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Working Osage Orange

Posted: Thu Feb 18, 2016 3:13 pm
by Matthew Lau
In a moment of weakness (after long hours going over notes and admin work at the office), I finally broke down and bought Osage Orange.

Any tips on working with the stuff?

I was thinking of making a grammercy bow saw (or two, or three, or four) and using the rest of the stock for acoustic guitar bridge blanks. If the bow saws turn out great, I may send one to be auctioned here for MIMF.

1. I have a split billet from a freshly harvested tree from January 2016.
2. The stuff seems very, very hard. It feels at least as hard as good macassar rosewood and much tougher than the desert ironwood. Would you recommend machining it instead of using chisels and planes?
3. The stuff is very yellow. Do you guys dye it when you make stuff with it, or should I chuck it to the back of my car and let the UV brown it a bit?
4. Long term stability in an instrument?
5. Should I cut the blanks in quartersawn or rift sawn?

Thanks in advance!


ps. Please let me know if you have design ideas for the grammercy bow saws that I'll be making.
I'm thinking:
1. All Osage
2. Osage stringers, african blackwood handle and knob
3. Osage stringers, flamed maple handle and knob.

Finish may be an oil varnish or french polish (or maybe just beeswax)--would love tips.

Re: Working Osage Orange

Posted: Thu Feb 18, 2016 4:11 pm
by Bob Gramann
I make guitars out of Osage, so I can't answer all of your questions. If you just harvested the stuff, it will be a while before you can make guitars. I would seal the ends and saw it into 2" or so planks with vertical grain. After a couple of years of drying, I would saw it into back and side sets (quartersawn), weigh each set, and store it in my 40% controlled humidity room. When the weight stopped declining, I would consider it ready to work. It would be better to cycle it to higher humidity and back to miminum weight a couple of times after it reaches minimum before using it.

I cut it with a carbide blade in the bandsaw. I use sharp tools and resharpen often. When I plane it, I use a plane with a 30 degree back bevel on the blade. You have to be cognizant of grain direction when you cut. It likes to chip out and split along grain lines. It likes to chip and split when you rout it. Sometimes that can be avoided by taking the smallest cuts possible. Sometimes, not.

Any darkening disappears when you cut or sand a new surface. There's no point in darkening it until you're done machining.

Overall, I find it difficult to work. But the sound of Osage guitars makes it worth the effort.

Re: Working Osage Orange

Posted: Thu Feb 18, 2016 7:05 pm
by Alan Carruth
What Bob said: it's very hard to work with hand tools. It scrapes better than it planes, for sure. It suffers a lot of drying degrade, so get rid of the tbwo or three inches of wood nearest the center to avoid lots of checking. Once it's dry it's pretty stable, although a few moisture cycles will make it more so. I have not had much luck bringing up the color. It sure makes a great instrument, though, and, as the common name of 'bodark' (bois d'arc, bow wood) attests, it's the best stuff for bows around. One of the violin bow making classes used to use it for practice, as it makes a decent bow and costs a lot less than pernambuco.

Re: Working Osage Orange

Posted: Fri Feb 19, 2016 9:34 am
by Randy Roberts

I've used it on one guitar, but laminated kauri over it,

On the advice of the sawyer who harvested it, and who had been working for years with it, I had him ship it while still green and resawed it right away into 1/4" thick back and side sets. When green it cuts like butter, you just need to allow for the drying shrinkage. Cut that thin it will dry quickly. Once dry it is definitely a hard, hard wood. If your wood was harvested last month, I would wrap it in saran wrap, or seal it in a plastic bag, and then cut it to oversized final dimensions for what you plan to use it for. Then dry it. This will make the sawing ever so much easier, the flaw being you have to have an idea of what your final use will be.

I had no problems to speak of working it, but didn't do much hand tooling. The main drawback is the neon yellow dust everywhere. Obviously it doesn't make more dust than other woods, it's just that it's so bright you really see that it gets absolutely everywhere. (Just like the wood, the dust eventually mellows to a honey brown color <g>)

Re: Working Osage Orange

Posted: Sat Feb 20, 2016 1:27 am
by Matthew Lau
Thanks for the tips!

I mainly bought it to make bow saws out of--when I got it, I realized it'll make more than a few bows.
Sounds like I'll need to treat this more like a metal than a wood.

Thanks for the tips--now I probably won't try chopping a mortise out of it.

Re: Working Osage Orange

Posted: Sat Feb 27, 2016 2:13 pm
by Dale Penrose
I have used Osage for fretboards, bridges and peg head overlays. Works great, looks really nice paired up with a cherry back and side set. Highly recommend.

Re: Working Osage Orange

Posted: Thu Apr 21, 2016 10:25 pm
by Mark Day
I have used it to make 2 bridges; one for a uke and one for an electric lute. I really like working with it and love the highlighter yellow color. I plan on making lute ribs from some of it.

Re: Working Osage Orange

Posted: Tue May 10, 2016 9:57 pm
by Matthew Lau
Lute ribs? I suspect that they'll benefit from some time in a tanning booth.

Mine are a fluorescent yellow color!