Don Noon

300+ year old Spruce

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Don Noon   

OK, we're just circling around the basic idea that if you take reasonable spruce, it's difficult or impossible to show that the natural variations in properties have all that much effect, especially in the smaller items such as soundpost or bass bar.  Certainly the properties DO absolutely matter at some level, as you can't use lead or styrofoam without noticing anything different in the result.

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At least, it tells you that 300 years doesn't convert all wood into something radically different.  The numbers are still on the chart, so it still mostly looks like wood.  Better to have one or two samples than none.

Hi,

Perhaps you should wait another 300 years to notice any difference :P .

 

Friendly, Dave.

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Don Noon   

This is an old thread, but I should have had this information here.  A more recent thread (http://www.maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/333130-question-regarding-old-wood/) got me thinking about it.

 

One property often associated with old fiddles is that the wood does not allow light to pass through.  I compared the samples shown in post #1, as well as some of Simeon Chambers' "old wood" Engelmann, and within reason they all transmitted light about the same.  Very fresh, blindingly white wood transmits more, and you might expect.

 

I can only conclude that age alone does not cause extreme opacity, but something else is happening that is surface-related.  Either oxidation, or perhaps some other process that requires air transfer.  Now the question is: does that "some other process" change the acoustic properties?  Age alone apparently doesn't.

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Don Noon   

for being 300 years old it doesn't look very oxidized or darkened. 

 

I thought so too.  But if it was from the interior of a heavy building timber (a definite possibility), that might not be so different from the interior of a large tree, where the cellulose may have been created over 1000 years ago.  I haven't noticed that the older rings of a tree are darkened at all.

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Don, do you think there is any advantage to artificial humidity cycling.  There was an article in Strad about it, but that was several years ago.  I tried it on a couple of fiddles and could see no change in tone or power. 

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Don Noon   

Don, do you think there is any advantage to artificial humidity cycling?

 

I don't know.  My current mental model for wood aging is a slow hydrolysis of the hemicellulose/lignin combined with slow polymerization of what remains.  These both take time and are affected to some extent by humidity and temperature, but not by humidity cycling.  Where humidity cycling might come in is to help remove the hydrolysis by-products from the interior of the wood... so humidity cycling by itself wouldn't do much.

 

These are not proven ideas, just ideas that seem reasonable to me at this point.

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This is an old thread, but I should have had this information here. A more recent thread (http://www.maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/333130-question-regarding-old-wood/) got me thinking about it.

One property often associated with old fiddles is that the wood does not allow light to pass through. I compared the samples shown in post #1, as well as some of Simeon Chambers' "old wood" Engelmann, and within reason they all transmitted light about the same. Very fresh, blindingly white wood transmits more, and you might expect.

I can only conclude that age alone does not cause extreme opacity, but something else is happening that is surface-related. Either oxidation, or perhaps some other process that requires air transfer. Now the question is: does that "some other process" change the acoustic properties? Age alone apparently doesn't.

I was given an old fiddle which had been stored in a box in an attic for probably 30 years. I noticed that it had a distinct "old wood" odor ... ie, it smelled the way my grandmother's attic smelled. I assume that this odor is from fungus living on the wood surface and probably has absolutely no effect on the sound, just another interesting thing going on. I have also had old tonewood that smelled this way .. hard as nails to carve until I got into it... no idea if there is a correlation there, however.

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jezzupe   

This is an old thread, but I should have had this information here.  A more recent thread (http://www.maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/333130-question-regarding-old-wood/) got me thinking about it.

 

One property often associated with old fiddles is that the wood does not allow light to pass through.  I compared the samples shown in post #1, as well as some of Simeon Chambers' "old wood" Engelmann, and within reason they all transmitted light about the same.  Very fresh, blindingly white wood transmits more, and you might expect.

 

I can only conclude that age alone does not cause extreme opacity, but something else is happening that is surface-related.  Either oxidation, or perhaps some other process that requires air transfer.  Now the question is: does that "some other process" change the acoustic properties?  Age alone apparently doesn't.

I finally have some 1804 scrap wood from Daniel Hoffman if you'd be intersted in looking at it. My take on the opacity thing is that the fluids contained in the material, from the top surface to about 2 mils in, over time slowly dry out and loose the "liquid" part of the saps primary liquid. Just like fresh sap on a car hood is clear like honey when its fresh, yet if left to bake for a long time will turn a non transparent yellow crusty material. Not only does this change happen, but it does effect sound imo as sap is a dampener when fresh, but a radiator when dried out. I would call it a by product of oxidization and air cycles.

 

The dimension of the plate has everything to do with observable conclusions in that a 300 old thick peice of wood would not be the same as a plate that is 300 years old. The material needs to be thin for 300 years. However this effect happens in a shorter period of time than that.

 

Fir that is used in the building industry is a perfect example of the effects of sap hardening by drying out. Lumber for framing is a completely diferent animal once the "wet" stage has gone away, drive nails into old vs new to really see the difference. Once the sap has hardened it acts like a bullet proof vest that creats a resistant matrix residing through out the material. Wet sap acts like water, it offers no resitance to the nail and energy driving it, whereas dry sap, pff that stuff is like natures plastic polymer and when distributed thru the cellose mesh, it becomes very hard, and opaque.

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DGV   

 

Fir that is used in the building industry is a perfect example of the effects of sap hardening by drying out. Lumber for framing is a completely diferent animal once the "wet" stage has gone away, drive nails into old vs new to really see the difference. Once the sap has hardened it acts like a bullet proof vest that creats a resistant matrix residing through out the material. Wet sap acts like water, it offers no resitance to the nail and energy driving it, whereas dry sap, pff that stuff is like natures plastic polymer and when distributed thru the cellose mesh, it becomes very hard, and opaque.

 

Is there an artificial way to speed up this sap drying that is safe to do at home?

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Don's mention of a mental model has kind of a Pavlov effect on me thinking and generating questions.  Rereading this thread answered most of them.  One of the remaining questions I have concerning old wood is the effect of replacing an old plate with a new one, or vise versa.  If for repair/restoration reasons a damaged top plate has to be replaced, how does the violin or plate respond?  Is the "break-in" period the same if the replacement plate is very old compared to a new but well seasoned plate?  Does the repaired violin sound or respond like a new or old violin depending on the age of the replacement top?  Oops, that's more than one question.  I'll restrain my mental saliva with now. 

 

Thanks,

Jim 

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Rue   

... best at cutting through the crap.

Ah! Now I see a problem. Shovelling it works much better... :ph34r:

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Don Noon   

One of the remaining questions I have concerning old wood is the effect of replacing an old plate with a new one, or vise versa. 

 

I'm sure there are some others out there who have done plate replacements and could answer more about longer-term effects, but from my many top-replacement experiments, replacing the top is very close to creating a new instrument.  There still seems to be some leftover influence from the back and overall form, but I'd put that at ~20% of the total.  Mostly the top.

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If anyone has >200 year old Norway spruce or maple, untreated, I would really like to ask for a small sample, just 1-2 gram is sufficient.

 

The purpose is to provide control samples to be compared against wood shavings of Stradivari and del Gesu wood shavings. I now have samples from 10 instruments by these two masters, plus an entire neck by Stradivari (with two nail holes as you would expect, and a beautiful ivory fingerboard). Control samples for my experiments are European spruce and maple purchased by active makers. We have already applied state-of-the-art tools to analyze these samples: 600 MHz solid state NMR, ICP-MS, synchrotron radiation, and radiocarbon dating. The first piece we dated was a Strad 1731 cello, which had two possible matches (multiple matches are inevitable in samples less than 300 years old), 1680 and 1750, and the previous date seemed reasobable. From this cello we learned very valuable information about the presence of chemical crosslinkers for wood biopolymers, not just one but three. We are rapidly collecting data from our Cremonese samples but it has been difficult to get old wood controls.

 

If you are willing to help us uncover more hidden facts about Stradivari's wood, simply by providing old wood, please send an email to hctai [at] ntu.edu.tw

 

We will also apply SEM, TEM, and Raman spectroscopy in the future. The whole series of experiments will take many years. But I can say that the maple of Stradivari differs from modern maple in terms of molecular architecture of biopolymers. The why and how is still under investigation. But next year we will publish the first breakthrough paper, so old wood controls samples will be greatly appreciated.  

 

Note added: As some of you already know, I am an assistant professor of chemistry at National Taiwan University. My interest is academic, and all my discoveries will be published and openly shared. All my published articles are on my lab website for download. I am not into selling violin, varnish, or books. I have no interest in secrecy or magi bullets, or making instruments. Science has always been a aid to high art and crafts, and the most helpful kind of science is always the kind that adheres to rigorous standards of academic publishing.   

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One property often associated with old fiddles is that the wood does not allow light to pass through.  I compared the samples shown in post #1, as well as some of Simeon Chambers' "old wood" Engelmann, and within reason they all transmitted light about the same.  Very fresh, blindingly white wood transmits more, and you might expect.

 

I can only conclude that age alone does not cause extreme opacity, but something else is happening that is surface-related.  Either oxidation, or perhaps some other process that requires air transfer.  Now the question is: does that "some other process" change the acoustic properties?  Age alone apparently doesn't.

 

Last year/early this year I spent several sessions in a microscope lab looking at old and new wood samples along with a number that had been subjected to various treatments.

 

In light of Don's comment attached are 3 photos of samples from the 16 December session.

Each photo is labelled.

 

The 3 samples featured are:

Engelmann Spruce from Simeon Chambers

300 year old spruce sample from Melvin Goldsmith 

Another sample from Melvin of similar age.

 

I apologise for the quality of the photos but hope that it will be possible glean something from them in terms of new(???) (Engelmann spruce) versus old as in Melvin's samples.

 

(Note: During this session I fiddled with both the white balance and positioning and strength of the incident lighting.  The original shots were .tiffs around 9MB each. )

 

Many thanks to Melvin and others for the samples that I got to examine!

 

I will post further photos in another post.

post-24896-0-20144000-1440200988_thumb.jpg

post-24896-0-38616100-1440201030_thumb.jpg

post-24896-0-81909700-1440201056_thumb.jpg

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Following on from Post #40, attached are 3 more sample photos.  These date from a 21 January 2015 session.

 

The 3 samples featured are:

Italian spruce cut in 2013

Another photo of Melvin's second sample

Spruce from an old piano

 

During this session no adjustments to the white balance were made.  The only adjustments were to the positioning and strength of the incident lighting.  The original shots were .tiffs around 9MB each.

post-24896-0-06583700-1440203101_thumb.jpg

post-24896-0-03230100-1440203130_thumb.jpg

post-24896-0-61619800-1440203153_thumb.jpg

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Don Noon   

Thanks for the post, John.

 

To me, the cell walls of the fresh wood appear to be made of clear glass, and the older wood has darkened walls.  I suppose that shouldn't be too much of a surprise.  

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Thanks for the post, John.

 

To me, the cell walls of the fresh wood appear to be made of clear glass, and the older wood has darkened walls.  I suppose that shouldn't be too much of a surprise.  

 

That's pretty much what I saw in the lab. 

 

Unfortunately even the fullsize file photos don't capture what you actually see when viewing the samples through the stereo microscope, in this case, at approx. 500x magnification.  Depth of field and a lot of detail gets lost. 

 

The person who gave me access to the lab has produced some books featuring 3D SEM images.  These are very impressive!

See: https://books.google.co.nz/books/about/Bacteria_Fungi_Lichens_Plants.html?id=M3w3ngEACAAJ&hl=en

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Following on from Post #40, attached are 3 more sample photos.  These date from a 21 January 2015 session.

 

The 3 samples featured are:

Italian spruce cut in 2013

Another photo of Melvin's second sample

Spruce from an old piano

 

During this session no adjustments to the white balance were made.  The only adjustments were to the positioning and strength of the incident lighting.  The original shots were .tiffs around 9MB each.

 

To really see structural changes in cell wall, the wood needs to be resin embedded and cut with microtome machines or something like that. With the help of scanning electromicroscopes or transmission electron microscopes, we can see if the middle lamella has cracks or things like that. However, since I am not experienced in this area I think there is the danger of seeing a few pictures and jumping to conclusions. How to properly sample old wood to get the overall picture is one of my doubts.  

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I am sure many makers know how the wedges in our tonewood stockpiles turn dark on the surface over time. If not enough wood is planed down before gluing the spine, we get a dark stripe running along the seam. I always attributed this darkening to oxidation by the air. Perhaps humidity and light accelerate the reaction.

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Here is a fantastic thesis written about the effects of wood aging:

http://e-collection.library.ethz.ch/eserv/eth:47394/eth-47394-02.pdf

 

Natural aging is a very complex process.

 

The sun is actually very dangerous due to lignin degradation. It is very surprising that Stradivari's own letter talked about exposing varnished instruments to the sun. Another letter to Galileo in Hill's book mentioned that Cremonese makers needed the strong heat of the sun to make good violins. The UV can penetrate the varnish and oxidize lignin molecules. Was this only for drying the varnish? 

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Rue   

I think there's a big difference between a little sun...and a lot of sun...

 

Humans need a little sun each day for Vitamin D synthesis.  15 minutes will do it if your are fair skinned.

 

Too much sun, we wrinkle and run a high risk of getting cancer.

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To really see structural changes in cell wall, the wood needs to be resin embedded and cut with microtome machines or something like that. With the help of scanning electromicroscopes or transmission electron microscopes, we can see if the middle lamella has cracks or things like that. However, since I am not experienced in this area I think there is the danger of seeing a few pictures and jumping to conclusions. How to properly sample old wood to get the overall picture is one of my doubts.  

 

I agree.

 

Initially I had hoped that my visits to the microscope lab would lead to looking at the treated samples under SEM.  I was hoping that meaningful differences might emerge where individual cell walls and specific damage to S1, S2 and S3 layers might be able to be seen..

 

Unfortunately it emerged that doing this would be both costly and time consuming (due to required sample preparation to avoid volatiles contaminating the column), which I couldn't afford.  I also realised that I needed a better sample reference system than I had.

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Don Noon   

Here is a fantastic thesis written about the effects of wood aging:

http://e-collection.library.ethz.ch/eserv/eth:47394/eth-47394-02.pdf

 

Thanks for that link, Bruce, it sure is a lifetime's worth of data.  However, the massive quantity of data in table form doesn't help much unless you're willing to go nuts with numbers.

 

The single most useful item in the thesis was this plot:

post-25192-0-16147100-1440287871_thumb.jpg

 

Not only does it show a clear trend of old wood being stiffer, but also shows the natural variations that can lead to confusion if you only look at a few samples of old and new wood and try to find a trend. (I'm kinda skeptical of that one point at .4 density and 20,000 mPa, which would equate to ~7000 m/s speed of sound.)

 

Of interest to me was a statement that hydrothermally processed wood resulted in higher damping, which is far from what I have found and contrary to a VSA paper from a while back.

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Thanks for that link, Bruce, it sure is a lifetime's worth of data.  However, the massive quantity of data in table form doesn't help much unless you're willing to go nuts with numbers.

 

The single most useful item in the thesis was this plot:

attachicon.gifKranitz - plot.jpg

 

Not only does it show a clear trend of old wood being stiffer, but also shows the natural variations that can lead to confusion if you only look at a few samples of old and new wood and try to find a trend. (I'm kinda skeptical of that one point at .4 density and 20,000 mPa, which would equate to ~7000 m/s speed of sound.)

 

Of interest to me was a statement that hydrothermally processed wood resulted in higher damping, which is far from what I have found and contrary to a VSA paper from a while back.

 

However, if you look at table 22 below Fig. 22, if I understand correctly, there is no correlation between age and elasticity change. There is significant interaction between age and density, which could mean that his older samples just happened to be more sense on average in the first place. There is significant correlation between density and elasticity. So his interpretation was that age does not change wood elasticity. So Don you are right, 300 years of aging does not alter the wood much in terms of mechanical properties. I have read multiple papers saying this (for well protected wood). Sometimes one paper may report a small change in one aspect or another, but the overall result is not much change. However, about 20-30% of hemicellulose will degrade in 300 years, so I tend to agree with studies saying that elasticity in the radial direction will decrease a little. 

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