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How to tell if wood is tonewood quality? And how to mill? Spruce in the Olympics, probably Sitka


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My job puts me adjacent to some campground operations on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.

We've been instructed to remove all the leftover rounds from a tree that needed felling.  I'm think it's a sitka spruce, but I'm not an expert.  It was felled(or blew over) inwinter or in the spring this year, so I expect it'll need to be milled and then air dried for at least a couple years.

 

But how is tonewood quality wood identified?  This doesn't look like fir, hemlock, or cedar(or smell like cedar), and spruce is the other common conifer up here.  And how is it milled-is it a special process, or can any sawmill do it?  There are several small ones around here. Or is it something I can do myself?

 

The rounds are all ~3 feet in diameter and 14"-24" tall.  There's one that's tall enough it might even be cello size, but I don't know if I'll be able to snag that one.

 

The first two pics are one tree, the 2nd two I believe are of a different tree.

 

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Home | Orcas Island Tonewoods (radiofreeolga.com)

 

Tonewood | The Wood Well | United States

 

Bruce is on Orcas, the Wood Well is in Quilcene. Bruce has always been helpful, but he is retired now so you might have to be patient. I haven't dealt with the Wood Well in a while, but I reference them because they are nearby and might be helpful.

The answers to your questions are lengthy and not always consistent from maker to maker and dealer to dealer, and while some love wood from the PNW, others are dismissive of it. Might be good for blocks, linings and bass bars, but it also might be a bit too much work for that to be viable. Then we have sawn or split...Good Luck. I am in Seattle if I can help, although I am not interested in any of the wood.

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If the tree has been down for very long it may be already checking at the ends. First step is to buck the rounds to length then seal immediately with a commercial log sealer such as Anchor Seal. Then split the rounds into quarters and see if the grain is even and splits straight without twist. If those look OK split the quarters into appropriate sizes or saw parallel to the  split and stack the blanks in a moderate temperature for three years or so and then see if they make good fiddles.

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"Quality" tonewood has several different aspects.  Having some species of spruce is a start.  For violinmaking, most makers prefer a fairly narrow range of density, approximately .35 to .40 g/cc dried, although some makers will go outside of that range.  That's another gate.  Then there's grain spacing, which might not make too much difference to sound, but definitely an aesthetic concern, as is streaking or staining.  Is it evenly spaced, or widely varying spacing?  Grain twist is undesirable, as it gives runout in different directions when making a plate.  And runout in cutting is to be avoided; splitting is preferred over sawing.

And you probably want at least 16" long logs for violinmaking, to give some margin for the maker.

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Split into wedges slightly oversized and seal ends. Spruce can be sealed succesfully with just about any thick paint. Last time I used half empty bucket of old wall paint. I just dipped ends and let it dry. Worked great. store in a way that allows air circulation all around and waith few monts to judge quality... You can judge straigtness of split and grain count on fresh wood. After drying you can measure stiffness and density.

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On 5/17/2021 at 6:54 PM, JacksonMaberry said:

Quality tonewood can be had at very reasonable prices if you know where to look. the value-added is having someone who knows what they are doing vet it for you, rather than taking a guess at stumps. good luck and godspeed.

 

Eh, it's about the romanticism more so than the price or convenience.  Especially since there's supposed to be a huge big leaf maple down at a different property I have access.

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6 hours ago, JohnSD said:

Eh, it's about the romanticism more so than the price or convenience.  Especially since there's supposed to be a huge big leaf maple down at a different property I have access.

 

6 hours ago, JohnSD said:

Eh, it's about the romanticism more so than the price or convenience.  Especially since there's supposed to be a huge big leaf maple down at a different property I have access.

Again time is of the essence. If the log is on the ground it is already deteriorating. Get to it as fast as you  can and get it cut to appropriate sizes or at least bucked to length, sealed and quartered. Big leaf can be very nice especially for violas and cellos but handling trees of that size is no small undertaking and judging quality can be difficult. The guys who cut tonewood for a living earn their money.

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