Why cherry wood?

Discussion in 'Camera Building, Repairs & Modification' started by BradS, Oct 22, 2004.

  1. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    Seems like many field cameras are made of cherry wood -- why?

    Is it perhaps because cherry

    - was readily available to the camera makers in New York in the early 1900's?
    - has beautiful grain?
    - has some some mechanical property which makes it especially conducive to use in camera construction?

    I'm guessing it has something to do with all three but, I really dont know.

    Any ideas?
     
  2. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I would guess that it is a combination of physical stability (resistance to warping and dimensional change) and it's appearance.
     
  3. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Here's my guesses:
    Possible but don't know for sure. Walnut would be the other native wood of choice.
    It certainly does. The grain is also fine and close which makes it easier to finish.

    Not any more than several other woods. Its properties are very similar to walnut; strong, hard enough but works easy, close grain, finishes beautifully, stays stable, very low dimensional changes. The same can be said for mohagany which is imported. Probably more than anything is cost; walnut has always been at the high end of the cost ladder. Both species of oak harden over the years becoming nearly unworkable. Hard maple is HARD and tools tend to skip around discontinuities in the grain. Ebony, mohogany, teak were all imported. Teak is a REAL PITA to work because it has silica in its pores - dulls tools fast.

    Just my guesses.
     
  4. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    Cherry is a pretty easy wood to secure, and the cost factor is lower than many other species of wood, very easy to work and looks beautufil when done correctly, walnut, I have found and many of friends that make custom archery longbows, have found it to be a little more brittle and of course more expensive, but if done properly will hold up quite nicely, a little differnt color tone, than a lot of the manufactures considered the 'right' color.

    Dave Parker
    Satin Snow(TM) Ground Glass
     
  5. BradS

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    Walnut....

    Comparing the characteristics and mechanical properties of several candidate native (north america) hardwoods, walnut or poplar would seem to be excellent choices.

    Poplar is cheap, glues well and is readily available. I'm not really pleased with the way it takes stain (any suggestions?) but I canlive with it.

    Walnut looks like the perfect wood from which to build a camera but, it's not readily available -- well, not at the "big family owned" lumber yard in town anyway.

    What about oak? Is the slow drying a concern? Does this translate to dimensional instability? would it be enough of a concern to disqualify it?
     
  6. wfwhitaker

    wfwhitaker Member

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    What are you building?

    -Will
     
  7. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    I'm building a 4x5 wood view camera. My first....
     
  8. Andy Tymon

    Andy Tymon Member

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    Try going to epay and typing in cherry lumber or whatever lumber you need,they often have small bundles of kiln dried lumber that are ideal for crafters.You could also try a luthiers supply,as they often have wood that is usable i.e. guitar fingerboard blanks could be used for the back box...east indian rosewood if you would like to have something slightly more exotic than cherry:smile:
     
  9. Mongo

    Mongo Member

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    I have a friend whose main avocation is postal history; specifically postal ephemera related to the oil industry of Western Pennsylvania in the mid nineteenth century. He once purchased a full correspondance collection to harvest the pieces that were related to the oil industry. The correspondance was that of a gentleman who invested heavily in the oil industry, and who also owned a lumber mill.

    I read much of the lumber-related correspondance, and it's obvious from those letters that cherry was readily available in the mid- to late-nineteenth centuries, and was very reasonably priced compared to many other woods. Combining these characteristics with the dimensional stability of cherry wood, it's unsurprising that it became the wood of choice for camera makers.
     
  10. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    White oak would be the choice. Red Oak has large grain that takes a while to fill for finish and weather resistance. Either species is denser which translates to heavier than the other woods we have been discussing.

    I checked my gunstock-making books. Oak has never been favored for gunstocks which are similar in use to cameras. Don't know exactly why but probably because its heavier than necessary, harder to work, and most people don't envision a camera as being light-colored.

    Cherry is a good choice. Deardorff always used mohogany which was the standard for high-precision wood fabrication due to its dimensional stability.
     
  11. gma

    gma Member

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    I agree that cherry is the first choice. Poplar or birch will take a paint finish very well. If you have a supplier of fine hardwood for cabinet shops in your area check and see if they have any odd pieces in a scrap barrel that they sell at very low cost. You might even get some split boards or short scraps at no cost if you are lucky. Probably you will need a lot of thin and narrow pieces that can be cut from salvaged boards. You might even run across some really exotic woods for detailing.
     
  12. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    Silly idea but many materials got into other area's of use based on existing local products. Would Cherry Wood of been used for furniture or something similar at the time Field Camera's started to be produced and the tradition has continued? I never was very good at history.
     
  13. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Good question Tony. The species of wood available to local areas played a large part in its use. Cherry has always been a favorite for furniture and such. But if one was in an area where cherry didn't grow, it was seldom seen in locally-made articles.

    Just as an extreme example, the area where I live now once had large stands of American Black Walnut. These stands, of course, were felled long ago. A friend was telling of a job his father got to tear down an old barn. The deal was his father and brothers would do the labor and salvage the wood as payment. This is a common practice. They started working the demolition and soon realized the entire barn was built from walnut; structural timbers, siding, roofing, everything. A virtual gold mine. The lumber provided many pieces of fine furniture for the family and paid off all the debt with several thousand in cash left over. No one these days would even contemplate building an entire barn with black walnut; but in the days when the trees were cleared for farming and there were many of them close by, it was logical.

    An example of wood use that had international significance was the War of 1812. One of the primary reasons for the war was that England wanted to regain possession of the the Live Oak stands in the Carolinas. Live Oak was, at the time, the ultimate material for building warships. This is the wood "Old Ironsides" was built from. The Live Oak is so dense it could withstand and repel cannon bombardment, such as it was in that era.
     
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  15. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    Alex, thank you I really enjoyed reading that reply :smile: One of the things I most love about analog it that it's not only the present and future, but also has a history that reaches back and touches on so many wonderful things. Just imagine being able to go out into a wood/forest and helping yourself to walnut and oak these days, something we will never experience again.
     
  16. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Well Tony, you can always grow your own but that's something to start when one is young. If I were to start some walnut trees now, I doubt I would live to harvest them, much less be able to harvest them.

    Just remember, the piers for London Bridge were made from English Elm, and they lasted 500 years. And if someone wants to make a camera from Elm, power to them (ie-one of the most difficult to work).
     
  17. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    Alex I must admit that although I love the feel and smell of real wood, my abilities to work it are confined to pruning. I envy those who are practical with their hands and able to work with wood to create beautiful pieces. Sometimes when I'm out on a hill I also think of what it must have been like when it was said that the great forest in Britain was so large that a squirrel (grey of course) could travel the length and breadth of the country without ever touching the ground.
     
  18. wfwhitaker

    wfwhitaker Member

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    I recently built a back for a camera and can say that the experience was quite an education. There is a learning curve attested to by piles of sawdust on the garage floor. If you're going for a 4x5, I can recommend the advice I've read elsewhere of purchasing an old Graflok back and adapting it to your design.

    Based on the sawdust factor mentioned above (but not knowing your level of woodworking expertise), I'd stick to less expensive and readily available woods. If you can make it once, you can make it again with better materials once you get the hang of it. You'll always end up with sawdust. But cheap sawdust is better than expensive sawdust. Having said that, cherry is still a good choice both practically and aesthetically. It is a beautiful wood. It darkens with age and with exposure to UV which somehow seems appropriate for use in a camera.

    Also, as Jay suggested, laminates are a possibility. However my knowledge of laminate technology is limited to Baltic birch plywood, which I've found very useful. It's inexpensive, mills well, is available in a number of thicknesses and is dimensionally stable. You can either paint it or apply a veneer to give you a beautiful and environmentally friendly (green) result.

    I've found the sticking point in making a camera isn't in the woodworking, but in the various small bits required to allow movements and the ability to fold. For that you'll find yourself getting interested in acquiring machine tools and finding less and less time for making photographs. :smile:

    Good luck!

    -Will
     
  19. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Will has an excellent point which bears repeating - geting absorbed in building your own camera takes away from the time that can be spent photographing. I was warned of this too by an eminent photographer when I was contemplating building my own. I'm glad I took the advice. I'm sure I would have spent the last year building rather than photographing. I'll add just another little point - I'm not a novice at making things from wood or metal; I'm well experienced, have made a living doing it. Point is, given my relative level of proficiency in making things, I'm glad I didn't make my own. Maybe I'll save it for an 8x20.

    One other point; machine tools are nice but not necessary. Given their expense, it becomes hard to justify their purchase just for one project. One can make all of the necessary metal parts from brass which can be shaped quite accurately with simple hand tools. If you need round knobs, they can be turned using an electric drill and files. Same goes with the wood; the pieces are small enough that one is almost better off using hand tools. And, oh yes, you can be as accurate by hand as you can be by machine for as accurate as this stuff needs to be.
     
  20. BradS

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    Build / buy advice

    Will and Alex, Yes. I can certainly attest to the truth of your advice. In fact, I'm pretty sure I knew in my gut that it would be much more economical to buy than to build. Would that I had trusted my instincts.

    Hmmm, actually, I think we're forgeting the "wife factor". Consider:

    1. "Honey, I'd like to buy (yet another) camera."

    2. "Honey, I'm gonna build a camera out of wood!"

    You see, my wife / accountant only considers the real dollar cost. Compare the cost of a few sticks of lumber, glue, sandpaper, wood finishing materials and some "small bits of hardware" to that of (yet another) camera. True enough, the dirty little secret is that I'm really making a big pile of saw dust and I may get a camera out of the deal but, I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet. I've got a back and rear box roughed out. Still have a long ways to go...I look forward to drawing on the experience of this group along the way.


    Thank you very much for your help and advice.


    Brad.
     
  21. darinwc

    darinwc Subscriber

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    The 'Wife factor"... Seems like this is universal. Whenever I get another camera in the mail my wife gives me a look that many recognize as meaning 'Another @#$% Camera!?'.

    Heh, on a side note, this has been a great thread, I thank everyone so far for their informative postings.
     
  22. Craig

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    I built a 4x5 from one of the Bender kits, and I think its an excellent way to go. Like Alex, I'm not a novice at building things from wood or metal, so I made several additions to the kit to customize it to my tastes, but the original kit is very useable, and has good instructions.

    It didn't take very long to build, and its a very functional camera. Its served me well over the last decade, and its light enough to backpack while retaining all the movements. Not as compact as a field camera, but still packable.

    Craig
     
  23. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    I think I'd stick to either cherry or mahogany, Brad, due to the tight grain, stability, and ease of working. Even white oak has fairly large pores, and would require meticulous filling and sanding at the unassembled parts stage to avoid having hiding places for grit and dirt once assembled. Accent pieces made of more exotic woods might also be interesting.

    One important consideration is finding kiln-dried woods, so you'll know the pieces are already reasonably stable. Even with kiln-dried wood, you'll encounter situations where internal stresses aren't disclosed until cut into smaller parts. The larger DIY chain stores are less likely to be concerned about selling only quality, kiln-dried materials.

    Being as you're in Pleasanton, you might be interested in a trip to Southern Lumber in San Jose (on South First St. at the south end of downtown). They have an excellent selection of both conventional hardwoods and more exotic woods, too. Plus, they usually have scrap bins of smaller pieces of the exotic woods that you can dig through. I believe there is also a hardwood supplier in Berkeley or Alameda that caters to furniture makers, and might be worth exploring.

    If you're OK with the idea of a hybrid, you might consider finding a used Toyo back. It's a two-piece design with a mounting frame that would be easy to adapt, and which provides a Graflok interface, and the Graflok-based GG portion. That's the approach I took when making a reducing back for my 8x10 Tachihara, allowing me to side-step the issue of finding special hardware. All I had to do was make an adapter frame that used a combination half-lap/miter joint for the corners to avoid light leaks.

    http://www.rbarkerphoto.com/misc/Photo-gear/ReducingBack04-550c.jpg

    http://www.rbarkerphoto.com/misc/Photo-gear/ReducingBack06-550c.jpg
     
  24. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    Craig,
    I've looked at the bender kit, seen a few examples and read several reviews. I am considering that option but, am still bent (pun?) on creating my own design right now.
     
  25. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    Ralph,

    Thanks for the tip on Southern Lumber. Minton's Lumber (455 W. Evelyn, Mt View) also have an amazing selection of exotic hardwoods. I have settled on cherry. I would prefer rosewood but, it is too expensive considering my scrap to finished product ratio.

    Brad.

    PS nice back! I am, coincidently, looking for a Toyo/Omega View back for my 45F. The one I have works but the gg carrier rattles a bit.


     
  26. noseoil

    noseoil Member

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    A friend did research on Deardorff and the mahogany in use for their designs and came across an interesting theory. During prohibition (alcohol) many of the bars were torn down and the interior woods tended to be mahogany. Because it was stable (dried for years), cheap, available and nice to finish, it was used whenever possible. Just a theory.