Wood – it grows on trees
There’s a lot to this subject so I’ll try and keep it concise.
Where’s it from?
We only use Yorkshire (preferably) or British hardwoods. All our Ash, Beech, Elm and Sycamore is from an old style, traditional, North Yorkshire sawmill where the timber is air dried for several years. Occasionally they have other timbers available in small quantities. We sometimes use other British suppliers further afield, Walnut from Hampshire, Maple from the Lake District etc.
Specifically we do not use pine for looms as it's essentially a non durable softwood which was most likely grown anywhere from Northern or Eastern Europe to Canada. It’s cheap and can be bought from any DIY store or builder’s merchants. Basically, it lacks character.
We do however use softwood 6 & 9mm pegs and for a good reason. A pine peg will adjust to the loom, whereas a pine loom will more likely adjust to the peg. Softwood pegs may also be refreshed (expanded), whereas hardwood pegs can't. Pegs are cheap and easy to replace, looms cost more.
Moisture in wood
Most growing trees consist of about 1/3rd (33%+) wood and 2/3rds water.
There are 2 ways of reducing moisture content once the timber is cut into planks.
Air drying outside in a wood yard will over time reduce this to 15-25% water content dependent or storage conditions. We then have to rack it up and store it indoors for several months (depending on thickness) to reduce the moisture even further. Only then can it be worked properly.
Commercial timbers such as pine are Kiln dried, many tons at a time, to rapidly reduce the moisture content. This uses a lot of energy and stresses the timber reducing its' strength. For a commercial environment intent on cost saving, this makes sense.
Air drying allows for the natural stresses in the timber to slowly adjust, ultimately producing a better product. If you're in doubt about whether kiln drying produces better wood, go to an antique dealer. None of their wood was ever kiln dried.
Wood will always seek to establish an equilibrium. If very dry it will reabsorb some moisture, but only if allowed to. Likewise if say you inherit a piece of antique furniture you may note shrinkage of panels and looseness of it's joints within a few years because it has been relocated to a dryer atmosphere than it was previously used to.
Movement in wood
Given a chance, wood can twist, bow or cup, expand or contract to greater or lesser degrees for several reasons. Wood needs to be cared for.
A loom may be used almost anywhere, but when it comes to longer term storage
* Avoid storing your loom in potentially damper environments such as conservatories, cellars, lofts and outdoor buildings.
* Avoid proximity to localized heat sources such as radiators, open fires or log burners, Conservatories in Summer or leave in full sun for prolonged periods.
* Store your loom flat (not leant against a wall), in a cooler room in the house. This will reduce its chances of moving excessively. Maybe place a weight on it to.
Being a natural product some movement is to be expected, you may not even notice it, but it can and will happen to a degree.
We work with the timber and seek to find the best in every piece. We don’t provide factory like mass produced loom clones.
If it’s irregular, has natural knots on the loom edge or face, an attractive waney edge or other features we’ll use them all. It’s character, every loom is different, every loom is special.
In making looms we first look for “features” and grain in every new plank. This then determines how the plank should be cut not only to minimise wastage but to share its best aspects between the looms it will produce.
Some modern tools are used to saw lengths and drill precise holes. The rest is done by hand. Some of the equipment we use is Victorian (the steel is so much better). Final sanding and oiling are done by hand.
The oil seals and feeds the timber and can transform a fairly ordinary looking piece into a real work of art revealing wonderful grain and tonal shading. Oil also minimises the further absorption of moisture. The oil used is natural (not boiled) Linseed oil. Over time, if a loom begins to look a little dry or dull a gently wipe over with a little more oil is good. Leave to stand and dry for a few hours then rub down with kitchen roll or cloth to remove any excess. If the oil was applied with a cloth, throw away or burn the cloth!!! Linseed left on a screwed up cloth can self spontaneously combust. Kitchen roll may be less wasteful.
A quick note on pegs
With a new loom don’t force the pegs into the holes, some will fit perfectly, others a little looser or tighter.
Time and use will ease all pegs.
Initially if tight, grip the peg firmly in the fist and rotate in the hole. For 6mm wooden pegs only it's best to turn them upside down use the top to free up the hole. It may just be a little bit of sawdust in the way. If that doesn't ease it enough then pegs can be shrunk (the moisture evaporated) by placing on a rack in a warm oven. About 100 degrees for an hour should be enough. Do not grill them. You will then find most will now be a good fit, but if a few are still slightly difficult only then would we suggest a light sanding of the lower peg shaft.
With continued use pegs may become a little loose in the holes as the timber in the peg base will, over time, become slightly compressed. To revive any loose pegs, simple put 1” of water in a glass and stand the pegs in it, base down. After 20 minutes remove the pegs and dry off. Then leave them to air dry 12-24 hours. They should be like new as the wood will have expanded to its original diameter.
Alternatively, as 6mm wooden pegs can be more fragile, order a loom with 6mm nylon pegs.
Note that 6mm wooden and nylon pegs are not perfectly interchangeable. A 6mm wooden peg fits a 6mm drilled hole. A 6mm nylon peg uses a 6.5mm drilled hole. A nylon peg can not fit in a 6mm hole and a 6mm wooden peg in a 6.5mm hole will be loose.
Timber is a natural product and subject to many influences such as natural internal stresses and external storage conditions. We can not guarantee any loom’s perfect stability once subjected to conditions out of our control.