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Written by The Strad
Thermally modified wood makes its entrance into violin making
ThermalWood Canada, a New Brunswick-based supplier of thermally modified wood, recently ventured into the world of ebony alternatives for guitar fingerboards. Now it has turned its attention to the violin making world. The company’s flagship product is a range of thermally modified hardwoods usually used for, among other things, decking and flooring. The wood is heated at high temperatures to stabilise its molecular structure. This makes it less susceptible to external conditions such as changing moisture levels, which is especially useful in the realm of stringed instruments.
The company’s CEO Bob Lennon first heard of the music industry’s issues with sourcing ebony when supplying wood for guitar necks: “The big problem with ebony is extensive paperwork, and the control over and consistency of supply.” ThermalWood’s ebony alternative, Obsidian Ebony, is made from modified maple, and came to fruition after a long experimentation period interrupted by the pandemic. The final process involves pressurising a mixture of resins, harderners and dyes into the already modified wood. Bespoke machinery was developed by an innovation group from the local community college. The resulting product is even blacker than ebony, and has the same density and weight.
Lennon explains the move into the bowed instrument market was firstly a way to reduce waste, owing to the fingerboards being on average smaller than those on guitars. And secondly, it is “not just about dealing with the particulars of the market”, he says, “but dealing with different cultures. That’s interesting to me.”
The main advantages of the product, Lennon continues, is that is is a “real wood alternative” , instead of being a composite material or one that goes through chemical processes. Additionally, luthiers can continue to use their usual tools. And most importantly, the maple is ethically sourced in northern New Brunswick. “If we can do our part, from a rural town in eastern Canada, to prevent even one species of ebony from becoming extinct, that’s a big feat,” Lennon says.