Resawing Tonewood

Resaw Wood

If you decide to get serious about lutherie as a hobby or as a profession, at some point in time you will want to explore merits of resawing wood. Now I’m not talking about logging here, but the purchase of lumber from qualified sources and sawing up the rough lumber yourself, using your shop equipment (i.e. bandsaw).

By buying the lumber in 1″ or 2″ widths, quite a bit of money can be saved. Just be aware of the possible pitfalls of wood purchase and does it measure up to the wood you can buy pre-cut from luthier supply houses. That is a great question and a question that keeps most small scale luthiers going back to suppliers.

Knowledge is Key When Selecting Tonewood

Often the luthier supply houses really know their stuff. They know about grain pattern, run-out, aged wood sources, and dimensional requirements. If you purchase the lumber yourself, you will have to know all of this information and dig for it as the lumber yard is likely not to give you much help. You can learn a great deal from books and talking to other luthiers to learn all there is to know about what is good and what is bad about a certain flitch of wood. That being said, there are some other issues have to be deal with:

  •  Proper equipment has to be available, and preferably within your own shop, where you have control of atmosphere and storage conditions. It will require a rather large bandsaw and a new or newly sharpened bandsaw blade. Personally I have a 18″ Jet bandsaw that will cut as deep as any guitar that I would make. It has all of the proper guides, guide adjustments, blade tension adjustments and most of all, the power that is required to cut through a 8 or 9″ piece of wood, consistently and evenly.
  • As mentioned, the blade needs to be new or newly sharpened. I have found that the Wood Slicer Blades available from Highland Hardware are some of the greatest blades out there. I can slice off a piece of veneer from an 9″ wide piece of wood with deadly accuracy. After these blades get dull, you can choose whether to sharpen them – have a professional do this though as if they are not sharpened evenly along their length, and that is a lot of teeth, you will have to deal with blade drift – the bane of woodworkers with bandsaws. Note that this blade is hardened steel and not carbide tipped and if the intent is to obtain high production of re-sawn wood, a carbide-tipped bandsaw blade is essential.
  • Equally important is the setup of the bandsaw. Tension on the blade that matches the blade size is very important. Equally important is the proper setup of blade restraints, which are the blade guides, or roller guides. The blade has to be captured and resistant against sideways movement and backwards movement.
  • Setup of the fence is important as well. Adjustment of the cut angle to blade drift angle should be carefully analyzed.
  • Always cut a test piece on a scrap piece of wood.
  • Above all else, do not try to hog the wood through the saw. This will only result in a burned blade, distorted guide setup and a dull blade, and at worst you could snap a blade. Just go slow and easy and apply only very little forward pressure. Let the saw do it’s work and keep the wood tight against the fence setup.

How Much Can I Save? That depends of a lot of things, but as a general statement you will be able to cut your own wood for between 50% and 25% of the cost of pre-cut wood. But be aware, unless the wood is surfaced on all four sides and the edge grain is easily viewed, you can have big surprises once the re-sawing process begins. Also a knot-free piece of wood can have internal knots and imperfections. Here are some tell-tale clues which should peak your interest when sorting through wood.

  • Stay away from wood that exhibits any pin-holes within the plank. This is a strong indication the there could have insect damage within the board and hidden from view.
  • Sight down the plank and if the wood make a weird twist somewhere along its length, this is a strong indication of internal stress or undue runout. This tension could be released upon re-sawing, but will result in crooked and warped plates.
  • You should search for quatersawn wood. This is often very difficult to find and especially difficult to find Eastern Black Walnut, Honduras Mahogany, or Sapele that is quarter sawn.


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