Lumberjacks in wetsuits

Friday 4 January 2002

The Superior Water-Logged Lumber Co., Inc. of Ashland, Wisconsin, makes a business of pulling sunken logs out of lakes and rivers. Some of this old-growth birch, oak and maple escaped from log rafts and sank more than a hundred years ago. The company promotes the timber for making musical instruments, because of its colour and density, and because of the effects of its long immersion:

As wood is soaked in water, certain changes take place on a cellular level. Anaerobic bacteria eat away at the hemicellulose/ peltic substances in the wood, along with a certain amount of starchy matter. In essence what this means is that all of the heavy material which would otherwise dampen acoustic vibrations (or sound) are removed from the equation by these anaerobic organisms. This effectively provides the instrument with a more responsive acoustic plate. Most modern builders demand older or “seasoned” wood for their instruments since the use of older wood allows the substances mentioned above to crystallize and harden over time. However it is exceedingly more effective if these substances are consumed by bacteria. As an interesting sidelight, I would like to point out that as “off the stump” wood dries, the cell openings close and deform. However when water-logged wood dries, the cell walls remain open—thus dramatically enhancing the velocity of sound.

Curly maple

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