Synthetic materials are easy to mass produce, which makes them ideal for manufacturing. But every so often, we'll stumble across something spectacular made from that humblest of materials: wood.
Designed by Michael Roopenian, the Engrain Tactile Keyboard is designed to enhance a "user's connection to their keyboards through texture and variation". Using an Apple keyboard as a template, Roopenian sandblasted a piece of wood to heighten the texture of the grain, then laser-cut the keys and glued them onto the keyboard. The result is rather elegant, and has now hit Kickstarter, with the keyboard available for a pledge of US$95, with a delivery date of June.
If you're desperate for the feel of nature as you type so badly you can't wait three months, there other other places to get wooden keyboards; Hacoa in Japan makes some lovely ones (although ordering looks complex at best), or there's a customisable version available from French company Orée.
If it's just a mouse you're after, these mice by Russian AlestRukov are designed to cut down on plastics and non-biodegradable waste, as well as extend the lifetime of the mouse. They're a bit luxe, though: carefully carved and finished out of expensive hardwoods such as mahogany and ebony that have been dried for up to a year, then finished with natural waxes. The cables are produced especially for AlestRukov, too, although the package doesn't come cheap. Expect to pay at least US$1000. Yikes.
We've heard that nothing resonates sound quite like wood, which we assume forms part of the principle behind the iTree by Austrian design studio KMKG: a hollowed-out log fitted with the audio options of the buyer's choice. These include iPod/MP3 player docks, a CD player, W LAN streaming and speaker arrangements. Hell, it's so customisable that you can take a ride out to the Austrian woods and pick your own tree. Price ranges aren't provided, but we shudder to think.
It's a shame this one never went beyond the prototype stage, because the idea of a wooden camera is just so appealing. Exhibited by Olympus at Photokina 2006, it used a then-new three-dimensional compression moulding process, which compressed a piece of cypress by 2.5. The resulting wood, Olympus claimed, was thin enough to be used as a chassis for electronics, but tougher than engineering plastic.
Look at these tiny little guys! From Korean company Motz, they come with an FM radio tuner built in, as well as a 3.5mm audio jack and a USB connector for charging the lithium-ion battery contained therein. And apparently it packs a bit of a sound wallop for its size — although you probably shouldn't go expecting too much.
If it's efficiency you're after, this PC by Suissa is not for you. Wrapped in that glass and wood abstract-sculpture case, you'll find a micro ATX motherboard, an Intel quad-core CPU, a Nvidia GTX 285 2GB video card, 12GB PC3-12800 memory, 2TB + 300GB hard-drive space, a DVD burner and a 750w power supply, visible through the side panel. Each one is custom built, too, so you can select the materials that suit your space the best. And, naturally, it's endlessly upgradeable, so you won't have to worry about replacing it when the hardware is outdated. It's also available on commission only. Ex-clu-sive.
Audiowood's Joel Scilley offers a number of uber-stylish hand-turned audio products, but by far and away the stand-outs are the custom turntables. Created from burls of wood that have been carved and polished in such a way that leaves shapes and textures intact, they're a firm statement of taste, refinement and craftsmanship.
These headphones look like something out of Fritz Lang's Metropolis; clean lines and stunningly simple symmetry, merging modern audio tech with the sleek 1930s aesthetic. It's the materials that really stand out, though: Ethiopian sheepskin for the headband and ear cups, ruthenium plating the outside of the ear cups, with zebrawood inlay, titanium-plated drivers, silver-plated wires and Kevlar-coated cables. With all that, the US$2750 price tag seems almost reasonable. Almost.
Xbox controller customiser Minister Morbid of MorbidStix handmade this steampunk 360 controller. As well as a wooden body, buttons and bumpers, it features brass buttons, copper rivets and leather hand grips. The best bit is the lock and key: you have to physically unlock the controller using the brass key in order to use it. Alas, the last one sold on eBay on in November 2011 for US$320.
You won't find one of these in your local jewellery store. We're fascinated; watchmaking is a painstakingly intricate craft at the best of times. These all-wooden watches are thought to have been made by Mikhail Semyonovitch Bronnikov from Vjatka, Russia, in the latter half of the 19th century. This particular watch is dated 1870, and is carved almost entirely of wood, with only springs and pivots made from metal, and dial details, cogs and screws carved from ivory.
Rob Smith of Artype's hand-made USB casings (containing a 16GB USB stick) are things of beauty; constructed of wood and recycled watch parts, no two are alike. Each one takes some time to make, so they tend to get snapped up pretty quickly, but they're certainly the classiest USB drives we've ever seen.
This wooden motherboard is a one-of-a-kind creation by Israeli designer Omer Deutsch. Taking a piece of eucalyptus, he ingeniously used the runnels and rivulets created by ants to lay in the copper wires, with components fanned around the outside, leading like roads to Rome to the chip in the centre. We don't think it's actually functional, but it's an interesting (and delightful) concept.
We also love his coffee cup. That counts as tech, right?
If Two Face were to drive a wooden car (wooden engine ... wooden seats ... wooden go ... oh ha ha), we reckon it would look a little something like this. Vasily Lazarenko of the Ukraine quit his job, sold both his cars and spent 18 months creating this modern sedan/vintage convertible hybrid with a body made of oak. Before you wonder how it weathers, Lazarenko gave it five coats of water-proof and flame-resistant lacquer. We've been unable to ascertain whether the convertible side actually has a hood, though...