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Ebony Pieces Cracking

  • 5 years ago · Quote · #21


    Frank of HOS says to use a high quality paste wax.  See #5 above.

    "Your House of Staunton Chessmen should be lightly waxed and buffed either once or twice per year, using only a high quality paste wax with a cotton cloth or cheesecloth. We recommend Liberon's Paste Wax. Please make sure that you carefully follow the manufacturer's instructions on the paste wax carefully, as improper waxing could ruin the finish on your Chessmen. Above all else -  use the wax sparingly and allow the wax to dry before buffing. You should NEVER use a liquid polish."

  • 5 years ago · Quote · #22


    By the looks of it chess players have to be jacks-of-all-trades to be able to fully enjoy our hobby. Good thing we have some experts like Bur_Oak that can steer us in the right dirrection. On that note I was planning to buy a quality set but after seeing this maybe Ebony isin't the ideal...So what's the difference between Ebony Boxwood and Rosewood? (those seem to be the most popular for quality chess sets)

  • 4 years ago · Quote · #23


    ...but after seeing this maybe Ebony isin't the ideal...

    I wouldn't hesitate to buy ebony. As I tried to indicate earlier, the biggest danger with ebony, as with boxwood and many others, is if the object was made when the wood was still too "green." Assuming it was dried properly prior to manufacture, the only dangers are from extremes and/or rapid changes of conditions. The danger from "green" wood is greatest when the object is new, as the rate of shrinkage slows with time.

    I have ebony sets 15-20 years old. Not a single crack. I've seen older sets on eBay that were likewise undamaged. I've certainly seen plenty of ebony objects upwards of 80-100 years old that were completely intact, with the cracked object being the rarity, and the reason for the crack probably either abuse or improper storage.

    Wood, once fully dried, is a remarkably stable material for something that began as purely organic. I remember seeing artifacts in the Tutankhamun exhibit which were made of wood, untouched for thousands of years, that were in remarkable shape.

    As to oils or waxes, these seem to be of more benefit to certain finishes than they are to the wood itself. I never use either on bare wood. I have seen numerous 200+ year old wooden musical instruments in excellent condition which would NEVER have been oiled, as it would harm the acoustical properties of the wood. Wax is occasionally used, but never on the bare wood itself, and on valuable instruments, only sparingly by a properly trained professional. The reason it's used, if at all, is purely cosmetic, though like any finish (such as varnish or lacquer) it could possibly provide some degree of surface impermeability slowing the absorption or release of humidity. The wood doesn't "need" it, and the wrong substance can do more harm than good. Personally, I'd avoid linseed oil like the plague, and only use olive oil in the kitchen. (By the way, linseed oil soaked rags are prone to spontaneous combustion, so unless you know how to properly handle and dispose of the stuff, keep it out of your home.)

    As to wood selection, my own choices, in order of preference, are 1. ebony, 2. rosewood, 3. "ebonized" boxwood. Something like sandalwood or "bud" rosewood or "blood" rosewood might be high up there, but I might be more concerned about cracking based on what I have heard and lack of personal experience. I recently bought a nice red set, but it took a while to get replacements and replacements of replacements, to get a full set without damaged and/or repaired pieces.

    Rosewood is certainly a close second to ebony. It shows more grain, but is usually a rich, pleasing dark brown color. I know someone here talks of ugly gray streaks he's seen in photographs. My experience with rosewood is limited to about thirty years of being hampered by only having the actual wood in hand; not in photographs. I don't remember ever seeing even a single gray streak. I have several rosewood sets, and I like them all.

    Ebonized boxwood looks good at first, though a little more "fake" somehow than ebony. The color is maybe too perfect, and one with ample experience with wood may get the impression that one is seeing a finish rather than the wood. (In a sense, you are.) Still, they look great if you prefer a solid black "black." As the actual finish wears with use, and if whatever pigment, dye, or mordant used may also wear away, leach out, or fade, the appearance may deteriorate slightly over time. Depending on what happens, it could possibly be restored, and something like the wax could slow surface wear a bit. Still, given a choice of the same pieces in ebony or ebonized, I'd take the ebony.

  • 4 years ago · Quote · #24


    Bur_Oak wrote:
     I know someone here talks of ugly gray streaks he's seen in photographs. My experience with rosewood is limited to about thirty years of being hampered by only having the actual wood in hand; not in photographs. I don't remember ever seeing even a single gray streak. I have several rosewood sets, and I like them all.

    It might be me you're talking about. At least I don't remember other people speaking of "gray streaks" in rosewood.

    My experience didn't come from photographs but from a House of Jacques (ebay seller) from whom I got a 4" Rosewood and Boxwood Monarch set as a gift. I actually had it for a few months before handing it off so I had a good chance to look at it. Some parts of the wood were in fact very light, even grayish at the lightest. Lighter than just a faded brown.

    I just assumed that the rosewood used in the HOJ set was not good quality, and that lesser quality of materials was intended for this set, which was nicely weighted, felted, and pretty well turned and carved, and adequately finished. All in all a good buy--something like $50 as I recall.

    I guess I'd expect better rosewood unless one were definitely "buying cheap."

    As a buyer from a seller like HOS I'd expect an aesthetically pleasing rosewood. At least my experience with one of their rosewood/sycamore veneer boards leads me to that: I got a great buy on one whose rosewood varied in shade too much from one end of the board to the either (lighter to darker). Although it didn't seem like much of an issue to me, they wanted to sell it "as is" and not through their the normal channels, just to protect their reputation as they considered the board defective.

    So yes, I wouldn't hesitate on buying rosewood from such a seller as HOS. Don't let stories of gray streaks scare anyone off from buying rosewood pieces. For that matter, ditto stories about cracking ebony. My oldest ebony set is almost 20 years old and there are no problems.

    I'd pick a reputable seller if you're picky at all about materials, finish, etcetera. There is one nightmare story here about some guy that got a defective board and last he told it they told him that they were done trying to please him.

    Bad apple seller.

    Probably the best thing one can do is buy quality from a good and established seller, with return guarantees.

  • 4 years ago · Quote · #25


    just get a proper chess set with metal pieces ;)

  • 4 years ago · Quote · #26


    Boxwood is both lightweight and strong. A predominance of rock and roll guitars are made from boxwood. It is wonderful for chess pieces. Here again it is best to give it periodic waxing and/or oiling in dry climatic conditions. The same goes for the chessboard. There are many fine furniture polishes and oils suited to chess piece preservation.

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #27



  • 3 years ago · Quote · #28


    MugglesMan wrote:

    Thanks for all the help.  Two pieces are cracked (knight and king).  I'm going to contact HOS.

     Please don't settle for just two pieces being replaced.  (a) you're unlikely to get a good match with replacements and (b) if one or two have cracked (without rough use), likely the whole lot were not properly cured before shaping, and the rest will crack with time.  Hardwood needs TWO YEARS to properly cure, likely maybe longer for some hardwoods. 

    Makers get lazy and whip up quickly made sets and about 6-18 months' later, the recipients reap the annoyance of cracking pieces.  The Seller will probably be aware of other complaints (and ought to change suppliers).


    ps.  I had this happen with a nice triple weighted set from the USCF.  Starting cracking at around 10 months, I complained after 4 of them had cracked at around 16 months.  They sent a complete replacement set AND a nice wooden storage box (they knew full well that that particular set had been improperly made from uncured wood as I'm confident they'd received many such complaints).

    pps.  Eventually (about 3 years later) the white King of the replacement set developed a minor crack [I'm extremely gentle with my pieces, and certainly do not let sunshine hit them].  Which causes me to reflect that hardwood curing is a fussy business requiring lots of patience.  Five years might not be too long to allow hardwood to cure, before shaping it into chess pieces.

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #29


    sftac wrote:

    Hardwood needs TWO YEARS to properly cure, likely maybe longer for some hardwoods....

     Five years might not be too long to allow hardwood to cure, before shaping it into chess pieces.

    It depends on the size of the rough stock. The thicker the piece, the more age necessary. (Air dried wood has the endgrain sealed to prevent splitting from too rapid and potentially uneven drying. It must dry out cross grain, a slower but safer method.)

    Two years is pretty short. Five is better. Longer, better still. Like I said before, a violinmaker I know won't touch a stick with less than ten years of (verifiable) age, and prefers FORTY plus, if possible. (Most of his stock of wood he purchased in the late 1970's to early 1980's.)

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #30


    Hmm, yes, you're right -- five years is sounding more like it.  I'd been thinking of firewood (one year for softwoods, two years for hardwoods), else they're apt to do poorly in fireplaces.  And for sure, ends dry out very rapidly, the slower the drying the less cracking and to some extent, less warping (though warping has more to do with the grain's orientation).

    Something like being ready to be carved into chess pieces from hardwood would take much longer than for firewood, for the wood to lose its moisture content throughout in an even fashion to reduce the likelihood of later cracking. 

    It's way too easy to see a carving outfit new on the market, taking shortcuts and not allowing five years or so for their wood supply to properly cure (or paying premium prices to get the wood stock needed from a reliable source).

    Your example of violins is not so much a cracking issue, but the flat, thin panels mean even the slightest warping due to moisture levels being redistributed, would lead to undesireable effects on the tonal qualities.


  • 3 years ago · Quote · #31


    Just buy a humidifier and use it religously, never allowing humidity to drop below 40% and you will be fine.  Owners of wooden stringed instruments are fanatical about this and if you want to protect a nice wooden chess set, then you need to be also.  Keeping humidity levels between 40% and 60% will also help keep you healthy as well.  Buy a digital hygrometer (I think that's what they are called.... senior moment, sorry) so you can measure the humidity at various places in your house rather than relying on the humidifier gauge.  To keep a 1 bedroom apt. humidified at 40 %, I usually need to have the humidifier itself set to run at between 50 and 55 %.  In the very dead of winter with single digit (or lower) temperatures, you may need to supplement your main humidifier with another smaller one.  I've also been known to run the shower on hot several times a day during a particularly cold dry spell.   Having a few grand worth of guitars in the house requires a certain ownership commitment.   If you have any kind of chess set collection, you should probably show similar diligence.

  • 3 years ago · Quote · #32


    sftac wrote:

    Hmm, yes, you're right -- five years is sounding more like it. ...

    Your example of violins is not so much a cracking issue, but the flat, thin panels mean even the slightest warping due to moisture levels being redistributed, would lead to undesireable effects on the tonal qualities.

    I have to wonder if they use air dried or kiln dried wood. Kiln drying can speed things up, but the wood is usually more brittle as a result. I'm not even sure if boxwood or ebony would do well being dried that way? In any event, there are few industries willing to lay in a supply of raw materials which must sit around untouched for a decade or so. A specialty wood supplier might, but it could be difficult to properly anticipate demand, and carefully dried older stocks would naturally be more expensive.

    As for violins, warping is not the issue. The tops and backs are carved to shape, and have a certain amount of resistance to deformation based on the architecture of the arches. Of course, if the wood was too green, some deformation would be possible, however shrinkage related problems would be vastly more significant. The only thin flat panels are the sides or "ribs." These are bent to shape and have reinforcing "linings" glued to the edges to provide some stiffness and increase the gluing surface where the top and back attach. Shrinkage related cracking is possible since the rates of shrinkage differ with respect to the grain direction, and the assembled body involves a situation similar to crossed grain.

    The shrinkage lengthwise is usually negligible. Radial shrinkage (from the center of the tree to the periphery) is more significant, and often at 90 degrees to the radius the rate of shrinkage can be almost double. In the situation of the violin, the sides have the grain running lengthwise. They shrink most (per unit distance) in thickness, which, considering how thin they are, amounts to little change. They can shrink in width, but apart from cellos and basses, that is seldom significant. The perimeter they form changes little if any, since that is the direction of least change. The tops and backs, similarly, change little in length, most in thickness (though being thin, the total difference is seldom if ever a problem). The change in width can be significant, especially if the wood was too "green." With the width changing, the perimiter is reduced -- while being glued to ribs whose perimeter does not change. The result is usually a popped glue seam, or if the glue used was too strong, a crack. In extreme cases, it becomes difficult to correctly reglue the seam, as the amount of edge overhanging the rib decreases. In some instances, the violinmaker will need to remove the upper and lower ribs from the internal blocks and shorten their lengths in order to restore the proper overhang. Little wonder why old wood is preferred!


    By the way, baddogno's comments are right on the money. I concur.

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