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Dean_Lapinel

Beech backs

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I didn't want to derail the nice thread started by Jacob von der Lippe.

Jacob stated " That's correct, the "Terminator" is the one Henning Kraggerud is playing. The back is beechwood like Melving is correctly stating. It's a stunning violin with a fantastic sound!"

Are there images available of this violin...especially the back?

Beech with straight grain is hard to come by in the US. Clark & Williams (Plane makers) have accumulated a lot but with great effort. The beech is used for their hollows and rounds.

Clark & Williams planes

Any additional information about beech in violins would be appreciated. I am tempted to try making one. I have a fondness for beech for personal reasons that I don't want to get into.

Thanks-

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>Any additional information about beech in violins would be appreciated

The beech wood was used in violin making (Testore).

I built some violas. But it is not easy to find, not steamed, beech pink.

Then the cut is unusual to see some drawings of wood.

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Dean are you looking for European beech?

I see many large American beech trees around here but the wood is heavy, my feeling is that European beech is more in the weight range of maple. A book I have lists the American as being 44 lbs. to the cubic foot. about the same as sugar maple.

But you probably know this already so pardon me if this is old news.

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Once, I had a 3/4 violin with a beech back. It wasn't a great instrument, but it had a charming look because of that.

Didn't Carlo Bergonzi use beech purfling on some of his instruments? I'm pretty sure he did, but my brain is a bit numb right now.

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When I have an urge to do something different I often head over to a hardwood supplier nearby. They are a wholesale/retail yard with a bevy of various species. The cool thing is that they have a lot of stock surfaced on two sides along with some short pieces. It's a whole lot of fun to rummage through this stuff looking at grain and thunking the plank to see what it sounds like. You can get a real sense of the weight and acoustical properties by handling the stuff. I don't know if they're handling European beech -- but the stuff is becoming popular so they might very well have it.

Yup, most of it is kiln dried -- but that probably makes less difference for backs than it does for top plates.

You might check and see if there's such a supplier anywhere near you. If nothing else it's a fun way to spend some time. It you can't find anything, let me know. I could use an excuse to wander over there for awhile.

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I've used unfigured beech for the sides, linings, necks, and scrolls of violins. It carves very well and I think looks better under varnish than unfigured maple. It is a little on the heavy side though.

For sides and linings it is the easiest wood to work with. Just plane it to thickness, soak it in the bath tub overnight, pat the surface dry, then just clamp it to the mold and blocks (or to the sides if you are bending linings). It will bend to the shape without heat or steam. Once the wood dries it will retain the bent shape. I would highly reccommend beech to beginning builders for sides and linings except that it is harder to find than maple.

I haven't used beech for a back yet. The local hardwood store carries a decent amount of European beech but I've never checked if it was thick enough for quarter sawn sides. I haven't dug into their beech but I think it all looked slab sawn. That said there might be a quartered piece that slipped in by accident.

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I used to buy hardwoods -- including exotics -- in the rough. We would then surface the stuff to see what we had, setting aside the quartered stuff. When a tree is slab cut (my memory is fading here) you will end up with some quarter-sawn pieces. This is back in my days of designing and making one of a kind furniture. All sorts of sculptured joints and oil finishes. No desire to do that again!

If you find a cooperative hardwood supplier you can dig through the pile of 4/4 (four-quarter) surfaced stock. 4/4 means one inch when cut, typically around 13/16" once dried and surfaced. The odds are that you'll find some quartered boards (or very close to it). 13/16", as I recall, is enough to get most back archings out of. If not, look at the 8/4 (oddly enough that's what they call 2" stuff).

The exception to this, of course, is if the supplier themselves are setting aside the quartered stuff, in which case all you have to do is ask for it.

Also, why not consider slab cut with a nice grain pattern? There are some lovely violins that sound wonderful with slab cut backs.

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Also, why not consider slab cut with a nice grain pattern? There are some lovely violins that sound wonderful with slab cut backs.

The slab sawn beech that I've seen looks a little too 'oak-like' for my taste. The quartered face looks a more like maple with strong flecks all over it.

Yes, this hardwood store lets you dig through their wood as much as you want. They also do a good amount of business so it's a good idea to drop in every few weeks or so. They have a really good selection of maple in all American varieties. The worst wood to pick through, as a violinmaker, is the 'curly maple' bin. Not much figure, small sizes, and a high price of ~$9 for a back. Instead I dig through the plain maple bins for the flamed maple that got missed at the mill. I have enough one-piece, slab sawn flamed maple backs to last me many years! Paid $2-$4 a piece for them. Some of them are long and thick enough for two piece cello backs. I also get aspen for viola backs there too, I pay about $2 for them. They also have a decent amount of quartered douglas fir, about $8 per top, but I have enough spruce so I don't pick through that very seriously.

I go there every couple weeks, I could look through the beech for good pieces if anyone wants to give it a try.

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This thread brings to mind a question I had for the Europen makers on this board - what exactly is the species name for the "popular" used in the better italian instruments, we have several trade woods called popular in the USA none of which I would think usable, cottenwood aspen, yellow polular (tuliptree), also which willow is used.

I have a nice Amish run sawmill about an hour or two drive away, need to visit them again.

Reese

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The Violin in question was pictured in a recent Strad issue if I'm not mistaken.

In the meantime here is a pic of some spectacular beech ribs from a Ruggeri cello. ( the back is poplar)

Thanks Melvin- I'll check the index and pull out my Strad. That rib picture is stunning!

Dean are you looking for European beech?

I see many large American beech trees around here but the wood is heavy, my feeling is that European beech is more in the weight range of maple. A book I have lists the American as being 44 lbs. to the cubic foot. about the same as sugar maple.

But you probably know this already so pardon me if this is old news.

Don,

Yes...I already knew that but I wasn't thinking about that when I wrote the post so thanks for reminding me. My childhood farmhouse was framed with beech from the woodlot. You pretty much need a sledge hammer and spikes to work on it.From the looks of the European Beech (the few pics I have) it has much more character than the American Beech as well as being a bit less dense. I have to study the article melvin mentioned.

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I don't know USA beech but I think Euro beech is more dense than Euro maple.

The cello ribs I pictured in post 2 were exactly on the quarter and from a distance looked like very stunningly holographic narrow curl maple...It was only when I got closer that I realised that the effect was from the medullary rays of the beech wood.

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American Beechwood can and does get similar grain celebration and shows similar medullary ray's with quarter sawn material. There is a large variation in color with American beech compared to the European variety. American beech can range from a blond/tan whitish wood to a dark brown grey within the same batch or board. Extreme caution should be used when using Beechwood. The dust is a known carcinogen and splinters can become highly infected in a very short period of time. Many nasty chemical's are derived from Beechwood including, but not limited to creosote

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Extreme caution should be used when using Beechwood. The dust is a known carcinogen and splinters can become highly infected in a very short period of time. Many nasty chemical's are derived from Beechwood including, but not limited to creosote

I think they are working on an engineered genetic derivative that doesn't have this problem. I heard they were going to call it -son of a beech :)

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Didn't Carlo Bergonzi use beech purfling on some of his instruments? I'm pretty sure he did, but my brain is a bit numb right now.

I don't know about Carlo Bergonzi but according to R. Hargrave, the Testores used beech purfling...

American Beechwood can and does get similar grain celebration and shows similar medullary ray's with quarter sawn material. There is a large variation in color with American beech compared to the European variety. American beech can range from a blond/tan whitish wood to a dark brown grey within the same batch or board. Extreme caution should be used when using Beechwood. The dust is a known carcinogen and splinters can become highly infected in a very short period of time. Many nasty chemical's are derived from Beechwood including, but not limited to creosote

Actually, European beech is extremely varied in colour. Moreover, ist is very prone to cracking, warping and moulding while it's drying making fast (kiln) drying necessary. Even when dry, beech is not very stable and tends to warp; dimensional changes due to humidity changes are large, too.

But wait! Beechwood is the most widely used constructional hardwood in Germany (similar to maple in the USA and Canada) so it has to stable and it's colour is very even! How come??

To overcome the problems mentioned above, beech is almost always steamed as Piergiuseppe mentioned. Steaming leads to a very stable wood and evens the colour out. Unfortunately, steming turns beech slightly pink. Nevertheless, some firms steam very lightly only and retain most of the original colour. Steamed beech is very easy to work and bends easily (as William wrote).

And jezzupe is right, the dust is nasty!

The density of beech is about 720 kg/m³ at a moisture of 12 to 15%. Oak is fairly similar in density, maple is about 620 kg/m³.

Thanks Melvin for this nice picture!

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I found this very interesting... it is ofently mentioned that Del Gesù had handsome maple for his late violins, so I wonder why he used beech for this one.

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