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Dwight Brown

Willow Blocks instead of spruce - Linings too?

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What are the pros and cons of using Willow blocks instead of spruce? Can you use willow linings as well? I know Stradivari used willow, but most makers I read about seem to use spruce (unless I am just reading wrong)

Dwight

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I use North American Black Willow and I find it GREAT for linings and blocks. I think Jeffrey uses it too. I got my from Ellon and Londa Howe, you can e.mail them:

h.el.lo@wmis.net

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I've used willow on every instrument that I have made, both for linings and blocks. You just want to make sure that your willow is from straight growth. I have mainly used weeping willow.

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Speaking of willow, does anyone know how often willow was used by classical makers for viola, if ever? It is funny that this thread came up because two days ago here in Knoxville, and the city took down a huge willow tree. My assistant and I went over and took a great deal of it away. Most of it was for blocks and linings as some of the trunk sections were incredibly straight. There was, however, a massive stump section that was about thirty-six inches in diameter but sadly the workers had cut it just under length for cello. The nice thing is that we chainsawed this up into workable pieces and ran over the planer, some of it has really lovely strong flame. So, if anyone has any experiences with willow for large violas, I would be interested.

All the best,

Kelvin

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I love the way Black Willow carves and looks. The red-brown blocks and linings look very nice against the white maple. Black Willow is surprisingly light and strong. I get mine from Simeon Chambers and other eBay providers.

Mike

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I also recently had a similar experience to Kelvin's: a chance visit to my in-laws revealed that they had removed a large willow tree in their yard. Since they weren't around, a long search revealed that the rounds had been bucked up into one foot lengths and rolled down into the ravine. After much sweating and finally the use of a truck winch, I was able to pull up a lifetime's supply of cello and bass block wood. Cello sized wood could have been had from this tree, but alas, not in one foot lengths.

Maybe the thing to do for us makers who like willow is to notify the local tree services that we're interested, and make the necessary arrangements....

Luckily willow is not such a rare wood as light, tight-grained, wide flamed maple!

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I thought his was kind of cool. Seems like our friend the willow is always rarin' to go

"Cultivation

Almost all willows take root very readily from cuttings or where broken branches lie on the ground. There are a few exceptions, including the goat willow and peachleaf willow. One famous example of such growth from cuttings involves the poet Alexander Pope, who begged a twig from a parcel tied with twigs sent from Spain to Lady Suffolk. This twig was planted and thrived, and legend has it that all of England's weeping willows are descended from this first one."

(from Wikipedia)

So much for other snooty species!

DLB

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Speaking of willow, does anyone know how often willow was used by classical makers for viola, if ever? It is funny that this thread came up because two days ago here in Knoxville, and the city took down a huge willow tree. My assistant and I went over and took a great deal of it away. Most of it was for blocks and linings as some of the trunk sections were incredibly straight. There was, however, a massive stump section that was about thirty-six inches in diameter but sadly the workers had cut it just under length for cello. The nice thing is that we chainsawed this up into workable pieces and ran over the planer, some of it has really lovely strong flame. So, if anyone has any experiences with willow for large violas, I would be interested.

All the best,

Kelvin

I think willow is similar to poplar for instrument backs, giving a slightly softer, less incisive sound as compared to maple. An acquaintance of mine has a willow-backed viola built by Doug Cox , patterned after a 16 inch Ceruti instrument. She likes it a lot.

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Speaking of willow, does anyone know how often willow was used by classical makers for viola, if ever? It is funny that this thread came up because two days ago here in Knoxville, and the city took down a huge willow tree. My assistant and I went over and took a great deal of it away. Most of it was for blocks and linings as some of the trunk sections were incredibly straight. There was, however, a massive stump section that was about thirty-six inches in diameter but sadly the workers had cut it just under length for cello. The nice thing is that we chainsawed this up into workable pieces and ran over the planer, some of it has really lovely strong flame. So, if anyone has any experiences with willow for large violas, I would be interested.

All the best,

Kelvin

Hi Kelvin,

this Peregreno back doesn't quite look like maple : http://www.darntonhersh.com/article.php?article_id=3

but I'm not sure, maybe someone familiar with that instrument can comment on what it is.

then there's this one :http://www.usd.edu/smm/Violas/Zanetto/3367/Zanettoviola.html

have you seen this one when you've been to the museum? I can't really comment on either of these, I've only seen these photo's. Just maybe a couple candidates for willow or poplar.

Do you pay much attention to the grain width of your willow, when using them for top and bottom blocks?

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Kelvin, I would use it... Some violas are made with a "different" wood. What is the wood in the back of Zukerman's Guarneri viola?

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What are the pros and cons of using Willow blocks instead of spruce?

I think there is no relevant pro or cons. You can use also both of it as the Makers of the modern Milano school did. Spruce for blocks and willow for linings.

I personal like the wood from lime tree much. Very light and easy to carve.

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I just installed a set of spruce violin linings last night. I got them from Simeon Chambers. I also received a set of black willow linings as well in the same order. I compared the two and the spruce seemed a little stiffer (plus the willow smelled a little funky when I put them on the bending iron), so I opted to use the spruce. My blocks are willow, which carve very nicely. Not sure yet which linings I'll use for my next violin.

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That's the way good willow smells.

:)

Mike

I'm sure it is good willow, the smell just turned me a little bit.

I used some other kind of willow for my blocks, weeping willow perhaps? I'm new to black willow, I'll use it for my next violin linings. My favorite use for willow is for making spreader wedges for bow rehairing.

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I recently repaired a viola that had a crack between the centerline and the bass bar. When I removed the top, I saw that the lower block was proud and had a grain swirl making a lump right where the crack was; I assume that was the cause of the crack. The instrument was less than ten years old, and maker-made. I don't think the blocks had originally been proud. Because of some previous experience I had, I think there may have been a humidity problem; either using not-quite seasoned wood or possibly (since there had been a previous repair) the use of too much water when gluing.

Previous experience: The second instrtument I made had willow blocks I had cut from a tree in my backyard, and leveling the blocks was a real pain. It seemed that every time I came back to them, the blocks were proud. Since I was moistening the endgrain to make the blocks easier to plane, and since I had only cut the willow the previous year, I finally decided that willow simply seasoned/dried at a different rate than spruce and was reacting differently to the moisture - maybe a delayed swelling, rather than an immediate one. (That's the only thing I can think of that would explain the apparent growth of the blocks).

I haven't had that problem with willow I've obtained elsewhere, so my problem with this instrument might have been a lack of proper seasoning, and it might be the local species of willow I used. But I've kept that in mind when using willow since then, and tried (more than usual) to avoid humidity changes during making.

Since I would not normally have expected carelessness from the maker of the cracked viola, it was a relief to find another possible explanation.

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I'm sure it is good willow, the smell just turned me a little bit.

... .

The first time I cut a black willow block on my bandsaw, I checked the underside of my shoes.

:)

No fooling. Yes, it is funky.

Mike

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In Australia there is a tree called " poplar " which grows straight and narrow , I have used this for blocks and linings

I have also used king billy pine for blocks

We have poplar in Alberta as well, populus balsamifera, and populus tremuloides, which is a plain, white wood with very little noticeable figure. Is this similar to what you have there?

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