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 Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: ruben 
Date:   2019-03-10 13:37

Some people claim that boxwood has unique acoustic characteristics as material used for building clarinets. How would you describe its specific characteristics? The company I have worked for has made a couple of modern clarinets using boxwood, but we have found that the wood warps to such an extent that it has to be regularly rebored. Is there any way to stabilize it?

rubengreenbergparisfrance@gmail.com
JL-Clarinette

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 Re: Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: Steven Ocone 2017
Date:   2019-03-10 21:49

You could line the bore and/or tone holes. Bassoons are mostly lined and also treated with oil.

Steven Ocone
Ann & Steve's Music

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 Re: Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: ruben 
Date:   2019-03-10 22:17

Steven: We've thought of that, but aren't equipped to do it. Bassoons have a bigger bore, so lining them probably doesn't affect the tone much. But on a clarinet....? I seem to recall that Laubin lined the bore of the top body of his oboes, though.

rubengreenbergparisfrance@gmail.com
JL-Clarinette

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 Re: Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2019-03-11 00:43

I think you just make the bore correspondingly bigger, then add the lining. The upper section of the Luis Rossi clarinets are lined with a resin sleeve.






................Paul Aviles



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 Re: Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: Philip Caron 
Date:   2019-03-11 01:25

Apologies for a dumb question, but is the boxwood that classical period clarinets were made from the same kind of boxwood that is being referred to here? If so, then in a couple hundred years didn't the older instruments warp and warp and warp some more? There must be limits to how many times a particular instrument can be rebored, no?

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 Re: Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: dorjepismo 2017
Date:   2019-03-11 07:03

I have a set of these by J. Seggelke. They're new, so I don't know about warping, though the Bb upper joint cracked and is back there for repair. He oils them a lot, probably way more than Buffet oils their wood. He also has substantially more wood on them than other makers, especially on the upper joint, which flairs out at the top--sort of what some people do with barrels, but he does it with the upper joint too. He does the same thing with grenadilla. As far as I know, it's the same boxwood as you see on 18th century instruments, but the oil turns it a middle brown rather than the bright yellow of the natural wood. The wood in the 18th century probably came from France or Spain, and I think S&S gets most of it from Turkey now.

Stephen Fox has an article about boxwood in connection with Mühlfeld's instruments, which were boxwood. I think he gets into what they cured the wood with in the middle 19th century, which was some fairly strong stuff that I don't think anyone uses now. Mühlfeld played a version of the Bärmann system which was out of date when Brahms heard him, so they were probably older and I think we'd have heard if they were shaped like bananas. One of them might be in a museum somewhere.

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 Re: Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: Clarimellonet 
Date:   2019-03-11 08:16

I both perform extensively on and build boxwood classical period clarinets. Here's what I've learned over the years though building with boxwood:

(by the way, I'm referring exclusively to Buxus sempervirens and Buxus macowanii, not the "castello" boxwoods which aren't true boxwood species and therefore have different working characteristics)

Seasoning is important. The 17th and 18th century woodworking treatises I've read have suggested everything from natural drying over a period of several decades to burying logs of boxwood in manure (the idea being that osmosis will suck the moisture out of the boxwood into the manure and that after a certain amount of time, the wood will be moisture free. Some of the other methods cited mention specific ways to stack wood to allow the most airflow to allow the moisture to leave the wood at a controlled rate. What is almost never mentioned favorably is the kiln drying method that is commonly used now which "shocks" the wood into drying through the introduction of heat, the idea being that any wood which doesn't crack or warp during this process will be stable and safe to work with. The problem is that this can result in relatively brittle and dull sounding wood (which can still crack). I've always favored a long game approach to seasoning my wood. I was very fortunate in the beginning of my instrument making career to come across boxwood that had been sitting for 45 years. Today I use wood that's been aging since the 1960s and is a joy to work with. The main takeaway is that accelerated drying results in slightly less stable wood than aged and appropriately seasoned timbers.

My teacher once told me "if a piece of wood is going to crack, it's going to crack. If it's going to warp, it's going to warp." Unfortunately, that's very much true, especially with boxwood. One of the reasons clarinet makers began to move away from boxwood is because of the highly changeable nature of the wood which was frustrated by the addition of more keys and posts mounted into the wood. It swells faster and more readily than grenadilla, it needs to be re-reamed more frequently, and it is more prone to cracking and endgrain checking. However, the sound in my opinion is unmatched and I love playing on my boxwood instruments more than my grenadilla ones.

So how do we stabilize boxwood? In short, we can't - we can only make it less unstable. Oil is the key. I've been using linseed oil for years especially inside the bore of new instruments I've just made. After I do the final turning and drill the tone holes, I submerge the entire instrument (with no keys, no register tube, no metal whatsoever) in linseed oil for up to a week or so to absorb as much as possible and then I let it dry. The linseed oil polymerizes over time and forms a protective layer of what is essentially a plasticized oil which seals off the pores of the wood, especially in the endgrain where most moisture is absorbed. I polish the bore to remove the excess oil, use 0000 steel wool to remove the excess on the outside and buff the finish, and do it again. I do this at least 10 times, the end result being a piece of boxwood relatively impervious to water absorption. However, hours of playing and swabbing will eventually wear through this coating, and when I reream the bore the original dimension every couple of years, I'll repeat the process.

For those looking for a quicker fix, some period instrument makers will artificially seal the bore with marine epoxy in a series of very thin coats. Git-Rot is the standard. It mixes easily, absorbs quickly and cures in about 3 days. Mix up a small batch, coat the bore, endgrain, and sockets and let it absorb. Polish away the excess with 0000 steel wool and repeat. Most of the makers that I know who use this stuff on boxwood say 3 coats is a good starting point.

Again, none of these will prevent cracks, splits, or warps, but they will make the wood more impervious to water, which is a major cause of these issues. Boxwood can be a great wood to work with, but incredibly temperamental. Keep oiling and aging the wood, and you'll have a good short at getting some workable pieces. Good luck!

~Thomas

Thomas Carroll
Historical Clarinets and Chalumeaux
http://carrollclarinet.com
lotzofgrenser@gmail.com

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 Re: Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: ruben 
Date:   2019-03-11 11:06

Dear Thomas, Thank you for your exhaustive-but not exhausting- and eloquent explanations. The process of stabilizing boxwood is too long and involved for us. It's a pity, because as you said, it does seem to produce a unique tone. All the more reason to take the trouble to earn how to pmay a period instrument! It has many rewards.

rubengreenbergparisfrance@gmail.com
JL-Clarinette

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 Re: Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: Dibbs 
Date:   2019-03-11 16:38

This stuff might be worth experimenting with

https://www.turntex.com/help-center/cactus-juice-stabilizing-resources

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 Re: Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: dorjepismo 2017
Date:   2019-03-11 19:11

Thomas, thanks for the information! I did have a couple questions. When you say it needs to be re-reamed more frequently, am I correct in assuming that means the bore becomes narrower? Is it the overall pitch that tells you it's time to do that, or something else. And second, what method of fixing cracks do you recommend? I've encountered partisans of banding, pinning and superglue, but those were all people talking about grenadilla, and it seems like boxwood, because it changes more, might work best with a different method. Thanks!

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 Re: Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: Clarimellonet 
Date:   2019-03-11 20:37

With the rereaming process, usually I'll notice a "tightness" in the throat tones. Because the register tube doubles as a vent for throat Ab on a 5-key clarinet, that area of the bore is extra sensitive to changes dimension. If the throat Ab and Bb don't respond the way I want them to, I'll check the bore dimensions. If they're undersized, I'll reream, repeat the oiling process, and let it sit a few days. Typically a 5-key boxwood instrument should be have the top joint rereamed every year or so to keep the original dimension intact. The top joint tenons and up to an inch or two into the bore are usually the main culprits of swelling and constricting.

Cracks are tricky on boxwood, but not impossible. Many makers in the 18th and early 19th century used stabilizing pins to strengthen the wood around certain parts of the instrument when they were initially making the clarinet (around the A and Register keys are the most common areas). I've only once seen a period clarinet top joint cracked beyond repair after a period of heavy use and I suspect it was because the player was neglectful in swabbing between playing sessions and oiling the relatively new instrument. That particular clarinet had cracks that went through 5 parts of the bore including the register key, A tone hole, and up into the engrain of the top tenon. It would have been easier to make a new top joint at that point, especially since the piece of wood the maker used was of a lesser quality with multiple knots that seemed prone to splitting later on. For minor cracks, I recommend the lowest vistosity superglue you can find and a whole lot of crossing your fingers. I've had a hairline on my favorite August Grenser Bb copy that I made in 2013 that I glued in September 2014 and hasn't reopened since despite hundreds of concerts and thousands of hours of playing.

~Thomas

Thomas Carroll
Historical Clarinets and Chalumeaux
http://carrollclarinet.com
lotzofgrenser@gmail.com

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 Re: Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: ruben 
Date:   2019-03-12 15:55

Dear Thomas (or anybody else), You've covered the issue very thoroughly, but one small question: what about bee's wax? Wouldn't that keep the water from penetrating into the wood and warping it? It's a simple; or maybe simplistic, solution, but I'd like your opinion. Also, how would you describe the sound produced by boxwood? I know it's not easy to describe tone (smaller? warmer? brighter?). Thanks for the invaluable information.

rubengreenbergparisfrance@gmail.com
JL-Clarinette

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 Re: Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: Clarimellonet 
Date:   2019-03-12 18:26

I do sometimes use beeswax, though usually not on boxwood. When I make grenadilla mouthpieces to ship with my instruments, the last step is usually sealing the pores with beeswax, typically the endgrain of the tenon, and occasionally the table and facing. I suppose one could do the same as a "last" step after the bore had been finalized (applying both outside and inside would be essential) and the excess could be polished off, but I haven't personally tried it.

I would say the sound produced by boxwood depends very much on the type of instrument being built. I haven't personally played on a boxwood modern Boehm clarinet, but just in comparing some boxwood 19th century instruments to grenadilla clarinets by the same maker, I would say the tone is more easily shaped, more colorful, sweeter, and perhaps slightly brighter in the altissimo, though this of course depends on the player and mouthpiece and reed combination.

Thomas Carroll
Historical Clarinets and Chalumeaux
http://carrollclarinet.com
lotzofgrenser@gmail.com

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 Re: Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: dorjepismo 2017
Date:   2019-03-13 00:49

Thomas, on modern boxwood horns, that's mostly been my experience, except for the altissimo. People mean different things by "bright" and "dark," but to me, "bright altissimo" tends to mean a little edgy, and I've experienced the opposite; it seems a little easier to play with a rounded and even what I think of as "darker" sound from D up. Also noticed a sound that seemed paradoxically darker when trying out both grenadilla and boxwood at the workshop.

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 Re: Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: seabreeze 
Date:   2019-03-13 02:28

Might not a well-insulated clarinet case with humidity and temperature control of the kind sold by Mike Lomax, for instance, be of some value in protecting boxwood instruments from warping? Some players will be even more motivated to know about the tonal presence and "projection" of boxwood clarinets versus grenadilla and mopane. In recorders, the general rule seems to be that the grenadilla and other hardwood varieties have more of a cutting sound that carries in a hall better than the softer, somewhat "cooing" sound of boxwood. Would that be true as well for clarinets? One hears frequently from working clarinetists in orchestras, including opera orchestra players and other who play from a pit that they have had to sell a top grade expensive clarinet because the sound just doesn't carry the way they had hoped it would in that acoustical setting. Buffet RC and Divine clarinets for instance are said not to carry as well as Buffet R13 Prestige and Tosca designs, and Cocobolo instruments in general don't seem to have the same acoustical presence as grenadilla wood clarinets.



Post Edited (2019-03-13 03:22)

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 Re: Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: dorjepismo 2017
Date:   2019-03-13 02:55

Seabreeze: on projection, Shirley Brill, who plays both boxwood and grenadilla, gave an interview in which she agreed with what you said. I think, though, that the bore is possibly more important than the material, as in the case of the Buffet bore families. My S&S boxwood projects/voices/cuts through as well as my B&H 1010 in the amateur situations where I play, but from what I've been able to piece together, the S&S French bore is a slightly more radical (and polyconical) version of the R13 bore, which is probably rather different than what people do with historical replicas. Years ago, I played a Buffet Prestige Elite, which had an RC bore, and it didn't project very well at all.

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 Re: Is it possible to keep boxwood from warping?
Author: Ed Lowry 
Date:   2019-03-13 05:09

I have a Rossi Bb made of Honduran Rosewood where the upper part of the main section (Rossi clarinets don't break down to two sections) is lined. I didn't even notice it for several months after I got it. I understand that Luis no longer does this, however.

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