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Best wood for wet plate cameras?

Kevin Barton , Jul 06, 2010; 03:48 p.m.

I am getting ready to attempt my own wet plate camera. What is the best wood to survive and not rot from all of that dripping silver nitrate? I heard poplar is great for large format cameras, but that is warps a lot from heat and moisture... so that sounds like it may be a disaster waiting to happen. Any help is appreciated. Thanks!

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frank menesdorfer , Jul 06, 2010; 04:39 p.m.

I think the Honduras Mahogny is one of the best candidate for the job.

Tom Cheshire , Jul 06, 2010; 07:43 p.m.

Most old cameras were built of cherry wood. Teak would seem to be a good choice and some more expensive cameras were made from that.

Chuk Tang , Jul 06, 2010; 07:49 p.m.

For surviving rot, I would think teak is up there as one of the best. Mahogany is stable but I'm not if its rot resistant. I personally would use ebony because I love the stuff :) Its used a lot as chopstick material and also other cutlery and bowls so I would expect it to be ok with water.

Bruce Cahn , Jul 06, 2010; 09:52 p.m.

The best wood would be lignum vitae, the hardest wood on earth. Photo chemicals would just roll off it without any damage. Since that is very rare, heavy and expensive, ebony is a second choice.

Chuk Tang , Jul 06, 2010; 11:24 p.m.

An alternative to real lignum would be Palo Santo. Its waxy and is apparently used in boat rudder bearings so it must be half good with water :)
I have access to biggish pieces (easily big enough for a camera) on a net shop here in Japan. You should be able to find something where you live because Japan is probably the worst place to look for exotic woods for cheap.

frank menesdorfer , Jul 07, 2010; 01:34 a.m.

Have in mind some of the hardwood mentioned needs a heavy duty mashines, not easy to work with. I think the Teac and Honduras the easiest and the Honduras somehow differ from other mahogny, shipbuilders used it once upon a time. Just imagine to drill into Ebony.:-)
Good luck to your project!

Chuk Tang , Jul 07, 2010; 02:09 a.m.

Ebony is not so hard to work even with hand tools. Since you are probably not going to do any carving, the wood you use should not really make much difference in the difficulty. Get a good saw, a sharp plane and you will pretty much be set :)

frank menesdorfer , Jul 07, 2010; 03:01 a.m.

I did read something of Ebony a long time ago and they said the tool are constantly changed as the wood is that hard, I drilled into a piece of Ebony with some drill and its burned :-) I think you need a good quality of everything. I mean it's not impossible but it's not like working with pine. :-)
Isn't anybody here who have one old wet plate camera? What kind of wood they used back than?

frank menesdorfer , Jul 07, 2010; 03:11 a.m.

Robert Szabo is a wet plate photographer send him an email and ask what kind of wood his camera is made out of.
http://www.robertszabo.com/index.html

And please let us know.


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