Selecting Wood

Photo of maple and spruce


    I have been looking through my wood pile to select the materials for a new instrument. I always look forward to the selection process with anticipation. Looking over the various pieces of wood I have acquired over the years is sort of like visiting with old friends. Each piece has a history; with physical, acoustical and visual qualities that need to be weighed and considered. Is this back the right choice for the instrument I am envisioning? Will it match well with the top I have in mind?

    To help myself keep track, I always label each piece of wood with the date and source of acquisition. Most wood doesn’t get used till many years after it is purchased and one’s memory can prove to be unreliable. This source information then becomes part of the provenance of the finished instrument and filed in the cumulative wood knowledge bank.

Some of the wood I have comes from a particular location or even from the same tree. This wood has a pedigree, each piece that gets used adds perspective and detail to the collective resume. Other wood I purchased because, at the time I liked the way it looked or felt, following some theory I had at the time. Maybe that was 25 years ago; ten years ago I decided I did not like it anymore; now I am coming back around.

    Another piece of wood might be special because a friend or colleague gave it to you. A friend who is a cabinet maker gave me some cutoffs from an 8/4 board he had used to make the legs on a highboy, too small for him to use, but just the right size to make a couple of violin scrolls-some of which I gave to friends of mine. Sometimes serendipity plays a role, I once found a billet in my mother’s firewood pile that was a great match for some viola backs I had. I took it home and was able to saw many sets of ribs from it.

    I have gotten to the point now, where I realized that I have more wood than I can possibly use. That doesn’t mean I have lost the urge to acquire more wood-there is no such thing as too much wood. It is like an addiction, but then there are those pieces that I pass over every time I choose wood for a new instrument. Realistically, I am never going to use them, so I might as well sell them to someone who will. It seems unlikely that I will need all of the dozen plus beech cello scroll blocks I have-the same goes for some of them. The list goes on…it is time to start turning that stuff into things I will use!

   © David Polstein 2018-2020