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Sprucewood for tops question


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I saw some Sitka spruce at a local lumberyard, & wonder if it is suitable for violin tops (I realize it would need additional drying time). I brought a piece home that has quite fine growth (9-12 rings per 1/4 inch), & seems also to have a nice ring when struck. Thanks for any insight. Ron.

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Personally, I always go with wood from the dealer. Tim2 has given you some pretty good advice - Orcas Island is where I buy mine also, for one reason, because I like domestic wood. (Sitka spruce and bigleaf maple are what I use almost exclusively for violins)

Even his "seconds" are likely to be better for your purposes than wood from the lumber yard.

Well, there are no guarantees here either - you never know what you'll luck into. If you have a good eye and ear for wood, and can identify good quartering, no or little runout, and certainly make sure that the wood is dry before you use it, then more power to you.

I've gotten some killer flamed maple at Paxton Lumber in Albuquerque before, just because they happened to have a couple of great pieces in stock that day. But I only get to Albuquerque every couple of years, and I don't rely on that type of acquisition for the bulk of my stock. (I have enough wood on hand for five or six years worth of violin and viola making at my current rate of production.

If you are going to make many violins you will probably want to establish a working relationship with a reputable tonewood dealer anyway, I'm convinced that they look for qualities in the wood that you or I aren't going to be able to identify right off, since we don't deal with logs or raw lumber on a daily basis. I think they develop an unusual acquired skill in this regard.

This subject is sort of like the recurring subject of making your own tools. Every one has a different opinion on the matter. I buy most of my tools from the supplier because I'm a violin maker - not a tool maker, and I just don't have the time or inclination to mess with it. I buy my tone wood from the dealer also because I don't want to have to worry about wasting a hundred hours or so on a piece of wood that doesn't have exactly all the qualities I want it to have, and with good tonewood, I don't have to worry about it.

I've talked with Bruce Harvie from Orcas Island Tonewoods before, and am convinced that he is correct - you can have fifty logs to choose from, and forty nine of them will be "fire wood" with a possible one log with the qualities you are looking for for some decent tonewood.

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Most of the wood in the lumber yard are kiln dried, since they need to be commercially usable. This process destroys the tone quality. When the wood is kiln dried, you will see warp in the wood, because the wood is dried quickly at different rate.

Tonewood dealers take special care to the wood to ensure the best conditions. You certainly don't want to spend 200+ hours on a piece of wood that is not in the right condition.

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I think it's totally possible to find suitable, and sometimes excellent tonewood in the lumber piles, but the major thing you have to watch out for is runout, which is common in lumber.

Look on the edge of the boards to see if the fibers run exactly parallel to the saw-cut....

If not, it really doesn't qualify as "tonewood", no matter how nice the graining is....

Hand-split billets assure that there will be no runout in the finished plates......

In terms of kiln-drying, it is a common practice for most tonewood suppliers, both in the US and Europe, to KD their wood to prevent fungusing....

In determining whether or not this is harmful to the wood, the proof is in the pudding..

If the wood feels brittle and chippy under the gouge, then perhaps it was kilned too harshly and should be avoided.

Just because wood has been KD'ed does not disqualify it for violin making, if it's done correctly....

It's a not very well kept secret that most suppliers rely heavily on their kilns....

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Thanks for all the good advice- I'll most likely obtain my tonewoods from a dealer. Maybe I'll use the lumberyard stuff for practice carving, tooling, & varnishing. My only concern is not being able to see & select the piece I'm buying. How does everyone else feel about that? Or do you wait 'til you can go to the dealer? Do they let you return unsatisfactory pieces?

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Good question Ron. I buy master grade spruce by mail and am generally happy with it. Maple is trickier, I love to look at piles of wood, especially maple. I've had mixed results ordering maple sight unseen, but the better grades usually are better. If you get a chance to pick through some wood, do it!


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