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Salvaging elm and basswood

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Salvaging elm and basswood

Postby Karl Wicklund » Sun Jul 21, 2019 11:12 am

Storms came through two nights ago. No structural damage and no one hurt, but we lost trees. Power might be out for a week. In hope of making lemonade of lemons, and to somehow memorialize the loss of the shady yard, I’m attracted to the idea of harvesting two or thee logs. I’d have to hire someone to mill them.

We had a big old American Elm that apparently survived Dutch Elm, or came along just after the rest of the mature ones came down 45 years ago. Anyway, the tree uprooted. I could get an 8’ clear log between the root flare and the first branches. Probably 32” diameter. I’ve made a lap steel from elm before, and was very happy with it. Other suggestions for elm, instrument wise?

We’ve also got several huge basswoods down. I’m hoping to get a few electric guitar blanks, again, as much to save it from the burn pile than because it makes economic sense.

I won’t be able to get these logs under any cover more than a tarp for at least a few weeks. Do you think I should go ahead, or don’t bother? I know storm-downed trees can have weird stresses and cracks.

Any thoughts are much appreciated. Thanks!
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Re: Salvaging elm and basswood

Postby Bob Gramann » Sun Jul 21, 2019 11:59 am

Any wood that has a story is better than commodity wood. Write any stories down that you can remember about things that happened around those trees in your yard. Then, paint the cut ends of the logs to keep them from drying too quickly and cracking. After that, whenever you can get to them is probably soon enough. Some woods get eaten from the outside in by bugs in the bark after they fall. I don’t know if basswood and elm are such. And, just because you’re an instrument maker doesn’t mean all of the wood has to become instruments. Occasionally, you will need shelves or other furniture.
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Re: Salvaging elm and basswood

Postby Karl Wicklund » Sun Jul 21, 2019 9:53 pm

You’re right, Bob. The same tree I used for a lap steel also offered up two bench seats for our school.

I didn’t manage to save much of the elm - an overzealous helper sawed it up into 18” chunks. I could still find something workable there. The basswood is beautiful white and clear. I saved four 4’ sections about 32” across. Hopefully, I can make time for them in the next few days.
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Re: Salvaging elm and basswood

Postby Mark Wybierala » Mon Jul 22, 2019 9:13 am

I made a nice old fashioned trestle table from a birch tree that fell many years ago. My ex has it now but its easily worth $1000. I spent a lot of time researching construction including Quaker furniture techniques. I was an adventure.
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Re: Salvaging elm and basswood

Postby Brian Evans » Tue Jul 23, 2019 7:34 am

I'm using wood from a maple tree that fell over for all sorts of things. Much is spalted, much is excellent for necks. some is wide enough for a one piece archtop back.
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Re: Salvaging elm and basswood

Postby Karl Wicklund » Tue Jul 23, 2019 10:19 pm

As we’ve been further surveying the damage, I’ve found a couple ash logs and red oak logs worth saving, too. My cousin has offered to mill it for me. A silver lining for sure.
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Re: Salvaging elm and basswood

Postby David King » Wed Jul 24, 2019 12:54 pm

I love elm for basses. It's got a lovely color and grain too. Basswood is great for carving, I've only ever used it for model sailboats but many import guitars have been made from it and it probably sounds just fine. Wood that comes down in the summertime is particularly prone to staining so I'd try to get the bark off and get the ends sealed asap. Anything you can do to keep it in the shade will also help until you can get it sawn up and stickered. Sad to hear that the elm was chopped up. Doubly sad when you get around to trying to split it.
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Re: Salvaging elm and basswood

Postby Bob Hammond » Thu Sep 12, 2019 12:26 pm

I have a word of caution about using elm for an acoustic.

I build my first guitar from elm (in the library), and it's pretty sensitive to changes in humidity and temperature. In fact, after the third time that the soundboard split in the middle, I left it alone and surprisingly it hasn't harmed the sound to great extent. Ugly, but I don't hear anybody complaining about Willie Nelson's Trigger.

Then there was the catastrophic event. I'd given the guitar to my daughter's BF, and one Friday he left it standing upright beside an open window. A big thunderstorm came along and left a large puddle in the bottom, and then the bright sun came along. The hide glue let loose and the back opened a 'lip' about 3-4 inches long and with a 1/2" gap. It tooks some months for him to fess up, and he was surprised that I wasn't angry (well, I was disappointed but I was nice about it because he fessed up.) I stripped off the shellac, and I closed the gap by cinching down with a handscrew, a tiny bit each week over two years. There's still a little ripple there, but the glue has held it together for the past ten years.

The long and short of it is, is that while the elm won't split, it will be sensitive to humidity and temperature. I've noticed that when I pick it up, the tuning will wonder around until it's reached a stable temperature while held against my body. After that, it settles and stays tuned.
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Re: Salvaging elm and basswood

Postby Bob Hammond » Thu Sep 12, 2019 1:56 pm

Just a pic of some useful shop tools from elm. Elm is good for small things that take advantage of the interlocked grain. These hold downs are easy to make and and are tough. They're excellent for the drill press too.
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Re: Salvaging elm and basswood

Postby Karl Wicklund » Thu Sep 12, 2019 11:36 pm

Well, it looks like I’ll get a bunch of it milled - red oak, basswood and ash logs from the bole of the tree, one scrappy maple that I hope has nice figure, but might just be knotty, and, as long as the mill is here, a few smaller (12”) elm logs. The elm is probably too much reaction wood.

My cousin is bringing his portable mill down, and basically charging me for fuel. At worst, I’ll have him mill it thin for paneling in the shop. I’m confident I’ll get at least a couple electric body blanks maybe an acoustic back or two. Plenty for me to make sawdust with.

I was hoping to get them staged and ready this week, but the rain has been steady for days and days.
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Re: Salvaging elm and basswood

Postby David King » Fri Sep 13, 2019 12:57 pm

In general rain is good for maintaining the condition of the logs.
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Re: Salvaging elm and basswood

Postby Karl Wicklund » Sat Sep 14, 2019 12:18 pm

Yeah, there’s not a lot of checking or anything, just mud. Tough to keep footing with a chainsaw and get traction skidding the logs.
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Re: Salvaging elm and basswood

Postby Steve Sawyer » Mon Sep 16, 2019 1:34 pm

If you haven't done so already, Karl, I recommend washing down the wood with a borax solution to discourage powder-post beetles. Some friends and I snagged some freshly-milled red oak many years ago, carefully stacked and stickered it, and after drying it for several years, found that we'd lost the entire batch - several hundred board-feet - to powder-post beetles.
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Re: Salvaging elm and basswood

Postby Karl Wicklund » Tue Sep 17, 2019 6:04 am

Thanks, Steve. I’ll check that out.
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