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Thread: torrified wood woes

  1. #1
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    Default torrified wood woes

    I was the guy who ordered a mando top in torrified, and as I was taking down the outside, a sap pocket showed up, between where the f holes would be, and the side. The supplier replaced it, and I went back to work, got the outside done and am doing graduations on the inside, went back to the calipers to check my numbers, and feel something in my hand only to look at and realize the whole top split,. I called my buddy who builds and he then told me he has done 2 guitars with T. tops that both split. Is there something you need to do in grads thicker for this type wood?. does the T. process make it more brittle? I still have the top w/ the sap pocket, but am really wondering if I should not make an ash tray or frisbee out of it, and go back to my regular sitka?
    Mike Marrs

  2. #2
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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    My personal belief is that, yes, if you bake a piece of wood, it will tend to become more brittle.

    I also believe that it is safe to assume that there are good reasons that air dried wood has traditionally been recommended for instrument construction.

    Therefore, I have been skeptical of the use of torrified wood. Others may disagree.
    By the time torrified wood has been in use long enough to prove its long term stability, I will be too old for it to matter.

    If you're willing to take a risk, it doesn't hurt to experiment. But it's also good to use what you're comfortable with.

    I would still have no gripes about using the piece of wood with the sap pocket, filling the hole with a piece of soundpost wood, and staining it dark. If you do a good job, the patch will be hard to see unless you look for it.

  3. #3
    Registered User amowry's Avatar
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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    I too am skeptical of torrified wood, for the same reasons. The various distributors may be using different processes, and who knows what the long-term effects on the wood will be. I've heard a number of reports of splitting/cracking, and also not gluing reliably.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    What Andrew says.
    Peter Coombe - mandolins, mandolas and guitars
    http://www.petercoombe.com

  5. #5
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    I agree that the baked or torrefied wood has became household word these days among luthiers but no one knows for sure what process was used for particular piece of wood and how it changed the wood. (And whether it changed the wood to the better at that)
    There is an award winning violin maker who was physicist in previous life and he torrefied many samples with different processes and settings measuring meticulously all properties till he found method that (in his opinion) changes the properties towards better (you have to define wha is better foyou persoanally, ther eis no simple measure for that).
    From what I understand most companies barely bake the wood in oven till it's dark. That's all. But the "original" torrefaction was designed in oxygen free environment - either in nitrogen atmosphere or in steam in vastly differing pressures, temperatures and duration.
    But I wouldn't blame the wood anyway. Some pieces are more brittle to start with and noone knows whether you managed to break it during carving - many of us did that (DAMHIKT), some even twice...
    I beleive even Paul Hostetter shared a story how he flexed a guitar top and heard distinct crack but couldn't see anything until the guitar was finished and strung and nice crack appeared... ..it happens.
    I would recommend taking it as lesson and learn how to glue it back together.
    BTW, how thick is the top? Could you post some pics?
    PS: I've torrefied (albeit gently) some pieces of spruce myself and didn't notice any huge difference except slightly darker color and improved stability. I made a matching pair of mandolins, one of them with torrefied top and they sounded pretty much identical.
    Adrian

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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    I've only built guitars with baked wood. Had similar issues. It's very brittle, sanding is strange, (fibers ball up like bread dough). Had problems with lacquer adhesion. Can't steam out a dent if you ding it while building.

    I decided to stick with tried and true air-dried woods and let them age naturally on the guitar.

  7. #7

    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    I consider "torrified" tonewood just another fad to come down the pike and will soon fade away. I wouldnt waste my money. My 2 pennies.

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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    "I consider "torrified" tonewood just another fad to come down the pike and will soon fade away."

    Completely agreed, it is yupspeak for the latest and greatest in the "new age" wood baking. . Image before substance.

    The Finns have been doing this for a few decades, nothing new except they seem to be successful.

    Here's another observation, when paint is applied and quickly heated, or super heated, it crackles.
    And, of course, crackle, is a fad for fake aging on furniture and musical instruments.
    Some do it well, some don't. The finish is compromised by crackle. It takes a few mire steps to make it stable.

    Bad fad. I am terrified of torrified.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    I had a Martin guitar with a torrified top. It swelled up and I got rid of it.

  10. #10

    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    Science guy, non-builder here. There is actual literature on the subject; see, for example, Annals of Forest Science, 64, 679 (2007), because the process (really many processes) are used for other purposes. Tradeoffs of several kinds, including stiffness (probably good), breakage (bad), difficulty in bending (can be bad). Pretty clear that a rapid, high temperature, low oxygen bake isn’t going to replicate natural aging in air over decades. You’ll have to decide what’s worth it and what’s not. In my universe, this would involve small samples for test and very well understood treatment conditions. Not starting with the end-product first.
    I understand that a secret, proprietary process may be commercially necessary, but it can’t be variable or un-characterized. If I buy something as simple as a piece of steel, it comes with a sheet of paper letting me know the important parameters.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    thanks fellas. i did play a few Martin guitars at Elerlys that they used T.. tops and they were very nice. When I was shopping for wood there wasn't a big difference in price, so I tried. I have a new top going right now, I am gonna stay with my air dried sitka for a while longer . my mandos are getting better each build , a little. , a lot would be due to the help I have gotten here. I am also a bow hunter, and tend to be very skeptical on the new latest greatest, and in deer hunting, I find each year in the new product isle 85% is junk, and you may not need the other 15%

  12. #12
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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    hogo.
    actually when I felt it break, for one second i thought of gluing it back together, maybe could have learned some repair work, but I knew I would never used it so I actually flex it until it broke again. The great news is my seam held. but really, I struggled with all the carving, kept thinking my stuff was dull, and I really did not think it was coming out well so, it is just as well. I have another piece started, outside is doing very well, and it is wood I have become somewhat familiar to working it

  13. #13

    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    Viking, a supplier of torrefied lumber for exterior use, specifies "NOT FOR INSTRUMENT USE" very specifically when marketing their timbers. Not sure if brittleness is a consideration, or what the deal is there.
    I am pretty sure one of their torrefied, caramel-colored ash bodies would make a beaut of a Strat, though.. just can't use waterbased finish on it, apparently.

  14. #14
    Registered User Gary Alter's Avatar
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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    Since there is no standard for how torrefication is done between suppliers I donít think itís really accurate to say that all torrefied wood has more of a tendency to crack or to even sound a particular way. Many luthiers buy their wood pre-torrefied so they have no control over how the process was actually done. I have owned a couple of Red Diamond mandolins built by Don Macrostie (he does his own torrefication) and have had no structural issues with either one and they are both exceptional sounding instruments.

  15. #15
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    The comercially sold Thermowood and similar torrefied wood products are used for sauna or outside decking with extreme heat and humidity cycling where ordinary wood would rot within two years so some loss of structural strength is acceptable if it holds 15+ years without need for any other treatment.
    For instrument work you don't want to lose too much stiffness. The folks I know have good results generally start with exceptionaly stiff pieces and their process reduces very slightly the stiffness but the weight is also reduced and dimensional stability and color are also improved so at the en you get wood with slightly better stiffness/density ratio an added benefit of color and stability, but they won't tell you what exactly they do to get there...
    Store bought torrefied wood can be a lottery.
    Last edited by HoGo; Jan-14-2020 at 4:48am.
    Adrian

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    Registered User Roger Adams's Avatar
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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    I have a Bourgeois guitar with the AT top. It is going on three years old now and has not exhibited and problems. Knock on wood! (Sorry...) LOL
    I don't know who Dana sources his wood from, but I suspect he has done his homework.
    If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a vet.

  18. #17

    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    A reminder of what happened when actual research into cryogenic effects on various materials blossomed into all sorts of, dare we say, hucksterish opportunities and fads, primarily affecting the metal craft businesses. It got to the point where almost anything, dipped in almost any cold liquid, would develop mystical properties, unrelated to actual function. It even eased into the musical instrument world. Certainly didn’t help that we now have thousands (!) of more or less phony on-line publications that have scientific-sounding names, but are really just commercial.
    Millions of folks, having heard that airplanes or racers fill their tires with nitrogen, signed right on at garages nationwide, in another fantasy.
    However, buying a snake-oiled pocket knife or throwing a few bucks away to buy air isn’t going to hurt as much as, say, putting an hundred hours into an instrument build that could be unpredictable.

  19. #18

    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Adams View Post
    I have a Bourgeois guitar with the AT top. It is going on three years old now and has not exhibited and problems. Knock on wood! (Sorry...) LOL
    I don't know who Dana sources his wood from, but I suspect he has done his homework.
    He invested in the equipment and torrifies his own wood.
    There's nothing better than first-hand experience.

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  21. #19

    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    I'm a big fan of paleo-torrification. While I'd prefer to build with woods buried in the Osceola Mudflow 5,600 years ago, or salvaged shipbeams from the summit of Mt. Ararat, twenty years under a tin roof in the driest stinkin desert north of the Atacama will have to do. Careful study of local obituaries sometimes reveals availability of woods seasoned twice as long!
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  23. #20
    Registered User TheMandoKit's Avatar
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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    As a non-builder, but long time player of stringed instruments, I find this discussion very interesting. I have been at this long enough to have gone through various fads and changes in wood construction and composition (old growth versus newer; Brazilian versus Indian; Sitka versus Adirondack; bearclaw versus clear; wide versus narrow grain; PVA versus hide glue; scalloped versus shaped braces; single-ply versus nomex sandwich; "sinker' versus not). What I have learned is that many, although not all, of the various material or construction changes result in a different sounding instruments. Not necessarily better or worse, but different. Some, at least to my ears, have no effect.

    So far as torrefied wood giving the sound of a 75 year old instrument...Dunno, seems to me that not all 75 year old instruments sound that great. When I went looking for a small body short scale guitar recently, I tried a few with torrefied tops. None sounded as "played in" or "vintage" as my 80 year old Martin. They didn't sound bad, but ultimately, I ended getting one with an air-dried European spruce top. Yeah, it's "bearclaw," but honestly, that had nothing to do with the decision. As always, the combination of all of the woods in the guitar, the construction, the bracing and everything else gives the final sound product.

    As has been mentioned before, it's not necessarily easy to predict what a bunch of dissimilar pieces of wood glued together and then put under tension by steel wires is going to do over the long run. Reading the comments above about splits, cracks and swelling would make me a bit nervous if I had one with torrefied wood.

    As always, YMMV. The big boys (Collings, Martin) and the medium boys (Bourgeois, Huss & Dalton) seem to be comfortable with it.
    Kit
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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    Quote Originally Posted by oldwave maker View Post
    I'm a big fan of paleo-torrification. While I'd prefer to build with woods buried in the Osceola Mudflow 5,600 years ago, or salvaged shipbeams from the summit of Mt. Ararat, twenty years under a tin roof in the driest stinkin desert north of the Atacama will have to do. Careful study of local obituaries sometimes reveals availability of woods seasoned twice as long!
    What is interesting is that I keep my OldWaves at a humidity level that never gets below 35-40%, and they seem to do fine. In the summer here in the great upper Midwest, sometimes the high humidity does require some bridge saddle lowering . . ..
    Kit
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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    well , this can be case closed, It won't be anything I will be using again. although i may experiment with some other spruces,, I currently have a piece of italian spruce from a fiddly builder I know, it will all be air dried. thanks for all your input, should have asked back in june when I ordered it

  26. #23

    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    I have had some red spruce guitar tops torrefied, but I doubt that I will use them. Lighter and stiffer (good), but more brittle and harder to glue and finish (bad). I had not considered this:

    Can't steam out a dent if you ding it while building.
    John

  27. #24
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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    I've built 4 guitars with torrefied spruce. The 4th one I built for myself to see how it holds up. I've heard and read that HHG doesn't like to stick to it. Built mine with all HHG to test. Guitar is now 2 years old and still holding up. After a year, the bridge started to lift. I removed it and re-glued it. What I found was not a bad glue joint. The very top layer of wood peeled off with the bridge, almost like peeling a layer of onion skin. Bridge is still holding, but that made up my mind to not build with it again.

    I know there are many variables depending on who baked it, I just don't want to take any chances.

  28. #25
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    Default Re: torrified wood woes

    I'll bet that the baking process causes the resins in the wood to boil out towards the surface and clogs the pores, causing multiple problems.

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