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Ocelot Ear and Spruceana

Ocelot Ear and Spruceana

by Don Musser

Originally published in American Lutherie #2, 1985 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



With regard to the problem of Dalbergia nigra and related Brazilian rosewoods: True Dalbergia nigra is scarce because most of what little remains is being processed into veneer. I’ve worked with a very active importer of Brazilian exotics for several years and have seen crates containing thousands of feet of beau­tiful nigra, but it was all veneer. Occasionally he will run into a farmer with some miscellaneous trees or old logs of true nigra but that is rare.

With the purchase of veneer he also has the option of buying backing boards and nigra lumber otherwise unsuitable (usually too hard) for slicing. I’m able to select guitar-quality boards from his shipments and resaw sets but there is never enough to meet the demand.

As far as other Dalbergias from Brazil being substituted for nigra I’ve seen two that are very close, and to the unfamiliar, almost undistinguishable.

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Alternative Lutherie Woods List

Alternative Lutherie Woods List

by Nicholas Von Robison

Originally published in American Lutherie #35, 1993 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



Western larch. Larix occidentalis. Western tamarack, hackmatack.

Western U.S. and Canada. 37 lbs/ft³; S.G. 0.59.

Heartwood pale red-brown with clearly marked growth rings. Straight grained with fine, uniform texture. Low stiffness, low shock resistance, and only medium bending strength. Very poor steam-bending classification. Dries fairly rapidly with tendency to distort. Kiln dries well but produces softer wood. Small movement in service. Very easily worked but knotty material is a problem. Difficult to harvest, moderate price, limited supply. Finishes well.

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Jatoba

Jatoba

by Nicholas Von Robison and Debbie Suran

Originally published in American Lutherie #36, 1993 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



Nick: Deb, you just recently completed your 100th instrument. That’s great! Why did you choose jatoba?

Debbie: I wanted to do something special for my 100th instrument. There were times when I was starting out when I thought I’d never live long enough to get into double digits! I decided to build a hammered dulcimer (my 95th) entirely from salvaged woods. I called on friends from CompuServe’s crafts forum’s woodworking section for help, and they sent me maple flooring from an old gym for the pin blocks, birch door casings from a 1913 old-folks’ home for bracing, and the redwood bottom of a wine cask from a 19th-century California monastery for the soundboard. You can still smell the wine on a damp day! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any salvaged wood nice enough for the exterior frame and bridges for the instrument, so I decided instead to use a lesser known species of wood.

In 1986 I bought some tropical woods from a couple who had lived in Brazil for several years and who were augmenting the cash income from their homestead by importing Brazilian woods that were being harvested in an ecologically sound manner. They wanted a hammered dulcimer and I wanted some wood, so we swapped. Greg had a number of woods available that I’d never seen or heard of before and was quite insistent that I give these a try. He was persuasive, so I took some Amazon rosewood (Dalbergia spruceana), one piece of macacaúba (Platimiscium ulei), and a piece of jatoba (Hymenea courbaril). Both jatoba and macacaúba qualified as lesser-known species in those days; the jatoba had more character so that made the decision. A rather roundabout way to be introduced to a new wood. How did you first stumble onto jatoba?

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Wood Bibliography

Wood Bibliography

by Nicholas Von Robison

Originally published ?, 1994 and Lutherie Woods and Steel String Guitars, 1998



The literature covering trees, wood, and wood technology goes back many years. Unfortunately, much of the information one desires on a certain wood or species is scattered about in the form of articles or abstracts in obscure scientific or trade journals. What follows is an annotated listing of the major works from which gleanings in the notes or bibliographies of these will enable one to delve into the literature more fully. Many, possibly most, of these books may suffice in answering any questions one may initially have. Many are out-of-print (OOP); many are unique and have no current replacement. They may be found in libraries, used book stores, or by having a search done by a specialist bookseller. Prices change frequently so the following categories are used for those books currently in print: inexpensive (up to $10), moderate ($10–$25), expensive ($25–$50), very expensive ($50+). This list is not exhaustive, but I believe it to be fairly comprehensive and it will aid anyone who wants or needs to learn more about woods or the trees they come from. Finding some of these books is very difficult but half the fun of it.



Nomenclature Bailey, L. H. and Bailey, Ethel Zoe Hortus Second. New York, NY: Macmillan Co., 17th printing 1972.

A concise dictionary of gardening, general horticulture, and cultivated plants in North America. While this 800-or-so page book covers plants other than trees, it’s a useful reference for spelling, checking families, and looking up archaic plant names. Hortus 3rd now out. Very expensive.

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Sealing Wood with Glair

Sealing Wood with Glair

by Dick Cartwright

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Data Sheet #154, 1980 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



Procedure:
▶ Beat an egg white stiff and let it stand for a few hours. The clear liquid that settles out is called glair.
▶ Put 5G gum arabic (cheap from any art store) into 20CC water and let stand for a few hours, shaking occasionally.
▶ Add 10CC glair and 1/2G honey to the gum arabic.

This solution paints on easily, dries quickly, and is an effective sealer. I suggest two coats. It’s also used by some as a sealer/isolation layer on the outside wood between stain and varnish.

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