View Full Version : Flatsawn Ebony for fretboard

12-29-2013, 09:26 AM
A question about fretboard wood....

I have some nice Malagasy Ebony scraps that are flatsawn, quite a bit of it. It is well seasoned at this point, almost 10 years in my shop, and I think Gilmer Wood had it for a while before that. I have always thought that fretboard wood needs to be quartersawn. Would it be a faux pas to use this wood for fretboards? I like the black Ebony, but do not want to use my best stuff for the ukes I am currently working on. If it is usable, I will be gluing this to the neck with epoxy, so moisture from gluing will not be an issue.

Is it a recipe for disaster to use well cured flatsawn Ebony for a tenor uke fretboard?

Thank you to all the members here for sharing precious knowledge!

Best wishes to all in the New Year!

Kent Chasson
12-29-2013, 10:15 AM
The short answer: If it's straight grained and defect free, any problems from being flat-sawn will be minimal or non-existent.

The long answer: The main considerations for fingerboards are stiffness, uniformity, and stability across the width. Being flat-sawn won't necessarily effect the first two things. The dimensional stability across the width is probably the main consideration.

From the numbers I've seen (and from experience), ebonies tend to have less dimensional stability than many other dense, tropical hardwoods but the radial/tangential difference is minimal. This is a fun calculator to compare with. http://www.woodbin.com/calcs/shrinkulator.htm

Where this becomes an issue is if you install your frets when the RH is 50% and your house reaches 25% RH in the winter, the FB will shrink and your fret ends will stick out. This will be very slightly worse with flat-sawn ebony than quartered.

One could argue that the prudent thing is not to let your instrument get that dry to begin with in which case you won't have any problems. One could also argue that the prudent thing is to use the most stable wood you can (in which case, any ebony is a poor choice). One could also argue that making use of the wood you have is the higher good. So the answer depends on your priorities. Hope this helps.

12-29-2013, 10:23 AM
Thanks Kent. Yes, it is boring black, clear, defect free. It still has one of Gilmer's numbers on it, I can see the IW for 'instrument wood' designation. It was 'fall-off' from an 8/4 board, and I have numerous pieces of similar wood as it is a dimension I bought whenever I could find it. It is gorgeous pure black. I like bound fret boards, so catchy fret ends are not going to be an issue.

Anyone out there that would definitely not use flatsawn wood for a fretboard, ever, period...?

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
12-29-2013, 12:01 PM
I bought a pile of those from Gilmer some years back. They called them off cuts or ends cuts, something like that. (I remember them to be pretty cheap at the time too!) I've had no problem with them. It's usually pretty difficult to detect the grain on ebony but I'll choose QS every day. I also store my fret boards in a dry box kept at about 35% RH.

12-29-2013, 12:48 PM
yes, definitely QS is my first choice, except when it comes to parting with one of my nice boards for a uke that really doesn't call for it. (which is why I even considered flatsawn) I will give one of these boards a try.

Thanks Chuck.