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Thread: Douglas fir

  1. #1

    Default Douglas fir

    Hi
    I,m looking to build an A style mandolin using Douglas fir for the carved top. I've built a similar model using Spruce for the top but the Douglas fir seems much easier to carve, does anyone have any experience with this timber and I'm wondering if I should finish it thicker than the spruce to avoid it collapsing under tension. Any advice would be most welcome. Thanks in advance

  2. #2
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    On average, doug fir is harder, stiffer and more dense than spruce and thus normally ends up carved thinner than spruce.
    If your piece of fir doesn't fit neatly into those characteristics, you should carve it accordingly. This is where building experience comes in. We here inline cannot flex and judge the piece, we cannot weigh it and calculate volume to determine density, cannot measure deflection, cannot tap and listen or any of our other methods of evaluating wood that we have settled upon, so we cannot offer much help in determining how to carve your individual piece.

    Doug fir seems to be more prone to cracking/splitting than spruce, but otherwise generally makes a good top material.

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    Pseudotsuga menziesii, commonly known as Douglas fir or Oregon pine, is a great instrument tonewood for guitars and mandolins. My good friend Seth Kimmel makes amazing doubble basses out of it. I'm pretty sure that hundreds of nice Phoenix mandolins had tops from it.

    It can vary tremendously in mass and density- from ultra low like some of the lightest engleman spruces to much more dense than maple, so your selection and specific use are important. You can also find it with amazing growth lines- 40+ lines per inch at times (too much of a good thing). As such, I've successfully built entire mandolins from it- top, back, neck, blocks, & braces. I specifically adjusted the density of the pieces for each section- spruce like for the top, maple like for the back and neck, et cetera. My experience has been focused with old growth recycled woods. Some of the better boards can respond very similar to red spruce with a powerful chop if you know how to use it.

    When you live in Oregon or the Pacific northwest, it is incredibly common and easy to find. As awoodworker in general, it is one of the woods that I used constantly when I lived there and I miss not having it as a common resource living in Asheville. James Krenov was fond of it and used it in his Impractical Cabinet Maker book series. The junk farmed wood that you find at Home Depot and such are not what I am talking about, usually weak and punky hem-fir type commercial fast grown hybrids. I would not use that for anything more than a picnic table....

    Some of the old growth can be prone to cracking; I believe mainly due to forestry and harvesting methods as they are giant trees, so when they fall they cam sometimes bounce 40 foot in the air and check the wood a fair amount. It can also have pitch pocket issues. Siminoff mentions it in his book as a spruce substitute but go about 10% thinner. It is DEFINITELY one of the quasi experimental woods that I would recommend using my live testing rig to maximize the voice potential.

    Attached is the "Cricket" mandolin, 99% recycled Douglas fir top, back, neck, blocks, tonebars, and linings, that I made for the Marylhurst University instrument builder's show on Earth Day circa 2005.
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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    The Cricket is all neat ideas. Especially like the heart/sap color change running to the head, if that’s what it is. And crossed strings. And green for Earth Day.

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    Quote Originally Posted by j. condino View Post
    Pseudotsuga menziesii, commonly known as Douglas fir or Oregon pine...
    Every school kid my age that grew up in Oregon should know that Douglas fir isn't a real fir but actually a pine.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    Every school kid my age that grew up in Oregon should know that Douglas fir isn't a real fir but actually a pine.
    And the carpenter who proposed to build a partition in my shop spelled it ‘fur’. His skills were equal to his spelling.

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    James, that “Cricket” mandolin is really something!

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    Douglas Fir is not a pine. I live in the middle of it. About 100 of them on my property I just sold after 22 years. ( 11.2 acres in Josephine County, Oregon) . I also have (had) about 200 pines and other species.. in total somewhere between 500-1000 trees. The predominate tree was the Doug Fir.

    https://ucanr.edu/sites/forestry/Cal..._/Douglas-fir/

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    This is why scientists, foresters etc. use scientific (Latin) names.
    Rather than debate whether a tree is a pine, a "fur", a spruce or whatever we can say it is Pseudotsuga menziesii and it's settled.

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

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    This guitar top is made of Douglas Fur. The instrument was made by Damon Kapke, Duluth MN especially for me. I've had it for at least 15 years with no problems. I play the guitar plugged in mostly, but I'm going to be recording a Blues album soon where the guitar is plugged in and Mic'd at the same time. It has a great sound.
    All Fingers At Once

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Hildreth View Post
    Douglas Fir is not a pine. I live in the middle of it. About 100 of them on my property I just sold after 22 years. ( 11.2 acres in Josephine County, Oregon) . I also have (had) about 200 pines and other species.. in total somewhere between 500-1000 trees. The predominate tree was the Doug Fir.

    https://ucanr.edu/sites/forestry/Cal..._/Douglas-fir/
    Haha - this was exactly my reaction, and I'm a registered forester and certified arborist (and have a strong preference for Scientific names), but when I checked the complete taxonomy, I found that it IS in the family Pinaceae.

    So although it isn't in the same genus as the rest of the pines (Pinus), it probably isn't too much of a stretch to call it a pine. But it's really more like a cousin.
    Clark Beavans

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Hildreth View Post
    Douglas Fir is not a pine. I live in the middle of it. About 100 of them on my property I just sold after 22 years. ( 11.2 acres in Josephine County, Oregon) . I also have (had) about 200 pines and other species.. in total somewhere between 500-1000 trees. The predominate tree was the Doug Fir.

    https://ucanr.edu/sites/forestry/Cal..._/Douglas-fir/
    60 years of grade school learning in the Portland school system shot. I lived in the middle of it for decades.

    Pseudotsuga means false Hemlock. I'd never read that before either.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    Its a case of the scientific name just saying what it isnt: a hemlock. Like, maybe homopseudosapiens.
    Nice to know one can be a member of the pine family without even being one.
    But seriously, folks, since I only knew what the crappy 2x4s were: unsuitable for anything niice, good to know that one type is instrument grade.

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    That is why I started off my post with the Latin name, and generally try to use those, even though there are a lot of people who accuse me of some sort of snobbery for it. I just like to be clear, the same way I always try to use the specific rosewood and ebony variations.

    BUT...there is merit in the commonly used names, even if they are incorrect. Even among woodworkers and scientists, I know 500 who use the common name for every one that uses Pseudotsuga menziesii. Accurate or not, 1000s of people have used the term Oregon pine for decades.

    There is a reasonably well know story of Antonio Stradivari lusting after an exotic tonewood from the Pacific coast of the Americas that he waited several years to obtain while it was brought over on a ship and then he built one of his "guitars" out of: Douglas fir. Even back then when he had access to amazing European tonewoods, the lure of something from far away exotic lands still tormented luthiers, players, and buyers...

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    60 years of grade school learning in the Portland school system shot.........
    That’s a long time in grade school, you’d think you would have gotten a ‘social pass’ at some point
    Play it like you mean it

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    The first 10 years of the third grade were the toughest years of my life but hey, at least I know where Frosty Grave is.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    I have worked with plants in the Southwest for, well, lets just say a long time. Wrote a nontechnical, hopefully humorous, field guide to grassland plants. I like the advice an old friend gave me years ago. "Scientific names should be used to make things clearer, not confuse folks." In this case using Pseudotsuga menziesii leaves no doubt as to what someone is referring to.

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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    This is why scientists, foresters etc. use scientific (Latin) names.
    Rather than debate whether a tree is a pine, a "fur", a spruce or whatever we can say it is Pseudotsuga menziesii and it's settled.
    He blinded me with science

    I love it.

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    To further blow your mind.. read the first few paragraphs of this:

    https://plants.jstor.org/compilation...suga.taxifolia

    For over 50 years I knew Douglas Fir as pseudotsuga taxifolia.
    I have a stash of Doug fir dating back 30-40 years when it was pseudotsuga taxifolia.
    I'll stick with that.

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    Another opportunity to geek out about plants: Here's an essay on just how Douglas-fir came to have such a long succession of scientific names before Pseudotsuga menziesii became accepted: http://www.plantsystematics.org/reve...C/dougfir.html

    There are rules for what can be accepted as a scientific name. The ones that came into play in the Douglas-fir story are evidently:
    * If two different plants are assigned the same name, whichever plant was named first has precedence.
    * The name given in the earliest published description of the plant, assuming it follows all the rules, has precedence (even if the publication happens in an obscure journal and is ignored for decades).

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    A+ for the excellent links.

    As a young grommet apprentice furniture builder in Oregon, it was equally confusing in the shop. Every old timer I asked would give me a different answer. It wasn't really a softwood, yet It wasn't really a hardwood either, yet some of it was as light as spruce and dense as maple & it had half a dozen names. It was everywhere in gigantic sizes and seemingly endless forests & old trees.

    My favorite was to pull the old truck up on the beach, catch a nice cold water surf session with whales breaking nearby, and then take an afternoon nap under a giant Douglas fir...

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    When I lived in Portland I had Douglas firs in my back yard that were down a hill from the house, the house was basically three stories and they towered over it. The first time I saw the tree at Rockefeller Center in New York I couldn't figure out why people were so amazed at its size. Growing up in Portland in the 50's while we were being fed the obviously wrong information about the tree we had the opportunity to visit this building built for the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition. Look at the size of the people, look at the size of the logs. By the way, that building caught fire and was destroyed in 1964. It was a sad day.
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    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    Quote Originally Posted by Ben Vierra View Post
    Another opportunity to geek out about plants: Here's an essay on just how Douglas-fir came to have such a long succession of scientific names before Pseudotsuga menziesii became accepted: http://www.plantsystematics.org/reve...C/dougfir.html

    There are rules for what can be accepted as a scientific name. The ones that came into play in the Douglas-fir story are evidently:
    * If two different plants are assigned the same name, whichever plant was named first has precedence.
    * The name given in the earliest published description of the plant, assuming it follows all the rules, has precedence (even if the publication happens in an obscure journal and is ignored for decades).
    That article has a most excellent name for those of a geeky biological bent - "A Nomenclatural Morass"

    This is a great topic.

    On another note, a couple years ago when we were crossing the Cascades on the way back to my daughter's place in eastern Oregon, I saw whole mountainsides that had been burned, and the white skeletons of dead trees stood like ... well, I don't have a good analogy. It seemed like such a waste, though I've read that some trees, and I believe the Douglas fir to be among them, need fire to condition their seeds to sprout.
    Last edited by Sue Rieter; Sep-03-2020 at 7:26am. Reason: Another thought

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    Quote Originally Posted by Sue Rieter View Post
    That article has a most excellent name for those of a geeky biological bent - "A Nomenclatural Morass"

    This is a great topic.

    On another note, a couple years ago when we were crossing the Cascades on the way back to my daughter's place in eastern Oregon, I saw whole mountainsides that had been burned, and the white skeletons of dead trees stood like ... well, I don't have a good analogy. It seemed like such a waste, though I've read that some trees, and I believe the Douglas fir to be among them, need fire to condition their seeds to sprout.
    I'm not sure Doug Fir requires fire to germinate, like I believe lodgepole pine does (an east-side Cascades and interior west species), but of course Doug Fir forests benefit from fire for thinning, maintenance of stand openings, etc. Now, the kind of stand-replacing fire that you've described is sort of a different story.
    Member since 2003!

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    Default Re: Douglas fir

    Douglas fir varies greatly. Even in the best grade, C and Better, it can be light and fine grained or coarse grained and heavy. Not quite as stiff per weight as spruce.

    In my trade years in an AWI shop, we ran thousands of feet of molding and made innumerable exterior doors and sash/frames from the best available material. One time in the 70’s we had a truckload of roughsawn 2x12x20 very fine grained old growth that didn’t have a flaw, save an occasional pitch pocket. Never see that again, It had escaped the Tillamook burn in the 30’s.

    Old grade books specify material that would be impossible to source in commercial quantities today as the old growth is so depleted. Sad.
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