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Quarter-sawn or Flat-sawn Body Wood? (Got a Couple Logs to Play With)


JAK
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Those who wish to cut down on some of my long-windedness, feel free to skip the introduction section. 😅

 

INTRO:  Hello Project Guitar community! Today I move on from "lurker" status.  I answer to many names but I suppose you can call me James. I've been wanting to build guitars for like 20 years now but haven't had tools/resources/space to do so yet. Parents even got me the great Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology book by Cumpiano and Natelson and a bunch of catalogues for Lee Valley Tools when I was younger. Getting closer now but a lot of renovations to do on the house before guitar building, and the only tools I have so far are typical screwdrivers, hammer, hacksaw, hand drill, a multi-meter, a table saw, and of course my own two hands. (My DeWalt table saw is still new in the box waiting for somewhere to set up😲). Well I guess I could build a guitar with just those, it might not be the greatest experience so I probably should get some clamps, chisels, planes, scrapers, etc., as well. 😆

The guitar building bug has hit me really hard again, so for now I am living vicariously through the awesome build threads here!

I love wood (and trees and forests) and like sustainability/responsibility with acquiring tone woods. What's more responsible than using wood that was destined for refuse/chipper/fire? About 10 years ago my parents had to get some trees taken down on their property, and when I found out I tried to hold on to some to use towards guitar making eventually. Even had the ends brushed with latex paint to try and even out the drying process (though didn't get to them as quickly as I wanted so some checking already started). My dad and I believe this was the ash tree - not sure if white or green, but it's northern/hard ash (from central Ontario), not light swamp ash.  Have a few branches (maybe could get some neck/laminates? Likely used for other artistic/practice carving).  The main pieces are a 15-inch diameter by 32-inch long log and a wide 29x33-inch "diameter" by 15-inch deep log (wish it was deeper but that just means I can play with unconventional designs). The 30-inch diameter does have a nice big crack but I will work around it and/or do some resin [river table] stuff.  Haven't seen them in person in a while (live 2 hours away from my parents' place) so not sure what/if any other cracks are like, but can play with CA/resin/epoxy filling too.  Got my sister to take some quick pics and measurements for me today (photos below).  Figure this free wood would be better to practice carving and building with before buying expensive/exotic "dream" woods.

So all that said, onto the reason I am posting....

 

TOPIC: Was interested in some input from the community regarding quarter-sawn or flat-sawn wood for body blanks.  I know quarter-sawn has better stability (and what I would be looking at for necks), but as far as bodies go, what are your thoughts?  I like wood grain and would be finishing natural and/or dying so the grain still shows (and maybe even accentuated), thus flat-sawn might be more interesting. Of course, you never really know what you're going to get until you cut into it and see what surprise awaits.

Here's the 2 logs I'm looking to cut up, and trying to pre-plan what to do with them so I get the most out of them for crafting. (Not worried about the bit of waste if it was most/all rift-sawn & quarter-sawn) Again, we believe this to be northern/hard ash, about 10 years since cutting.

IMG_2878.JPG.a3b916548bbb1a0ef785b83892b0e9fa.JPGIMG_2883.JPG.f1c6eaf7879d716efd432a25e89decd6.JPG

The 15-inch diameter by 32-inch length piece.

IMG_2877.JPG.7671b2e97a3f46422a6064b55874b4ab.JPGIMG_2879.JPG.015a4739345d5bfdd51ffa54a8abf363.JPG

The 15-inch deep 29x33-inch "diameter" (not quite round...)

 

Thanks!

~ James

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Hi, welcome!

Cool log-I love it when people start from the log. So primal. You should talk to @Bizman62 about that. He is currently using some poplar that came down on his property, I believe. My gut reaction is that your wood probably has not dried completely as it is still in log form, and wood is typically milled and then dried. But 10 years is a long time-I could be wrong. Try milling a piece and see what the moisture is like in the middle. 

As far as quarter sawn vs flat sawn go for an electric guitar body-make that decision for looks. It will be plenty stable either way. 

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Thanks for the welcome and input!  Building from a log is definitely an exercise in patience (and maybe flexibility if wood doesn't turn out as expected.)  I too like the rawness of starting from the beginning - errr... felling of the tree: not like I'm going out to plant a seed with the plan to build a guitar from it in 40 years! 😂

I read back in the day that drying out with the bark still on was a more stable (though longer) way to get even moisture in the wood when naturally drying.  I do plan to cut into chunks then let it dry for a while more before I make something of it (still likely a bit before the guitar-making part happens). Drying as much as possible before milling was expected to minimize warping and twisting but you might be right that it may not dry in the middle well enough before cutting.

6 hours ago, Charlie H 72 said:

As far as quarter sawn vs flat sawn go for an electric guitar body-make that decision for looks. It will be plenty stable either way.

I guess that's really my biggest indecisiveness and made me wonder what others found/preferred when carving, working & finishing (especially wide & open grain like ash).

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Welcome, @JAK!

As @Charlie H 72 said, my current build has a bookmatched body made out of a trunk I got when they fell some trees in the yard of a block of flats- not my place but close enough.

The 100 (39") cm long, 70 cm (27") diameter trunk stood on my yard for about half a year or longer, winter and summer, snow and heat. When the bottom started to build mould I raised it on bricks. Finally, when I couldn't find a place to get it sawn I took my chainsaw and butchered three >10 cm (>4")thick quarter sawn blocks from bark to center. I then laid the three planks on the beams of my firewood storage - dry, airy, dark, what's not to love? After some five years I took one of them to the workshop and resawed it to see how it feels. The fine sawed planks then sat at the attic of the workshop for some months with slats in between which really made them significantly lighter.

2 hours ago, JAK said:

drying out with the bark still on was a more stable

That's true, wood can be cut to longitudinal slices with bark on both sides and then laid outside with slats in between and stones or other weight on top of the pile to reduce warping. And of course some sort of a roof against rain and snow, with a gap to ensure good airflow. That way you'll get a couple of quartersawn waned planks, the rest being more or less slab sawn.

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Thanks for the welcome and insight @Bizman62. Did you experience much movement, especially on the final planks that went in the attic? Total time between felling and starting to build was about 6-7 years? Sounds like my wood has spent enough time in log form and I should at least get it into intermediate pieces and stickered while I wait to be able to start building.

I really enjoy reading the build threads here so I will go find your latest and catch up! 🙂

I'm thinking the longer chunk I will do most all quarter-sawn and use it for necks, and the fatter piece will be a mix to see what I get. Last night I was toying with a couple ideas on how to get longer bodies out of blanks only 15-inch long (minus whatever end checking and cracks need to be dealt with.)

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Welcome James!

I have heard that one year per inch was the rule of thumb for drying felled timber......but have no idea how accurate that is.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the first build comes along. Very cool to start right with the tree. Sounds like you might have some carving experience too. We might want to talk about that sometime.

SR

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A friend who used to turn wood once told me that if you let a log lie on the ground for a year the fungi will "kill" the wood so it won't warp or split. He was talking about birch but I guess the same applies to all wood. That can also cause spalting or miscolouring, the latter happened to my poplar which on a guitar body looks interesting so no harm done.

My poplar blocks didn't move at all, not during the shed years nor when resawed and planed and stored in room temperature. Poor sawing with the chainsaw was the biggest issue, I didn't have a dedicated splitting chain and the regular one wandered all over the place. Not to mention that the poplar fibres seem to be long and loose so the saw got clogged in no time! To get usable pieces I had to cut the blocks to half length which is barely enough for a body. The cut was so rough that despite having tried to get about 5" thick blanks the bookmatched and planed pieces are barely 1 3/4"thick!!!

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for the welcome, Scott!

9 hours ago, ScottR said:

I have heard that one year per inch was the rule of thumb for drying felled timber......but have no idea how accurate that is.

Yes, I believe I heard that as well. There's certainly many factors, including overall environment and type of wood. I would guess that open grain wood might dry faster than closed/tight grains (but maybe I'm completely wrong on that). Cutting might help dry faster so I don't need to wait another 20 years, and it seems @Bizman62 was successful with his poplar drying.

9 hours ago, ScottR said:

Sounds like you might have some carving experience too. We might want to talk about that sometime.

I would love to talk about that with someone as experienced as you - I've seen some beautiful carveture* on the GOTM entry archives I've perused thus far. Admittedly, it's been quite some time since I have carved anything physically (moved away from the tools I had access to) and my focus the past several years is in the digital realm (sculpting 3D virtual models) - I'll likely play with 3D shaping in that manner to get ideas for curves and lines before making custom shapes out of wood - with the caveat that the wood may say something differently once it's being worked, of course.  Which reminds me, I have some 15-year-old red cedar 4x4 offcuts I snagged from a deck and fence job years ago. Some are only a few inches long, average is about 5 inches I think, and I have one or few much longer. I grabbed them with the explicit purpose of carving cool stuff whenever inspiration strikes.  They're in my attic currently, but I just checked on them quick and they have aged beautifully with a lovely tap tone.... and I believe at least 1 is long enough to make a neck(s) out of, so hyped about that potential now too!

*carveture is now a word, because language is living and fluid. "All words are made up" - Thor, Avengers: Infinity War

8 hours ago, Bizman62 said:

A friend who used to turn wood once told me that if you let a log lie on the ground for a year the fungi will "kill" the wood so it won't warp or split.  ...  That can also cause spalting or miscolouring, the latter happened to my poplar which on a guitar body looks interesting so no harm done.

Interesting, curious how that works - fungus breaks the cell walls so water escapes faster?  It's hard to tell if it's just the camera phone / picture-text compression, or if there might be some purple, green, red, and yellow discolouration, especially in the large piece.

8 hours ago, Bizman62 said:

Poor sawing with the chainsaw was the biggest issue, I didn't have a dedicated splitting chain and the regular one wandered all over the place.  ...  The cut was so rough that despite having tried to get about 5" thick blanks the bookmatched and planed pieces are barely 1 3/4"thick!!!

Thanks for sharing that experience - I was concerned that kind of thing might happen.  Sad so much gets lost in the process! (Even didn't like how much wood would be gobbled up just from the thickness of a chainsaw alone.) Now I have a crazy idea to use some kind of hand saw and a mitre-box like guide/jig - because I'm crazy.🤪

 

P.S. - Apologies for the wordy/lengthy posts; brevity is not my strength!

 

Edited by JAK
Accidentally double-attached pictures
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So I had some ideas with cutting the logs, and did up a couple really quick visuals with AD.

1171612640_LogCutPlan1.jpg.1b73156c200aa8c0532bc9ae4cda48c8.jpg

This is cutting the 15" dia X 32" long log. If I do nice chunky quarter-sawn pieces I can get some good options, but then also got to thinking that as far as necks go, maybe I could have a lot less waste and use the corner pieces laminated together to make more necks. I think the grain orientations would be quite stable this way still.

Then here's one of my ideas for getting body blanks longer than 15" out of the large log. (Note: 15" might be closer to 13" if the ends are too rough, but concept still works).  The LP shape was an idea for my first before getting into more custom shapes, just because my main guitar is an Epiphone, I do really enjoy the shape, and could trace it. But it's still all theoretical at this point, and I could end up making something completely different. V, extreme/asymmetrical, etc., could be good candidates for 4-or-more-piece bodies.

100663182_BodyBlankCutPlan1.jpg.4b56e3e52b5be04b09e8a663221a9ec3.jpg

I think/hope there's enough surface area to make it solid and withstand the forces of the strings. It's a different shape than a set-neck, but has quite a bit of surface area.  I was planning on separating into top& body (even if both the same ash) for chambering anyways, so could work some structural tricks in there, even if it's as straight-forward as a long neck tenon.

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4 hours ago, JAK said:

Cutting might help dry faster

Actually I found a piece of outdoor drying advice given by a Finnish lumberyard. I just forgot to mention that the suggested outdoor drying time was only some 9 months which should dry the wood down to about 15%. Other sources confirmed that. They also noted that it still is twice too wet for furniture building which would require some 8% humidity.

The one inch rule is most likely for thickness, not width.

I'd recommend you to cut the logs to blanks and store them in the same place where you've had them for several months, including the driest time of the year (here it's about January to April) after which move them indoors to normal room conditions or drier for another few months. Put slats between the blanks to ensure good airflow all around. Here's a sketch I've posted some years ago:

https://projectguitarcache.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/monthly_2019_10/image.png.164485486f4e4b3adc807913fbd476ef.png

 

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4 hours ago, JAK said:

Sad so much gets lost in the process! (Even didn't like how much wood would be gobbled up just from the thickness of a chainsaw alone.) Now I have a crazy idea to use some kind of hand saw and a mitre-box like guide/jig - because I'm crazy.

Well, in my case nothing was actually "lost". The chainsaw dust was used as an additive for our compost and the offcuts were chopped to firewood. Not getting the saw cut straight was the biggest issue and even that might have been easier with a harder or drier log. As I said, the poplar has very long fibres! There's plenty of videos about cutting planks with a chainsaw, even freehand, so that shouldn't have been that difficult!

But you can use a hand saw, freehand with a guiding line - either drawn or a slat nailed on the side - works just fine! Just look at this guy:

 

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Extending your body blanks may not work, the end grain joints won't hold. For a quarter inch thin top over a solid base that might work but it might not look good.

If your pieces are too short for a bookmatch, one option is to build a slightly asymmetrical body. A slanted lower bout is almost as comfortable as an arm contour and the lower horn is always shorter than the upper bout/horn. Thus gluing the halves like below is a valid option:

kuva.png.947af018b643c4683eb2f9ce21b3a412.png

-I split my post to three just for clarity as there was so many different things involved.

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22 hours ago, Bizman62 said:

If your pieces are too short for a bookmatch, one option is to build a slightly asymmetrical body. A slanted lower bout is almost as comfortable as an arm contour and the lower horn is always shorter than the upper bout/horn. Thus gluing the halves like below is a valid option:

kuva.png.947af018b643c4683eb2f9ce21b3a412.png

 

 That was my first thought, and a much more sound idea.

And man, that's some beautiful, straight, clean cuts that guy was doing with the hand saw! Almost looked better than something cut with a fence. Inspirational.

 

Lots of good stuff mate, thanks for the recommendations!

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I've sort of skim-read this thread, however I have a couple of points that may have been made but made me run right down to the reply box 😄

Firstly, the difference between quartersawn and flatsawn is not that great in terms of stiffness, and not always the same with all species either. The primary difference is that QS material will have vertical growth ring orientation which is most ideal for stability. Flatsawn invariably has more radius over the cross-sectional width which translates to a changing of shape when the wood moves. I'm an advocate for laminating neck blanks to orient growth ring lines vertically to approximate quartersawn even when the wood itself is not so.

Secondly, if the wood is being slabbed then I recommend giving consideration to the centre board containing the pith. If the rest of the cuts are predicated off you keeping one large board that contains the pith running perfectly down its centre then you are maximising the log yield (for the most part) whilst producing one board that has more or less quartersawn-type growth ring orientation. Just cut either side of the pith board.

For fingerboards, the growth ring orientation is not super important. You can cut flat for cathedral ring appearance or quarter for tighter linear growth ring lines. I would say that it depends on the wood and whether you are wanting appearance and/or stability.

The stick and stack method illustrated is the gold standard. Good airflow (a slow lazy fan helps) and sealing the endgrain are musts. If you're going from green to 15% then get some good sealer for the endgrain. From ~15% to ~6-9% it's possible to use cheap latex furniture paint primer or similar since the moisture gradient is lower. Better is always better in most cases 😉 

@Bizman62 - I think I know what your friend's recommendation was about, and it's right for the wrong reasons....or at least for a different end use. Fungi consumes the wood's sugars, deteriorating the walls of cells that regain or lose moisture from/to the wood's environment. Unfortunately, this weakens the structural aspect of the material much the same as torrefaction. Most turned goods are decorative, geometric (with rotational symmetry by the nature of the product) and not as structural as parts for a guitar. Their stability tends to be from the cosmetic end of the game rather than structural-under-load. Laying a log for a while reduces water content, but once fungi gets its claws/hyphae into the wood, the result is only that useful for decorative purposes in a guitar, such as headplates and tops.

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1 hour ago, Prostheta said:

I think I know what your friend's recommendation was about, and it's right for the wrong reasons....or at least for a different end use.

Thanks, your explanation makes sense. I didn't think about strength that much, only in the meaning that he told that his works didn't split which usually is the issue with green wood especially if you just cut a disk and turn it into a plate or bowl. Also I guess (just guess) that there's different levels of disintegration depending on how long the fungi have done their thing. As far as I remember he mentioned that the wood had not even changed colour yet or drawn the fancy black lines so most likely there wasn't too much weakening involved at that point. 

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It's difficult to say without knowing more. The black lines are from colonies of fungi "fencing off" their territories. I would expect that the same is true for the other "ink lines" found in spalted woods. Unless the wood is sterilised in a steam kiln, those spores will always be a problem and kilning the wood defeats the point of drying it that way in the first place! Like I say, I'm sure the story is more complex than my stab in the dark.

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19 hours ago, Prostheta said:

I'm an advocate for laminating neck blanks to orient growth ring lines vertically to approximate quartersawn even when the wood itself is not so.

I am a fan of this idea also. Think it adds better stability slightly different grain directions moving in opposition to cancel each other out, etc.

19 hours ago, Prostheta said:

Just cut either side of the pith board.

When you say this, are you meaning to have a large slab with the pith at the centreline (like my illustration includes) or have a very thin full-width board to take the pith out of the equation and use the wood on either side.

 

On 8/3/2021 at 9:49 PM, JAK said:

1171612640_LogCutPlan1.jpg.1b73156c200aa8c0532bc9ae4cda48c8.jpg

This is cutting the 15" dia X 32" long log.

^^ that one on the left is what I think you meant.

Thanks for your insight! Is it worth buying a dielectric moisture meter? Is that something many of you have in your toolkit? Or should I just let it be/sit for a while once I cut it to rough planks and make sure it seems stable?

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It depends on whether you want your wood in a timely manner. I prefer to err on the side of caution and haven't used a meter in years. I buy wood at transport moisture (12-15%) which is directly from covered yard sawmills/distributers and let it acclimate for longer than it needs. If you absolutely must get it useable as soon as is possible, a meter can give you a rough idea. A trick I learnt is to stand on a pile of sawdust from the board. If the dust easily forms up from the tread from your boot and holds itself together, it's a bit too wet. @Bizman62's rules of thumb are used as a guide and work out most of the time. I think that it's good to add 50% more time than theory suggests when acclimating to a shop environment.

I've never had that much faith in meters unless it's the type with prongs that go in with a hammer to a specific depth. Contact meters often give misleading readings when there's any sort of moisture gradient between the outer shell of the wood and the core. I left a stack of Sapele acclimating from about 12-15% indoors in a heated space with a fan blowing through the stack. A couple of months and it was feeling good to use. The door I made from that has zero movement so far.

Yep; a full thickness board taken with the pith produces "QS" material either side just like in your illustration. Spot on.

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Posted (edited)

Well, as anxious as I am to build guitars, I’m actually not in a rush, so can forego the meter then. It will likely be some time before I can get things in place to work so I can wait and give plenty of time to dry and stabilize. 

Edited by JAK
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