(from guest blogger Robert Furst)
STRUCTURAL AND ORNAMENTAL WOOD
The beauty we admire in finished wood is due almost entirely to the variation in the grain or texture — in other words, its lack of uniformity of pattern. This variation is cause by contrasts in color due mostly to the way the fibers shaped themselves during the growth of the tree, and to the angle of the cut when the log was sawn. Manufacturers of pianos and fine furniture go to great expense to preserve and by special finishing processes to emphasize this variation which is found in all fine woods, and without which the wood surface would be dull and uninteresting and might as well be painted.
One of the problems of preserving the natural grain is the fact that wood, when given a clear finish, has a visual depth which causes light to be reflected from the surface of the wood rather than from the outer surface of the lacquer coating. This is how we are able to see the real beauty in the wood, but it makes perfect matching of the color or shade of adjoining pieces virtually impossible because the reflection of light is not uniform. It varies (in some instances to a considerable extent) according to where the viewer stands. Thus parts which are well-matched when viewed from one direction, may appear mismatched when seen from the opposite side. Here, again, it is the nature of the wood and will always be there if we want to retain its natural beauty. Caution: Tobacco and smoke stains and odors are difficult to remove.
Wood is used in piano keys and actions to provide strength with lightness of weight superior to any substitute. The use of wood for piano cabinets (as well as the costliest furniture) is due to a combination of qualities not found in any other substance. These include great strength for its weight, resilience to resist shock, ease of joining the parts together so they will not rattle or squeak or set up undesirable vibrations, and the matchless, permanent beauty of the finished outer surface.
One could read all the literature ever published on the subject and still not really know how to buy and process lumber for building superior pianos. That skill comes only from long experience. Most of the visible parts of a piano cabinet are veneered. (Veneer cutting methods) Only a small fraction of the cost of the total wood used can be seen. The quality of the hidden portion is determined by the policy of the manufacturer which, in turn, is generally a reflection of the manufacturer’s reputation, ability, experience and reliability.
VENEERS, CHIPBOARD, PARTICLE BOARD, SOLID WOODS & PLASTICS
Very few manufacturers offer a solid wood piano. The most expensive or better grade of piano will be made of a solid wood core with a five-ply lamination. These laminations consist of two veneers of cross-grain wood (usually poplar) on the bottom of the solid wood core, another layer of poplar on the top of the solid wood core, and a top layer of a matched veneer forming a very solid case construction.
Careful checking of the top lid and sides will enable you to determine the quality of the cabinet of the instrument. Because a piano has pressed wood does not necessarily mean it is not a good instrument. Some of the better manufacturers of furniture such as Thomasville, Lane, Drexel and Broyhill use particleboard in much of the furniture they build. Sixty years ago, a wise housewife would have chosen solid-wood furniture. Machine-manufactured veneers had the reputation of being a second-best product. Not so today! Veneered furniture gives you the best in wood furniture. Wood veneering is the art of cutting, matching, and applying sheets of fine wood to a panel. The beauty of the surface is dependent on the skill of selecting and combining face veneers.
Advantages of Veneers: Today’s veneered furniture panels are made of a core with slices of strong wood layered like a club sandwich, spread with strong chemical adhesives, bonded under heat and pressure into an almost indestructible unit. The sandwich may consist of three, five, seven, or any other odd number of layers. These thin sheets of wood are united so that the grain of each layer lies at right angles to the following one. This cross-grain construction is the key factor in con-trolling the expansion and contraction of the wood panel, preventing warping. Woods in general are strongest when the grain runs the long way: across-the-grain woods are weaker and shrink more readily. Again the process of reversing the grain on each layer helps equalize the stress.
It is this sandwich construction that makes veneered furniture stronger than solid wood furniture. It is less likely to split when driving nails into it or to break under stress. It also minimizes the likelihood of the furniture warping, as happens in over-heated modern houses. Veneered construction holds up to humidity, air conditioning, and the frequent changes from one to the other. Under such variations in temperature, solid-wood furniture is less durable. Another great advantage of veneers is the variety of selection it gives the manufacturer. The selection of the prettiest grains, the best surfaces, does not have to be made from planks of wood averaging three inches thick as in solid wood, but from sheets of veneer only 1/28 inches thick.
Another great asset of veneer lies in the fact that it can be bent and molded to almost any curve desired. Designers are freed from the usual right-angle designs. Furniture can be shaped into a drum or form more easily and at less expense than these or similar designs made of solid wood. In the construction of veneered furniture, solid-wood is used for legs and posts.
Figures in Veneers: Within the rough bark covered tree trunk lies great, unexpected beauty. The internal and external structures of a tree set the figures sometimes called patterns. These figures are not to be confused with grains, which are simply the size and arrangement of the living cells of trees. Figures depend on the type of growth rings, the type of grain, the prominence of knots, burls, crotches, swollen butts, and the color of the actual wood of the tree.
There are many popular patterns in wood. For example, there are plain, broken, rope, and ribbon stripe. More complex is the Mottle Stripe; broken by grain reverses, it waves and changes direction. This wavy and striated surface is popular in maple and mahogany. The Fiddle back figure is also found in maple and mahogany. It is a strong, rippled, symmetrical figure, used frequently on the backs of string instruments. The Curly-figured veneer is self-explanatory. The irregular pattern runs across the grain in maple, birch, and mahogany. Among the more intricate and striking patterns are those veneers cut from the vicinity of crotches. A Crotch is cut from a fork in a tree where the trunk of the tree and a branch join to form a “Y” or “U” shape. Burls and feathers are varieties of the crotch cut.
Burl is a wart like formation on a tree. Burl veneer has a high decorative value and is used extensively. Sometimes a confusion arises between the burl and Bird’s Eye figure. Both have an eyelike figure, but in burl the eye is surrounded by a series of clusters while in the bird’s eye maple, each eye stands out separately.
As we progress into the next century, plastics will be more and more a part of your life. Already, you have daily contact with many of them. Outlined here are some of the more familiar ones, their characteristics, how to use and care for them.
Now, with an understanding of what vinyl veneer is, let’s turn to the molded components. The process is relatively simple, the plastic for components, carvings, overlays, etc., is poured into the design mold, which has the wood grain pattern of the original, and is pressed under pressure. The plastic elements of a piece of furniture are then finished to match the wood portions of the piece they are to adorn.
Manufacturers are using the molded plastic components in three ways:
With molded components, the most intricate hand carving can now be reproduced in plastic. For legs that will be resistant to dents and scratches. Several piano manufacturers have developed their own molded component parts.
There are several valid reasons why piano firms, large and small, use plastics where they once used wood. A carved cabriolet leg can be molded of plastic for the cost of just sanding its wood counter-part. And the more detailed the design, the more competitive plastic becomes.
Many of the finer grades of wood are in short supply while annual production of furniture is going up. Above all, there’s a serious shortage of skilled craftsmen.
In some applications, plastics may simply be better, more functional, and much more durable than wood. And plastic can withstand the rigors of shipping and moving far better than wood.
What meets the eye? The finish of a man-made material often makes it . . . or breaks it. Important to the appearance is the degree to which the plastic component has been blended in graining, color clarity, and texture to the wood with which it has been mated. Determine why they were used. For a particular function that appeals to you? Because they lower cost to a price you can afford? Both reasons are sound.
While the outside of the case of the piano should be in good taste and of fine materials, what really counts is the inner construction of the instrument. Naturally, there are many pianos made in all countries, in which there is no particular pride taken upon the part of the maker other than to produce something which will be a commercial success. Other makers look upon piano construction as a science and an art and take pride in securing the most superior and desirable materials. That is also a reason why the piano dealer’s reputation is so valuable to the purchaser.
Our thanks to guest blogger, Robert Furst, for this series of posts. Visit his website—bluebookofpianos.com—for more information about pianos.
Thank you for visiting the Piano Outlet at www.thePianoOutletCo.com, your source for pianos in Ventura County, in Santa Barbara County, in Los Angeles County, and in San Luis Obispo County. Come and see our new location in Nipomo, CA, on the Central Coast.