Wood: Plum

Plum-wood peg blanks
Various prices, see below description




Plum-wood peg blanks, about 100 of them, with larger uncut billets for viols or cellos. The wood is selected, hand split (so the grain is straight, parallel to the surface of the blank) and planed, stored until completely dry, then re-sawn specifically for use in guitars, lutes, violins, viols. Plum wood, once oiled and cured, is most attractive in colour.

The price is 5.00 per blank, 500.00 CAD (375.00 USD) for the lot. The uncut pieces may be purchased separately at around 40.00 CAD (30.00 USD) each. I am prepared to ship anywhere at the buyer’s expense.

This wood has been stored in these sawn blanks in my shop in a dry climate for over 20 years. All the sapwood,knots, shake and end grain splits are sawn out. Sizes from lengths of 160 mm to 60 mm in descending sizes, from around 25 mm to 16 mm in width, square cut. One feature is the “flake” figure, cross-linking cells most apparent on the quarter sawn face (right angle to the grain), which becomes apparent when the peg bulb is cut for the fingers. When oiled, and plum soaks up oil much more than boxwood, the flake emerges, and ultra-violet light turns the anthocyanins a wonderful brown, suggested in these images by wetting.

Plum and Boxwood as peg woods—what are their properties, advantages and disadvantages.
While boxwood is prized for dimensional stability, plum-wood is slightly softer, and can fit the holes because of its elasticity and stability in humid weather. Actually, it’s the peg hole which is at fault, since the grain swell and shrinks most parallel to growth, but very little on end-grain. In humid weather the pegs will wedge harder and can twist off if the holes are not properly fitted, in dry weather the pegs remain dimensionally stable, but the holes shrink back, releasing friction. I have included images of a set of baroque lute pegs which I turned.

What EM nerds want to know: What did the lute players and makers of the past think about various woods, their suitability, and their physical and acoustic properties. Thomas Mace commented on this question in his 1676 book Musick’s Monument, where he evaluates problems experienced with various materials and their qualities in relation to common conditions such as excess or low humidity:

Next, what Wood is Best for the Ribbs.
The Air-Wood is absolutely the Best.

[ the next sentence partly explains this term] “But there are very Good Lutes of several woods: as Plum-Tree, Pear-Tree, Yew, Rosemary-Air [probably rosewood]), Ash, Ebony, and Ivory, etc., the two last (though most Costly, and Taking to a common Eye) are the worst.

[later, he mentions peg woods thusly–]
Another cause of Pegs slipping is, when both ends are [originally] equal, yet both the Peg and Holes are worn Smooth (being made of [too] Soft wood;) wherefore so near as you can have all your Pegs of Hard Wood, (and without Sap[wood]), as of Plum-Tree, Box, or Ebony, etc.”
Deciduous wood grows with heart and sapwood, where the denser heart functions to hold up the softer xylem and phloem-rich sapwood, and he observes this, saying in effect that heart wood is superior.

Which is better, Box or Plum?
Having lived in rainy Vancouver for two decades and now in arid interior Kelowna, BC, my experience has taught me that the slightly softer Plum-wood is actually better for pegs if the climate is more variable, with great humidity or dryness in quick alternation, made worse by heating in winter, air-conditioning in summer—coastal weather. Outflow of continental air creates a drying effect, while the marine presence ensures heavy, dewy weather, especially in spring and fall. Gradual onset of humid coastal weather in summer causes pegboxes to swell, and twisting can break delicate pegs. Sticking is worse if the lute is unplayed for some time.

For this property, Boxwood is perhaps better. It is wonderful in stability and working properties if the changes are gradual, a more continental climate, as opposed to a coastal climate. Each has its moments, it seems. Elsewhere, Mace talks about keeping the lute in a bed during damp weather!



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