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Oak wood

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Oak wood

Postby Rusty Adkins » Tue Apr 24, 2012 2:52 am

Hello everyone , first time posting here, has anyone used oak for an instrument ? I have tons of it pin oak red oak and white oak as well as swamp oak, ive used it for dulcimers, violins and steel guitars as well as pedal steel guitars . Living in Louisiana i have access to cypress and red cedar which ive used both with good success, both are on the soft side , cedar not as much as cypress but still useable for an instrument and not too bad for tone either.China berry trees are abundant down here and have really nice dark and light color mixed in the wood , havent tried it yet , the old stand by wood pine yepp ive used it and it sounds good to me , old time violin makers used it way back when ,stradivari used it in his violins ( the belly or top ) they called it deal back then (pine same thing). Getting back to Oak I was wondering if anyone has used it , sawn different ways it can show a curly nature or a flakey nature or even strait grain , sometimes it can have dark streaks in it which comes from mineral content mostly swamp oak has the dark steaks, it takes stain and finishing very well, anyway comments welcome . Rusty
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Re: Oak wood

Postby Greg Robinson » Tue Apr 24, 2012 5:30 am

Hi Rusty,
Please note that we require the use of real full names (first and last) on this forum, and do not allow aliases or "handles". Please let me or one of the other staff members know your name either here or in a private message so that we can update your registration for you, as you are not able to do this yourself.
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Re: Oak wood

Postby Mark Day » Tue Apr 24, 2012 11:02 am

I'm in the process of building a travel lute out of oak right now. It's red oak, I believe - whatever the local Home Depot stocks. I'm intentionally building this thing out of the cheapest material I can find because it is something I plan to take with me everywhere and it will inevitably take a few knocks and bumps. It's flat backed and rather oblong shaped. Kind of like a casket. I made saw cuts and bent the angles "pliage" style, I suppose.
Initial observations:
Bends well. Also prone to warping. Will stain pure black if in contact with ferrous metal and water. Glues well. Not much to look at, but this is Home Depot grade. If you have some nice stuff cut o the quarter I'm sure you can make something that looks nice. My only real concern is playability and I hope it sounds decent.
I can update when I'm done and finishing it. I will probably use an oil finish since it's a knockabout instrument so I won't be pore filing.


I thought about entering it into the local materials challenge if my local Home Depot counts as local. I have no idea where they source from so I didn't. The top is also WRC from Alaska Specialty Woods so that's not really local to me. The neck is Michigan butternut. Pegbox is Michigan beech. Definitely local. Braces and back reinforcement are scraps from soundboards. Fingerboard will be bloodwood from my local Woodcraft. Bought locally, but not locally sourced of course.
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Re: Oak wood

Postby Rusty Adkins » Tue Apr 24, 2012 2:07 pm

Russell Adkins, i go by Rusty however , i guess either will do lol
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Re: Oak wood

Postby Jim McConkey » Tue Apr 24, 2012 2:24 pm

Rusty, you are now Rusty Adkins.

My primary (mountain) dulcimer is all oak, and it sounds far better (IMHO) than dulcimers built with the modern soft tops. I had to laugh when Mark wrote "prone to warping" because my dulcimer unfortunately spent a few hours underwater during a flash flood. The back warped into a unique wave shape, but after many months of drying it returned almost perfectly to its original shape. Now, several years later, some of the braces are coming unglued, but that is another story.
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Re: Oak wood

Postby Alan Carruth » Tue Apr 24, 2012 3:05 pm

I've made a number of guitars out of oak over the years, both classical and steel string. It works fine so long as you get reasonably well quartered stock. Flat cut oak can warp. I think it's a great wood, but it can be hard to sell.

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Re: Oak wood

Postby Mark Day » Wed Apr 25, 2012 8:54 am

I think it's a great wood, but it can be hard to sell


Maybe you could try to market your oak guitars through ArtVan :D
So Jim, the soundboard on your mountain dulcimer is also oak?
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Re: Oak wood

Postby Jim McConkey » Wed Apr 25, 2012 1:22 pm

Yes, Mark, the soundboard on my main dulcimer is oak. The modern trend is to build dulcimers more like guitars, with hard backs and sides, and soft tops. They look good, but I have been underwhelmed by the sound of that design from almost any manufacturer. I personally think dulcimers sound better with harder tops (oak, cherry, walnut, etc.). My oak dulcimer was the first one I ever heard, and maybe that shaped my tonal preference, but dulcimers are not the same instruments as guitars and I see no need to build them the same.
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Re: Oak wood

Postby Tom West » Sun Apr 29, 2012 12:18 pm

Rusty: I think John Arnold has made at least one oak guitar for Norman Blake. If it's OK for those two gentlemen I guess it might work for the rest of us folks.
Tom
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Re: Oak wood

Postby Steve Graves » Thu Dec 13, 2012 8:47 pm

Didn't Martin make a run of guitars out of the oak seats from the Ryman ? Contact Martin Guitars.
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Re: Oak wood

Postby John Kingma » Fri Dec 14, 2012 10:09 am

I've built several electric guitars - including the necks - from oak. I have no complaints about it whatsoever.
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Re: Oak wood

Postby Mario Proulx » Fri Dec 14, 2012 10:28 am

Didn't Martin make a run of guitars out of the oak seats from the Ryman

I believe that was Taylor....
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Re: Oak wood

Postby Jim McConkey » Fri Dec 14, 2012 6:33 pm

Taylor made theirs from a shipping pallet.

Washburn made 243 custom guitars from the original 1892 oak pews of the Ryman:
http://www.gruhn.com/features/Ryman/AM4917.html
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Re: Oak wood

Postby Simon Magennis » Thu Dec 20, 2012 6:49 am

I got a couple of set of white oak from RC tonewoods. Haven't used it yet but I like the look of it. It will be for a pair of classicals when I get round to it.
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Re: Oak wood

Postby Jason Rodgers » Thu Dec 20, 2012 1:20 pm

One of the explanations/justifications I've heard for the general public not liking/appreciating oak is that it gives too many associations with furniture. I'm clearly not a member of that general public, because I drool over wild medulary ray patterns, no matter where I see it. Last year, I installed oak hardwood flooring in our hallway: there are a few planks that are my favorites. My wife inherited an oak dining room table with 4 leaves that's about 100 years old, made in the midwest: I secretly covet a few sections with amazing figure.

My mom's love of antique oak furniture probably has something to do with it. There's oak everywhere in their house, and much of it was saved and refinished. My mom once saw a short strip of oak sticking out from beneath some rubbish at the dump and started digging. She soon had a complete hoosier cabinet, which she and dad meticulously rebuilt and refinished. For my mom, the lyrics in "The Lady is a Tramp" go, "I'm broke, but it's OAK."

Anyhoo, oak good.
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.
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Re: Oak wood

Postby Alan Carruth » Thu Dec 20, 2012 1:44 pm

I made a 'matched pair' of classicals in oak and BRW back in the mid-90s, and ran a few tests on them to see what difference the wood made. Basically, they ended up very similar, except that the oak guitar was not quite as powerful, and lacked some of the high-end 'sparkle' that the rosewood one had. The lower power I attributed to the fact that the oak back was heavier than the rosewood one, and it took more power to get things moving. The high-end sparkle may have had to do with the higher damping factor of the oak, which does tend to 'eat' highs. The oak guitar was still a nice one, but not as nice as it could have been. Since then, I've reserved oak for steel string guitars, where it works out great.

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Re: Oak wood

Postby Steve Graves » Fri Dec 21, 2012 7:50 pm

Oak is a mixed bag of problems in cabinet and furniture making. When it comes to using it in instrument construction I must ask why? It is sometimes a beautiful wood but has been so overused during the past 20 years in cheap kitchen cabinets that the saleability is gone even for cheap kitchens. Oak is not all alike. First there are two huge categories. White Oak and Red Oak. Yet there are well over 30 different oaks in the North American woods. Places like Home Depot and Lowes only sell "Red Oak". White oak is much stiffer in general as it is used in bridges and mines for that reason. In local lumber companies one can usually find poplar, spruce, fir, pine and red cedar. Why use red oak for anything but sides and backs and why use a wood that is that heavy. Heavy does not equate to stiffness. Please feel free to use any wood you want but the amount of work that goes into building a guitar or lute warrants looking in a different part of the local Home Depot.
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Re: Oak wood

Postby Ron Belanger » Fri Dec 21, 2012 8:40 pm

Perhaps the humble Oak should be reconsidered. I would think that Cherry, Maple and Walnut are also very widely used in cabinet construction, but we seem to be increasing their use in making fine instruments. Let's follow the example of those who do and continue to look close to home for at least some of our materials. 8-) 8-)
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Re: Oak wood

Postby Clay Schaeffer » Sun Dec 23, 2012 9:43 am

There were a fair number of oak and chestnut bodied parlor guitars built around the turn of the (last) century. They tended to be simply constructed and sold at the lower price points. This may have contributed to the disdain of oak as a luthierie wood.
I think many of us get carried away with the supposed magical qualities of particular woods and forget that getting the "best" out of a piece of wood requires skill on the part of the maker. True enough, to make a silk purse it is best to start with silk, but many fine things can be made from a sow's ear - if one has the skill!
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Re: Oak wood

Postby Alan Carruth » Sun Dec 23, 2012 3:18 pm

The main 'problem' I've found with oak is customer resistance: it makes a find guitar but people refuse to believe it. I would say that there's a world of difference between oak that is well quartered and oak that is not. Off quarter it can be unstable and prone to warping, but quartered oak is very stable, and has good cross grain stiffness. As I mentioned in my previous post, the only _acoustic_ issues you might have with are due to the relatively high damping as compared with a rosewood. It's no worse than cherry or walnut in that respect, though. The high density can actually be a benefit in a back and side wood, IMO.

I think quartered oak is a great wood, particularly for small steel strings. I did make one Jumbo 12-string from it some years ago, and that worked out well. A student recently finished another 12 on the Small Jumbo platform in oak, and that's a really nice guitar.

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