Spring 2015 preview.

Can’t resist–all of these will get posts as I catch up, but I’m so tickled I want to share them now.

photo 1

Woohoo! “Volcano” palisander on the left, with it’s bearclaw Swiss spruce top above. 2nd is the wild tiger myrtle of Richard Parker, my 2015 Pi Day instrument. It has another bearclaw Swiss spruce top (above), with a pattern that echoes the myrtle figure. 3rd is beautiful old perfectly quartersawn East Indian Rosewood with an Engelmann top (later changed to Swiss, discussed below), and finally Reynard, an amazing bit of curly mahogany, and one more Swiss top. It’s all Swiss spruce in this round, mostly moonspruce (moon-what? I need to post on that if I haven’t already).

One more (shown in a previous post, before joining the halves), African blackwood with an “orc-paint” bearclaw top:

photo 2

This blackwood works about as easily as steel, but what a tap tone.

Stretching the preview past the spring builds are these fine pieces of “firewood”:


This is more Engelmann spruce from the early 90’s forest fire area above McCall Idaho that violin maker Kevin Prestwich is gradually harvesting and testing. I used an earlier piece on the oakulele and it was quivery good!

These trees have been standing on mountain sides drying for over 20 years. With the bark gone and the outer layers cracked from drying shrinkage, Kevin can see at a glance which trees have the straight fiber line that is ideal for an instrument top. He doesn’t stop there though; the wood is measured for responsiveness, sound transmission speed, and so forth, compared with known excellent samples, and sorted for various applications…including some actual firewood. I often like wood that some say is imperfect–“perfect” wood is not highly correlated with great tone and performance–but it’s a false economy to build instruments with every piece of wood. And it’s an old saying among woodworkers that nothing burns like nice dry furniture (or instrument) wood!


I sawed these billets into tops back in January, and they are currently relaxing with their cousins from the southern Oregon coast, British Columbia, Switzerland, Romania, and elsewhere. It was hard to resist building one into the spring instruments, but I ultimately decided to go all Swiss in the current group to highlight the differences among the back and side woods. Maybe fall.

An instrument of dining.

Hmm…last post early November…already blamed the dog for a previous hiatus–there really isn’t anyplace to hide for the lack of posts. So what’s been happening?

My furniture making past re-appeared after I completed the oakulele last fall, in the form of a very large dining table that had been in the wings for a few years as the wood dried. The adventure started here, with local sawyer Doug Pollock walking the plank–a beautiful Oregon ash that fell across a creek in the next valley west of us.

P1230337 - getting ready to cut log

With a blend of calculation, artful rigging, and brute force he managed to get the log onto dry ground and cut it into pieces that could make the trip to his mill.

P1230358 - cutting log in two

Bill Storch (who built the table with me) and I oversaw the milling, mulling over how each plank might be used in the table, guessing what would appear with the next cut, and what might happen during drying and subsequent operations. The best slabs were cut 3″ thick for the top, a few were over 4″ thick for leg parts, the center rail and smaller leg parts were 2 1/2″, and wherever possible we cut spares just in case. As each cut was made we flipped the plank over to read the underside, then stacked it to the side. They were reeeaaaalllly heavy.

P1230551 - big ash slab no checks

Skipping over a couple years of drying, Bill and I got down to work as fall waned. Here is the final selection for the top, and you can see that even with our best guessing two years earlier, we ended up choosing a slightly thinner plank for one of the top boards. We flipped and move these porkers many times searching for the best composition, and they were still darned heavy even though they were now dry.


There was quite a bit of carving on the base. As with instrument necks, I did this at night with a single desk lamp illuminating the work; the raking light makes even small variations in the shape jump out.


Bill made hammer-textured steel straps for the stretcher, and we hired a couple of very strong movers to bring the top safely into the owner’s house. Everyone agreed that this table will hold up the pizza.


Whew! What a relief that instruments are nice and light. Still, it’s fun to design and build a piece that operates at an architectural scale, where the sweat is about shear exertion rather than whether my next move will blow up a 2 millimeter thick piece of precious and irreplaceable wood!

There’s a whole lot of this tree left–anyone looking for a uke in Oregon ash?

Kidding, really…