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Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron #1873973
04/05/12 03:08 AM
04/05/12 03:08 AM
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MetalMan Offline OP
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I was following a recent thread discussing the various casting techniques for plates and looking for a place to post, but unfortunately, I missed the bus....

I will try and do justice to this topic by kicking it off with some metallurgy.

Cast iron is an iron-carbon-silicon alloy. Steel is similar, but with a lower carbon content (<2.1%). The iron atoms in cast iron have a certain order to them. At ambient temperatures, this structure is known as body centered cubic (BCC). At higher temperatures, the structure changes to face-centered cubic (FCC). Just below the melting point, it reverts back to BCC.

Now, imagine all of this in reverse. Your ladle of molten cast iron is poured into a mold, where it cools, first forming the BCC crystal structure. After further cooling, the crystal structure changes to FCC, and by the time you reach room temperature, you're back to BCC. This is just for pure iron, with no carbon present. When you introduce carbon atoms, they sit at interstitial locations, between the iron atoms. This gets interesting because carbon impedes the motion of the iron atoms (dislocation) as they try to change crystal structure. Those blocked dislocations give a material increased strength and hardness, but also increased brittleness. In rapidly quenched steels, this material is known as martensite. Reheating steel in this state allows the carbon atoms to relocate, resulting in tempered martensite, which has improved ductility due to increased dislocation mobility.

The surfaces of thick sections cool more quickly than the center. Imagine what happens when surface goes through the crystal structure change from BCC to FCC, while the center is still going to be stuck at BCC for a while, trying to catch up. Distortion. Yes, thermal shrinkage plays a role, but there's a ton of metallurgical activity here as well.

Check out http://www.metalpass.com/metaldoc/paper.aspx?docID=66

Now, on to casting methods. Sand casting is old school, good for small product batches. V-casting is much newer, more expensive to set up and much more suited to mass production. Del has noted this in several posts. Very very few new foundries are being built in North America. The few that are being built here are not about to begin casting piano plates, that's for sure! Faziolis would suddenly appear very affordable if this were the case. Both Europe and Asia are ahead of North America with this method. I'm sure that labor costs play a role, but keep in mind that many foundries on this continent are over a hundred years old, while both Europe and Asia had to rebuild after World War II.

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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #1874030
04/05/12 07:26 AM
04/05/12 07:26 AM
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OK, so MetalMan, from your perspective is there a difference in the crystalline structure of a sand cast plate that is slowly cooled from a quickly cooled vpro technology?

Please forgive me if it was answered or inferred in your first post. I am a little slow this morning.


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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #1874042
04/05/12 07:38 AM
04/05/12 07:38 AM
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Interesting read... very technical. (I like that smile )

This may be slightly OT, but I have restored a few old Ford farm tractors from the late 1940's and early 1950's. The steel and cast iron in those old tractors are tough as nails. I read that Henry Ford had the best metal foundries in the world along about that time.

Metallurgy is indeed an interesting topic.

Rick


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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: Rich Galassini] #1874080
04/05/12 09:21 AM
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Rich,

It's a battle between cooling uniformity and the useability of a cast iron post rapid cooling. I'm sure that the vacuum molds incorporate this into their design. The key is being able to control your cooling rate.

I found an excellent presentation which discusses some casting defects quite well. www.me.gatech.edu/jonathan.colton/me4210/castdefect.pdf

Prettiness aside, our sand cast plates (including my beloved Baldwin) are probably closest related to fire hydrants...

Cheers,
Manuel

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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: Rich Galassini] #1874478
04/06/12 02:01 AM
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Rich, I'm sorry. I was also a little slow this morning and didn't answer your question properly. Quick cooling would form a very fine microstructure, with relatively small grains. The arrangement of the atoms within each grain would be BCC for either method though. Generally, grain formationpn occurs instead of grain growth with fast cooling. However, additional alloying elements could affect these properties as well, just as other mechanisms can also promote grain nucleation even with slower cooling.

The only way to really know would be to get a cross sectional cut of a plate and put it under a microscope. I might just try to do this someday, with a piece of someone else's piano....

Just out of curiosity, what do your suppliers tell you about the advantages of one vs the other casting method?

Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #1874503
04/06/12 04:32 AM
04/06/12 04:32 AM
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This caught my eye, as I remember visiting a dealer who told me that vacuum casting is inferior. He had a chart that indicated which brands were what type of casting and so on.

I forgot what he claimed was the reason for sand cast being better. It didn't make much sense though.

Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #1874602
04/06/12 10:28 AM
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Do you have any information about the process of seasoning castings, that is, leaving them outside through changes of weather?


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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: BDB] #1874612
04/06/12 10:59 AM
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If you Google "aging cast iron", you'll see a number of papers/abstracts discussing the strengthening effects of aging cast iron at ambient temperatures. The time window seems to be 6 to 10 days, with claims of up to 10% increase in yield strength. Some of these references state that elevated temperatures accelerate this age strengthening process. Yield strength is important, of course, but a lower yield strength can be mitigated by using more material. I would be surprised if a piano plate was using a factor of safety of less than 5, given the importance of stiffness here.

There are also findings of improved machinability with aging which I think might be more compelling reasons to let the plate age outside of the piano. Otherwise, why wait?

I'm going to guess that the "seasoning" outdoors is really a function of storage space and cost.

Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #1874621
04/06/12 11:17 AM
04/06/12 11:17 AM
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Originally Posted by MetalMan
...Very very few new foundries are being built in North America. The few that are being built here are not about to begin casting piano plates, that's for sure! Faziolis would suddenly appear very affordable if this were the case.... .
If you really believe that last statement then you are very much mistaken about the nature of costs in piano manufacture.

Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #1874628
04/06/12 11:31 AM
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I think he meant that the costs of plates cast in the US would go way up.


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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: BDB] #1874634
04/06/12 11:41 AM
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Yes exactly, thanks.

Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: Supply] #1874645
04/06/12 12:05 PM
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Jurgen,

Actually, my comment was directed purely at the cost of new infrastructure in North America, the burden of which would dwarf the actual cost of a 200-300 lb casting. Offhand, do you know how much a new sand cast plate would cost for say a six foot grand? I'm curious because I have rough costs for similar weight castings (the aforementioned fire hydrants) and mold size aside, it would be interesting to know what premium one would pay.

Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #1874679
04/06/12 01:42 PM
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My crude understanding is that the sand cast plates are better than the vacuum cast ones for pianos as the former have a denser molecular structure which does not absorb or distort the sound of the piano.
The best and most expensive pianos usually have sand cast plates while the mass produced pianos, for example Kawai and Yamaha have vacuum processed plates.

I wonder if modern vacuum processing can replicate the more desirable density (for pianos) of sand casting.

Robert.

Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #1874700
04/06/12 02:28 PM
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The interesting thing is that when you go to the top models including each concert grand made in Japan today, they suddenly change form vaccum cast to grey sand casting.

So, they would be perhaps in a better position to explain things.

However, one doesn't need to pay a premium price.

Most of the better Chinese maker I know, use them...

Norbert

Last edited by Norbert; 04/06/12 02:29 PM.

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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: Robert 45] #1874744
04/06/12 03:53 PM
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The density of the plates by either method will be the same. Porosity would be the only way to change it, but this constitutes a casting failure and is highly undesirable in any casting. Grain sizes may be different due to cooling times, which could be the driver for a different sound. Honestly, with the excitation of all the other reverberant components in a piano, I couldn't see the casting method playing that significant role in the sound. That cast iron plate has a density of 7200 kg/m3, vs 800-900 kg/m3 for all the wood that surrounds it. If someone has data to suggest otherwise (comparisons between these two methods, not alternate materials like steel or aluminum), please share!

Molds for vacuum casting are costly. Prices for concert grands and elite instruments are already high; I'm sure that there are compelling economic reasons to use a smaller batch appropriate casting method such as sand casting for these reasons, even in Asia.

Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #1874749
04/06/12 04:02 PM
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Greetings,
I think the sand cast plates are less likely to have their own resonant frequency. At least, not enough of one to produce a noticeable sound. This is not the case with the vacuum castings. There are a number of C7 Yamaha's that exhibit a distinct "boing" anywhere from the upper fifth octave to the mid 6th. I have seen the same in other brands, but never in a sand-cast plate. This may be coincidence, but I don't think so.
My logic tells me that the sandcasting produces a less consistent product, not only on the macro scale of plate accuracy, but also on the microscopic scale of internal stresses occurring in a more random manner. That may be wildly off base, but in any event, I think the reliance on sand casting, particularly for the high end concert grands, springs from acoustical reasons more than economic ones. The manufacturers don't go to extra effort for nothing...
Regards,

Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #1874752
04/06/12 04:09 PM
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It is unlikely that anyone has set up vacuum casting foundries for the purpose of testing whether the result sounds better than plates made in sand casting foundries. This has got to be a purely economic decision.


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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: Norbert] #1874753
04/06/12 04:14 PM
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I posted in relation to this topic recently even though I didn't share most of my notes. Piano Technology in a way is a contemporary subject, since piano construction has been a partially empirical process. The application of modern technology in piano manufacturing has been always slow due to the common resistance offered by the industry; since the industry is filled with romanticism, tradition and ignorance (plus also lack of financial resources). All these previously named factors are part of *slow* progress and resistance to the use of technology.

With support of a PhD in metallurgic from Stanford University here in California; I conducted a small research about casting techniques for piano plates manufacturing. The objective of this investigation was simply to clearly understand the process and what kind of effect has in the finished product.

The following is a compound of some of my notes:
In the V process the sand is dry and vacuum is used to assist the filling of the sand mold with the liquid metal. The dry sand causes the metal to cool more slowly allowing easier metal flow in narrow sections. That, along with the vacuum assist permits large slender castings to be made such as is the case with the cast iron frames in Japanese pianos. Normal sand casting uses wet sand to permit compaction and to increase metal cooling rate. Typical sand castings are also poured in air (no vacuum). The result is that typical air poured castings must be have larger section thicknesses due to the faster cooling (metal can’t fill small section molds when it is cooling rapidly) and there is typically much more porosity.

The result is that typical sand castings are bulkier, have more porosity and other defects, but the metal in places may be slightly stronger due to the more rapid cooling. On the other hand the vacuum castings are much more slender, have less defects, but the tensile strength is slightly lower due to the lower cooling rate. In most situations the overall strength of a “more perfect” casting is equivalent or higher than that of a casting containing porosity.

Lastly the cast iron piano frame is not a “strength critical” component. It is a “stiffness critical” component as most engineering applications are. This tension of the strings is only 30-40000 lbs. which does not stress the cast iron very much. The stiffness, or rigidity, or elastic modulus (different terms for the same parameter) which is a constant physical parameter and not affected by strength, is unaffected by any casting method. It is this stiffness which resists the tension of the strings and is pretty much insensitive to casting method. If you were to examine the cast iron frame closely before and after the strings are tensioned, you would note that the frame compressed slightly. Upon releasing the tension, the frame would return to its original size and shape. (We are talking about very small changes in dimension). If you could measure the stress on the frame at any one point, you would find that the stress was far below that of the typical strength. That is why we say that this is not a strength critical component.

The iron-carbon silicon alloy is not conducive to amplify noise/sound frequencies to the contrary is a dampening material. There is no connection between the casting process and the plate's *lack* of ability to reproduce or conduct sound. Those frequencies delivered by the hammer/strings/soundboard/rim; are very distant from any frequency that can be capture or reproduce by the plate in order to resonate with each other. The plate cannot sympathetically vibrate to these frequencies nor has the capability of radiating energy back to transform mechanical energy into air motion.

Last edited by Kurtmen; 04/06/12 05:10 PM.

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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: Ed Foote] #1874759
04/06/12 04:29 PM
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In the history of the development of the piano, there has often been a conservative reaction to technological changes in piano manufacture.

Even the iron frame itself was initially regarded with suspicion as it was believed that it compromised the sound quality of the wooden framed piano.

The introduction of over-stringing was also controversial as many believed that straight stringing was better. Even a great manufacturer, Bechstein, was still producing its straight strung model 10 vertical piano in the early 20th century.

Now we are told that in fact the density of the plate from the two different types of manufacture, sand cast and vacuum processing, is similar and that the differences in their respective effects on the sound may be negligible.


Regards,
Robert.


Last edited by Robert 45; 04/06/12 04:39 PM.
Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #1874836
04/06/12 06:59 PM
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Well, now ladies and gentlemen, let's all sit down and play various pianos.

The we can all discuss the net results....

Norbert grin


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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #1874877
04/06/12 08:26 PM
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That was an interesting article, Kurtmen. Thanks for posting it...

In fact, this thread has been very educational and informative. Thanks to all the participants.

Rick


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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #2459353
09/13/15 06:07 AM
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This was informative indeed

I think plates are expected to "damp" the mechanical impact tone, , which is the most noisy moment in tone.

I did read an article that say the depending of the fixation of the plate and its design, it will be more or less allowed to be put in vibration hence color the impact of the hammer (the plate is heard a lot in the treble generally, it is false to say it is not participating to the tone, he do not radiate indeed, not much but its imprint is present and radiated by the soundboard).

I have seen 1920 old French piano with a very thin and small plate, that was giving the piano a very juicy tone.

Yamaha grand plates are typically vibrating,they are decoupled from the soundboard but may play a role of acoustical ballast nevertheless)

Boesendorfer plates are very massive and designed to not vibrate at all. Then the wooden rim and the wooden braces are having the "damping" role and the tone of the piano is warmer.

those are conclusions, I still need to research and ask confirmations from some builders I could know

finite element analysis of Stuart piano plate (showing where break is likely to occur )

nice read :

Strand7 - Suart concert grand plate

surprised that the plate have no diagonal reinforcment to avoid warping

Last edited by Olek; 09/13/15 06:09 AM.

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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #2459399
09/13/15 10:49 AM
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Thanks for the material!

My understanding of the casting process is that the slower the iron cools, the softer the metal. I was told that wet sand casting cools slower because the volume of sand in the mold is higher thus more insulating affect. With slow cooling the carbon forms larger balls in the structure is what I was told.

What do you all know of this?

The V-process plates are definitely harder because when you go to shape the V-bar you can feel the hardness by how the file cuts and by the sound of the file cutting.

I have found a direct link between the plate hardness at the V-bar and the coloring to the tone caused by longitudinal string modes. Also the knock noise of hammer impact is noticeably different between V-plates and wet-sand.


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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT] #2459432
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Originally Posted by Ed McMorrow, RPT
Thanks for the material!

My understanding of the casting process is that the slower the iron cools, the softer the metal. I was told that wet sand casting cools slower because the volume of sand in the mold is higher thus more insulating affect. With slow cooling the carbon forms larger balls in the structure is what I was told.

What do you all know of this?


Not so much, just that the wet sand process is allowing slower cooling which favor or create lamellar graphite structures (may be the iron is softer too) with about twice the damping characteristics than spheroidal iron (also grey )

I wrote to a founder that is specialized is casting in metal molds, his process create also grey graphite lamellar iron, but less porous and the lamellae are thinner , which can be useful for many applications.

A second cooking also make a modification that release eventual stresses and make the iron easier to bore, cut etc.

I look for more material and information and will keep you posted.

I did not find the name of that founder that work for most European makers in Hungary, but when I will I will try to join them.

Originally Posted by Ed McMorrow, RPT

The V-process plates are definitely harder because when you go to shape the V-bar you can feel the hardness by how the file cuts and by the sound of the file cutting.



Yes it can also be a separate hardening process (with heat) that create that hardening, but I did read something about the ratio difference between external an internal of the V Cast iron being larger than the eventual one with sand casting (a French founder told me that sand casted grey iron was considered an homogenous material, they also said that the metal used was less pure 100 years ago, containing phosphore that rise the risk of breakage if the plate is heated )

Originally Posted by Ed McMorrow, RPT

I have found a direct link between the plate hardness at the V-bar and the coloring to the tone caused by longitudinal string modes. Also the knock noise of hammer impact is noticeably different between V-plates and wet-sand.



Great to read that the impact tone is concerned, I asked Alex Galembo about the role of the resonance tone from hammer head and shank, and he told me the mos annoying tone did came from the plate, particularly in high treble. (I noticed that evening the tone of the shank/hammer assembly makes the voicing more even immediately)

The plate seem to act vs the impact noise as the soundboard vs the sound.

DO you think the coloring is mostly due to longitudinal modes ? It is possible, that there is a strong connection indeed, I really feel that waves go along the string up to the pin and are reflected from the pin, which make the tone way cleaner and "purer" when the tuning pin is correctly torqued /stiffened.

DO you think that "test blows" or similar strong blows pass relatively easily the bearing points and rest felts because of the waves going along the wire? I imagine a sort of "whiplash" happening, and that we use for moving the pin the tiniest amount;

(and if "test blows" are used to " final tune", to rise the tension in the NSL and the pin as a last action, beginners are often given instructions to "set the pin" that way, this is more approximate but easier than doing it with the tuning lever manipulations.)

Regards


Iron is hardening in time, when I think of it that may explain why the plate resonance of that French baby grand (with a very thin and light plate) was so much noticed; It made an interesting tone but the voicing needed to be powerful or the plate was really too much present with a metal tune tone during impact.


I also understand that wet sand process leave some room for the graphite to "grows" in lamella (gill, slat, I don"t know what is the correct term for the graphite) Vacuum and metal modling oblige the iron to be thinner more concentrated, plus a faster cooling , that is how the process creates the smaller lamella they say (no place for expansion)

There is a rough description of the process in the Fenner book, where he explains that warpage is anticipated as possible, we are used to plates warping high along the string plane, I would not be surprised that the original shape used to create the mold is warped in the opposite direction; with 1% retraction, there are deformations that occur indeed.




Last edited by Olek; 09/13/15 12:41 PM.

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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #2459440
09/13/15 12:50 PM
09/13/15 12:50 PM
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Olek Offline
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WHile searching, I find a book on the Allichamps foundery , based on the archives

It contains sketches , references for all pianos models, it seem that this was THE French founder that did work for most if not all French piano builders

Fonderie d'Allichaps, Pleyel Gaveau , Erard etc

In French of course - I ordered it.

The founder is possibly in Teheckia and not Hungary, I diod read that to make the optimal "counter" the positive of the wanted plate used to create the sand imprint) months are necessary as the "counter" bowing of the braces is experimented degree by degree.


Last edited by Olek; 09/13/15 01:31 PM.

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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #2459451
09/13/15 01:14 PM
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Exactly when did Yamaha and Kawai go to the vacuum cast method?


WhoDwaldi
Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: WhoDwaldi] #2459459
09/13/15 01:33 PM
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Originally Posted by WhoDwaldi
Exactly when did Yamaha and Kawai go to the vacuum cast method?


They are making pianos for so long , difficult to say, May be KawaiDon (on PW) can ask and obtain the answer.


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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #2459501
09/13/15 04:17 PM
09/13/15 04:17 PM
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Ed McMorrow, RPT Online content
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Most old plates are "crowned" across the strike line. I have been told by Henry Wickham that most grand plates do some of that curve due to the differential cooling raters inherent to the usual shape.

Mr. Wickham also said no plates are heat treated for stress relief. I think it would result in a hopelessly warped shape

I have no evidence that longitudinal modes can pass beyond the duplex string felt to the tuning pin. I do believe on pianos with no felt between the duplex rest and the tuning pin that they do.


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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: MetalMan] #2460078
09/15/15 11:41 AM
09/15/15 11:41 AM
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MetalMan,

I just wanted to say thank you for all the great info on this subject. Hugely informative.



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Re: Sand casting, vacuum casting and cast iron [Re: Rickster] #2461771
09/20/15 06:19 PM
09/20/15 06:19 PM
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Rick, the old farm tractors also benefit from aging. Also when you rebuild an old cast iron block, the rings have work hardened the cast iron over the lifetime of the block. Just skimming the surface of the bore leaves behind most of the work hardened metal. Same is true to a lesser extent for the heads. By the way, the old Ford foundry for engines was still in operation when I was in Cleveland. I suspect is still cranks out blocks and crank shafts.


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