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Questions: Quartersawn Wood

Questions: Quartersawn Wood

by Alan Ollivant

Originally published in American Lutherie #74, 2003 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Seven, 2015



John Forcade of Poulsbo, Washington asks:

I have acquired six large maple rounds and would like to quartersaw them and let them dry out for a few years. They are about 45" long and 3' in diameter.

I am not an experienced woodworker so I am looking for some specific directions on how to quartersaw. I would assume I am going to have to split the rounds into fourths by hand and then cut a board off one face, then cut the next board off the opposite face until each quarter is completely cut? Am I on the right track? Also, once I split each round open, how can I determine the quality of the maple? Am I going to be primarily looking for figure? If the wood is good and I keep it, how long should I let it dry before using it? Should it be kept in a controlled environment from day one?

I also have some koa from the big island. What differentiates quality koa from average koa?

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Questions: Quartersawn Wood

by Alan Ollivant

Originally published in American Lutherie #74, 2003 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Seven, 2015



John Forcade of Poulsbo, Washington asks:

I have acquired six large maple rounds and would like to quartersaw them and let them dry out for a few years. They are about 45" long and 3' in diameter.

I am not an experienced woodworker so I am looking for some specific directions on how to quartersaw. I would assume I am going to have to split the rounds into fourths by hand and then cut a board off one face, then cut the next board off the opposite face until each quarter is completely cut? Am I on the right track? Also, once I split each round open, how can I determine the quality of the maple? Am I going to be primarily looking for figure? If the wood is good and I keep it, how long should I let it dry before using it? Should it be kept in a controlled environment from day one?

I also have some koa from the big island. What differentiates quality koa from average koa?

Alan Ollivant, of Fairview, Oregon answers:

The term “quartered” is somewhat misleading. Quartering or dividing the “round” into four pieces is just the first step in the right direction. For lutherie purposes, I prefer the term “radial cut” lumber, that is, pieces sawn from the quartered rounds are radii or close to being radii of the tree’s original circular trunk. Such slices show vertical end grain, which is the most desirable in instrument making, both for strength and stability.

You describe alternating the cuts from the quartered piece, as in Fig. 1, which is one way of achieving radial-cut lumber. In practice however, twisted or interlocked grain, knots, and other defects will greatly affect your ability to saw along a split face of a quartered log section. Most timber does not split perfectly straight, but has inherent twist that causes an “airplane propeller” type appearance, following the fibers of the wood. The important thing before beginning to saw is to achieve at least one flat and straight face to be used as a reference for successive cuts. A good 8" jointer is a great place to start.

Figure 1

When the quarter section has been prepared, the basic principle is to saw each board along a line radiating from the heart of the log to the outer edge of the bark. This aligns the growth rings at 90° to the saw cut (Fig. 2).

Figure 2

If your equipment is limited to a 14"–18" bandsaw, cutting through 6"–10" of maple is a fair bit of work for a 1 h.p. or 2 h.p. motor. Run the motor on 220v if capable, and use a 3/4" or wider blade, with only 2 or 3 teeth per inch, hook style, and heat hardened if possible. Lenox flexback blades are a good choice and are resharpenable.

Initially, green lumber is sawn out as heavy 1"+ or 2" boards and stickered for air or kiln drying. When properly acclimated, these are then resawn into pieces approximately 3/16" thick, perhaps joined together, and thickness planed or sanded into the desired thickness for instrument construction.

If done in a commercial sawmill with a large bandsaw headrig, a third method would probably be used, illustrated in Fig. 3. Initially, one outer third of the log would be sawn off and set aside. Then, successive slices are removed, to be edged and ripped down the middle. The remaining third section would then be rotated 90°, and sawn to yield several quartered boards. The initial third section is then placed back on the saw and the process is repeated. The remaining “pie” sections could then be sawn independently, depending on quality.

Figure 3

Most maples from the West to the East Coast are subject to a number of different stains in curing. If left in the round for longer than a month (especially in warm weather) the sapwood tends to develop blue or gray stain, and the heartwood turns orange or reddish. Maple should be sawn as quickly as possible after the tree has come down, then preferably kiln dried to maintain its white appearance. Even under ideal conditions, air-dried maple usually has a yellow or golden appearance, and in poor conditions, can be terribly stained beyond remedy. So split one of your sections open to see what the wood looks like first, then see if you want to proceed with what you have, or start with fresh wood. If the color looks good, look for any obvious defects such as knots, pin-knot clusters, and bark inclusions. If it is free from these, look for indications of figured grain such as fiddlebacking, quilting, or bird’s-eyes. These are the real gems of maple that add real value to your instrument.

You also mentioned koa. Typically, koa is judged in quality by freedom from defects, color quality, and last, but certainly not least, figure. Highly-figured koa is truly a sight to behold. Curly koa, especially if gold in color, is one of the most valuable woods in the world, and when quartersawn yields a luster and depth unparalleled in my estimation, and makes striking musical instruments. If examined with these criteria, you should have a fair shot at judging its quality.

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Questions: Ebony Tailpiece Cracks

Questions: Ebony Tailpiece Cracks

by Ted Megas

Originally published in American Lutherie #73, 2003 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Seven, 2015

 

Susan from cyberspace asks:

I have a new custom-made archtop and the ebony tailpiece has developed a few very thin/small cracks. Should I use lemon oil on it? I have a humidifier in the room, but it seems impossible to keep the humidity at a constant level.


Ted Megas of Portland, Oregon
responds:

I would be concerned that the structure of the tailpiece is undermined. A cracked tailpiece is potentially a very dangerous situation, since it’s under a lot of tension. I’ve even heard of tailpieces exploding. Lemon oil will neither fix the cracks nor prevent further cracking. You need to be in touch with the maker of the guitar or a reputable repairperson.

The cause of the cracking would be my concern as a builder. It’s absolutely imperative that the wood used for tailpieces, fingerboards, and other fittings be quartered and aged properly. Buying blanks from wood suppliers is not a guarantee of either. In fact it’s almost a guarantee of the opposite — wood sawn every which way is now sold for these purposes. Most suppliers gave up on trying to cut quartersawn fittings and fingerboards years ago. And a lot of makers, including factories, are ignoring the grain-orientation when selecting parts. Only cutting it for yourself or personally selecting precut pieces with sufficient knowledge to know quartersawn wood when you see it, aging it properly, and using in under the proper humidity conditions in the shop will insure stable wood.

I caution people who own my guitars to keep humidity at about 45% relative, give or take 20%, especially if they requested slab-sawn backs such as quilted maple. This is not difficult to achieve in most situations with a small room humidifier or with a dampit, especially when the guitar is outside its home environment. It is really the builder’s responsibility to build under proper humidity conditions, which makes humidity variations a lot less critical for the owner of the instrument. Most hygrometers, even expensive ones, are useless unless calibrated regularly with a sling psychrometer, which you can buy for about $80. It’s really the only way to know what your building conditions are so you can maintain your shop humidity within acceptable range, which for me is 40%–45%.

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Cleaning Shop, Part 2

Cleaning Shop, Part 2

by John Calkin

see also,
Cleaning Shop Part 1 by John Calkin

 

There aren’t many scraps in a guitar shop that are useful for making guitars. What guitarmaker would throw those out? But if you scale down to flat-back mandolins or ukuleles you can make use of a lot of expensive material that would otherwise end up in a landfill. The wood I threw out in Cleaning Shop Part 1 was wood I thought I wouldn’t live long enough to use. I had no one to pass it on to. After working for Huss & Dalton for 19 years and more than 4000 guitars I had a crazy amount of scraps. The material I still have should keep me working on my own for years to come.

Quartersawn spruce and cedar strips for center seam back grafts. All photos by John Calkin.
Fingerboard cut-offs for banjo tailpieces, heel caps, inlays, etc.
Rosewood aplenty for headstock caps, inlays, heel caps, laminated fingerboards and bridges.
Material for back grafts and end grafts.
Neck stock. (The fingerboards didn’t come from anyone’s scrap pile.)
Spruce and mahogany ukulele tops and backs. Mahogany for uke sides comes from the neck stock.
More fingerboard cut-offs, good for fingerboard bindings and laminated bridges.
Just to present ideas, these ukulele or mandolin fretboards were laminated from mahogany and rosewood.
A banjo tailpiece.
Unfinished boxes made of mahogany, rosewood, and ebony. What? You don’t make crafty gifts and stuff in your shop?

see also,
Cleaning Shop Part 1 by John Calkin

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Adirondack Spruce Growth Rates and Accessibility

Adirondack Spruce Growth Rates and Accessibility

by Ralph S. Charles III

Originally published in American Lutherie #81, 2005 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Seven, 2015



With a day job in the forestry and logging industry, I know a little something about wood. After thirty years of selling saw logs and pulpwood for a living, I thought that a move into the tonewood business would be a natural transition into retirement. Membership in the GAL, however, has uncovered a realization that some luthiers may appreciate my perspective on tree growth rates in general, and Adirondack spruce in particular.

The grading of wood for instrument tops takes into account at least the following considerations: evenness of grain, straightness of grain, tightness of grain, color or discoloration, location or lack of knots, figure, heavy grain lines, pitch pockets, foreign objects (bullets and barbed wire), closeness to quarter and runout, and stiffness. The following discussion is directed at the evenness and tightness of grain which are a direct result of the laying down of the annual growth ring.

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Rosewood and Ebony Shortage

Rosewood and Ebony Shortage

by Robert O. Larson

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly, Volume 8 ,#1, 1980



Note: Mr. Larson is President of VIKWOOD LTD., a large American Importer of rosewood, ebony, and spruce. He is a member of the Forest Products Research Society and has served as Tropical Woods Committee Chairman and is currently on the Mid-West Board of Directors.

Innumerable articles have been written during the past year concerning the extreme shortage of rosewood and ebony supplies for the luthier trade. Having just returned in November from my second trip to India in 1979, I am happy to report that the situation is not as glum as it appears from the articles in the trade journals. There are adequate supplies of rosewood and ebony logs and a large number of competent log converters who can supply dimensioned items such as backs and sides, fingerboards, and even machined bridges in goodly quantity.

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This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

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