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  1. #1
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    Default A ‘fiddly’ topic

    Euge and I were discussing fiddleback the other day and he thought it might be a good conversation starter here.

    What I was curious about is what causes the type of figure, why it’s generally only found in small lengths, why it generally never goes right through the width of the tree and whether it only develops as the tree grows.

    Euge has his views, but I’ll leave that for him to express. I’d love to hear your take on it!

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  3. #2
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    AFAICT, there are a few reasons for fiddleback to occur but most seem to do with stress.

    If you look at where it occurs, it's often on the trunk under heavy branches, just below forks, etc., etc. Also often on the lee side of trunks in heavily wind-blown areas.

    Personally I've come to the conclusion that it's the tree's in-built shock absorber... spring suspension, if you will.
    I may be weird, but I'm saving up to become eccentric.

    - Andy Mc (AKA "Ghost who posts." )

  4. #3
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    Short answer, noone knows for sure, unless someone has figured it out recently & it hasn't filtered through to the lay literature yet.

    The proximate cause is a disturbance of the regular division of the cambium cells, but exactly what causes that is still a mystery, as far as I can determine. I think you can safely say there is a genetic component (some species like northern hemisphere Maples & River Red Gum, for e.g., are highly prone to forming fiddleback). But that's far from the whole story - seedlings & grafted trees from highly figured trees rarely show figure like the parent, it seems, so there has to be an environmental component as well. One environmental factor is compression - you commonly see fiddleback in the wood immediately under a branch, even in species like Toona, which rarely have fiddleback elsewhere, but that's only a very local effect, and doesn't produce figure throughout the entire log.

    In a similar vein, I'd love to know what causes lace She-oak, & why it's virtually restricted to Allocasuarina fraseriana...

    Cheers,
    IW

  5. #4
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    You guys ask some real hard questions sometimes. I can only offer what a very old logger/sawmiller told me. He believed that when trees are approaching maturity the Phloem can no longer support the weight of the tree and the tubular bundles start to fold over and over. A bit like Varicose veins. This creates the long grain/ end grain you see in milled timber. It does not appear in all trees, but very common in Qld Maple and Maple Silkwood.
    Rgds,
    Crocy.

  6. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Croc View Post
    ...... I can only offer what a very old logger/sawmiller told me. He believed that when trees are approaching maturity the Phloem can no longer support the weight of the tree and the tubular bundles start to fold over and over. A bit like Varicose veins. This creates the long grain/ end grain you see in milled timber. It does not appear in all trees, but very common in Qld Maple and Maple Silkwood....
    That's a plausible theory, Crocy, and it's cited as the reason Hoop pine develops those rings or hoops at the base of big old trees (from which its common name derives). But there are many trees that develop fiddleback extensively long before they are large or mature, so we need an additional explanation for these cases. The two 'Maples' you mention are a good example of what I mean, you get highly figured grain so commonly in those two species, even in modest-sized trees, whereas their cousin Crows Ash (F. australis), which can get to be at least as big a tree, is almost universally as straight as a good fence-line.

    In developing mammalian bodies, cell-growth is controlled by a complex interaction of external 'signalling' chemicals interacting with the cells via special receptors - any or all of these can & do go 'wrong', with results ranging from minor to catastrophic. I have only the vaguest knowledge of plant pathology, but I do know a similar situation exists to control growth, and it would be to this area I'd be looking for an explanation of 'weird' growth patterns...

    Cheers,
    IW

  7. #6
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    Hmmmm. Only in small patches you say? [emoji16]
    Jason on Instagram: “She'll do👌. Picked up some good stuff today. 😎
    #fiddleback #blackwood #koa #lumber”

    From my experience, fiddleback in small patches etc is caused by eviromental or growing stresses. "Genetic fiddleback" on the other hand seems to be a mutation and is often right through a tree to some extent. Sometimes a very light curl and sometimes very heavy and consistent like in this recent slab. [emoji106]

    Sent from my CPH1725 using Tapatalk

  8. #7
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    Thanks all, that’s very useful information. It’s nice to learn how things develop, and it seems like there is at least some level of consensus out there, though I also take the point that it’s not fully understood.

    Thanks Jason, that’s a nice piece. I was interested as I’ve never seen it in very long lengths nor a full width slab (from one edge of the tree to another) with fiddleback right through it. Have you ever come across that?

  9. #8
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    An interesting topic, so, well initiated JW.

    As usual I have no idea but I would comment that trees have a tendency to compensate for conditions that impact them. For example, a burl is the tree healing itself from mechanical damage (In humans I suppose this would be called a scab). If a tree is blown so severely that it develops a significant lean it will compensate by building more wood on the underside. The result is to have a heart that is very noticeably off-centre. Some figure is caused by insect attack.

    Perhaps figure is indeed the tree reacting to an external situation.

    Maybe Ian got it right when he said nobody knows, "unless someone has figured it out recently."

    Regards
    Paul
    Bushmiller;

    "Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts, absolutely!"

  10. #9
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    I was under the impression it was caused by stress due to flexure on older trees, hence why on a lot of species underneath large branches, and on closed grained timber tree trunks in high wind areas. I've seen it in Maples, Acacias, Eucalypts and a heap more.

    Quote Originally Posted by IanW View Post
    ....In a similar vein, I'd love to know what causes lace She-oak, & why it's virtually restricted to Allocasuarina fraseriana...
    Actually it occurs in a few, I've also seen it in Rose Sheoak and Banksia and a few burls in other species with medullary rays.
    Neil
    ____________________________________________
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  11. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by dai sensei View Post
    I was under the impression it was caused by stress due to flexure on older trees, hence why on a lot of species underneath large branches, and on closed grained timber tree trunks in high wind areas. I've seen it in Maples, Acacias, Eucalypts and a heap more....
    Neil, the fiddleback you see in areas under compression is localised to that spot, the all-over patterns like TasSculptor's example is another matter - that tends to occur in some species fairly commonly, in some very rarely, & in others almost never. Both the local & generalised patterns are ultimately due to alterations in the rates of division of cambium cells, no doubt, but the primary cause of those alterations is the mystery....

    And yes, I've seen some very limited lace pattern in Rose S-oak, too, but never more than a bit large enough to get a small handle out of. In all cases I've sen, it was around a defect, like a broken-off branch partly grown over (or an old burn scar, in the last bit I had), and these are local effects, not throughout a goodly portion of the tree as you get in A. fraseriana. Again, the ultimate cause is something that causes the dividing cells to react in an abnormal way, but what, exactly, remains to be discovered & explained...
    IW

  12. #11
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    Some of the best fiddle I have seen have been in straight trees that were in the middle of a fairly dense patch of forest which one would think would not cause much stress. The ones that stick in my mine were a couple of mid size Jarrahs that dad felled near Margaret River in the mid-60's. He felled a number (dozens) of Jarrahs in the same location and they were all of a pink colour but only 2 or 3 of these had the most amazing fiddle I have ever seen. Most of the trees dad was falling at the time were destined for construction or railway sleepers, but the mill owner that dad worked for pulled these logs aside and had them milled and dried as prospective furniture wood. He also had complete bedroom sets (beds, wardrobes, side tables, dressing tables) made up from the timber which he subsequently gave to his daughters as wedding presents - amazing timber but too busy in that particular application IMHO.

    One that I have more experience with directly is a beautiful straight Marri I milled in 2008 with almost the whole tree being fiddled.
    Which reminds me I have not done anything with this timber
    fiddle.jpg

    The newish Applecross catholic church has pews made of this stuff. I doubt the congregation knows what it's sitting on.

    As to the cause - I have no idea.

  13. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by jw2373 View Post
    Euge and I were discussing fiddleback the other day and he thought it might be a good conversation starter here.

    What I was curious about is what causes the type of figure, why it’s generally only found in small lengths, why it generally never goes right through the width of the tree and whether it only develops as the tree grows.

    Euge has his views, but I’ll leave that for him to express. I’d love to hear your take on it!
    Its an interesting subject to most wood workers and wood lovers like me. Its frequently raised and discussed.
    These are my own views on this subject and as raised with JW.

    From observation alone, one can see wavy and fiddleback figure near stumpwood and where branches and forks are under growing and environmental (eg wind and weight) stress. However there is also evidence that genetics can play a role as produced fiddleback figure is seen throughout a tree, from all of a main stem to its branches and even to the twigs.

    To me these seem to be the 2 majors causes - physical / environmental and genetic predisposition.

    But there are other causes (probably at cellular level) that cause ripple quilted and other grain patterns eg from spiral growth. Others have speculated about the causes of such figure. Burl formation is often raised as well where causes are probably different.

    What's important I think is to recognise that what we see is an OPTICAL effect of the grain changing in direction. A flat or polished slab will display such “fiddleback” figure as alternating as paler and darker bars / lines. (Of course this depends how its cut and finished as well.) The darker lines are where see more "end grain" and lighter reflective bars are where is more" side grain”. Its the way indident light is either absorbed or reflected off such grain. Some woods with high lustre show this contrast to great effect (eg blackwood, Acacia melanoxylon, or gidgee Acacia cambagei).

    Of course a round or turned cylinder eg a whip handle, a pepper mill or pen will show this fiddleback as RINGS (hence the name "ringed gidgee" etc).

    Euge

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