Wood grain is the texture left behind when cutting across the cells that used to carry nutrients through a tree. We took discarded wood scraps, layering traces by following the tree’s past growth in the form of grain with conductive paint to form a basic circuit. Using touch and interlocking pieces of wood (i.e. joints), small pieces of wood and basic electronics prototyping materials can be recombined into forms from basic voltage divider switches to more complex systems; however, interlocking pieces require close attention to the grain to fit them together into contact.
The term “integrated circuit”, coined by feminist technology scholar Rachel Grossman and taken up by technology philosopher Donna Haraway, evokes the ways humans and other living beings power and are plugged into global capital, labor, and material flows with uneven consequences. When touched, this simple circuit passes electricity over the paths formed years ago by the flows of the tree’s nutrients, asking: What hidden material and labor flows sustain our technology practices?
Materials: Scrap wood, leftover wiring or copper conductive tape, LEDs, conductive paint, card stock or thin mat board scraps, coin battery, scrap tape, human, pencil, brush, woodworking tools as needed.
Grossman, R. (1979). Women’s place in the integrated circuit. New England Free Press.
Haraway, D. (1990). A manifesto for cyborgs: Science, technology, and socialist feminism in the 1980s. Feminism/postmodernism, 190-233.
Step 1: Gathering
Find a dry piece of scrap wood of any species and quality that is too small to be reused in your fabrication practice. It can be just wood or a laminated piece like plywood. Collect or borrow wiring or conductive copper tape, LEDs, a small battery, paintbrush and pencil, scrap card stock or mat board, and tape. You can purchase or make your own conductive paint with graphite and adhesive like this.
Saws and chisels are necessary for interlocking pieces, cutting, and shaping. Chiseling also allows for different raised forms and is handy for cleaning up errant paint.
Step 2: Tracing
Using the scrap card stock or mat board and the template downloadable from here, lay out and cut the coin battery holder, slotting the battery inside once assembled. You’ll want to follow the arrows to create leads using the least worn sections of copper tape possible because it’s already fragile. Depending on what you’re powering or connecting to, it is worth experimenting with different materials for the leads, especially if your scavenged conductive materials are dirty or tattered.
With the conductive paint, trace along the grain leaving at least two small gaps: one for affixing an LED, and another in between the LED and the battery.
You can also let the wood shape the paint through dripping or vascular action, which draws liquid up through the end grain. Using the end grain allows you to plug wiring directly into the grain.
Step 3: Connecting
Connect the battery leads to the painted circuit.
Attach the LED. In this example, the sticker LED has a positive and negative end that should be oriented the same as the battery’s leads.
Step 4: Illuminating traces
Hold your finger on the remaining gap in the circuit to illuminate the LED. Depending on how powerful it is, you may need to make a shade to disperse the light or add mirrors to brighten it. Looking around, what other traces of past lives and labor do you see fueling technology production?