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Engelmann spruce thickness


Rich
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I am making a violin with Engelmann spruce top.  Would it typically be made thicker than European spruce I have used before?  It seems fairly soft and light.  What would be the general thinking on this?

Thanks,

Rich

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While Engelmann generally tends to be lower density than European, the individual piece properties matter.  For example, I have Engelmann as dense as .45 g/cc, and European as light as .33 g/cc.  But anyway... if you pay attention to weight and stiffness of the plate as you thin it, then you will likely end up thicker with lower-density wood.

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3 hours ago, Don Noon said:

While Engelmann generally tends to be lower density than European, the individual piece properties matter.  For example, I have Engelmann as dense as .45 g/cc, and European as light as .33 g/cc.  But anyway... if you pay attention to weight and stiffness of the plate as you thin it, then you will likely end up thicker with lower-density wood.

Agreed. The properties of of a particular type of spruce can vary so widely, that I don't think it's much help to try to make assumptions about the density or strength based on the sub-species.

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I had to make my last violin, which has an Engelmann top, about .3mm thicker in order to achieve the same sort of stiffness that you'd get form some Sitka billets. But my batch just happens to be a lighter density. Light, fluffy and kind of chippy wood. But I made it work. Just pay attention to the way it feels in your hands as you go. 

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16 hours ago, nathan slobodkin said:

As David said strength and stiffness of spruce can vary quite a bit even in the same tree. Everybody has their likes and dislikes as to what kind of wood they use and there is usually a way to get good results from all but the most extreme outliers.

I have used Engleman, Sitka and red spruce.  (Also white pine from Home Depot for my first attempt.)  I like working with the red spruce.  It feels harder to me and the grain is more forgiving.  But I am NOT a very experienced maker.

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I have used Engelmann and European on my serious stuff, and it seems to me that there isn't all that much difference when the densities are similar.  For various experiments, I have used Sitka and even far outlier Walmart firewood, but I didn't like the result of the firewood very much.  It was very high density and extremely low stiffness, so it was fairly anemic, as theory would suggest.

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On 7/3/2020 at 11:02 AM, Don Noon said:

I have used Engelmann and European on my serious stuff, and it seems to me that there isn't all that much difference when the densities are similar.  For various experiments, I have used Sitka and even far outlier Walmart firewood, but I didn't like the result of the firewood very much.  It was very high density and extremely low stiffness, so it was fairly anemic, as theory would suggest.

You went to all the trouble to make an entire Violin just to check out a theory? I am very impressed. I’m assuming that the word you used was Tonewood, correct? What did you end up doing with the Violin? 

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25 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

You went to all the trouble to make an entire Violin just to check out a theory? I am very impressed. I’m assuming that the word you used was Tonewood, correct? What did you end up doing with the Violin? 

How else does one progress? It beats repeating the same mistakes over an over, and hoping for the best.  Einstein.jpg.75a0ff12e77690abad9a53d7c43a09c8.jpg

 

 

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1 minute ago, Bill Yacey said:

How else does one progress? It beats repeating the same mistakes over an over, and hoping for the best.  Einstein.jpg.75a0ff12e77690abad9a53d7c43a09c8.jpg

 

 

Well, Yes, of course, I guess what I was asking whether you could learn the same without so much work, but I guess the answer to that is obvious as well.

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One of my mentors was an avid experimenter; he would finish the scroll out to about 80%, would leave the edges unpurfled, or if he did purfle it, the edges weren't completely finished off. He would test them in the white and move on with his next experiment. Often he would re-use necks, which in a way was smart, because it's one less variable in the equation.

In about a week he could have a playable instrument. Some of the more promising ones he would go on and complete the finishing work.

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1 hour ago, PhilipKT said:

You went to all the trouble to make an entire Violin just to check out a theory? I am very impressed. I’m assuming that the word you used was Tonewood, correct? What did you end up doing with the Violin? 

No, I'm not quite that extreme as to make a whole violin to check a theory.  I have an old Paesold VSO that I use for most experiments, where I just rip the top off and quickly hack out something I want to test, usually no more than 2-3 hours of carving.  I think I'm up to top #10 on that thing.

And I wrote "firewood" because that what it was, not tonewood.  I saw stacks of firewood at Walmart, and I picked out one bundle that had a piece with reasonable-looking grain.  Probably some kind of crappy pine.  It was an experiment to see what happens when I use extremely poor wood.

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For maple, I wouldn't worry too much about the tonal properties, although for violas (and presumably larger instruments, which I don't build), I wouldn't want excessively high density.  For top wood, I haven't really checked Home Depot or Lowe's, mostly because the aesthetics are usually awful... wide grain, slab cut.  At least with the Walmart firewood, it was in approximately quartered wedges.  I have quite a lot of Sitka from a lumberyard specializing in wood for boats and aircraft (bought for non-violin projects);  it's OK, but quite high density.  

I don't think there is any good reason to look for alternative sources for top wood, as good spruce is cheap.  Even the bargain-bin cheap sets are probably better than what you'd get at a lumber yard.  Maple depends... if you find spectacular wood elsewhere cheap, it might be worth considering.  I got a couple of maple sets at the last VSA competition from Alpenholtz that are perfectly acceptable, and for under $40 each.  But if you MUST have the most spectacular, deep-flamed sets, it's going to cost.

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  • 3 months later...

I made a reproduction of a 4500 year old Sumerian lyre and for the soundbox I used white pine taken from the floor of a 200+ year old house in Maine. Old growth pine is a totally different wood than plantation grown wood that is purposely grown quickly for turnover. Plus seasoning for a couple of centuries doesn't hurt either. This pine has narrower grain and is beautiful. It works really well as panels for the soundbox. I wonder if anyone has tried using such wood for a violin top?

 

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9 hours ago, Craig Cowing said:

I made a reproduction of a 4500 year old Sumerian lyre and for the soundbox I used white pine taken from the floor of a 200+ year old house in Maine. Old growth pine is a totally different wood than plantation grown wood that is purposely grown quickly for turnover. Plus seasoning for a couple of centuries doesn't hurt either. This pine has narrower grain and is beautiful. It works really well as panels for the soundbox. I wonder if anyone has tried using such wood for a violin top?

 

Didn’t Strad use Pine for some of his tops?

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13 hours ago, Craig Cowing said:

I made a reproduction of a 4500 year old Sumerian lyre and for the soundbox I used white pine taken from the floor of a 200+ year old house in Maine. Old growth pine is a totally different wood than plantation grown wood that is purposely grown quickly for turnover. Plus seasoning for a couple of centuries doesn't hurt either. This pine has narrower grain and is beautiful. It works really well as panels for the soundbox. I wonder if anyone has tried using such wood for a violin top?

 

Seriously, how does it sound?  Photos?  :)

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14 hours ago, Violadamore said:

Seriously, how does it sound?  Photos?  :)

Here are some pics. It's downsized from the larger lyres which are over a meter tall, but there were some smaller ones this size that were found as well. 100% of the wood is recycled from old pine floorboards, a bed frame, and a maple kitchen table. The strings are nylon, the cow head is made from Sculpey. It has a nice sound. I find that if I pluck the strings in the middle they have a rounder sound, and if near the bottom the sound is more nasal. It has 10 strings but they generally had 11. I am still working on getting the right size nylon fish line for the highest string that will tune up but not snap. It is about 28" tall.

For tuning the strings are tied off at the bottom on a small bridge. They pass over the bridge then up to the yoke, which is made from the back leg of a broken chair. That is wrapped in suede leather which gives the tuners some friction. The tuners work this way--the string is wrapped a couple or three times around the yoke and tied on to the bar. It revolves around the bar to tighten or loosen.

I've also made an ancient Egyptian harp and an ancient Chinese zither. It's kept me out of trouble during COVIDtide.

sumerlyre5.jpg

sumerlyre4.jpg

sumerlyre3.jpg

sumerlyre2.jpg

sumerlyre1.jpg

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3 hours ago, JacksonMaberry said:

In the Hill's books, and elsewhere in the British violin literature, spruce is somewhat confusingly referred to as 'pine'. Stradivari invariably used true spruce (piecea spp.), no matter what anyone else called it.

That's what I would have thought. Once he settled on something that worked why would he look elsewhere?

 

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3 hours ago, JacksonMaberry said:

In the Hill's books, and elsewhere in the British violin literature, spruce is somewhat confusingly referred to as 'pine'. Stradivari invariably used true spruce (piecea spp.), no matter what anyone else called it.

Thank you very much! That’s been bothering me for years.

”Pine? Pine? He used PINE?”

Apparently not...

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