We are trying to stay grounded in a whirl of the global trade and the inflation of visually dazzling wood.
The beginning of the year finds us claiming the materials for our next instruments, joining and preparing backs tops, necks and ribs...
We stumble over our history and it is time for us to eliminate or give away some of the wood we have found, moved, seasoned for years and experimented with.
|good bye old spruce|
I would not want to miss the experience of going up into the Austrian Alps together with 2 other luthiers and a harpsichord maker in 1984. We searched for four old growth spruce trees, had them cut in the winter and brought down in May to be radially sawn. Going through the whole procedure makes you appreciate all that can go wrong: checks, knots, fungus, radially but still off split sawing wrecked two thirds of the wedges within a year. Now for most of the remainder an excessively dense structure suggests it will make a beautiful dresser, once sawn up into boards.
Floating logs downriver and under water storage was common practise in Europe i.e. in the famed Val de Fiemme, where the Cremonese makers might well have gotten their spruce. This technique is thought to have a stabilizing effect and encouraged a thorough seasoning of the wood structure. The same was done for transport during the pioneer years in Canada. We did our best to lift logs from lakes- alas always found unsuitable species, like Hemlock or really twisted eastern Cedar. We paid for "tone wood" brought up from the depth of Lake Superior and received beautiful stone like fir and birds eye maple, which we are happy to pass on to someone.
|testing split ,essential for spruce tops|
Another good logging technique consists of ringing a tree a year before cutting it as "standing dead." Gordon Carson of Mountain Voice British Columbia has occasionally been able to supply such wood. He also marks his Engleman spruce and Engleman/White hybrid logs with a code, and splits generous wedges.
As far as North American tops are concerned we have settled on this species versus Douglas fir or Sitka spruce, though neither can be claimed as local.
My joy are the eastern Maple boards and the log we found over the years at local sawmills. They date our excursions and instruments long in use. They also allow us to make distinctly local instruments and gain some consistency when using wood from the same tree.
|this cello neck block needs re- sawing|
|sorted violin viola section and willow for blocks bottom left|
|cello wood minus poplar|
By now we recognize our best candidates. Silky homogenous softer maple for velvety sounding violas slightly harder red or black for violins and the rare piece that can be winged for cello. Luckily there are great healthy poplar species and the tulip wood to supply a one piece cello back, whereas Europe's classic black poplar is suffering from a blight.
Lastly- here are the wild cards, the multicoloured loosely structured or off grain boards as well as the dense nutty maple we will give up.