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Arnt Rian's Norway Spruce processing

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Arnt Rian's Norway Spruce processing

Postby Arnt Rian » Thu Jan 12, 2012 4:10 pm

My farmer neighbour’s been chopping down trees again. Here are some of the logs, all of them are Norwegian spruce, picea abies, which is the most common wood by far up here. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, but as you see, most of these are not large enough for guitar tops... Bummer!

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The scrap pile. Its all going to become firewood, but my neighbour told me to pick whatever I wanted.

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I found these 3 smaller, but nice looking ones. They were about 45-60 cm (18-24”) across, so on the small side for two piece guitar tops, but fine for mandolins.

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Here's the biggest one I found, and was also probably the nicest looking one. The pith wasn't dead center, but fairly close

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This is the small end, the other end was over 70 cm across after I trimmed off the bottom. Big enough for guitar tops, IF everything else is as one can hope...

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First step in the processing of this wood is the quartering. I started by sawing two kerfs in a cross, like so

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Then, I inserted a row of wooden wedges into the kerf. Any ol’ hardwood will work I guess, I used some beech I had, which will hold up quite well to this kind of (ab)use

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After a few whacks with the sledge, I got this...

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...and after a few more, I had a nice pile of quartered logs. As you can see, much of this wood is quite uneven, so that’s firewood. A few of the pieces are straight and clear however, so hopefully I will get some tops. We shall see...

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The next day I removed the bark

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Yesterday I began resawing. Here’s one of the quarters from the largest log, the dread template looks small by comparison.

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Here’s how I planned the cuts on that log; mostly flat top sets, but a couple of arch tops, and two mando sets as well.

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After splitting out the flat top sections, I trued up two sides on the jointer. I have 12” one, so its just big enough for this job

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Slicing it up...

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...over and over, until the pile outside was gone, and I had this stack on the bench. I counted 53 sets of guitar tops, about half as many mando sets, a few arch top sets of various sizes, and some brace wood.

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And of course, a whole lot of this stuff!

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I’ll be weighing this wood over the next weeks, to see how long it takes for it to stop losing weight, which is when it has reached it equilibrium moisture content. Here’s a piece I weighed after I cut it last night, and again tonight. As you can see, its already gone from 716g to 656g

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BTW, the appearance of the wood was all over the place, but much of it was what you would call “cosmetically challenged” by most tonewood vendor’s standards. Others sets were fine, but none were “master grade”, or even AAA. Here’s a fairly typical set, with a jumbo guitar shape. As you can see, the grain is quite wide towards the outside edge, but tight in the middle. The darker color is where the wood is all wet, and it will fade away as the wood dries, at least that is what has happened in the past.

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A little later...

Like I mentioned in a previous post, I would measure a sample piece from this wood, to monitor how the drying process. This piece has been kept in the humidity controlled part of my shop, at about 45% RH. Most of the other wood is stored in the non controlled area, so it is most likely not as dry yet. But as you can see, this wedge shaped piece, which is big enough for a half arch top mandolin top, has almost reached its equilibrium moisture content already. In fact,most of the water was gone after the first few days. I like to keep my wood around for quite a while before I use, but as you can see, it is possible to use it quite soon after processing. This piece isn't quite ready yet, but its getting there quickly.

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Arnt Rian
 
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Re: Spruce!

Postby Samuli Samuelsson » Fri Jan 13, 2012 1:07 am

Hi.

Great post, thank You Arnt.
Especially because it's about a species I'm considering of using.

A couple of questions though:

All the literature (not instrument making related) I have, instructs to split from the side, not from the end of the log. It would make more sense to me to split from the end, just like You did, to avoid peeling and delamination. On the lenght/diameter ratio of 2:1 and shorter I guess it doesn't matter much, but what about longer logs?
Have You found any difference either way?

I'm not a professional, just a hobbyist, but the Norvegian spruce is considered being close to firewood among Finnish instrument makers AFAIK. I could be wrong though, but every spec. I've seen says otherwise, it's always some "exotic" imported spruce.

Norvegian spruce is mostly what we have here when it comes down to spruce, and true, the dimensions are challenging to make anything bigger than a mandolin to say the least as any big enough for a guitar top logs are over-age from the forest industry viewpoint and the bigger trees aren't usually all that healthy, but is it really that bad?
Or is it just misplaced elitism?

I'm a very firm believer in using local materials as much as possible, and I intend to use the pieces I cut from the trunk I have, if it is possible.

BTW, that bandsaw of Yours, is it a Värnamo by any chance?
Some of the details look a lot like those on mine.

A few years back I scored this Swedish Army surplus left hand beauty:
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Re: Spruce!

Postby Arnt Rian » Fri Jan 13, 2012 5:11 am

Hi Samueli, I'll try to answer your questions

Samuli Samuelsson wrote:
All the literature (not instrument making related) I have, instructs to split from the side, not from the end of the log. It would make more sense to me to split from the end, just like You did, to avoid peeling and delamination. On the lenght/diameter ratio of 2:1 and shorter I guess it doesn't matter much, but what about longer logs?
Have You found any difference either way?

For instrument building it is customary to cut the logs into lengths according to its intended use. I can't think of benefits of splitting longer logs, and then cutting those to length, at least not ones that outweigh the inconveniences. If you have ever chopped firewood with an axe you know what I mean



I'm not a professional, just a hobbyist, but the Norvegian spruce is considered being close to firewood among Finnish instrument makers AFAIK. I could be wrong though, but every spec. I've seen says otherwise, it's always some "exotic" imported spruce.

Norwegian spruce is the same species as what grows across most of northern continental Europe (including the Alps, with its "German", "Italian", "Swiss" etc spruces), Picea Abies. Growing conditions vary, but not strictly according to which country or latitude the tree grew in, so I think its best to judge each piece of wood on its own merits. We have a long tradition for using our local woods in instruments such as the Hardanger fiddle and the langeleik here, so its not like I've discovered something new. My experience is that the best spruce from this area is just as well suited for stringed instrument tops as the best I have gotten from Italy, Germany and Carpathia. How many of your Finnish instrument maker friends have actually tested the local woods in actual instruments? I believe such views are mostly old wives tales, superstition, exaggerated and/or untrue, held by folks who with no real first hand experience with it.


BTW, that bandsaw of Yours, is it a Värnamo by any chance?
Some of the details look a lot like those on mine.


Nice saw! Mine is an older 24" Italian Centaur, with a 2,8 KW, 3 ph motor, that I got for next to nothing many years ago. Once tuned up right, these saws can perform wonderfully.
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Re: Spruce!

Postby Tim Douglass » Fri Jan 13, 2012 3:38 pm

Thanks for those pictures of your process, Arnt. I now have a serious case of spruce envy! Personally I like the somewhat irregular stuff better than the cosmetically perfect pieces, but I'm odd in other ways as well.
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Re: Spruce!

Postby Steve Senseney » Fri Jan 13, 2012 3:45 pm

Nice Tutorial Arnt.

I like your band saw Samuli!
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Re: Spruce!

Postby Samuli Samuelsson » Mon Jan 16, 2012 11:12 pm

Hi Arnt.


Arnt Rian wrote:For instrument building it is customary to cut the logs into lengths according to its intended use. I can't think of benefits of splitting longer logs, and then cutting those to length, at least not ones that outweigh the inconveniences. If you have ever chopped firewood with an axe you know what I mean


My dream is to make a double bass, so the log would be at least 4:1 ratio in this particular case, so that's the reason I asked. Naturally, I won't be able to make a 2 piece top with that log of mine, but that doesn't worry me much.

Chopping firewood with an axe is something I'm pretty familiar with, especially now ;), so I do know what You mean.



Arnt Rian wrote:Norwegian spruce is the same species as what grows across most of northern continental Europe (including the Alps, with its "German", "Italian", "Swiss" etc spruces), Picea Abies. Growing conditions vary, but not strictly according to which country or latitude the tree grew in, so I think its best to judge each piece of wood on its own merits. We have a long tradition for using our local woods in instruments such as the Hardanger fiddle and the langeleik here, so its not like I've discovered something new. My experience is that the best spruce from this area is just as well suited for stringed instrument tops as the best I have gotten from Italy, Germany and Carpathia. How many of your Finnish instrument maker friends have actually tested the local woods in actual instruments? I believe such views are mostly old wives tales, superstition, exaggerated and/or untrue, held by folks who with no real first hand experience with it.


It's good to hear that over there folks do appreciate the local materials, perhaps we eventually will as well.

Thanks for the assurance that this spruce of mine ctually has a chance of being a "tone wood", we'll just have to wait and see for a bit longer, my back didn't appreciate the fridays work on the log, so I've been resting for a while.


It's been about 2 decades since I actually made an instrument (solidbodies mainly) from ground up so to speak, so I have pretty much lost contact with the very few instrument makin buddies I once had.

My feeling is that it's mainly just laziness. It's way easier (and seemingly cheaper) to just go to a website, click the pieces You want with a mouse, pay up, wait for a while and start building.

As I said earlier, my view comes mainly from instrument makers spec sheets, and from a few local websites so it is a narrow one, but then again, a good percentage of people still seem to view building an instrument as a fools errand: " Why pay as much or more for just the parts than a factory made instrument costs at Thomann?" seems to still be the common line of thinking.
It also looks like that people think that using exotic (to us anyway) materials will ensure a quality product, and somehow add the value. Regardless of the outcome.

Some of the folk instrument builders do use local materials, but the price range of those is roughly 1/10th of an acoustic guitar for an example. Much simpler designs though of course, and not as involved.


Arnt Rian wrote:Mine is an older 24" Italian Centaur, with a 2,8 KW, 3 ph motor, that I got for next to nothing many years ago. Once tuned up right, these saws can perform wonderfully.


Yes indeed they can. The only thing I kind of dislike in mine, is the direct drive motor. Once the motor fails for one reason or another, no chance of replacing it. My main hobby is metal though, so it's "just" turning and milling a suitable adapter for a modern motor then.

There's plenty of lubricating points as usual with these older machines, so all the bearings will be well lubricated at all times.


Steve Senseney wrote:I like your band saw Samuli!


Thanks Steve, unfortunately it has only seen firewood cutting and construction duty the last few years for several reasons, but I do hope it'll change soon.
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Re: Arnt Rian's Norway Spruce processing

Postby Douglas Ketellapper » Thu Jan 19, 2012 10:22 am

Thanks for posting that, Arnt. The chainsaw trick with the wedges is a good one that I'll keep in mind.

I sometimes think I get as much or even more enjoyment from processing rough wood as I do from making things from that processed wood. Something about seeing the beauty of the grain that was inside, and making something useful from a raw material. Alas I am without a shop right now, but soon I will be back making sawdust again...
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Re: Arnt Rian's Norway Spruce processing

Postby Mark Day » Fri Jan 20, 2012 9:45 am

Arnt Rian wrote:
"I sometimes think I get as much or even more enjoyment from processing rough wood as I do from making things from that processed wood. Something about seeing the beauty of the grain that was inside, and making something useful from a raw material."


I agree completely. I also happen to like "cosmetically challenged" wood. If AAA means homogenous even color, I'm not really interested, but I only build for myself and now for my son who at 14 months is more interested in my lute than in eating.
I just built a "log-to-lumber" sled to slice up some ash on my bandsaw. I haven't sound any spectacular grain yet, but it's so much fun opening up those logs to see what's waiting in side! I also don't have a problem with multi-piece tops or backs, but my interest is primarily in early instruments which have a lineage of multi-piece tops (in Viols), multi-piece backs and even sides in baroque guitars, and of course lute backs are made out of multiple ribs, so smaller logs that others would consider not big enough to yield guitar-sized wood could still be useable by me!

...just got how to do the quote thing. Very cool...
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Re: Arnt Rian's Norway Spruce processing

Postby Arnt Rian » Fri Jan 20, 2012 10:46 am

Mark Day wrote:
Arnt Rian wrote:
"I sometimes think I get as much or even more enjoyment from processing rough wood as I do from making things from that processed wood. Something about seeing the beauty of the grain that was inside, and making something useful from a raw material."

...just got how to do the quote thing. Very cool...


You used the quote thing all right, but somehow you managed to put somebody else's words in my mouth :roll: Nice! :lol:
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Re: Arnt Rian's Norway Spruce processing

Postby Dennis Duross » Mon Jan 30, 2012 9:55 pm

So you don't have to paint the ends if you process the wood quickly? Do you just do that to the logs and the quartered wood if you can't get it all processed quickly?
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Re: Arnt Rian's Norway Spruce processing

Postby Arnt Rian » Tue Jan 31, 2012 6:32 am

With spruce, you don't have to do anything to the ends if you cut it into guitar tops when its wet. With pieces this thin, most of the water is gone in a few days with normal air drying (as can be witnessed in the example above). That means the wood's dimensions are not going to change much after that, so it won't crack or end check. Whole logs on the other hand, will end check like crazy, if left that way for long. If the bark is not removed, bugs and fungi will quickly start to do their too, and it will be soon become useless for our purposes. That is, unless they are cut during winter, in sub zero temperatures, when everything is stable. That is the main reason this time of year is the traditional logging season up here. So, if you can't cut it into guitar tops right away, at least split it into quarters, remove the bark, and seal the ends, quickly! Some (most?) hardwoods are another story, they will sometimes warp and twist if cut into pieces this thin while wet. Drying in semi processed state can be a good option for those, end sealing is mandatory.

I know from (archery) bow making, that some makers of traditional English longbows will only use yew that has been air dried in round form for a number of years. I'm not sure what the benefit is, or how they keep it from cracking, but since the staves are usually not that big, I guess they can get away with it.
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Re: Arnt Rian's Norway Spruce processing

Postby Paco Jimenez » Thu Feb 02, 2012 11:55 am

Great report. Thanks so much, Arnt.
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Re: Arnt Rian's Norway Spruce processing

Postby Celeste Hall » Thu Feb 02, 2012 12:43 pm

Hi Arnt, thank you so much for taking the time to put this post together
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Re: Arnt Rian's Norway Spruce processing

Postby Charlie Zarkadas » Thu Feb 02, 2012 3:07 pm

Hi Arnt,
This was a wonderful post and I really appreciate that you took the time to put it together. I am about to build my first guitar but will make it a solid body 'tele' as I think for my first time out that is an easier choice. I am currently reading and thinking about Swamp Ash versus Alder wood. I'm leaning towards the Swamp Ash. Both are available from various vendors. Thanks again for sharing your experience with us.
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Re: Arnt Rian's Norway Spruce processing

Postby Jason Rodgers » Sat Feb 04, 2012 1:23 pm

Wow, a couple nice logs and you have yourself a couple decades of stash! Makes me want to go wood cutting with my folks in the mountains of Idaho: lots of that beetle-kill Ponderosa and Lodgepole that the FS and BLM are happy to have people take out. Probably some good stuff in their firewood pile right now!
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.
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Re: Arnt Rian's Norway Spruce processing

Postby Douglas Ingram » Thu Mar 01, 2012 10:59 am

Thanks for taking the time to post this, Arnt. I know well the look that comes to a woodworkers eyes when they see a pile of logs like the one you show. I'm glad for you that all of your effort resulted in some usable wood! It so easily could have not done so. At the rate that you're building it should last a few months...
I may be crazy...but I'm not insane.
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