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Thread: Firewood mandolin

  1. #1
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Firewood mandolin

    A couple of friends bought an old farm house in Kentucky a few years ago. The farmer across the road from them bulldozed some trees out of his pasture, and my friend asked if he could cut them up for firewood. Not long after that, he called me saying he'd found curly maple in the pile of firewood trees and asking how to process the logs. He's a luthier too so he knew the utility of curly maple. Finally, he concluded that he didn't have the time or space to deal with the logs, so I traded him some red spruce guitar tops for the logs and worked them up for instrument wood.

    Here's one of the logs loaded onto another friends sawmill ready to be quartered. I never saw the trees, only the logs. I'm over 99% sure it's silver maple (Acer saccharinum) from the looks of the bark, the fast growth rate, and the large amount of white wood.
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  3. #2
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    We sawed right down the heart of the logs, then turned the halves and cut them in half for quarters.
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  5. #3
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    I sealed the ends with paraffin wax (red candles dissolved in paint thinner) for drying,…
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  7. #4
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    …then stacked the quarters to dry. I removed the bark from the quarters when I had time and restocked the quarters, and they remained stacked and drying for about two years.
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  9. #5
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    When I got them into my shop, I further sawed the quarters on my shop bandsaw. I sawed a few guitar back and side sets, and sawed most of it into wedges for carved backs as well as blanks for neck and side wood.
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  10. #6
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    I weighed a scrap on my shop balance and recorded the weight, with the idea of continuing to weigh it periodically to see when it quit losing moisture. When I weighed the scrap later it always weighed the same, so it was already at equilibrium moisture content in my climate controlled shop. In other words, the wood was dry.

    Knowing that the wood was dry, I picked out a back and neck blank for the first mandolin from this wood and started to process them.
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  12. #7
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    The wood carves and bends well.
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  13. #8
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    Here it is 'in the white'.
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  14. #9
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    The red spruce that I used for the top of this mandolin came from some trees that I harvested with Ted Davis in West Virginia in 1989 and '90, so all of the wood in this mandolin is wood that I was involved in harvesting, except for the exotics like the ebony.
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  15. #10
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    Here it is finally finished and strung up.
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  17. #11
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    Not too bad for a firewood mandolin!
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  19. #12
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    Here it is with it's littermate, strung up the day before, a similar mandolin made from sugar maple and red spruce.
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  21. #13
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    (The quilt was made by my sister and given to me as a gift.)
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  23. #14
    acoustically inert F-2 Dave's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    That quilt is gorgeous, John.
    "Mongo only pawn in game of life." --- Mongo

  24. #15
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    Hi John: how does the silver maple compare with other maples in terms of tone? I have heard some luthiers IIRC say that it isn't a good wood for that. I have a rather old silver maple in my yard and a tree guy just pronounced it hale and healthy but I would not cut it down anyway.
    Jim

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  25. #16
    acoustically inert F-2 Dave's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    OK. The mandolins are beautiful too. I've always wished for a mandolin or fiddle made from woods from my place. Trouble is, great tonewoods aren't in abundance here and I'm not a talented luthier. Kudos on the new builds. They're gonna make someone a great mando for a lot of years.
    "Mongo only pawn in game of life." --- Mongo

  26. #17
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    Thanks Dave, I thought that was rather amusing, as I'm sure my sister would too!

    Jim, I've used silver maple for instrument before and I find it to be pretty variable; sometimes stringy and not stiff, sometimes much better. This particular wood is very nice. It's harder than some red maple I've used, it is much denser than I would expect from silver maple even though it was growing crazy fast before the bulldozer came along. I built this one for myself. Any time I try an experiment, like a new batch of wood, or the graduated fret job I did on this one (.080" wide for the first 5 or 6, .060" wide up to the 12th fret, and .040" wide the rest of the way) I like to do it on my own mando rather than a customer's. The wood was an unknown variable until now.
    As it turns out, these two mandolins sound very much alike even though one is hard maple and one is silver maple.

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  28. #18
    Registered User Bill Auld's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    Great story, John - and, as usual, beautiful mandolins ... Yep, the quilt is terrific too!

  29. #19
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    Not too shabby indeed. I might play it near a fire but wouldn't want it on the fire. Gorgeous instruments (and quilt), John.

    Jamie
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  30. #20
    Registered User Jessbusenitz's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    That's cool to be able to process and use you own wood! What was the diameter of the log to start with? Great mando by the way. Jess

  31. #21
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    John, thanks for the visual presentation. Fascinating to view it from log to mandolin. It must feel special to create an instrument from the roots up this way. How's she sound?


    JR

  32. #22
    Kelley Mandolins Skip Kelley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    Jim, That is some fine looking maple and an awesome looking mandolin!

  33. #23
    Registered User MandoNicity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    Jim?

    JR

  34. #24
    iii mandolin Geoff B's Avatar
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    John, you're my hero.

  35. #25
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    Default Re: Firewood mandolin

    Whoa there,Geoff,...John is MY hero. Get your own hero.
    Jim

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