PhilipKT

Dendro question

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How reliable are analyses of old wood?  Is it common to get different results from different pieces of the same wood?  If something is dated as “circa“ would that typically be a range of 10 years or 20? Or more? It’s a fascinating subject and now that it exists, experts finally have something concrete to add to their visual analysis. I’m just wondering 

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Brilliant. Thank You so much, this is completely fascinating.

It hasn’t completely answered my question yet, but I’m only a third of the way through the video. I have to go make the mashed potatoes in a few minutes, but they can wait

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17 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

How reliable are analyses of old wood?  Is it common to get different results from different pieces of the same wood?  If something is dated as “circa“ would that typically be a range of 10 years or 20? Or more? It’s a fascinating subject and now that it exists, experts finally have something concrete to add to their visual analysis. I’m just wondering 

Very reliable when it works, which is not always.


The French 18th century violin you posted recently worked a treat...B)

The date of the latest ring on the belly of an instrument is not always a reliable indication of the making date, although sometimes it can be, especially when same-tree matches are identified and attributed to specific makers.

The year span between dendro date and actual manufacturing date varies greatly. Some Del Gesu' have dendro dates only 4 years prior to making date, some Strads also 4, but mostly more, in the range of 10 to 25 years, bu can also be a much longer period.

Generally the wood used in Italy and France in the 18th century was used very soon after the felling of the tree.  


A test done yesterday on a Strad labelled 1720 revealed, for example, that ALL the same tree matches (extremely common and expected between Strads) were from 7 violins and a viola made in the 1690s.  I was just told this morning that the table is composite, and may well be from an earlier Stradivari from the 1690s.
 
Different pieces of the same tree may indeed have a different latest ring actually present on it.  More wood may have been removed for jointing or other reasons.
When same tree matches are identified, then naturally, the latest ring referring to any of these will automatically apply to ALL.
A test on another Strad recently done showed that its wood was from the same tree as the Lady Blunt of 1721.  This other Strad is dated 1719, and its latest ring date is 1715, so only 4 years after the tree was standing in the forest.

Yeah.... I find it fascinating too!...

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31 minutes ago, Wood Butcher said:

If I'm understanding the last part right Peter, they were just peeling the bark off and using the spruce right up to the outer edge of the tree?

And that they only used trees that grew in their own back garden

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I can understand that local wood is easier to get and transport, but it seems in a lot of cases, the woods used were not so local, especially the maple.
I'm more surprised (if I understood right) that violin bellies were using wood right up to the bark virtually, an area which can often be discoloured, attacked by beetles etc. and is also going to be a significant portion of sapwood. The outer part of the tree usually has the finer rings, and the rings themselves less curved, so it makes some sense.

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5 minutes ago, Ratcliffiddles said:

They didn't care about sapwood

Indeed. Many old instruments do show a significant portion of sapwood on the belly.
I'm just surprised that they used the wood up to the very edge, and that a portion wasn't split off.

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1 hour ago, Ratcliffiddles said:

Very reliable when it works, which is not always.


The French 18th century violin you posted recently worked a treat...B)

The date of the latest ring on the belly of an instrument is not always a reliable indication of the making date, although sometimes it can be, especially when same-tree matches are identified and attributed to specific makers.

The year span between dendro date and actual manufacturing date varies greatly. Some Del Gesu' have dendro dates only 4 years prior to making date, some Strads also 4, but mostly more, in the range of 10 to 25 years, bu can also be a much longer period.

Generally the wood used in Italy and France in the 18th century was used very soon after the felling of the tree.  


A test done yesterday on a Strad labelled 1720 revealed, for example, that ALL the same tree matches (extremely common and expected between Strads) were from 7 violins and a viola made in the 1690s.  I was just told this morning that the table is composite, and may well be from an earlier Stradivari from the 1690s.
 
Different pieces of the same tree may indeed have a different latest ring actually present on it.  More wood may have been removed for jointing or other reasons.
When same tree matches are identified, then naturally, the latest ring referring to any of these will automatically apply to ALL.
A test on another Strad recently done showed that its wood was from the same tree as the Lady Blunt of 1721.  This other Strad is dated 1719, and its latest ring date is 1715, so only 4 years after the tree was standing in the forest.

Yeah.... I find it fascinating too!...

If I have interpreted your information correctly, Stradivari's logs from the 'Golden Period' were from trees approximately 120-150 years old, so presumably they were felled soon after they broke through the canopy of and before the sapwood rings became very close as we see in older trees. Also the sapwood he used was beetle and worm free because they attack dead trees and fallen trees that have been dead for a few years?

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I have never seen a healthy conifer with beetle or worm in the sapwood.

It’s also worth remembering that what we now think of as “forestry” is a kind of intensive farming of trash wood for pallets or biomass. 17th century forestry was highly managed over generations to result in top quality wood  that could easily be worked with hand tools.

 

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6 minutes ago, Ratcliffiddles said:

Certainly not

But he did use sapwood?

 

 

14 minutes ago, martin swan said:

I have never seen a healthy conifer with beetle or worm in the sapwood.

Me neither.

14 minutes ago, martin swan said:

It’s also worth remembering that what we now think of as “forestry” is a kind of intensive farming of trash wood for pallets or biomass.

 Yes, especially the big logging companies.

15 minutes ago, martin swan said:

 17th century forestry was highly managed over generations to result in top quality wood  that could easily be worked with hand tools.

Yes and hopefully some loggers still maintain that tradition.

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3 hours ago, Ratcliffiddles said:

Very reliable when it works, which is not always.


The French 18th century violin you posted recently worked a treat...B)

Peter, thank you very much for your comment. I’m a little bit unclear as to the meaning of this part.

 Were you able to do an analysis on the violin that I posted without actually seeing the violin? 

I echo the thoughts of others who were happy to put a face to the name. Unless your shop is in some lab in the science department at Oxford or something similar, popping in to say hello will be on the agenda when my wife and I go to England.

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2 hours ago, martin swan said:

I have never seen a healthy conifer with beetle or worm in the sapwood.

It’s also worth remembering that what we now think of as “forestry” is a kind of intensive farming of trash wood for pallets or biomass. 17th century forestry was highly managed over generations to result in top quality wood  that could easily be worked with hand tools.

 

After World War II, my grandparents build a glorious house south of Dallas, and every piece of wood in the house is solid California redwood. After more than 80 years, the house is still solid as a rock, but I wish that redwood was all still standing in the California forest

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3 hours ago, sospiri said:

But he did use sapwood?

He most certainly did, and quite visibly so on some instruments, where varnish absorption gives the sapwood a different colour.  Although I don't know the reason why it is seen on some and not others, it could be down to the seasoning period, which doesn't seem to have been much of a concept as far as thin wedges of spruce back then.

 

58 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

Were you able to do an analysis on the violin that I posted without actually seeing the violin? 

That's what I do 99% of the time...

And sure, do come and say hello!

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 I have another embarrassing question: despite spending much of my life reading English literature, I have no idea what the idiom, “worked a treat“ means. Does that mean it was very easy and simple, or was delightfully complex, or caused problems, or something in between. I am quite embarrassed that I could not tell, not even from the context. 

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1 minute ago, Wood Butcher said:

Something which worked a treat would be a good thing.

In other words, the analysis of that violin was simple and successful?

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Peter as long as we’re on the subject of easy analysis, can you share an anecdote of a violin that was extremely difficult?

I guess lots of patches or replaced parts would be an issue? Does varnish affect the data?

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We really have no way of knowing how much wood was trimmed away in the processing / drying,  and additionally, how much the maker decided to remove based on their needs and wants, blocks, linings, etc.  This can skew attempts at dating time of manufacture considerably.

Larger instruments like cello and bass would probably need more careful use of the billets including the sapwood, and would yield a more accurate estimate of when the instrument was made.

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On ‎11‎/‎29‎/‎2019 at 4:47 PM, Ratcliffiddles said:

He most certainly did, and quite visibly so on some instruments, where varnish absorption gives the sapwood a different colour.  Although I don't know the reason why it is seen on some and not others, it could be down to the seasoning period, which doesn't seem to have been much of a concept as far as thin wedges of spruce back then.

Thanks Peter. I split 200 billets last December and the sapwood was visible when freshly split, but disappeared when they dried, which was just a few weeks. Maybe some of them still have a visible demarcation? I will look out for it.

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I think it is important to distingush the technology and science itself from its application in violin expertise.

I had the chance to briefely get to know some of the former during my participation in the 29th European Dendroecological Fieldweek. The part relevant for dating is called "archeology" and is the oldest and least sexy discipline nowadays. I was in this group and we dated the wood of local houses as well as the wood of the table of one of my cellos (on which 10 different experts had 9 different opinions or non-opinions).

 

Scientific dendrochonological dating is very reliable and precise, as recently impressively demonstrated in this public Nature paper: 

Tree rings reveal globally coherent signature of cosmogenic radiocarbon events in 774 and 993 CE

As for your question regarding "circa" dating, I would say that there is no such thing or at least it is not scientific:

If the wood was dated, it is dated to the year. This implies that the wood could have been used from then on: nothing more, nothing less.

Everything else I would consider to be violin expertise: similar to stylistical or construction method considerations are also conclusions reached from dendro based on personal skill and knowledge of the expert. The prevalence of certain wood origins or subspecies or dryingtimes etc. in certain historical violin making schools is personal knowledge of the expert, as such data is (to my knowledge) not published. Only with such additional knowledge, paired with traditional violin expertise could you come to such "circa" dating conclusions. Hence you have to trust your expert, same as always.

Nevertheless a fascinating field indeed.

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