Our West Part Two

August 1, 2008 by archiesmith



I am currently in Park City, Utah exhibiting at the Kimball Arts Festival.  After the Bellevue Museum of Art Art Festival last weekend, I headed south into Oregon looking for wood.  Those of you who are woodworkers know that the Pacific Northwest is a “Mecca” for fine woods.  This area is the native habitat for the big leaf maple and the incomparable quilted maple grain pattern.  This wood is highly prized for small pieces of fine woodworking and also for musical instruments.  In addition to the big leaf maple, this area also has beautiful myrtle wood and madrone.  Many of the hardwood companies that offer fine exotic woods from around the world are also to be found in the Pacific Northwest.

Although I knew of several companies dealing with these fine woods from “E-Bay” and other orders, I asked several of the local woodworkers at the Bellevue show about sources for burls and really good instrument grade woods.  Several of them told me of Gilmer’s Hardwoods in Portland, Oregon.  One of these fellow wood aficionados gave the address so I plugged the address into my GPS and Gloria took me right there.  (Have you noticed that all GPSs have a female voice – so I named my GPS “Gloria.”)  I was very impressed with the variety and quality of the woods there, but also impressed with the personal service.  I got there late in the afternoon and the owner, Miles Gilmer, stayed late after business hours helping me.  I restrained myself admirably, but got a wonderful piece of Quilted Maple and Camphor Burl (from East Asia.)  I also found a type of wood that I had long sought but, up until now, had been unable to find.  It was a piece of Ceylon Sandalwood.  It has a yellowish color and a grain pattern that makes it appear almost holographic and three dimensional.  I can’t wait to make some psalteries from it!

In southern Oregon, I went to a burl dealer that a fellow woodworker and friend in Asheville told me about.  I got a large piece of curly/crotch claro walnut for instrument backs and two burl pieces.  (Those of you who are not woodworkers may not be familiar with “Burl Wood.”  “Burls” are like big warts on the side of some trees.  Some burls can be HUGH and I am not sure that anyone really knows what causes them (one current theory is that they are caused by viruses).  Most trees do not have them, but some do.  They can be cut off of the tree without endangering the life of the tree itself.)  The thing that makes burls a favorite of all woodworkers (and particularly wood turners) is the fantastic grain pattern.  The grain pattern in a burl grows in swirls with “eyes”, and other grain patterns.  Burls are true “gems” for woodworkers.  I got a billet (“block” that can be cut into instrument tops and backs) of Maple burl and Madrone burl.  These burls will make BEAUTIFUL Psaltery tops.

I then headed south into Northern California to the Redwood Forests.  These trees will take your breath away at their sheer SIZE and beauty.  As I drove along the Pacific Costal Highway, I happened across the small hamlet of Oreck.   There I saw a small business on the side of the road advertising “Redwood Burls.”  Before I was consciously aware, I was braking with my turn signal on.  I looked through many Redwood Burl slabs and billets until I found just what I was looking for – a slab with grain pattern swirls and “eyes”.  I bought it and will resaw and bookmatch it, and make it into absolutely gorgeous psaltery tops.

After the show here at Park City, I will be on my way to Sun Valley, ID for my last show of this tour.

More later…

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