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  1. #1
    BradS's Avatar
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    Why cherry wood?

    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. #2

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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. #3
    Alex Hawley's Avatar
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    Here's my guesses:
    Quote Originally Posted by GaussianNoise
    - was readily available to the camera makers in New York in the early 1900's?
    Possible but don't know for sure. Walnut would be the other native wood of choice.
    Quote Originally Posted by GaussianNoise
    - has beautiful grain?
    It certainly does. The grain is also fine and close which makes it easier to finish.

    Quote Originally Posted by GaussianNoise
    - has some some mechanical property which makes it especially conducive to use in camera construction?
    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.
    Semper Fi & God Bless America
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  4. #4
    Dave Parker's Avatar
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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.

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  5. #5
    BradS's Avatar
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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. #6

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    What are you building?

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    Anyone can appreciate a fine print. But it takes a real photographer to appreciate a fine negative.

  7. #7
    BradS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wfwhitaker
    What are you building?

    -Will
    I'm building a 4x5 wood view camera. My first....

  8. #8

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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

  9. #9
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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.
    Film is cheap. Opportunities are priceless.

  10. #10
    Alex Hawley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GaussianNoise
    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?
    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.
    Semper Fi & God Bless America
    My Photography Blog

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