artificial ivory

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artificial ivory

Postby Dally » Wed Nov 16, 2011 8:51 am


Here's a photo of a detail on a set of pipes made by Jon Swayne off the pipeshow web site. Doesn't Jon make his own artificial ivory? Does anyone know how he does it? This is not ivory, obviously, but it is much more interesting and attractive than the usual white plastic looking stuff.

This site offers what looks like the plain white stuff:

Highland pipes made out of delrin have excellent tone. What about artificial ivory as "tone wood"?

Some art ivory is more attractive than others. The imitation ivory drone caps on my Addison pipes are also very nice. They have a shimmer that is rare in my experience. What do you pipe makers think of art ivory?
"The problem with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur." - George W. Bush
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Re: artificial ivory

Postby Julia Say » Wed Nov 16, 2011 10:02 am

GPS is where a good number of us are getting alternative ivory, John. It looks plain in the rod, but it does have markings, though they're a bit variable.

Its basically a filled resin, I believe - the same technique as for "stone" figurines. I used to use a variety of it to make cast nativity figurine sets (yes, really - long ago in another universe!), but it's revolting stuff to use, and tricky to cast well, the air bubbles have to be carefully removed.
It comes in two parts, the base material and an activator (catalyst) plus whatever filler you use to get the colour / finish you require. You stir it all together and pour.

The type I used was an exothermic reaction (gave off lots of heat as it set) so the moulds had to be supported in tubs of cold water. It smells, it gets everywhere, I'm sure it's not good for humans - so I'd leave it to the professionals to cast.

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Re: artificial ivory

Postby pipemakermike » Wed Nov 16, 2011 11:28 am

I use Vigopas for mounts, made by Raschig GMBH, Mundenheimer StraBe, Ludwigshafen/Rhein. and have a lifetime supply (at my current rate of making)
I have been to the Raschig site but can't find any reference to Vigopas currently so they may have stopped making it. Most of the imitation ivories are a polyester resin with a filler to give color and texture. I don't think that any of them would be suitable for chanters or drones as they are inherently weak and brittle. Also when machining they are quite abrasive, wear cutting tools quite quickly probably due to the powder content and care has to be taken to avoid breathing in the dust.
I have considerable experience of using Delrin (acetal copolymer or acetal homopolymer) both for pipemaking and in my day job and it is an excellent material for the pipes. The main obstacle to its use is the outdated view that plastic is a cheap substitute for real materials. The main practical obstacle to its use is the difficulty of gluing it. This makes fitting the brass linings to the key slots demanding I haven't tried this yet). Tonally it seems to be similar to real ivory. It is quite tough and won't break when dropped. It is very easy to machine and the bore of the chanter can be very smooth also, except for the key pads, it doesn't need oiling. It is not hydroscopic and there are no toxicity problems associated with either machining or eating it.
I have a lovely red piece just begging to be made into a 16key F chanter<G>.
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Re: artificial ivory

Postby Francis Wood » Wed Nov 16, 2011 6:35 pm

There are two very different types of artificial ivory shown on the detail of Jon Swayne's pipes here. As far as imitation goes, I prefer the look of the type on the chanter. For this appearance Jon used to use, (and probably still does) a material that is made in small quantities in France, especially for knife handles. It looks a lot nice than GPS, but is made in slabs rather than rods so the grain of the ivory is contrary to what one would see with a real ivory mount. I think it's a lot softer and prone to scratches, whilst GPS is brittle and fairly unpleasant to work. A better alternative doesn't yet exist, apparently.

This question of artificial ivory is a recurrent one which constantly refuels internet discussions, and was already in progress at a slower rate when information was exchanged on paper. However, no manufacturer has yet found it worth their while to produce something that really does accurately resemble ivory and charge accordingly. Perhaps that is because enough of the real stuff is still in commerce, both illegally and immorally. There's no such thing as a consenting elephant. And probably no such thing as certification which is 100% reliable.

American pipe-makers seem far more prepared than those over here, to use contrasting hardwoods for the mounts and I think that often looks very good. I've never felt very convinced about putting a lot of time and care into a bit of material that is intrinsically worthless and characterless if its presence is only for decoration.

Nice to see your bright red Delrin rod, Mike. Michaelangelo-like, you can probably discern a marvellous chanter stick just waiting to be released from that imprisoning cylinder!

I'm all for using alternative materials when they have sympathetic manufacturing characteristics and Delrin has quite a few. The adhesion problem, though is a very fundamental one, both in making the instrument, adjusting it and eventually repairing it. The other downside is a cultural one. Musical instruments generally have additional purposes as well as producing musical sound. It is very rare to find a hand-made instrument of any kind that is just an efficient sound-maker, without the extra evidence of craftsmanship making it a valued object in its own right. Mass produced ones too always have some aspect of decoration, however modest. Delrin on the other hand doesn't really fit that bill as a material. It's an honest and worthy substance but pretty, it ain't.

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Wooden mounts

Postby Barry Say » Wed Nov 16, 2011 8:31 pm

Francis Wood wrote:American pipe-makers seem far more prepared than those over here, to use contrasting hardwoods for the mounts and I think that often looks very good. I've never felt very convinced about putting a lot of time and care into a bit of material that is intrinsically worthless and characterless if its presence is only for decoration.
I don't care much for wooden mounts, but I think it is largely a matter of taste. I worry that wooden mounts will eventually crack.

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Wooden Mounts

Postby Francis Wood » Wed Nov 16, 2011 8:48 pm

There is always a possibility that wooden mounts will crack. There is a far more serious likelihood that ivory mounts will eventually crack, as any visit to a collection of historical instruments will verify. Ivory and wood respond very differently to changes in humidity. When an instrument is mouth blown the stresses are even greater, sometimes with disastrous results. Flute head-joints are often tragic!

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Modern materials

Postby Barry Say » Wed Nov 16, 2011 9:01 pm

Various acetal copolymers have been in use for some years. I believe Colin Ross sent acetal chanters to Hong Kong and Canada. The late Patrick Manning had one pre 1991 and he was sitting in a session demonstrating how bendy his chanter was when ....... it broke :lol: :( :oops: .

I am concerned about the longevity of polymer materials in general. I realise that manufacturers attempt to simulate the life cycle of polymers by subjecting them to stress, but when I had a day job in a university, a fair proportion of our time was spent trying to find out why polymers did not behave as the manufacturers expected. Part of the problem is that most hydrocarbon polymers are heterogeneous on the microscopic scale with regions which are crystalline and regions which are not. Crystalline polymers are generally brittle but the molecules in the noncrystalline regions can move comparatively freely. This gives a flexibility which allows the material to withstand stress. Over time the non-crystalline areas can crystallise making the polymer brittle. It is very difficult to simulate this proccess in the laboratory in a reasonable time scale. The usual way to speed up processes is to warm the material, elevating the temperature by 10 degrees is generally thought to double the speed of chemical processes. However, crystallisation will occur more quickly at lower temperatures. This is only one possible mechanism.

One polymer which is reckoned to have outstanding longevity is PVC but I have been told that if this had been invented recently, it would never have gone into production, the monomer - vinyl chloride - would be considered too hazardous. So, your electric wiring and your windows and doors should last.

Wood is a fine material and it feels nice, so I will stick with that.

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