To my computational image analysis eyes, the truly amazing thing about this video is contains the detailed three dimensional map of the internal structure of blocks of wood; that these blocks of wood have been digitally immortalised!
Let's look at just one of the blocks of wood:
 The series of images 29-36 seconds through Waves of Grain

So what can you do with this data? Well you can reproject to give you a virtual view of what the left and the front sides of the blocks of wood would have looked like:

That's quite cool, but doesn't capture the power of having the full 3D information. The more powerful thing you can do is do a virtual cuts through anywhere you want in the block of wood. You can cut it somewhere in the middle to take a look at the internal structure... The yellow lines mark where the virtual slices were made:
That's also quite cool, but still doesn't capture the power of having all that 3D data. You can also reslice the image at any orientation that you want; it doesn't have to be neat orthogonal lines:

Again, quite cool. But you can still do more. Because this is now a purely digital representation of this block of wood you can display it in ways that would be physically impossible to make. Instead of just looking at the outside of the block...

... you can now look inside.

This 3D reconstruction lets you see how the growth rings appear in three dimensions, showing exactly where the grain runs. It lets you see how the knot, which is where a branch grew from the tree, cuts through the growth rings in a distinctive way. It lets you see pretty much everything about the internal structure of the wood!

This kind of approach is used all over biology, and is normally called something like serial sectioning. You can use it for everything from reconstructing a whole person by histology and a light microscope to a single cell by electron microscopy.

Software used:
ImageJ: 3D reconstructions


  1. Wow, thats amazing. As someone who spends his day working with wood this gives a great new insight. Thanks.

  2. Awesome! Great work building on an already interesting concept!