View Full Version : Exotic wood alternatives
Several years ago, I made a wading staff from some Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera), that I had split-out, back in the fifties. It has been submerged in ice water; beaten on rocks; jammed into mud; left lay in the back of a pick-up, for weeks on end, in all sorts of weather; used to knock limbs off trees, to recover coveted flies; even beat off junk-yard dogs. After years of such abuse, even the fairly fragile relief carvings on the head are still intact, there's hard a ding or scratch visible, and it's as arrow-straight as the day it was made. Even the copper tubing tip-ferrule has worn down past the wood. The only finish that's ever been used on the wood was some Hoppe's gun oil, that just happened to be handy, the day I finished making it.
Thinking it might be a great alternative to rosewood or ebony, as fretboard material for an octave mando I'm planning to start building, this Spring, I started a search to see if it's ever been used for such a purpose, but have only been able to find reference to a couple of instruments built by George Woodall, but no details, other than a couple of photographs. Stability and hardness certainly don't appear to be of issue.
Have any of you guys ever tried the stuff?
Osage orange is discussed with some frequency on MIMF (http://www.mimf.com) as an alternate instrument wood. If you're not already registered (free, but donations are welcome) you'll have to sign up and login before you can access the archives. There you'll find a number of posts re: osage, including Howard Klepper's "dovetail madness" guitar (http://www.mimf.com/library/klepper_dovetail.htm)... which is worth the price of admission!
I love turning Osage Orange and love the smell. I have not personally seen any instruments made from it. The only difficulty may be obtaining pieces large enough that are of high enough quality to use. The other issue may be the oils in the wood. They may make instrument use a bit more difficult. However, Cocobola is used and it is a very oily wood so that may be a mute issue.
We have Osage Orange (aka "hedge") here in Kansas in excess of two feet in diameter (24" dbh for you foresters!). #It has to be one of the hardest woods in North America. #I've popped a tractor tire runing over an old two-inch wide stump that stuck out of the ground about six inches while driving across my pasture. #Try to cut a seasoned piece of hedge with a chain saw and sparks will fly and your chain will be trashed in about two #seconds. #It burns almost as hot as coal, too, and makes a fantastic wood for smoking meats. I've been in touch with Bill Bussman about incorporating it into an oval hole mandolin someday. #It's really a beautiful wood to boot.
Thanks Paul. I am a member at MIMForum, and had already looked there, but all I can find is stuff on using it for whistles and recorders, nothing about stringed. Am I missing something? I do have a tendency to blind-out at times.
Here in NE, where I live, we don't usually see large trees, but from what little I've been able to find on it, it's native to the south-centrial area - Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma... so I would imagine it should grow bigger, there. Yeah, I've turned some of it, and is is a treat to turn. Sanding is a bear, though. The yellow dust is like talc, and covers everything. I've never tried staining it, but the wading staff keeps getting a prettier patina as years go by. I'm thinking it would work really well - and look great - as a fretboard on a Celtic style, round hole octave, with a spruce top and cherry neck, back, and sides.
Here's an interesting page on Osage Orange, AKA Hedge Apple, and the second is Woodall's Mando. Somewhere, he found a tree big enough for the one piece back.
Hedge is often used for fence posts here in Kansas. #It is so hard and dense that it will not rot for a very, very long time. #I once helped an 85 year old neighbor pull some old hedgeposts out of the ground that his grandfather had set in the late 1800's. #Almost all of the posts were in great shape even though they were over 100 years old. #I cut most of them up with I diamond tip saw and used them for smoking and as a wood supplement for our woodstove. #We like to roast our garden fresh green chilies over hedge wood.
With wood that hard and dense, I wonder how it would incorporate into a back for a mandolin? Or neck or headstock? #I'd sure hate to have to hand carve a seasoned piece of it!
I meant to comment on the staff... very nice. I've never worked the stuff, but I've read about it for years and have been intrigued. I also like the mando pic you linked above.
Are you looking in the MIMF Library of Archive Discussions (http://www.mimf.com/cgi-bin/WebXemail@example.comNSrXM.34@.ee6b34c) and using the search engine? Or only searching the current discussions? Here is a pic of an osage mando w/ 3 pc. back (http://www.mimf.com/library/heizer_osage_mando.htm). I found a number of discussions by folks using it for guitar bodies and necks, and suggestions of using it for fingerboards but no accounts of anybody having used it that way. There was also a discussion about darkening it with rusty water (similar to a mission furniture "stain"). There were also a number of mentions of it being hard to work with a tendency to chip, but the finished instrument pics look great.
Somewhere, I have a guitar bridge blank of Osage, that someone gave me years ago.
I vaguely remember a quote from someone (don't remember who) in an article about guitar woods, also many years ago, who said something like: "I'm convinced that if Osage Orange grew in the Brazilian rain forests, it would be as coveted as Rosewood.".
I haven't used it in any instruments, mostly because of the school-bus-yellow freshly cut color, but the color changes pretty quickly to a very nice dark brown, and I think it could make very fine fingerboards, guitar bodys, etc.
PaulD - Thanks, I was trying to show how the wood had browned out, but I can't get the hang of using getting the lighting right for close-ups.
I guess I'm going to have to take my wife's advice, and start taking ginko biloba. Having too many senior moments. I had been looking at the "selected" archive samples, on the MIMF page - thought I had logged in, but hadn't. Wouldn't have been so bad, had I done it once, but I actually did it three times. Scary. Anyway, I finally got it right, and there's quite a lot there, on osage orange.
The guys who commented on its affinity to chip, while working, are certainly right. I finally resorted to my Dremel and dental burrs, to do the carving, after first attempts with chisels and knives. I do think I'm going to use it for the fretboard on my octave. It finishes out as smooth as silk, so wasn't getting to the archives library.
I used to use it for overlays and bridges, back in the 70's. Once it's done curing and drying, it's seemed extremely stable. It is hard as a rock (at least some rocks) and I will agree about using a chain saw on it. But what else are you going to do to harvest it? Not scientific, but I have this gut feeling about the stuff, that until it's dry, it's going to move about a lot. Lots of the trees have twists and turns in them, at least from my experience.
All that being said, as Joe Vest said, it turns beautifully, once stable, and is a prince of a wood. If does loose its bright yellowish color after time and turns a mellow brownish color. I think it would be a beautiful wood for a fingerboard, pickguard, and such. It's certainly hard enough! Could also inspire some very interesting inlays. Hmm.... I'm thinking abalone- green with yellow/tan. Huh? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif
Dale: #When it's green, a chain saw will zip right through it and it splits fairly well, too, with a hydraulic splitter! #It's when it is seasoned that it turns hard as steel.
Interesing thread all about a tree that is considered to be noxious and invasive in most instances here in the midwest.
I have some of it that I have not split yet. The trunk was already cut up into pieces about 28" long when I got it. Diameter is about 26". I hope that there is some part of it usable.
I have seen both guitars and mandolins made from it, quite successully. I own two fiddles from the Midwest (one made in Osage, Arkansas, in fact, and one from Brookston, Indiana) that use it for pegs, fingerboard, purfling, tailpiece etc. I made a couple of banjo necks out it many years ago, and it worked more than fine. I have made fingerboards and bridges from it too. But I didn't really pursue it because I thought it was a bit coarse, like ash, visually. Rather open grain, and seldom with much figure or visual interest. The gorgeous yellow color doesn't last either, unfortunately.
There's quite a lot of it in the Texas Panhandle, where I grew up, as well. It was commonly planted for "tree rows" - windbreaks typically on the south and west sides of fields. I suspect that's where the name "hedge" comes from. It is commonly called "horse apple" or bois d'arc (bodark in "Texan") around here. It's used a lot by bowmakers - not the violin kind, but long bows.
<SNIP> I own two fiddles from the Midwest (one made in Osage, Arkansas, in fact, and one from Brookston, Indiana) that use it for pegs, fingerboard, purfling, tailpiece etc. <SNIP>
Got any pics of the fiddles? I'd like to see 'em... I'm sure they would give others an idea or two as well.
They just look like soulful home-made fiddles. What you expect to be black is brown, and since it's not finished, doesn't have much visual character. I have another fiddle made of eucalyptus instead of maple and bamboo instead to spruce. Made in Davis, California in 1947. But even that one doesn't translate well visually. It just looks like one more soulful home-made fiddle.
Here's a beautiful fiddle made from alternate woods by a board member (hope he doesn't mind me posting it...!). You can find more interesting stuff on his website:
Oh, and here's the lutherie projects starting point:
I know zip about fiddles, but that one is beautiful to my eyes, especially the walnut back and neck. #I've always wondered if dogwood would be good for fingerboards. #Way cool! #And the homemade luthiery tools on this site are way, way cool.
I do like the walnut and dogwood fiddle... very nice. That looks like a wonderful first effort, and Mr. Ayers' flattop instruments are very cool. In fact if you look at his "current project" (2003), the Osage Orange for his cittern dovetails nicely into this thread. I wish there were a finished picture up. Thanks for the link, Keith.
His Selmer guitar copy has an osage orange back.
Ewing Mandolin Company (http://www.geocities.com/ewingmandolin/) offers Osage orange as an option for mandolin head and neck.
A question that has tormented me for years:
Is it "oh-sage" or "ah-sa-gee"?
Oh-sage. Be tormented no longer!
If Osage orange takes off as a popular tone wood, and I'd love it if it did, there will also be some remorse.
Many, many old hedgerows planted before World War II with large trees in them have been bulldozed out and burned in that tallgrass prairie transition zone between the Midwest and the far West.
Small family farms were sold to big farmers or rented to tenants, who ripped out the hedge rows to make fields bigger and more productive.
There's still plenty of trees out there. But you'd be surprised the expansive areas that have been cleaned up, with this factory-style farm method increasing all the time.
I love the ecology of these trees, and I'd love to own an instrument made from them.
They're originally native to the Red River Valley (whistle along) and Sears used to sell osage orange seedlings in plugs by mail-order that people would plant as living fences. They're in Michigan and California for that reason. So those hedgerows are a non-native occurrence that can (and should) be done more. When they're little, they're really tough and thorny, so they made a cheap, substantial fence. A century or more later, they’re huge, no longer a fence, and they have these weird large fruits no one can figure out what to do with.
Here's the really weird thing about them: they don't self-propagate very well or very much. Most of them on the continent were deliberately planted by humans. If they’re native, why don't they spread by themselves? Ready?
The species evolved with dinosaurs (some kind of triceratops, I think) which ate the fruit (the only creature that ever did or could) and shat the seeds in a way that they were spread and grew naturally. The dinosaurs disappeared and the species range shrank precipitously, until some enterprising human came along and revived them as a hedgerow plant.
So plant some today!
You've obviously never owned farm ground in the Flint Hills of Kansas, Paul! #Hedge trees, among others such as thorny-locust and cedar, will take over a pasture in just a few years with out controlled burning or (heaven forbid) chemical treatment. #I can show you pastures that have been completely overriden with hedge trees and not a single one of them was planted intentionally. #As a farmer or landowner, you can get government financial assistance to help irradicate trees such as hedge that are non-native and very invasive to land here in Kansas. #Some say hedge rows provide wildlife habitat, and they do to a degree. #But, with hedge and other trees taking over the plains, prairie chicken numbers have declined dramatically as they like wide open and treeless expanses.
Besides using them for fence posts, long bow construction, meat smoking and as a fire wood supplement, I can't think of a better use for hedge trees than to incorporate them into construction of a mandolin!
I'd love to own an instrument made of factory farmers.
The gist of the megafauna ethnobotany above was from a cluster of articles in Science News, Natural History, and others a few years back. I recall now that it was the mastodon that was so fond of Maclura pomifera. And the decline (again) of the tree is fairly well documented and noted.
Locust is a real weed alright.
All the old osage orange "hedges" I have seen, which are fairly numerous, have seemed quite well-behaved. A century after planting, the trees were just huge versions of their formerly useful selves, but still in the row they'd been in when they were planted.
No massive cropland takeover noted. Except in the Flint Hills of Kansas, where (you're right) I have never owned a farm. Maybe you're just lucky! Or maybe you have horses or other equines, which are among the few beasts willing to brave the thorns to browse on them. It usually takes quite some effort to break open an osage "apple" to separate the seeds and plant them. Evidently the American mastodon, particularly, liked them, but so did the native proto-horses that shared the environment with them. They all went extinct before (or because) there were humans.
I have to think the sage grouse have bigger problems than plant invasion. For example: suburb invasion.
This one's been keep extremely tidy! It's in Maryland:
PS: a good article. (http://www.mdc.mo.gov/conmag/1995/11/06.html)
Not really mandolin related but here in Ky and sothern Indiana theres a few places I get the apples and put them around foundation and under the shed it keeps away pest,you sure wanna be careful it will get ya. And the places I go to you sure cannot get thru the rows at all!
Paul Hostetter said:
"I have to think the sage grouse have bigger problems than plant invasion. For example: suburb invasion."
"Suburb invasion" in Dwight, Kansas, population 300 (and declining)! #That's a great looking hedge row in Maryland. #Someone has a lot of time on their hands to keep that looking so beautiful...time that could be spent playing the mandolin!
Great link to the article, Paul. #I read it and noted it said "When the osage orange rows dissected what used to be open prairie, the wildlife suffered" and "Many prairie species, such as the prairie chicken, suffered." FWIW, the sage grouse and prairie chicken are two different birds. We don't have sage grouse here in Kansas.
Pulled this out of the farwood pile and sliced- yellow side is the fresh cut, other is sealed exterior aged a decade in the shed- is this too greasy a fretboard wood to hold frets well?
The waxed side is sorta greasy, but the interior isn't greasy at all. I've used it for boards on violins and banjos and it works great. It'll darken to brown in due time. I don't think there's anything you can do about that, short of using a UV inhibitor in a lacquer, which is not really in the picture for fingerboards. Anyway, try it, you'll like it.
Thirty years ago, most every farm in southern Iowa had at least one field surrounded by impenetratible hedge rows. Some of the finest hunting in the world along those rows. Then came ditch to ditch farming, and about the only time you see any Osage around anymore is from a stray wild tree growing in a creekbed somewhere. They may be hard on grouse, but pheasants, quail, and rabbits flocked to those hedgerows like dopers to a a Stones concert.
The plus side is, the ones that have survived are mostly huge, as Osage goes. Practically zero self propagation, however...
This just in.
I heard on the radio Wednesday night that the US champion big Osage Orange tree is right here in Virginia. Who would have thought? The experts said it was so old, that it must have been planted by natives rather than transplanted Europeans (it's not native to here). Perhaps for making bows.
The bow wood was very highly valued and was heavily traded across the continent (much as finding abalone shell in Ontario and catlinite pipes in Mexico - the pre-European folks really got around) so it's not inconceivable that some seeds got carried along. I think the Patrick Henry/Red Hill tree is dated to the late 1600s. By then some Spanish explorers had been to the Red River Valley and back. Who knows?
Some fresh board slottings:
desert black walnut, catclaw acacia, desert ironwood, desert ironwood burl, ebony, african blackwood, bocote, ziricote, and that osage orange:
Bill, nobody uses "alternative" woods more creatively and effectively than you. You seem to have proven that they shouldn't be "alternative"! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif
Bill, nobody uses "alternative" woods more creatively and effectively than you. You seem to have proven that they shouldn't be "alternative"! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif
You can say that again! I'll bet that ironwood burl looks great up close. I can't wait to see those on the finished instruments!
Ya just gotta wonder sometimes about the fruit they bare also....those giant green bumpy balls that fall to the ground. The stuff grows all around where I am and oddly enough I never gave a thought to using it in instruments.
"horse apples" in Texas. I've never seen a horse (or anything else) eat them though.
The other things that is called "horse apples" in Texas are the things that most of the rest of the country only sees in the street after a parade! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif
I suspect that's where the fruit gets its name.
Lewis and Clark noted Osage Orange in their journals, one had been transplanted to the French/Spanish governor's residence in St. Louis, they reported.
The french and then English settlers really moved it around in the Midwest. They also moved Pecan northward somewhat.
I loved that wood pic -- I guess for fingerboards.
We had a state champion ironwood tree here in our county. I'd never heard of it until then. I wondered about it for fretboards and bridges. You show it can be done, and handsomely.
I long someday to own an all-American wood guitar and mando.
# I long someday to own an all-American wood guitar and mando.
Then you should check out Bill Bussmann's website. I think several of his instruments have all North American (if not USA) woods.
Another St. Louis transplant was George Engelmann, and I sure like using colorado specimens of the spruce that was named after him, along with maples from vermont, washington, and northern wisconsin and michigan. I think most US makers use spruce/maple woods from the 50 states. If I lived in BC or OZ I'd certainly learn to use their local trees.
I think most US makers use spruce/maple woods from the 50 states. If I lived in BC or OZ I'd certainly learn to use their local trees.
True enough, but I don't know of many builders that are using U.S. of A. woods for fingerboards and bridges. Not many dark woods that are hard enough for a fingerboard in the U.S., and I don't think most folks want a maple fingerboard.
BTW: What is "Desert Black Walnut"... is that a name for a black walnut that's growing in the desert (just big enough for a mando fretboard)? Or something native to the SW deserts?
Paul- its called arizona black walnut in the audubon guide. Largest live one I've located in oldwave holler has a 12' circumference! I once cut and weighed identically sized blocks of virginia walnut cured in chesapeake bay, kiln dried illinois river valley black walnut from near Pekin, and a piece of a local dead standing air dried walnut. the Illinois weighed twice as much as the virginia, the local twice as much as the illinois. About the same density as brazilian rosewood, but with a duller taptone. traded one of my early mandolins for a neighbors tree- 28"dbh and 12 feet to the first branch, an eternity of hard parts after africa finishes cooking dinner with all the ebony. heres a snakewood peghead veneer from the cutoff bin at hibdon hardwoods in st louis, planning on binding of the same:
This is an old thread but here is a post I made in a different forum that probably belongs here.
I'm so busy remodeling my kitchen that I may never get to try luthier work but I keep thinking I'm working with a wood that would be great for instruments. The wood is kumaru, or Brazillian teak and is VERY dense. If you read up on it, some folks say it doesn't glue well because it's an oily wood. I am joining with Gorilla glue and I think it bonds as strong as the wood. It is a fairly coarse-grained wood but is unusually heavy and takes a very nice shine with 2,000 grit sandpaper. The wood I have was sold as 3/4-inch thick planks for flooring and decks. I seriously doubt it could be bent and I think it's too heavy for resonant surfaces but I think it would make beautiful fretboards and necks.
Here is a photo of a bar surface I sanded to within an inch of its life and then wiped with a thin coat of tung oil. There is a lot of color and veination variation in diffrent boards. Some are almost black and others are orange.
That is pretty but I would not say it is an alternative to "exotic wood" since it would be considered one.
Bill, hmmm, maybe I was reading that wrong. Maybe this is becoming "Exotic Alternative Woods"
I wouldn't mind having a crack at balsa wood soundboard - got a few ideas for bracing.
Australian builders have used the woods Unique to Down Under.
Tom Thiel from Northwind Tonewoods is developing a chemical process to turn Osage Orange black all the way through for fingerboards and bridges. I saw a piece of it at the Woodstock Invitational Luthier's Showcase in October, and it looked very good. It was more uniformly black than most ebony we see these days, but it looked very nice. He doesn't have any ready for sale yet, but said it will cost about the same as ebony currently. It is in the same family as ebony.
I drove down through the field at my folks home today to the only osage tree I know of. The biggest one in the group is only about 16-18 inches in diameter. Might harvest that one someday. While going back to my truck I noticed a couple of trees I should know the name of but don't or can't remember. 96303
Has these terrible things growing straight out the trunk.
Don't walk this way after dark. These were about 18 inches dia. as well.
The trees not the stickers
Nope, honey locust. The thorns have been known to puncture tractor tires.
I thought it might be at least in the locust family. Is it good for anything besides firewood, spearfishing or making painful holes in your hide?
It's pretty good wood; hard, heavy, stiff and strong. Not bad looking either.
the sap from those thorns cause swelling and yes it will flatten a tire real quick...i've been told that locust was used for foundations in the early days....and it burns green....also told it tends to split...
Back to the osage orange, If when cured out it ruins chainsaw blades, how would one resaw for guitars or carve mandolin backs and necks? I am getting more and more interested in building from USA woods. Maple, cherry, spruce and cedar are my choices mostly
for mandolins but I would like to find some rosewood replacements for my guitars. Also plan on some different mandolins as well. I'm not looking for a holy grail wood, I just like to have fun experimenting with things other than the normal.
I really like the looks of the desert walnut and iron wood that Oldwave uses.
Chainsaws are designed, and usually set up for cutting green wood across the grain. That's a pretty easy task for the chain and bar. Ask it to cut dried, hard wood and you're getting it out of it's design parameters. Osage cuts and carves fine with our shop tools (that are designed and usually set up for cutting dried, hard wood). I've made small projects using it, I've seen a lot of osage turnings, but though I haven't tried it to be able to report from experience, I'm told it is difficult to impossible to bend.
I think one of my next instrument projects is going to be an all-local-wood guitar (local meaning within a state or two, not all from the back yard...).
John is correct as to osage being fine to work with shop tools. I've turned some. A picture is attached. It's very hard and does darken considerably over the years. This is a piece that I turned in 1993. It's about 10 or 11" in diameter. The carved "collar" is Indian rosewood. The osage moves more than you might expect for such a hard wood. The top part of the turning is about 1/8" thick and you can see that it's trying to pull loose, albeit the grain directions aren't really compatible. I don't remember if I've ever tried to bend it, but I'll bet it could be troublesome.
Dale, since there are so many problems with that turning/carving, I'll just PM you my address and I'll dispose of it for you.
Just catching up here and still "stuck" on the honey locust. We have those in Texas too and I have cut a few down with an axe. Sure seems like it would be good stout carving wood, except for the comment above about splitting. As I recall, the wood is very light colored. We had cows when I was little and I always wondered which I would choose to deal with if the bull chased me...deal with the bull or clumb the honey locust tree. Fortunately, I never had to take the challenge.
I'd have to ride the bull!
I know that Osage orange heartwood (Maclura pomifera) darkens considerably with age from the bright yellow of the green wood, but wow - that piece of Dale's is really almost a chocolate color after 20 years!
I have a couple of unfinished honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) boards that a friend gave me when he was done flooring their upstairs quarters, and they're a nice pinkish orange. Probably would darken a bit with tung or linseed oil finish and age. It's been awhile since I've seen it, but my memory of the flooring when new was quite striking.
Tree, I would really like to see some pictures of the honey locust boards if you could post them. I'm going back to look at the trees on my folks place tomorrow.
Buckhorn, do you meant split while curing? If sealed well at ends?
You can hear a manolin with osage orange fingerboard and bridge in action in the youtube posting in this thread.
I would like to find some rosewood replacements for my guitars.
Osage works very well as a rosewood replacement. The tap tone is very good.....some have compared it to Brazilian RW. I have also used black locust, which is not quite as hard and dense, but still a very good tap tone. BL starts out greenish-yellow, but ages to a beautiful golden brown. Honey-locust has a much nicer natural color, but IMHO it is not in the same ballpark in regards to tap tone.
I have used Osage for bridges, dyeing it black with aniline. The guitars I have built with black locust sides and back are among my very best.