English Elm. Guitar wood?

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
Ryeman
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English Elm. Guitar wood?

Post by Ryeman » Wed Jan 03, 2018 2:45 pm

Just before Christmas I got a message from a friend who is the head gardener at a local National Trust property. Did I want a Elm tree? It had died in 2016, he was worried that branches might start falling off and hitting the visitors, so he'd got the tree surgeons in and they were about to cut it down.

When I got there they had cut all the branches off, and I was looking at fifteen feet of pristine tree trunk; perfectly round, no side branches, and dead straight. About 18 inches wide at the bottom, and 12 inches at the top. I watched the tree surgeon cut it down and then asked him to cut it into 3 foot lengths, which I marked out for him. The tree was in the way, and I needed to do something quick with it or it would be burnt.
Next day my son and I went back with the splitting gear. We split the heaviest logs in half, so we could lift them, and after several car journeys the whole lot was in a pile outside my workshop. As an added bonus, we also had several branches, dead straight, about 8 inch diameter, and about 3 foot long.
It was the most unusual Christmas present I've ever had, but I was about to get another. When my wife asked how I was going to cut it all up I said I would need a bandsaw. A big one.
"How much"
"About a thousand pounds"
Amazingly, and I still can't believe this, she said,
"Well get one then".
So I did. It came just before Christmas.

I have never sawn logs into planks on a bandsaw, but have made a start. I split one half log into quarters, planed one split face flat on my planer, and cut a few 1" boards, maximum width about 8" (the saw has a 12" maximum depth of cut) .
The half inch blade supplied with the saw made a good job of 8" x 1" boards, but I am aware that cutting thin guitar backs, and sides, might be a different ball game. So any advice about doing this will be greatly appreciated.
Oh yes, and is English Elm a suitable wood for the back and sides of a Classical guitar? In asking this I am mindful of the fact that Elm is a rare wood these days, and isn't seen much. But it is a beautiful wood, with a good colour, and interesting grain.

Alan

Marshall Dixon
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Re: English Elm. Guitar wood?

Post by Marshall Dixon » Wed Jan 03, 2018 4:25 pm

I just looked in the wood-database.com for stats about hardness, elasticity, etc. It mentions that elm has an interlocking grain and that would seem a good quality. Compare it to of bigleaf maple or Mediterranean cyprus. I've used southern red cedar for back and sides (not as hard as elm) with good results.

Ryeman
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Re: English Elm. Guitar wood?

Post by Ryeman » Wed Jan 03, 2018 4:35 pm

Thanks Marshall. Yes it does have interlocking grain, making it resistant to splitting. I think this was why it was traditionally used for the hubs of wooden cart wheels. As you say, this would seem to be a good quality to have in a guitar back.

Alan

printer2
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Re: English Elm. Guitar wood?

Post by printer2 » Wed Jan 03, 2018 4:36 pm

I have seen a couple of picture of elm acoustics online, not many. I think I read that elm moves a lot so it might not be all that stable with humidity swing. I wanted to get a section of a tree that was being taken down last year but the owner got nervous as we are not allowed to keep elm firewood because of Dutch Elm disease. I would sticker the bunch and give it a year or two to dry out. Make sure you coat the ends with wax or something otherwise you will get checking on the ends reducing your yield.
Fred

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Beowulf
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Re: English Elm. Guitar wood?

Post by Beowulf » Wed Jan 03, 2018 4:39 pm

Not "English Elm", but from the tonewooddatasource:

"Elm Ulmus americana
An underrated wood. Sounds like maple, but warmer in the highs. This is an amazing tone wood and looks incredible. Elm wood is tight grained and generally comes in an ash-gray or brown color. The beauty of this wood is its discernible oblong ridges within the wood pattern itself. Hard and tough, elm still bends when steamed and when dry, holds its shape. As the wood is resistant to decay, it is prized in woodworking, furniture and flooring. Nearly impossible to split due to interlocking grain. In terms of musical instruments, Elm isn't as commonly used as other woods but it still produces a sturdy instrument. As a tonewood it tends to sound like maple, but warmer in the highs. Can be a little unstable. It's quite dense.

The sapwood of elm is nearly white, while the heartwood is light brown to brown with a reddish tinge. The wood has no characteristic odor or taste. Elm is moderately heavy, hard and stiff, with excellent bending and shock resistance. It is difficult to split because of its interlocked grain."
1971 Yamaha GC-10

Ryeman
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Re: English Elm. Guitar wood?

Post by Ryeman » Wed Jan 03, 2018 5:25 pm

Thanks for the information Beowulf. According to the wood database English elm is quite a bit more stable around the annual rings than American. So things look promising.
Fred, I've got the ends coated. And the wood is already fairly dry, having been dead for a year or two. But I'm in no rush to use it.

I'm thinking of taking a chance and cutting a pair of guitar sides, and a back set, fairly thin, then keep them in stick under weights-and see what happens. If that doesn't work out I can cut some thicker boards ready to be cut later into back and sides when the wood has dried out more. Any advice on this?

Alan

Marshall Dixon
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Re: English Elm. Guitar wood?

Post by Marshall Dixon » Wed Jan 03, 2018 6:32 pm

Ryeman wrote:
Wed Jan 03, 2018 5:25 pm
Thanks for the information Beowulf. According to the wood database English elm is quite a bit more stable around the annual rings than American. So things look promising.
Fred, I've got the ends coated. And the wood is already fairly dry, having been dead for a year or two. But I'm in no rush to use it.

I'm thinking of taking a chance and cutting a pair of guitar sides, and a back set, fairly thin, then keep them in stick under weights-and see what happens. If that doesn't work out I can cut some thicker boards ready to be cut later into back and sides when the wood has dried out more. Any advice on this?

Alan
What I was told by a pro woodcutter: thinner slabs season quicker, and after resawing to stack them flat, weighted, with newspaper in between the boards for a week or so before stacking with stickers. This is supposed to draw off moisture and help keep them from cupping and twisting. I haven't tried it yet but I got a piece of 4 x 9 x 38" piece of quarter sawn black walnut from him that I need to cut. My wife was understanding with the $40 price of the wood. But my mention of the need for a bigger bandsaw fell on deaf ears.

Ryeman
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Re: English Elm. Guitar wood?

Post by Ryeman » Wed Jan 03, 2018 7:22 pm

Marshall, thanks for the newspaper tip. I will certainly try it. Sorry to hear you didn't have as much luck as me in acquiring a bandsaw.

Alan

printer2
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Re: English Elm. Guitar wood?

Post by printer2 » Thu Jan 04, 2018 12:30 am

If the tree has been dead that long I would take a chance on resawing it.
Fred

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Doug Ingram
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Re: English Elm. Guitar wood?

Post by Doug Ingram » Thu Jan 04, 2018 3:35 am

I cut quite a bit of American Elm that was dead standing on my property about 20 years ago. I made the mistake of cutting too much of it into 8/4 slabs. That made drying take much longer and checking and splitting were a problem.

It is a beautiful wood. It is fine textured and bends beautifully. Similar in weight to Walnut or Cherry. I disagree about the odour, though, as it has a very distinct earthy scent.

I had some interest in trying it for guitar bodies but haven't yet. When I tap it, it has a kind of dull tone, not crisp and resonant. That doesn't mean anything negative as many woods tap like that.

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Philipp Lerche
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Re: English Elm. Guitar wood?

Post by Philipp Lerche » Thu Jan 04, 2018 6:21 am

I used elm alot in knife and funiture making. I love it, especially the look of the grain in german elm :)
True is, that is has it's tendencies to move/work.
Though it doesn't move that much like olive tree but it's quite similar to birch wood, I'd say.

For me, it moves to much to build a guitar from it.
"If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you'll never get it done."
Bruce Lee

Best regards
Phil

Ryeman
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Re: English Elm. Guitar wood?

Post by Ryeman » Thu Jan 04, 2018 11:53 am

Fred, Doug and Phil, thank you for your comments. Phil, regarding your comment about it moving too much for use in guitars, the stats. in the Wood Database don't seem too bad for English Elm. No worse than some other woods that are used for guitar making. So I am tempted to give it a go. The guitar will be for me, or maybe I will give it away to a friend. If the back splits I won't have an irate paying customer to deal with.
The point is that I really like the idea of using local woods, trees that I have cut down myself, or have some connection with. That's why I built the "Ryedale" guitar which I posted photographs of in an earlier thread. Doing it this way, beginning by cutting up logs, is harder work than buying tone wood from a dealer. But it is more fun, and very satisfying.

Alan

printer2
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Re: English Elm. Guitar wood?

Post by printer2 » Thu Jan 04, 2018 2:44 pm

I cut up a section of oak tree from the neighbor across the lane and another had the tree cut up in smaller pieces, mite get a ukulele out of that one. Might have been elm as we have a whole lot of them in the city. It did have a different kind of smell to it, it could very well be. A lot of work getting the tree into lumber sized chunks and more waste than I would have thought. As you said there is something satisfying about giving a tree another lease on life as compared to just firewood.
Fred

Ryeman
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Re: English Elm. Guitar wood?

Post by Ryeman » Thu Jan 04, 2018 2:57 pm

printer2 wrote:
Thu Jan 04, 2018 2:44 pm
I cut up a section of oak tree from the neighbor across the lane and another had the tree cut up in smaller pieces, mite get a ukulele out of that one. ..... A lot of work getting the tree into lumber sized chunks and more waste than I would have thought. As you said there is something satisfying about giving a tree another lease on life as compared to just firewood.
Fred, I agree entirely. And when you look at a finished instrument and feel a connection to the wood because you know where it come from (and how much trouble it caused you !) you get a real sense of satisfaction.

Alan

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Philipp Lerche
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Re: English Elm. Guitar wood?

Post by Philipp Lerche » Fri Jan 05, 2018 6:21 am

Ryeman wrote:
Thu Jan 04, 2018 11:53 am
Fred, Doug and Phil, thank you for your comments. Phil, regarding your comment about it moving too much for use in guitars, the stats. in the Wood Database don't seem too bad for English Elm. No worse than some other woods that are used for guitar making. So I am tempted to give it a go. The guitar will be for me, or maybe I will give it away to a friend. If the back splits I won't have an irate paying customer to deal with.
The point is that I really like the idea of using local woods, trees that I have cut down myself, or have some connection with. That's why I built the "Ryedale" guitar which I posted photographs of in an earlier thread. Doing it this way, beginning by cutting up logs, is harder work than buying tone wood from a dealer. But it is more fun, and very satisfying.

Alan
I totally agree with you !! I'm from the same camp. I have several domestic "trees" in the basement :D
Local woods are even more beautiful than tropical stuff for me, not for visual reasons but more due to the connection you mentioned.
I used birch once on a guitar, which feels ands looks pretty gorgeous to me but the back separated two times in 2 years ! (glue joint)

Give it a go and please keep us updated on your experiences. Maybe it is not as bad as I thought.
Good luck mate !
"If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you'll never get it done."
Bruce Lee

Best regards
Phil

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