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Thread: Virtues of specific woods

  1. #1
    Jac@stafford.net's Avatar
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    Virtues of specific woods

    Virtues of specific woods for LF cameras.

    By chance the last two LF (4x5) I built were of cherry wood thanks to a friend who had a great source for woods. The cameras are stable, and they are ageing, coloring pleasantly.

    I remain clueless of the qualities of various woods. I have some LF cameras from 1900 to maybe 1950 and the woodwork is functional, for which I am grateful, but they are ugly. Parts were mated from lots of parts with no concern for grain or color matching. I understand the economic utility of their approach. They were not furniture designers. It is all good.

    Today manufacturers have a much more limited market, therefore fewer clients than existed when LF cameras were just another commodity made with the most common materials. Are manufacturers today paying attention to wood traits, color or grain?

    When I read that a camera is mahogany my eyes roll up so far I see my brain. No help there.

    So perhaps eliminating mahogany, or being more specific about it, are there woods we might look for? I have some maple of undetermined type which is interesting, but not enough to make a camera. I do not even know how to find a reliable source for more. Call me stupid. I'm used to it.

  2. #2

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    Re: Virtues of specific woods

    Besides cherry, Wista also made cameras from quince wood; rosewood and ebony.

  3. #3

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    Re: Virtues of specific woods

    Some woods make a more solid camera than others. Mahogany seems to build a more solid camera than cherry wood, for example. This is just my observation, having handled only a dozen or so wooden large format cameras. I too would love to know more on this subject.

  4. #4
    Silver Fox
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    Re: Virtues of specific woods

    Most importantly, many woods will be suitable when they are properly dried at elevated temperatures for sufficient time such that they remain stable. Specifically, I know that Chamonix uses teak and American cherry (Prunus serotina). I also know that hard maple (sugar maple, Acer saccharum) makes an excellent, tough, hard wood for furniture, etc., when properly dried to stability. Of these three, cherry is the lightest (i.e., lowest density), then teak, about 10% heavier, and then maple, about 26% heavier than cherry. I wonder, too, about other woods such as yellow birch, and a composite, the thin-lamina Baltic (aka Russian) plywood. (I have used Baltic plywood to make entirely adequate lens boards using only a power drill and a bastard file.) I am sure others in this Forum have experiences with other woods worth considering.
    Peter Collins

    "Growing older is not for sissies." --anon.

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    Peter De Smidt's Avatar
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    Re: Virtues of specific woods

    I've heard of black walnut being used for cameras.
    "Why can't we all just get along?" President Dale, Mars Attacks

  7. #7
    Jac@stafford.net's Avatar
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    Re: Virtues of specific woods

    Yeah, a broad search, as if that were not the first I tried.
    I hoped some advice specific to LF camera builds would emerge.

    Thanks again for nothing, Dan Fromm.

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    Re: Virtues of specific woods

    Have a look for guitar makers (luthiers) in your locality. They should know a good bit about wood and must have access to supplies. I've seen mention of Alder, Ash, Cherry, Mahogany, Brazilian Rosewood, basswood. Stability (lack of expansion / shrinking) is a big issue for guitar makers, even more so than camera makers - so they ought to be able to give you some good pointers. They'll know about the resonance of various woods, which I daresay would have a bearing on vibration performance. And of course, you could get the first sunburst field camera...or cherry red...or even paisley
    Peter

  9. #9
    Les
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    Re: Virtues of specific woods

    Rosewood and ebony is dense and relatively heavy....and there was a reason why cherry and mahogany was used to create cameras. The weight of the aged wood mattered and so did stability: worpage and twisting was taken into consideration. I guess the ribbon grain rocked too....and 'Dorff was a good example of that. That's not to say that cameras were not made from other woods.

    Hmmm, I probably would make one out of koa wood (exotic from Hawaii)....it has working properties similar to cherry. Getting koa may be an issue, since Hawaii stopped exporting koa some years ago....this may have something to do with the Lacey Act (?). Not aware if things have changed much and don't wish to order any and have it sit at Customs for years.

    Les

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    Re: Virtues of specific woods

    Aren't rosewood and ebony toxic to work with?

    We used pattern-grade Honduran mahogany at Zone VI in the beginning. Sadly, that's long gone.

    Richard Ritter mostly uses cherry, but he has a special source for it in Pennsylvania that uses a special drying regimen. The wood itself is terrific, aided more by its treatment.

    He's also used walnut, pearwood, and other species. If you know what you're doing, you can probably make anything work.
    Bruce Barlow
    author of "Finely Focused" and "Exercises in Photographic Composition"
    www.brucewbarlow.com

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