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Andreas Preuss

Are claims that Borax treatment on spruce enhance acoustic properties correct?

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Today I met someone in my shop who claims that borax treatment will enhance the sound speed in spruce and diminish the weight. 

It seems that he got his information from Nagyvary, 

Has anyone here done this? As good as it sounds I am a bit skeptic about it. 

 

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There's been quite a lot of discussion about this at one time or another. David Burgess in particular made some intelligent noises ... 

Borax is a well known woodworm repellant and anti-fungal treatment which was in very wide use before Rentokil appeared on the scene - I think it highly likely that it was used routinely for tonewood. I have used it quite a bit myself on worm-prone woods such as horse chestnut.

The science seems to support the notion that a salt such as borax would affect the physical properties of the wood (and thereby the acoustic properties).

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Since it's depositing borax into the wood, (to deter insects) not dissolving anything out of the wood, I can't imagine how it would make it lighter.

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15 minutes ago, FiddleDoug said:

Since it's depositing borax into the wood, (to deter insects) not dissolving anything out of the wood, I can't imagine how it would make it lighter.

That's what I would think too. 

 

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I think the claim some people make about these treatments is that they draw moisture out of the wood. Whether these claims are true is beyond me.

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I believe borax tends to affect the flexibility and elasticity of materials, so one might reasonably expect or least not be surprised if it does have some acoustic impact.  Good or bad?? That's another matter.  Also, I don't think Bruce Tai's look a salts in the wood for classical examples showed borax related indicators, but don't remember for sure.  

For me, I will continue to avoid it, at least until someone convincingly demonstrates borax use in classical Cremona work.

I'm happy looking at salt applications in a general way.  But will avoid borax as too active unless well demonstrated.

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No disrespect towards Nagyvary, but from my perspective, he has cried "Eureka" just a few too many times to be taken seriously.

Very few of his findings seem to be peer reviewed.

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No, there is no credible evidence whatsoever that borax treatment on spruce or maple enhances acoustic properties of violins.

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In fairness, his supporters note that much of his bad reputation springs from reporters exaggerating him for effect.

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7 hours ago, FiddleDoug said:

Since it's depositing borax into the wood, (to deter insects) not dissolving anything out of the wood, I can't imagine how it would make it lighter.

Come now Doug, we've already established there's no science going on here, it's all just magic.

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9 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Today I met someone in my shop who claims that borax treatment will enhance the sound speed in spruce and diminish the weight. 

It seems that he got his information from Nagyvary, 

Has anyone here done this? As good as it sounds I am a bit skeptic about it. 

Yes, I have tried it... vacuum/pressure saturation of the wood with a borax/water solution, then dried out.

Initial results seemed to indicate a lower damping coefficient, but in subsequent tests I could not repeat the results.  Definitely not lighter, nor higher speed of sound.  Borax treated wood came out much browner after torrefication, and with no other benefits.  So I don't do that any more (it was a lot of work, too, and very difficult to fully saturate spruce).  

One side note:  borax treated wood measured MUCH higher on a pin-type moisture meter, although I think that the electrical properties of the borax were screwing up the meter readings.  The weight measurements didn't correspond to what the moisture meter was reading.

So, in short: no, not lighter, not stiffer.  Slightly heavier, actually, due to the added borax.

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32 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

Yes, I have tried it... vacuum/pressure saturation of the wood with a borax/water solution, then dried out.

Initial results seemed to indicate a lower damping coefficient, but in subsequent tests I could not repeat the results.  Definitely not lighter, nor higher speed of sound.  Borax treated wood came out much browner after torrefication, and with no other benefits.  So I don't do that any more (it was a lot of work, too, and very difficult to fully saturate spruce).  

One side note:  borax treated wood measured MUCH higher on a pin-type moisture meter, although I think that the electrical properties of the borax were screwing up the meter readings.  The weight measurements didn't correspond to what the moisture meter was reading.

So, in short: no, not lighter, not stiffer.  Slightly heavier, actually, due to the added borax.

Thanks, Don.

Seems to be what I thought. Not worthwhile to follow up. 

 

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2 hours ago, Bill Yacey said:

No disrespect towards Nagyvary, but from my perspective, he has cried "Eureka" just a few too many times to be taken seriously.

Very few of his findings seem to be peer reviewed.

Well said. 

For the same reason I am very cautious about any 'findings' from Nagyvary. At least the results of his own production seem not to be in the top ranking of terrific sounding new instruments.

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4 hours ago, David Beard said:

I believe borax tends to affect the flexibility and elasticity of materials, so one might reasonably expect or least not be surprised if it does have some acoustic impact.  Good or bad?? That's another matter.  Also, I don't think Bruce Tai's look a salts in the wood for classical examples showed borax related indicators, but don't remember for sure.  

For me, I will continue to avoid it, at least until someone convincingly demonstrates borax use in classical Cremona work.

I'm happy looking at salt applications in a general way.  But will avoid borax as too active unless well demonstrated.

I am in contact with Bruce Tai. His research seems to have found some clues of different wood treatment by different makers. I think his new research paper on this topic will be published next year.

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1 hour ago, A432 said:

In fairness, his supporters note that much of his bad reputation springs from reporters exaggerating him for effect.

Well, it seems to me that he doesn’t mind to have this sort of reputation.

One of his first papers 30 years ago had the eureka finding of 12 varnish layers on Strads. Back then as a young and unexperienced maker I thought 'wow'. Later I read the paper again frowning my head and then I figured that he was just looking on the afterward dirt and polish accumulations on top of the original varnish. There was one layer of pure carbon which caught my attention. This was just one layer of dirt coming from the smoke particles of fire heating IMHO. This means to me that he doesn't spend any second on a self critical review of his research. 

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8 hours ago, jezzupe said:

Come now Doug, we've already established there's no science going on here, it's all just magic.

There is no evidence according to Brandmair or Echard.  The magic happens elsewhere.

on we go,

Joe

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8 minutes ago, joerobson said:

There is no evidence according to Brandmair or Echard.  The magic happens elsewhere.

on we go,

Joe

My question wasn't if there are any parallels to Cremonese instruments. 

Thanks anyway for your input.

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8 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

I am in contact with Bruce Tai. His research seems to have found some clues of different wood treatment by different makers. I think his new research paper on this topic will be published next year.

Tai's "research" is pure pseudoscience. There has been lots of discussion about this in previous threads.

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59 minutes ago, GeorgeH said:

Tai's "research" is pure pseudoscience. There has been lots of discussion about this in previous threads.

You are presumably talking about his views on acoustics. I remember this debate. To me he tried to take the position of someone else from a research paper which was not directed at violin sound but oral perception in general. To me this wasn't pseudo silence but rather a scientific comparison mismatch.

Bruce Tai is in the end a chemist and we will see what he found on wood foreign components in old instruments. I am the last to judge the result before it comes out. 

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15 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

I am in contact with Bruce Tai. His research seems to have found some clues of different wood treatment by different makers. I think his new research paper on this topic will be published next year.

7 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

Tai's "research" is pure pseudoscience. There has been lots of discussion about this in previous threads.

6 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Bruce Tai is in the end a chemist and we will see what he found on wood foreign components in old instruments. I am the last to judge the result before it comes out. 

The acoustics stuff was pretty odd to my  way of thinking, and didn't make sense to me.

On the chemistry side, we DID have a discussion about his findings a while ago (I'm too lazy to search for it), and there were two major findings:

1)  Some samples of wood from Cremonese violins showed unusually high amounts of metals... but still very tiny fractions of a percent.

2) Old wood hemicellulose decomposes, and he found ~40% lower EMC in the Cremonese samples... about what is expected for wood that old (and about what I have measured in torrefied wood).  I should note that samples of 300 year-old spruce taken from building beams did NOT show abnormal EMC (my  measurements)... so there's that.

Much ado was made about 1), with nothing other than speculation that it might do something acoustically.   2) was mostly passed over, even though it appears to me an obvious and significant factor for acoustics.

I should stress that these MN discussions were preliminary... I expect that the final reviewed and published paper will be toned down about the speculative parts.

 

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I'm a firm believer that photo degradation plays a large part, but I would say the key to it, and or some of  the understanding lies in; there a is 300 year old piece of wood, and then there is a 300 year old that has been an 1/8" thick for 300 years.

Dimensions related to plate thickness and how uv photo degradation will "Swiss cheese" thin dimension wood vs. Whereas a larger piece will have surface degradation but there will be enough mass that has enough bound water to maintain more normal emc readings. The internal mass of thicker wood is shielded to a certain extent and will not be as prone to being altered by the uv. Like with all radiation, the more substance you can put between you and the source the less the effects from the shielding.

The internal heart section of a 4x4 post will not receive the same amount of exposure as the top 1/8' surface depth, so when all you have is an 1/8" to begin with, after 300 years of exposure that material will be vastly different material than what it started out as.

Anyone who has demo'ed either a redwood deck or fence would notice the gray "crust" e {as if bread} around the internal red original color. If I were to take a resaw band saw and cut a thin layer of the crust off, and then cut another thin layer deeper into the board, even though they are technically the same material, they are in fact vastly different dissimilar materials once isolated from each other, and will have vastly different properties from each other in all ways.
 

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This is all over the place by now, so bringing this up in this context won't hijack it.

Something I have long thought likely that might, in addition, account for the metalic traces : having ponded the wood previous to working it.

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Juzeppi, How many of those 1/8" bellies and backs have been left out in the sun, wind, rain, snow...... for any portion of their life? Not quite the same exposure as a deck or fencepost I suppose.

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Wood doesn't need to be left outside in the elements to show surface aging effects.  I have had some tonewood (collected from other makers, retiring, etc.) that has been 30+ years old, and there is definitely a skin of dark wood.  I have tried cutting off the surface carefully to try to measure its properties, but it has been pretty thin, and I never got anything I could trust out of it.

Some of the skin darkening is photo-related for sure, but there's also the observation that the discoloration at the endgrain is normally much thicker than elsewhere, indicating to me that air penetration is involved as well.  Either that, or all of the wood was stored in such a way that the endgrain got a lot more light exposure than the sides.

In any case, a color change indicates something is going on chemically in the wood, and chemical changes could also affect acoustic properties.

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Sorry I was being a bit tongue in cheek reacting to J's analogy to fence posts and decks.... I have spruce guitar tops that have been in "dark" storage for 15 to 25 years and those also show surface "discoloration".... I suppose my question was more the attribution to "UV" exposure as opposed to general exposure to the ambient "climate"? 

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