Fine Details of 1st Class Cigar Humidors
OK! For you true cigar humidor
afficiandos out there,
here's some of the fine geeky details about Michael Dixon Humidors!
Sawn Veneer vs. Veneer Construction
There are two methods of constructing humidors. For the casual observer it is sometimes difficult to perceive the difference in the two types of construction. So we will point out how to tell the difference and the advantages and disadvantages of both methods.
The first method is the veneer over fiberboard method. Fiberboard is used extensively in kitchen cabinet construction. If you have a Formica counter top, chances are it is glued onto medium density fiberboard or MDF. MDF is a combination of sawdust, glue and resins. It is man-made and is very stable under dry conditions. However, it expands easily and rapidly if it gets wet. Veneer over MDF is used almost exclusively by the European humidor builders. This is due mostly to the availability in Europe of veneers rather than solid hardwoods. Also historically the Europeans have always favored veneer construction over solid woods in their furniture due to the extreme expense in obtaining solid hardwoods. European forests do not yield the variety of woods of the American forests. Walnut, Cherry, Red Oak, Maple and many other hardwoods are exclusively native American and grow typically in the eastern forests of the U.S. Since the veneers used are very thin, they are not easy to sand. Special care must be taken when sanding in order to avoid sanding through the veneers and into the MDF base material. In order to avoid this problem many coats of dense polyester or epoxy type finish are applied over the raw veneers. Once the finish has been built up to a sufficient thickness, it is sanded smooth, top coats are applied, and the final coat is buffed to a high gloss. This method has the advantage of protecting the veneers but the distinct disadvantage of cost as it is very labor intensive. The final product has a wet/gloss look and is very contemporary. Therefore the tell-tale sign of a veneer/MDF humidor is the high gloss look and most often with a distinct wood trim around the outside borders to hide the veneer lines.
The second method is the sawn veneer construction. This method involves sawing lumber into 1/8" thick veneers and overlaying them onto the sides and top of humidors. The unseen interior sides are laminated MDF and solid hardwoods to match the outside veneers. This method is similar to the first, only it does not require edge binding to hide the veneer edges and does not require a high gloss finish. We use both of these construction methods mentioned above. Typically the fancy exotic woods(Brazilian Rosewood, Curly Koa, etc.) are used in the first method applying thin commercially available veneers. Edge binding is used on all 12 edges of each humidor. Sawn veneers are used on the plain wood humidors(Cherry, Lacewood, Curly Maple and Quilted Maple) and have no edge binding.
Bottom Construction - Recessed Vs. Flush
There are two methods of constructing the bottom of a humidor or any box for that matter. The first is a flush bottom method which is flat on the bottom. Most boxes use plywood for the bottom. A flush bottom has to be fitted and stapled and glued into place so it won't come out. However, this method has two distinct disadvantages. If the plywood bows or warps, the bottom will become curved and will not sit flat on a flat surface. Also it is structurally weak compared to the recessed/drawer bottom method. You could actually punch out the bottom of a box with your fist or a hammer as the plywood is only attached to a very small area of the side walls.
The second method is the recessed method whereby the plywood bottom is recessed into a locking dado groove usually ¼" above the bottom surface. Most drawer bottoms are constructed in this manner. It is a much stronger method and will not be affected by a warped plywood bottom. We use this recessed method.
Spanish Cedar vs. African Sapele
Spanish Cedar has been used during this century and the last for cigar box construction. It has always been the wood of choice for curing and aging cigars. Perhaps the aroma of Cedar blends with the tobacco and helps to enhance its aroma. It is definitely a tradition that is steeped in the history of cigar making itself. Perhaps one of the reasons it was used initially was because of its availability at the time. It is a dominant Latin American species and literally grows in all countries from Mexico to Chile. The only exception is Argentina which is too temperate to sustain its growth cycle. In any event it is still preferred by cigar manufacturers. During the aging and curing process of the leaves (aging) and finished cigars (curing) Cedar is used in the storage containers and warehouse interior walls.
However we no longer use Spanish Cedar in our humidors. Cedar has a tendency to bleed a sap-gum resin when exposed to heat. This gummy resin is actually inside the wood itself and may not surface for several months. So in order to avoid this potential problem, we use Sapele on all interior surfaces. Sapele does not contain a resin, smells like Spanish Cedar, is much denser than Cedar and is more stable.
Hygrometers - Digital vs. Dial
There are two types of hygrometers on the market today - digital and dial. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Dial types are more attractive and most often less expensive but less accurate as they have to be calibrated or reset periodically (much like adjusting bathroom scales). Digital types are less attractive and seldom used by humidor makers, but are more accurate and do not need to be reset. They are most often sold as an after market item and are more expensive than the dial types.
The main problem with hygrometers is not the hygrometer itself but what it is reading or measuring. Relative humidity is not a constant. It varies from one day to the next, one hour to the next, one minute to the next, and from one side of a room to the other. Think of humidity as a cloud that is full of floating moisture. Much like the clouds outside, it is constantly changing, moving, evaporating and absorbing moisture. Any attempt to measure this moving entity is almost impossible. So we have to settle for a range effect and not an exact percentage. Inside a cigar humidor moisture will always be the greatest directly under the moisturizer and least the furthest away. If there is a tray blocking the movement of the moisture, then the R.H. could be 70% on the top and 50-60% on the bottom; simply because moisture falls as it does from the sky in the form of rain. So even though your hygrometer is reading exactly 70% - don't trust it - digital or dial.
The best test is to pinch your cigars. The old pinch test will tell you immediately which cigars are okay and which ones are too dry. Use your hygrometer as an indicator of the range of humidity and try to keep it at the 70% mark. If you still have dry cigars, place them directly under the moisturizer to rejuvenate them.
Cigar Moisturizers - A Brief History
When the cigar boom hit there was only one supplier of cigar moisturizers - an outfit in France called Credo. They were a small operation with only a few employees and suddenly overnight they were an international supplier to both retail tobacconists and humidor makers. They had a tough time keeping everyone happy and in addition they only dealt with one U.S. importer/distributor in L.A. who wasn't really interested in selling moisturizers. So they expanded production but by the time they did so, it was too late. Cigar moisturizer makers started popping up left and right in 1997 and today there are by most accounts 5-10 of them alone in the U.S. all claiming theirs to be the best, cheapest, maintenance free, etc., etc. We got into the picture as well because we could not obtain nor really wanted to pay the exorbitant price for the Credo units. So it forced us to come up with our own moisturizer which we dubbed the Humigar. Soon word got out that our units were superior to the Credos. They were larger in size and thus held more water for longer periods of time, had much stronger magnets, used netting to prevent foam flaking and were less expensive than the Credos. That was 1996. By 1997 the deluge hit as it did with all cigar related products. Everyone had the newest, best, longest-lasting-between-refill moisturizers. The hype was superfluous and beyond reason - especially for an item that basically just evaporates moisture - not rocket science here and not high tech automobile hoopla although it definitely resembled it.
In any event that is the history of the product. The bottom line is if it works, use it. If not, throw it away and get one that does.
Hinges and Hardware
Probably the most frustrating part of making fine quality boxes whether jewelry boxes, silverware boxes, humidors, etc. is finding good quality hinges and hardware ( lock and key sets) to compliment the quality of the box. There is plenty of junk hardware on the market both from Asia and Europe. There is only one maker in the U.S. that makes good quality solid brass hardware. But guess what: his designs are bad - old fashioned butt hinges - and he offers no plating or protective finish to keep the brass from tarnishing! Common sense will tell you that any raw brass product will tarnish over a short period of time. So almost all brass products are plated with a gold color to protect the brass and prevent it from tarnishing. Brass horns, brass beds, urns, candlesticks and all brass products are always plated.
So we again had to design and make our own hinges and hardware using solid brass with gold plating and epoxy finish to protect the gold plating. And we did not use the thin stamped-out hinges as seen on European humidors but chose to use the thicker (1/8" thick) brass stock and mill them to size with computerized milling machines (CNC). Because we designed them this way, we have the best hardware of any humidor on the market today.
We call our hinges "Side Rail Hinges" as they are fit into the left and right interior side rails of each humidor. This in no easy task as the wooden sides have to be machined to an exact tolerance(+-.002") so the top and bottom line up flush with each other. These hinges are very precisely made by computerized machines and go through 12 steps to machine. They are then hand polished, nickel plated and finally gold plated. Not an easy task. It took over 2 years to initially design, make fixtures and templates, make prototypes and perfect the machining process before we could start production!
Gloss vs. Semi-Gloss Finishes
Have you ever noticed that the high gloss, flashy and expensive humidors all come from Europe and especially France and Italy? This is because the Europeans in general, and the Italians particularly, like high gloss finishes on their wood products: jewelry boxes, music boxes, furniture, etc.. High gloss finishes have always been more popular in Europe than in the U.S., where more traditional designs and finishes are the mode. The problem with high gloss finishes is two fold. First, they are very labor intensive, requiring 3 times more labor than semi-gloss finishes. The material costs are 5 times the cost of semi-gloss, and they must be wet sanded and hand buffed on buffing wheels to get that shiny, wet look. Second, gloss finishes scratch very, very easily, and any small scratch in easily seen, making a humidor with a gloss finish very difficult to maintain in perfect condition. So we do not recommend high gloss finishes on humidors. We are able to do it however, the cost adds from $100 to $300 a box depending upon the size. And we still prefer the softer, more natural semi-gloss finish which shows the beauty of the wood and takes a beating without being seen.
If you already own a Michael Dixon Humidor,
here are a few tips for you:
Do not spray the interior of any humidor with water or apply a damp sponge or wet rag to any interior wood surface. This will only cause the wood to expand too rapidly and will raise the grain of the wood thereby giving it a rough texture. It could also cause the exterior side walls to split apart and the lid to warp. We will not honor any repair on humidors that have been over-saturated with water. Please read carefully our Humigar instruction sheets. Be patient and go slowly while conditioning the humidor to the 70% R.H. level. It is a slow process and needs to be done slowly so the box can acclimate to the higher humidity levels.
Tight fit/Loose fit
There are conflicting thoughts in the marketplace as to how a lid should fit down over the raised cedar interior lining. Some feel the lid should fit snugly or air-tight when closing thereby giving the interior an air-tight seal. Others feel a humidor should "breathe" and that the moisture should be allowed to escape so there is an air exchange. Stagnant moist air will harbor bacteria which will create mold. Mold will ruin cigars within 1-2 days if left unnoticed. We purposely leave a 1/64" recess on the interior lining so as to allow a small amount of air exchange. This way the interiors are allowed to breathe somewhat, allowing a small amount of air exchange.