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Caring For Ebony Ends

Wheatstone Ebony Care Maintenance

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#1 MUTT

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Posted 26 March 2017 - 02:26 PM

After several years' absence, I find myself once again in the concertina world.  I've come into possession of a 90 year old Wheatstone model 6 with raised ebony ends.  The ends, apart from some light fingernail gouging, are close to pristine.  I'd like to keep them that way.

 

For the first 70 plus years of its life the concertina resided in the UK, and then more lately in western Oregon, USA, where it experienced a similar climate.  Now I have it in Alaska, which is obviously a harsher world than it has known.  (There's a tremendous swing in humidity from summer to winter and back.)

 

I know some flute makers who insist that ebony simply doesn't absorb or lose moisture like other woods, but I have also seen some wooden ended concertinas that where the grill work was pretty busted up.  I'd like to avoid that.

 

Does anyone have any advice on caring for the ebony ends?  Particularly useful would be anyone living in Norway or northern Scotland, but I'd appreciate any relevant opinion.

 

The grill work seems sooo delicate!

 

Thanks,

 

George Knight

Anchorage, Alaska, USA



#2 Geoff Wooff

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Posted 26 March 2017 - 03:05 PM

Are you sure it is Ebony  George  ?

 

I work with Ebony  all  the time  ,and  I understand  your concerns  but  so did the old concertina makers  and most  'ebony' ended Wheatstones are  ebonised   layers  of Pearwood (or the like)... sort of   plywood.  This  system  is stronger, more forgiving  and warp  resistant  than  solid  Ebony.  Perhaps it  does need some   caring  but I think  your huge swings in humidity are going to affect  more the internal  woodwork  .

 

Good luck with it all,

Geoff.


Edited by Geoff Wooff, 26 March 2017 - 03:06 PM.


#3 Stephen Chambers

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Posted 26 March 2017 - 05:06 PM

Are the ends jet-black on it George, or more of a dark brown? I have a reason for asking, and may be able to tell you something very interesting about it if it's the latter (which was mine 40 years ago and appears to have been sold by the Button Box recently)...

 

Either way, laminated wood is much stronger than solid, as Geoff has said, but I would be worried that the wood (after all these years) might start to crack, and the old hide glue fail, so that it might delaminate under excessively dry conditions. A controlled environment/humidifier might be no harm, and keeping it in its case when it's not being played.



#4 MUTT

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 12:30 PM

Thank you for your replies.  I try to keep my apartment humidified in the winter, but I'm not confident enough to say it is "humidity controlled."  I also keep the concertina in it's case for safety sake.  I thought of putting a small humidifying device in the case, but I'm concerned about rusting the reeds.

 

I looked at the grill work and I can't see any lamination, but I'll take my magnifying glass to it when I get home this evening.  That would be a relief if it is multi-ply.  I did notice the wood was thicker than I thought at first glance, so that's something.  Looking at some old Wheatstone price lists, the model 6 of this era lists the ends as "ebony" not "ebonized," so I'm taking their word for that.

 

Stephen - the wood is jet black.  I got it from a private party in Oregon who has had it for 19 years.

 

Apropos of nothing to do with my topic, the tone of this thing is amazing!



#5 Don Taylor

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 02:52 PM

We have similar conditions here in Canada. 

 

In winter, I use a small, plastic tube pill container stuffed with some foam or sponge and filled with water.

 

2f2b77440a633373772f00cdb8fb52d9.jpg

It fits inside the case and does not spill if you are reasonably careful not to tip the case.  I also keep a small hygrometer in the box and keep an eye of the humidity level.

 

In summer, I put a couple of desiccants in the case along with the hygrometer.

 

62bb46cd8eae9b7a33fc35e6310d8e35_f507.jp

I try to keep the humidity at about 40 - 50%.

 

I take the pill container out (or cap it) if I have to carry the case anywhere, but inside the house it is easy to keep it from spilling.



#6 Geoff Wooff

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Posted 28 March 2017 - 03:01 AM

I also have a 90 year old  Wheatstone with 'Ebony' ends  . It is an Aeola from 1927  and the ends are  well  worn.  I  have just examined  the  layers  using a 6x  magnifying glass.  It is  fairly easy to see the layers  if  viewed  where the  top  meets  the sides.  I can see  three distinct layers  when looking into the 'sandwich'.

 

The  edge veneers  on one side  of my  Aeola are so worn  from placing it  on a  rough surface  as to show  that even they  are not Ebony  but some  pink/brown  timber.

 

This Aeola has had a hard life  and  been in some  hot dry climates  but  there  is  no de-laminating  of the ends.

 

I have repaired  several  Lachenal  'Ebony'  ended  models that have shown  cracking along the grain  of the outer  veneer  as if the glue  originally used was  losing its grip  but I don't recall a similar  situation with a Wheatstone.



#7 lachenal74693

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Posted 28 March 2017 - 10:10 AM

I have repaired several Lachenal 'Ebony' ended models that have shown cracking along the grain of the outer
veneer as if the glue originally used was losing its grip but I don't recall a similar situation with a Wheatstone.

 

I wonder if you could satisfy my curiosity?

 

How exactly do you effect a repair in a case such as this - do you have to lift the veneer off,

and then re-glue it, or what?

 

Thank you.

 

Roger



#8 MUTT

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Posted 28 March 2017 - 12:18 PM

Thanks for the suggestion, Don.  Maybe I can use one of those "gel" packs they use for guitar cases; they are designed to keep the humidity at 55%, I think.  Is that too high?

 

My cheapo magnifier didn't give me a very good look, Geoff; I have to believe it's the same laminating as with your Aeola, however.  That's good to know.

 

Thanks to all,

George


Edited by MUTT, 28 March 2017 - 12:19 PM.


#9 Geoff Wooff

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Posted 28 March 2017 - 01:50 PM

 

I have repaired several Lachenal 'Ebony' ended models that have shown cracking along the grain of the outer
veneer as if the glue originally used was losing its grip but I don't recall a similar situation with a Wheatstone.

 

I wonder if you could satisfy my curiosity?

 

How exactly do you effect a repair in a case such as this - do you have to lift the veneer off,

and then re-glue it, or what?

 

Thank you.

 

Roger

 

It would be  very difficult to  lift off  the veneer  as it would  more than likely deform, crack into  pieces.  What I have seen  was  more like  slight 'cupping' of the top layer  which  causes cracks  along  the grain  and slight lifting at the point where the cracks appear... especially  on 'raised end' models  which may have been produced by  pressing the  laminate  sandwich  in a mould  during the gluing process.  This may  have  caused stresses  in the  deformed  layers  ,most noticeable on the outside.

 

There may be  various thoughts on how to stabilize  these  cracked ends  prior to refinishing. My idea was to  try to work some  very thin  glue  into  the cracks , hoping it would  run under  the first and second layer. I have found  a thin Super Glue  very effective  with  medium to dense woods.

 

The last time I did this repair  the ends were  carefully  flatted  back to smooth  with fine wet and dry paper . After  running the thin  glue  into the cracks ,and  verifying  stability  of the end  surface,  more  smoothing  paper  abrasives  were  used and the new finish  of Black Shellac  ( French polish)  was applied  , many many coats , until  a good look  was achieved...  not trying to make  the instrument look New   though.

 

I did this  on a scruffy  Ebay purchase  which needed  lots of work including a new bellows.  If  an instrument  is  largely  intact  I would be inclined not to refinish , just enjoy the patina  of age.


Edited by Geoff Wooff, 28 March 2017 - 01:55 PM.


#10 Don Taylor

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Posted 28 March 2017 - 09:11 PM

 Maybe I can use one of those "gel" packs they use for guitar cases; they are designed to keep the humidity at 55%, I think.  Is that too high?

George:

 

I don't think that 55% would be too high - I don't recall it ever going below 55% in England!

 

I have no idea about guitar case gel packs, just to say that a guitar case is a lot bigger than a 'tina case and unless this gel pack is in some way 'smart' then it might push the humidity.  You could try it but I would put a small hygrometer in the box anyway and watch what it does.  Something like this.



#11 Halifax

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Posted 29 March 2017 - 02:50 PM

We have similar conditions here in Canada. 

 

In winter, I use a small, plastic tube pill container stuffed with some foam or sponge and filled with water.

 

2f2b77440a633373772f00cdb8fb52d9.jpg

It fits inside the case and does not spill if you are reasonably careful not to tip the case.  I also keep a small hygrometer in the box and keep an eye of the humidity level.

 

In summer, I put a couple of desiccants in the case along with the hygrometer.

 

62bb46cd8eae9b7a33fc35e6310d8e35_f507.jp

I try to keep the humidity at about 40 - 50%.

 

I take the pill container out (or cap it) if I have to carry the case anywhere, but inside the house it is easy to keep it from spilling.

Don, what's the best humidity level for a concertina?
Thanks,

cdm



#12 Don Taylor

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Posted 29 March 2017 - 03:10 PM

Others can chime in but I think that the objective is to pick a moderate level of humidity and then try to limit how much it varies from that level.

Very high humidity might cause the reeds to rust and the wood to swell, very low humidity might cause the wood to crack and the reeds to not fit in their slots.

Rapid, big swings in humidity are not good.

I figure I can keep it around 50%+/-10% summer and winter without too much trouble, but that is for where I live in Eastern Ontario. YMMV. You might pick a moderately higher or lower level as your target humidity.

How is a good concertina like a good cigar? They both live in boxes and need their humidity controlled so that it does not get too dry or too moist. Look up humidors.

#13 Halifax

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Posted 30 March 2017 - 06:23 AM

How is a good concertina like a good cigar? They both live in boxes and need their humidity controlled so that it does not get too dry or too moist. Look up humidors.

I found some wee hygrometers for humidors that I can keep in the concertina box, good info, Thanks!



#14 Greg Jowaisas

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Posted 30 March 2017 - 09:17 AM

Something to keep in mind is that an in case humidifier is somewhat static.  Yes, certainly better than nothing, but I believe a bigger problem is the environment where the concertina gets played.  If you think about it, when you play your concertina in a room or house that is 30% humidity or less what you are in effect doing is "kiln drying" the instrument from the inside out as you pump all that dry air through it.

 

I try and encourage my customers to use a small room humidifier in a dedicated playing room or area.  A minimum 50% humidity is the goal.  (70% or better seems to be a tipping point where unwanted things start growing... :o )  

 

Concertinas apparently can gradually adapt to dryer environments and I've worked on concertinas from Arizona, California and the high plateau of Colorado which have seemed to be healthy and intact.  So perhaps the most dangerous situation may be a relatively sudden "shock" to the wood of an instrument when a seasonal change occurs or a prolonged cold spell happens and central heating runs continuously and relative humidity drops drastically.

 

Corner support blocks which keep the reed pan in place are very vulnerable.  As the bellows pan wood dries and changes shape the brittle hide glue which holds the support blocks can give way.  The result is bleeding notes or loss of volume usually in a corner area of the concertina shared by the affected notes.  Worst case scenario is that the pad board shrinks and suffers a crack between or through several pad holes.  (Mahogany pad boards seem more prone than maple/sycamore although I've rarely seen an Edeophone with pad board cracks.  12-sided shape alleviating stress??)

 

So I'd advise not only using an in case humidifier but paying attention to your home playing environment.  Around my house October is when I start the humidification of the project room and workshop so that I stay in front of the winter heating drying curve.

 

As an illustrative aside I still remember playing a little banjo with a skin head on the University of Florida campus commons one winter's day.  Too much humidity is often the problem in Florida and I was always tightening the rim brackets to keep the skin head of the banjo from sagging.  On this rare day a Canadian system had rushed in bringing exceptionally clear, blue skies along with a sudden drop in humidity.  I was enjoying the rare dry weather and no doubt trying to impress some coeds with my banjo prowess when a distressing "rrriiipping" noise came from my lap.  I quickly determined the sound was not from a failure of pants bottom integrity but sadly the tearing of my banjo head.  The sudden drop in humidity had self tightened my banjo head beyond its breaking point!

 

My winter mantra:  Humidify.  Humidify.  Humidify.

 

Greg


Edited by Greg Jowaisas, 30 March 2017 - 09:20 AM.


#15 Bruce McCaskey

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Posted 30 March 2017 - 10:50 AM

It is possible to over-humidify, by the way. A friend of mine bought a Dipper some years ago from a person that played it infrequently but had kept a saturated humidifier in the case for years. The outer metal ends were very dull looking, and inside the ends the metal was coated with a sort of off-white powdery corrosion. The lever arms were also covered in a similar manner.





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