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Persimmon -- White Ebony???

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Persimmon -- White Ebony???

Postby Mark Wybierala » Sat Jul 20, 2019 1:59 pm

At my local mill buying some nice maple I inquired about some shorter lengths of unmarked lumber that was there in 3 to 4ft sections of 3X3 and 3X4. They said it was persimmon. They sold me a length of it cheap. I did some reading on the interweb and am going to use it as fretboard for a couple instruments. I've ripped it into 5/16" X 2 1/4" X 4ft lengths. Right now, I'm making smaller instruments like octave mandolins, cigar box "things", and I'm playing around with mountain dulcimers. There are some nice bright yellow streaks, a few small width deposits or elongated spalty thingies. I'm quite sure that the yellow will fade. My new ripping blade on my table saw didn't seem to mind the persimmon at all and actually seemed to enjoy it. Running it through my surface planer wasn't a problem either.

At this point, I have a surface planed 7/32" thick slotted fretboard clamped and glued to a curly maple neck. I'm gonna radius it next and reslot for depth tomorrow.

I have a couple concerns. You don't see an awful lot of lighter colored fretboards. I think I'd like to venture into this look. I'd like to maintain as much of the figure as I can. Does anyone recommend a surface coating on the bare persimmon? I have no idea how this wood is going to behave when I radius it and progressively smooth the surface with finer and finer grades of sandpaper. Will it gloss and polish like ebony? Will it tend to darken from finger oils and end up looking dirty/ugly -- I suppose this is just a matter of perspective and opinion. Does anyone recommend treating it with some sort of prep? I don't want to dye it and I don't like Rickenbacker style sealed fretboards.

If I can get more of this cheap should I take advantage of its availability? Any experience using this wood?
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Re: Persimmon -- White Ebony???

Postby Clay Schaeffer » Sat Jul 20, 2019 3:25 pm

I've had a few pieces of persimmon. Some of it has attractive black streaks, but the stuff I had, had a fairly open grain which I felt would attract dirt and finger grease. You might try filling the pores with CA or epoxy and sanding back to wood (leaving the filler in the pores) if you don't want finish on the board.
If you can get it cheap and you like the looks of it why not buy some. If it doesn't work out for fingerboards you could make back and side sets of it. RC tonewoods has had some sets in the past, and if you visit their website they have an excerpt written by Al Carruth on his experience with persimmon.
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Re: Persimmon -- White Ebony???

Postby Bob Gramann » Sat Jul 20, 2019 3:26 pm

I’ve made a few persimmon fingerboards. I’ve never had it gloss, but I haven’t tried—I usually sand it to 220 and polish it with steel wool after I fret. It does stain a bit with finger oil. I haven’t noticed unusual wear. The one problem I’ve had with persimmon is that it expands along it’s length with humidity. This makes your neck into a hygrometer with seasonal truss rod adjustments. I’ve gone to Osage Orange for my domestic wood fingerboards. It’s more stable. For smaller instruments, stability may be less of an issue.
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Re: Persimmon -- White Ebony???

Postby Mark Wybierala » Sat Jul 20, 2019 5:15 pm

Bob, I'll keep an eye out for this humidity reaction. A lot of the instruments I'm interested in have comparatively long necks vs width so I suppose the reaction will be amplified. I tend to use dual adjustable trussrods.

Clay, I'm going to describe what I have as fairly open grain also. Not at all like fretboard quality black ebony. But I haven't tried sanding it smooth. It does seem hard but like I said, my saw blades don't protest. Dark grain filler might yield another element to the figure.
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Re: Persimmon -- White Ebony???

Postby Alan Carruth » Sat Jul 20, 2019 6:12 pm

I've been using persimmon fingerboards for years, with no real problems. I haven't noticed the humidity thing. It does get dirty with wear. I surface stain it with a walnut hull tea, which can get it down to nearly the color of walnut. It wears off, of course, but the dirty spots don't show as much. Tom Thiel at Northwind Tonewood, was dying it black and selling it as 'Ozark Ebony' for a while. It was a hard sell since it ended up being about the same price as an Indian ebony fingerboard. He also had some chemistry issues that made it unreliable, so he stopped. Too bad. I hope that as time goes on and people look more favorably on 'alternatives' that it will catch on. It makes a good bridge, too, and is my go-to for bridge plates. In that application I think it's better than osage, since persimmon is diffuse porous,and doesn't have softer lines the way osage can.
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Re: Persimmon -- White Ebony???

Postby Mark Wybierala » Mon Jul 22, 2019 9:20 am

I believe I'm having a skin minor reaction to the persimmon. Its stupid hot here in NJ so heat rash can be expected but my neck an upper arm (exposed more sensitive skin) have quite a few of these non typical stingy-sore red spots. I'm gonna be a little more discipline with the dust mask.
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Re: Persimmon -- White Ebony???

Postby Clay Schaeffer » Mon Jul 22, 2019 11:25 pm

According to the wood data base Persimmon is known to cause skin irritation for some people. The few boards I used never bothered me, but if you find it irritating it may not be a good wood for you. Personally, I haven't found anything about it to be exceptional for what I use wood for, so it's not a wood I actively try to acquire.
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Re: Persimmon -- White Ebony???

Postby Mark Wybierala » Wed Jul 24, 2019 8:21 am

I did 1/4 round MOT position markers and the lighter open color grain wood leaves witness to the use of water-thin CA as it wicks into the wood around the position marker. I hammered in the frets yesterday and the persimmon was very cooperative. I've had some harder fretboards that were a little disagreeable to the traditional hammer-walk across technique. This is on a cigarbox guitar I'm making for a client using a fully functional profiled curly maple neck with a trussrod and radiused fretboard. Pictures in a day or two.
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Re: Persimmon -- White Ebony???

Postby Gordon Bellerose » Wed Jul 24, 2019 9:58 am

You may want to try Osmo Poly X Oil.
This is a high solids oil base finish that absorbs into the wood, and dries hard and clear. Doesn't color the wood much at all, and doesn't leave a nasty thick finish that will chip or scratch.
You can get it in gloss or Satin.
It is expensive, but is a great finish for fretboards.
I need your help. I can't possibly make all the mistakes myself!
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