Sunday, February 27, 2011

What to do with over a half ton of wood?

Apr. 15, 2009

The Gods of the trees have been kind to me.  I don't live in South America, but a rare, exotic, highly priced tree that was cut down has made it into my lap.  Or should I say it's lumber.  But then again, that's not quite right.  It hasn't become lumber yet.  Let me start at the beginning.

This is a continuation of a post I called, "Post #60 and the mystery tree."  For the long story check it out.  The short story is that I now have the huge main trunk of a Pau Ferro tree sitting in my backyard.  (Note: for clarity there are pictures at my photos section under, "Projects and Stuff."  The tree is still in huge pieces.  The trunk of the tree had a diameter of 3 to 3 1/2 feet.  The pieces were cut (by the tree service) at 3 to 3 1/2 foot long.  Then those trunks where cut with a chainsaw down the middle.  That means I could (if I did it right) make the back of a cello out of one solid piece of wood.  Something that is very rare.  Do to a cello's size it always is a two or four piece back.  Now-a-days with larger trees becoming scarce four piece backs may become more common.

Now before anyone sicks the Gods (maybe the Greenman) on me, please note, I did not cut down the tree.  It was growing against the side of a house, and with hurricane season coming up, it was starting to endanger the house.  You have to consider the lives of the people before you do a plant.  Another very important thing.  It's not a native plant/ tree.  It should not be planted here in Florida even if it is a cool tree.

Now this stuff is super heavy.  One of those half cut trunk piecs weighs over 200 pounds.  So there's three huge trunk pieces, which makes six half pieces, coming in at 1200 pounds altogether.  My Dad guestimated that there was close to 90 board foot of wood in one of the half trunk pieces.  Which is nice considering that if I were to buy Pau Ferro at the specialized lumber store it would cost $25 a board foot. 

Now some guitar players may be wondering, "Why would you bother to make a guitar or insturment out of that stuff?  Guitars are supposed to made out of maple, mahogany, rosewood, ash, or alder."  Well, those woods are great tone woods don't get me wrong, but they are also much more affordable.  On electric guitar bodies that are made of basswood the everyday Joe price is $2.00 a board foot.  What do you think the major guitar companies pay when they buy in bulk?  Pau Ferro is just too dang expensive a wood (at $25.00 a board foot) for major companies to use it.  You have to go to a smaller maker who does a lot of custom work to see it used in a guitar.  Of course, you would also pay $3000-$7000 for that kind of guitar (mainly if it was acoustic.) 

Think of this example:  Black Walnut has almost the same musicial tone as mahogany.  However, mahogany (well Indian mahogany anyways) is a heck of a lot cheaper, and avalible in larger supplies.  So guitar makers don't use black walnut, not because it isn't a good tone wood, but because it's just too darn expensive.  The same is true with Pau Ferro.  Althought, it should be noted that Fender does use Pau Ferro on their Stevie Ray Vaughn models.  Yes, it is used for the fretboard.  So they do use it, but just an ittey-bitty bit.  Oh yeah, and an SRV model is now running $2200 or something silly like that.  (I'm sorry, just a few years ago they were $1200.  What happened Fender?)
Pau Ferro is sometimes called Bolivian Rosewood.  It looks a heck of a lot like South American Rosewood, but it's much, much harder.  I perfer playing a guitar with rosewood sides and back.  It gives the guitar a nice brightness, but still has a round, smooth bottom end for the bass notes.  The color on this wood has a beautiful grain pattern while being the color of both a dark red to chocolate brown.  There's so much I can do with this wood.  It boggles the mind.

So the next question is, "What are you going to make?"  Well, now comes the waiting part.  I have to wait for it to dry.  It generally takes about 1 year for it to dry out to where I would use it.  However, for musical instruments it is important for the wood to stablize.  I know one very respectable violin maker who said he liked to wait at least 8 years for his violin woods to stablize.  Now if I were to build an archtop guitar or violin out of this wood I would definately want to have it stablize a few years.  However if I was building a solid body bass, one year for it to dry would be good for me. 

Something else I have going for me in Florida is that, the woods we keep in the garage get put though a natural kiln every day during the summer.  The garage heats up to 120-130 degrees F. for 12 hours a day.  It acts like a slow steady kiln.  It also heats up, and cools down very slowly.  I have some nice wood that's not only dry, but really stablizing due to it being in the garage so long. 

So, it looks like a lot of fun and woodworking shall be coming my way.  I'll enjoy the challenge of working with the Pau Ferro, and seeing what creations I can come up with.  Although, I just wish the wood didn't smell so bad.

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