Blocks...Spruce or Willow


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Is there any advantages of one over the other? Is American Black Willow comparable to the European species?

I have some black willow with wide grain spacing that is not perfectly quartersawn. I would think that some perfectly quarted tight grained spruce would be a better choice.

I'm starting another violin...this time using expensive european wood and would like to use the best block wood too.

Is their a difference or does'nt it matter?

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Lyle

Thank you for explainng.

I understand what you mean now. Unfortunately the willow I have is of a sawn dimension with little room to trim.

I need to find a better supplier of block material that I can chop myself...

Cheers

-Ernie

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This may be more opinion than hard fact, but I'll contribute a few thoughts.  Classic Cremonese makers used primarily European (white) willow or spruce.  I have a personal preference for willow, when available, but there are restrictions on what I'd use.  The top block is the main consideration because of its critical function in anchoring the neck tenon.  For that reason the wood needs to be stable and easy to carve.  As one of the lightest hardwood species, and one which carves readily, willow makes some sense.  However, because of the need for long term dimensional stability I'd avoid using any wood that isn't well seasoned AND I'd avoid using 'reaction wood.'  That is a technical term that refers to wood that grew in a portion of the tree that was subjected to tangential gravity forces (see Hoadley's book "Understanding Wood.")  In practical terms that means you'd want wood that came from a vertical portion of the tree trunk, not a leaning trunk or a branch that was anything but vertical.  Unfortunately that excludes that vast majority of willow wood from North America because of the growth habits of most of our species.  If you've looked at willows growing by a stream bank you'll see what I mean.  Weeping willow is an oranmental hybrid of an Asian willow with European white willow so might be more suitable than the various native willows variously referred to as 'black,' but I'd only use wood from a vertical portion of the trunk and there usually isn't much of that to be had.  Some people have suggested Linden (bass wood) as a substitute but we were told in school not to use it (with no further explanation).  Del Gesu used spruce, and in this country stable straight grained spruce is a lot easier to obtain.  Sometimes I compromise by using my choice willow stock only for top blocks and spruce for the rest.  Good luck.

 

Doug

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I use willow nowadays, and have used basswood (lime) too. I think spruce is fine for violins, but I would reccommend against using it for cello or bass. I have had tons of these bigger instruments pass my bench when that lower spruce block finally gets around to shrinking laterally. Broken rib, if the join to the back doesn't manage to give, and relieve the pressure.

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Daryl,

 

Here's how I'm looking at that.  If we can agree that plain sawn orientation is undesirable when it comes time to cut the neck mortise, then you're left with the choice between rift sawn (which is how I was taught) and quarter sawn.  I see two advantages for rift sawn top and bottom blocks.  First, they're likely less prone to splitting as the grain lines aren't parallel to the objects (neck foot or end button) that might be trying to make them split.  Second, because dimensional changes with variation in humidity are greater perpendicular to the grain (tangential) than parallel to the grain (radial) the rift sawn grain orientation means there's somewhat less movement in the direction of the longest dimension of the top or bottom block than there would be for quarter sawn blocks.  The consideration would be similar for any species that moves more tangentially than radially but the magnitude of the effect would depend on the ratio of tangential to radial movement.  And finally, I'd object to using the term 'shrinkage' because well seasoned wood that's already acclimated to it's environment (the only kind we use, right?) should not shrink any more than it swells-seasonal changes in dimension should go both ways equally, and be quite small.  But I'm no expert, I'm just sharing my thoughts, for whatever they might be worth.

 

Doug

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Hi Doug,

 

I think you're contradicting yourself. Yes, wood moves more tangentially than radially. But that means a quarter sawn end block will change less in width than a flat sawn or rift sawn end block. A rift sawn end block will also be subject to diamonding which means it will be less stable in shape because of differential shrinking. I'll give you that a rift sawn end block will be less prone to splitting but here we are talking about willow which is already good in that regard. For me, I prefer quarter sawn blocks with willow being the top choice, but I find it harder to get quality willow so I use spruce as well.

 

I think my use of the word shrinkage is proper. Wood shrinks when it loses moisture, whether seasonal or during the initial drying.

 

Please note, my tone here is friendly. I mention this because it could be read otherwise. 

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