Wood That Goes, “Snap!” In The Night: Preventing Splits In Wood Not Meant For Fire
Moist Rooms For Musicians
Shopping for a acoustic guitar, musicians in search of finer instruments to suit their growing prowess eventually find themselves crossing a new threshold, the one that opens into the humidity controlled rooms occupying the backs of guitar shops. The guitars in these rooms must be kept in a controlled environment so that the thin sheets of wood they are made with do not warp and split. When they are purchased and leave the store, they do so in hardshell cases, enclosed with small humidifying agents like pumice stones and damp sponges, and they must be kept from undergoing rapid, drastic changes in temperature as well.
This was not always the norm. Once upon a not-so-distant past, the demand for these guitars was still low enough, and the trees from which they were made were still numerous enough, that the few companies that made and sold them (Guild, Gibson, Martin, etc.), were able to cure their stocks of wood completely over time, and then sort through it to find the pieces that were solid, whole, and certain to remain so in the years to come.
Here’s The Down Low:
Contrary to what many might think, the splits and checks that appear in wood aren’t just the products of poor care and bad luck; the flaws and weaknesses that will later become visible are actually time bombs, and are sure to go off at some point. This is why there really isn’t a substitute for fully dried and cured wood.
Sadly, there are a lot more people using wood today than there once were, and it’s not just the musicians that are affected. Interior wood in homes, especially in fine furniture and wood flooring, is a hot commodity. It’s becoming harder and harder still to find material to build with that won’t cause you headaches down the road, as you notice wobbly legs in chairs that once stood still, and cracks that eat nickels, cracks that once not even a sewing needle could have fit inside of.
Floors are especially difficult. A slab of hardwood for a table or countertop can sit in a warehouse for a long time, once in the ownership of someone who knows the payoff of patience with these things. That slab can be monitored and checked over the years, and when it’s ready to use, all that remains is to decide how best to use it. This is just not possible with yards upon yards upon yards of stacked lumber, drying from the ends inward, at different rates and from different states of aging to begin with.
I know of several instances where boards that have been sold as ‘fully cured,’ or at least as the best of the stock, have been sold for fine flooring (and this is true for all kinds of finishes, including rough-hewn), and have begun separating after as little as one or two years. Houses that use wood heat are especially prone, since they’re often much drier. Elevation, proximity to large bodies of water, heat source…it’s a lot to calculate, but it all makes a difference.
Put Up A Good Fight For Good Furniture
With furniture, there is a further element of control that can be exercised. There are precautions that can be taken to ensure that your fine pieces of monetary and sentimental value will be around and firm for a long time. Placement is a big one. If your house is heated with wood fire or forced air, keep your furniture clear of stoves and vents. Lower floors in houses are usually cooler, more stable, and less dry, too. And don’t forget to consider windows! Sunlight, and thin glass in places that fluctuate between extreme temps during the nights and days are good things to avoid. You can also oil your furniture with quality products like lemon oil, which protects from ultraviolet rays and helps with moisture level stability.
Furniture, floors… guitars. The wood we’re making these things with may not be getting better or more reliable, but the people that use them are gaining ground every day—as artists, architects, or otherwise. And if we can’t afford to throw away our wood just because it may or may not split in the years to come, maybe that’s better. Why not learn to care for what he have, and respect and appreciate the fact that at least we can still sit by the fire (on tile, of course), cozied up in a well-made rocker, and pluck away at a guitar?