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Letter: Crystals in Wood Cells

Letter: Crystals in Wood Cells

by Bill Moran

Originally published in American Lutherie #35, 1993

 

Dear Tim,

In American Lutherie #33, Nicholas Von Robison has sent a signal, maybe unknowingly, that there are scientific activities related with lutherie that are not well known or yet fully appreciated as part of quality instrument assessment. I am referring to the growth of crystals in the wood parenchyma cells. Concern over acid rain also leads me to openly ask, what are the effects of acid rain on the crystal development and their performance, and who is doing the studies, if any? I hope this letter will catch the attention of the Wood Chemists and the true wood anatomists amongst the membership and that they also will respond to my questions. Mr. Von Robison appears to be well informed on wood chemistry and I hope he will publish related data or suggest sources for the details he has on these subjects.

Microphotographs of wood samples taken under the electron microscope has shown that crystals are present, and separate spectrum analysis have been made of their mineral content. Information is sparse but I believe important since I am referring to the crystals in spruce and maple woods, although I do have reports describing the crystals in a number of other woods. This study includes unique measurement instrument construction, computer programs, resources, and time.

I will be pleased to correspond with anyone pursuing study related to material in this letter.

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Letter: Engelmann Spruce

Letter: Engelmann Spruce

Previously published in American Lutherie #53, 1998



Dear Tim:

Just a few comments on Don Musser’s interesting article, “Rocky Mountain Tonewood Alternatives” in AL#51. Years ago when I was cutting Engelmann spruce and trying to market it for soundboards, I often found large logs of Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) in the yards of logging mills. These trees were called “swamp” spruce by the local loggers since the trees apparently grow in high meadows with an abundance of water. I found the annual rings to be much too wide for guitar soundboards. I have since been told that this may not be a problem for luthiers who build cello or bass viol. Don Musser probably has a much better chance of finding ideal blue spruce in Colorado where blue spruce is much more abundant than in Utah.

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Sharpening the Stellite Teeth on the 3″ Hitachi Blade

Sharpening the Stellite Teeth on the 3" Hitachi Blade

by Bruce Creps

previously published in American Lutherie #91, 2007

See also,
“Resawing Lutherie Wood” by Bruce Creps
“Grading and Curing Lumber” by Bruce Creps



With a shop-made jig you can sharpen your blade in place in less time than it takes to remove and reinstall it. You save money, conserve steel, and don’t need to fuss with fine-tuning a newly installed blade.

I sharpen blades ten times, making my “cost per blade” under $13. I discard the blade after that because I have found cracks on a few blades after 12–15 sharpenings, and because the Stellite teeth taper in width so you lose set when you sharpen the teeth down to nubs. With insufficient set a band can rub the stock and heat up or wander. The blade will generally stay sharp for eight hours of production sawing of dry hardwood. I don’t go much beyond eight hours because a less-than-sharp blade may heat up and work harden the Stellite tips.

The all-Stellite blade has a cutting (rake) angle of 22°, a sharpness angle of 50°, and a back (clearance) angle of 18°. For my purposes this blade is just right. I once used an alternate-tooth Stellite blade and got better performance when I increased its cutting angle from 16° to 22°. Otherwise I have not experimented with tooth geometry.

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Curing and Grading Lutherie Lumber

Curing and Grading Lutherie Lumber

by Bruce Creps

previously published in American Lutherie #92, 2007

See also,
“Resawing Lutherie Wood” by Bruce Creps
“Sharpening the Stellite Teeth on the 3" Hitachi Blade” by Bruce Creps



At a GAL Convention several years back a well-known luthier and lecturer stated that the best way to be assured a supply of properly processed tonewood was to harvest and air dry it yourself. He posited that due to turnaround and financial considerations most tonewood suppliers rush their kiln schedule and compromise the quality of the wood. For me, the wisdom of his statements was in stressing the importance of proper drying.

I don’t know if the percentage of kiln-dried instrument-grade wood damaged or compromised due to improper drying is higher than the corresponding air-dried percentage. I do know that it is very easy to damage wood when air drying it. You don’t have to do anything. Neglect it and you can expect degrade: end checks, surface checks, warping, case-hardening, rot pockets, fungal stain and decay, and/or insect infestation.

Improperly kiln-dried wood can exhibit checking, warping, and case-hardening. However, with kiln drying the fungi and pests in the wood will be killed, and colors can be clearer. The obvious disadvantages of kiln drying are that you need space and funds for a kiln, and you use lots of energy (unless you have a solar kiln).

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Woes of a Wood Merchant

Woes of a Wood Merchant

by H.E. Huttig

previously published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly 10 #4, 1982



See also,
“The Guitar & I” by H.E. Huttig
“Three Craftsmen” by H.E. Huttig

We became interested in instrument building back in the ’60s and were given a couple of junk guitars by Ernest Kaai, a Hawaiian performer and teacher. We gave up our distribution of canned goods and began to import and sell instrument makers materials, impelled by our own need for supplies. We found suppliers on our trips to Germany and Spain. Later we imported from France, Holland, India and Brazil. The wood we get now is of mixed quality; we simply cannot offer a consistently standard product.

The guitar builder must demand quality in wood as he is gambling his precious time to produce a saleable instrument. On the other hand, I can only sell him the best that I can get. Many builders have read “how to” book that state that all wood must be cut with vertical grain and that the grain must be straight. This is fine for spruce or cedar intended for sound boards but is not necessary or even desirable, say for Brazilian rosewood (it would hide the figure) or for mahogany necks (there is very little grain — the wood is like a bundle of fibres and there are not well defined growth rings). I have reviewed files that represent some ten thousand transactions and have chosen some of the customer’s complaints. Most are valid and all but one has been refused or exchanged. They are:

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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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