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Pressing solution Home-made "tropical" wood could help save forests

Swiss scientists have found a way to modify domestic Swiss wood to mimic the properties of endangered tropical hardwood.

Instrument makers have been struggling to get their hands on ebony, which is endangered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Floraexternal link. Its importation is prohibited unless its legal provenance can be officially proven. Its hardness and acoustic qualities make it a prized material for the fingerboards and tailpieces of quality violins.

A start-up called Swiss Wood Solutionsexternal link came up with a new process that presses sustainable Swiss maple and spruce in such a way that it resembles ebony. A giant press was set up at EMPAexternal link, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing. The process tweaks the wood’s density and sound conduction properties, optimising it for a particular instrument. Professional musicians who tested the start-up’s product reported that it was virtually as good as the real thing. The process is also used for producing accessories used in the watch industry.

It costs ten times as much as the foreign stuff at CHF200,000 ($200,000) per cubic metre. Despite the price, it’s in high demand. The press is booked up for the next two years.

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