Beauty and Ingenuity in Design

Since the Essen Motor Show in December 2015, the wooden supercar known as “The Splinter” has been making news and creating quite the buzz. This special supercar debut was unlike any other… this supercar is made of wood.

“The Splinter” is a high-performance sports car that took a team led by Joe Harmon five years to create. Harmon started the project as a graduate project while completing his master’s degree in engineering at North Carolina State University.

Why Make a Supercar Out of Wood?

Harman has said that the Splinter was a result of his lifelong love of automobiles and his desire to use wood in ways that would push its perceived limitations. “It has been a dream of mine to design and build my own car since I was a kid. Wood provided an additional challenge that we thought might move the project into an interesting direction,” he explained in an interview.

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He also wanted to make a statement about the amazing qualities of wood. Wood is our only naturally renewable building material. Wood takes an extraordinarily small amount of energy to produce and is totally biodegradable.  On the official website he explains that with wood has a better strength-to-weight ratio than steel and aluminum. “Wood can be made into a lot more things than people tend to give it credit for.”

How Much Wood is in the Splinter Supercar?

The Splinter is estimated to be 90% wood. From the mostly wood-based chassis to the steering system, wood composites are the highlight of this vehicle. The steering system uses multi-piece wooden tie rods made of hickory. A series of bent and molded laminates make up the entire body.

IMG_2518The compound curvature of the exterior was achieved by weaving strips of veneer made from cherry skins and end grain balsa into a cloth using two looms designed by the build team specifically for the project. A wide variety of glues were used to keep all of the wood pieces together, including epoxy, urethane, urea formaldehyde, and polyvinyl acetate.

“We talked about it and decided that a leaf spring was nothing more than a bigger, stiffer version of a longbow, so we researched bow making and came upon a wood called Osage orange,” Harmon says. “It’s the strongest wood found in North America, and it has properties that make it excellent for use in longbows.”

How Did They Make the Wooden Wheels?

Each Splinter wheel has 275 different wooden pieces. Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires sit on three-piece forged aluminum rims with laminated wood centers made from rotary-cut oak veneer, covered by a walnut sunburst on the outside face and a cherry sunburst on the inside.

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How Was The Splinter Made?

To achieve Harmon’s goal of a fully fluid body surface, the team had to invent a wood veneer cloth to use in place of more usual glass-fiber or carbon-fiber weaves. That meant designing and developing specific looms, acquiring rolls of veneer five inches wide, slitting it into bands sixty feet long and an eighth- or a quarter-inch wide, weaving it into cloth to place in female molds, and then vacuum bagging it with epoxy resin. Those looms-wood, of course-are works of art, using wooden clothespins machined to feed veneer strips through their jaws. With too much tension, they slipped; if there wasn’t enough tension, rubber bands attached to the clothespins compensated. It was wonderfully elegant, wonderfully simple.

Special Thanks to the Hardwood Distributor’s Association for this blog.