View Full Version : American Woods

03-19-2009, 12:25 PM
Hi everyone,
I have been learning about Ukulele making for a while now, as some of you may know.
Recently I have come to a decision about my building. As much as I like Koa, and Honduran Mahogany, I don't want to take woods from trees that are endangered such as Honduran ( Rainforest ) Mahogany, and Koa ( Sacred Hawaiian wood whose #s are shrinking ). Call me a tree hugger if you want.

I was just wondering if there is any one out there that knows of good woods that are grown in North America and that are not endangered. Obviously I want these woods to be good for ukulele making as well ( qualities such as sound, hardness, softness, bendability, looks, etc. ).

Thanks for any imput eveyone.

03-19-2009, 03:57 PM
I am nowhere near an authority on such matters, but I'd like to point out that Dave over at Waverly Street Ukuleles (http://www.wsukes.com/) uses Fir a lot for his tops. It's a soft wood, so it should work, right? His makes sides and backs from woods like Sycamore, Oak, and Walnut. I'm no expert, but I've never heard of any of the above woods as being endangered.

03-19-2009, 04:20 PM
To add to what Seeso said, Spruce and Cedar are both American found woods.

03-19-2009, 04:23 PM
I have seen some spectacular ukes built from Myrtle and Claro Walnut. I have seen a couple of beautiful Compass Roses in Sycamore.

Hey Bob...I have a dream uke - a concert built out of Oregon Claro Walnut back and sides/myrtle front. Bound in myrtle with claro purfling, claro neck, rosette...my only concession to Oregon woods would be an ebony fretboard and bridge ...

If I supply the woods, you wanna practice on them for me???


Moore Bettah Ukuleles
03-19-2009, 05:35 PM
No need to even leave the islands for what you want. I know builders on the Big Island who use kamani, ohia, and even ulu (breadfruit). Kamani is especially nice sounding wood. I'm sure there are others as well. One of the sawyers I frequent on the Kona side had some albezia a little while back, considered a real pest here. He called it chocolate albezia. I was with another respected builder at the time and we could hardly tell the difference from koa. Very nice grain and color, some even had slight to moderate curl. He was practically giving the stuff away. I have no idea what it would sound like as a tone wood but it look like it had potential. I think there are a lot of local Hawaiian woods that are not in short supply that are worth experimenting with especially if you use it in conjuction with some of the more traditional sound board ei spruce, cedar, redwood.
Kudos for thinking outside the box.

03-19-2009, 05:48 PM
Joel Eckhaus (earnestinstruments (http://www.earnestinstruments.com).com) is a big fan of North American tonewoods. I know he uses Maple, Pear, Ash, Walnut, Sassafras, and Mesquite. He's also a nice guy and probably will talk to you about them.

03-19-2009, 06:20 PM
I have a Waverly Street fir top. I looooove it. Fir is puuurdy :)

03-19-2009, 07:04 PM
I want to make one out of Ply wood but I've never heard of a Ply tree so I guess they're extinct. :D

I know Poplar is popular. I use Red Oak or Poplar for my necks.

Pete Howlett
03-19-2009, 11:34 PM
No mention of cherry yet - this is a spectacular ukulele wood and when paired with spruce for tenor size instrument, it really shines. I sadly have never visited hawaii but if I was living there I would certainly be looking at apart from the obvious mango and ohia alternatives to koa. I think there is something about the climate and soil in hawaii that imparts that bright tone to most ukulele and makes especially good Weissenborn guitars.

03-20-2009, 01:43 AM
I've made ukes using maple for the neck, back and sides, with a front from western red cedar. It is a very successful combination.


dave g
03-21-2009, 02:34 AM
I've used oak, ash, sycamore, walnut, maple, and a few others I really couldn't identify :-). I've currently got a banjolele with a hickory neck (really heavy - would not be good for a back I think). Some of the nicest looking stuff is spalted - that means it has been lying on the forest floor for a while and has been invaded by the first wave of microorganisms that seek to eat it. Timing is everything with this - you've got to catch it before it is weakened by decay, and then dry it for a year or so.

Just experiment - I cut up a lot of stuff but never use it because I don't think it will sound good. It always makes good kindling wood though :)

Ahnko Honu
03-21-2009, 10:56 AM
No need to even leave the islands for what you want. I know builders on the Big Island who use kamani, ohia, and even ulu (breadfruit). Kamani is especially nice sounding wood. I'm sure there are others as well.

AMEN to Chuck. I'm a woodturner and collect 99% of my own material and love trying different woods just to see what they look like. A couple very common woods here in Hawaii are 'Ohai, and Kiawe which both can be very attractive. Neither are indigenous but have been around long enough to be kama'aina. The Kiawe is very dense and hard so perfect for fretboard, and the 'Ohai though a tad softer than Koa has similar grain and color and I'm guessing tonal qualities. When I lived Maui I used to turn bowls from the dozen or so Eucalyptus species, as well as Jacaranda, Banyan (especially beautiful when spalted), spalted Mango, Milo (one of my favorites), Kamani (both false, and real), Macadamia, Coconut wood, Haole Koa, Formosa Koa, Tasmanian Koa (Blackwood), Black Wattle, Silky Oak, Opiuma, Guava, spalted Norfolk, and Cook Island Pines, even Redwood from a HUGE 1000 year old log that washed up on Olowalu Beach just to name a few. There are allot of options with a clear conscience. ;)

Ahnko Honu
03-21-2009, 11:05 AM
Just experiment - I cut up a lot of stuff but never use it because I don't think it will sound good. It always makes good kindling wood though :)

Amen Dave, on Maui I lived at 4000' elevation and it got down into the lower 30s at night especially in winter so had a wood-burning stove to feed so killing 2 birds with one stone when gather woods.

Mahalo again for pineapple #51, she is happy lying with her 3 Koa pineapple sisters, a part of the family now. :)

03-25-2009, 03:58 AM
A good source for domestic and exotic material can be found at a variety of commercial milling businesses. I buy a lot of off fall, shorts and scrap for my woodworking business, day job, as well as for instrument building for next to nothing. The nice thing is that it gives me a chance to reclaim lumber that would be lost otherwise. I buy a bunch of mahogany from an area company that makes college diploma plaques. I will buy a plaque that was poorly joined or there was tearout on the edge from routing and can usually pull two tops and backs out of one plaque. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking with a veneer slicer that has "backers" that he is willing to sell. These are the piece that the machine holds when slicing the veneer and vary in thickness between 1/4" to 1/2" thick. He told me he had a stack of koa and mahogany that I could come out an look at, so I hope to do that later this week. Just need to be resourceful. A lot of this stuff will become heating fuel come next winter.

03-25-2009, 05:39 AM
I have two ukes at the moment, both made in Hawai`i. One is all walnut and the other all maple. Both sound awesome!