Friday, May 8, 2009

Wooden Ring Durability, In General

When initially pondering the idea of selling wooden rings, I tried to look at the concept of "wearable wooden rings" as if I were a customer first presented with the idea.  I came up with one immediate question:

Do wooden rings hold up structurally?

After all... most folks wear metal rings, which don't really require any special consideration.  You can wear them in the shower, while working in the yard, or while washing dishes.

So why select a wooden ring?

Well, because wood is beautiful.  That's one answer.  It's perhaps something that can't be nailed down precisely - because it is subjective - but people typically find wood to be nice-looking.  I often hear words like "warmth", "charm", or "character" when someone is asked why they like wood.  The grain patterns and naturally-occuring colors in wood, how these features change from one species to the next, and how the various types of wood can be combined for enhanced beauty and contrast, make wood a unique material to be used in rings.

Another reason someone may select wooden rings over metal ones might have to do with environmental impact.  With the recent awakening of eco-consciousness, gold mining practices (which obliterate the landscape, leave massive amounts of waste, and release arsenic, mercury, and lead) have been brought under intense scrutiny.  In general, wood is sustainable.  ...and wood rings, obviously, use VERY small amounts of wood.

So we have a couple of strong reasons for wooden rings, but what about the initial concern? wood the right choice for rings, in terms of strength and durability?

Absolutely, if constructed properly.

Wood has - in most species - an inherent weakness... across the grain.  It is easy to envision this if we consider wood as a bundle of straws.  To break all of those straws by bending them would be a tough task.  But to simply pull the straws (fibers) apart is not nearly as difficult.  Or put another way... it is relatively easy to split a log along the grain, separating the fibers (straws), but it cannot easily be split across the grain.  That requires a saw and a lot more effort.

So there are a couple of answers to that problem...

- Construct the ring from one or more strips of wood in such a way that the natural strength (along the grain) is capitalized on.  (( This is the "bentwood" style. ))

- Or, construct the ring using multiple layers, having each successive layer support the weakness of the preceding layer.  (( This is cross-grain lamination.  Very similar to how plywood is made. ))

The choice between the two comes down to a tradeoff.  Bentwood rings, by their nature, are the strongest of the two.  However, cross-grain laminated rings are more than sufficient enough in strength to be worn, and they offer greater ease in achieving contrast.  The multiple layers of wood provide structural reinforcement, but they also offer the opportunity to mix wood species and achieve countless variations and styles.  Achieving such contrast in bentwood rings is certainly possible, but the time expenditure (and thus, cost) is greater than that of cross-grain laminated rings.

In either case - and to answer the initial concern - wooden rings can be crafted in such a way to ensure their durability.

In summary, wood rings are a lot stronger than you think!


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