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I've started using poplar for solid body electrics (Music Man style bass more specifically), and one of the things I've noticed is that the wood curls in the opposite direction relative to "normally grained" woods.

 

For example, maple and ash when cut will curl in a direction opposite the circular end grain direction.  But when the heartwood face is relieved during surface planing, poplar seems like it wants to curl inwards.  Am i crazy here, or is this the experience of others?

 

Thanks.....

Tags: curling, poplar

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Cupping is caused by poor drying/conditioning of the timber - it can go either way depending on the moisture gradient between the case and (the dry exposed surface) and the freshly cut surface - there are also stress mechanisms that cause a timber to cap - to get this in perspective: a fully quartersawn board going through the center of the log and cut clean on both sides at the same time is the board most unlikely to cup as both tension and moisture content is the same - anything else, particularly poorly dried timber will have a tendency to cup as a function of stress or unequal moisture gradients. Hope this helps. R.
Russ, this wood is 8/4 +, 13+" wide, and runs directly through the center. It was purchased from a lumber yard and supposedly was kiln dried. Dead flat (but rough sawn) when I bought it, but cupped inwards to the heartwood face when milled down to 1 3/4" (alternating 4x times between faces). I suppose it could NOT be kiln dried, or done improperly but have my doubts. At any rate I've never seen maple or ash do this, that is, cupping in the same direction as the grain curl, oh well....
Yep , Mac, it can be vexing but I just fired off the basics from my reference books to get things started - I'm not saying the yard dudded you but it is on the list of things that cause problems - I've just sent back a half a cube of 'select grade' mahogany because of poor kilning and 'conditioning' from my normally reputable and competent supplier. But, timber is also a difficult thing to work with and we all get surprised from time to time - internal stresses can make it do anything.

I don't see much movement in maple and we do enough bookmatch resawing to form an opinion there - my one piece swamp ash Teles alternatively cup and flatten with the seasons (about and eight of an inch at the edges) even though their kilning and finishing is know to be good.

I do cut initially with a bit of fat when using unstable stuff (myrtle, plantation mahogany etc) so I can let it settle and then face and thickness to finish dimensions. Hope someone else can do a better job of explaining this! Rusty.
POPLAR THE CHEAP STUFF, I DONT CARE FOR POPLAR UNLESS BUILDING A REALLY CHEAP GUITAR ALTHOUGH I HAVE SEEN SOME POPLAR GUITARS WITH AMAZING OVERLAYS OR VENEERS OVER THE TOP LIKE WILLIAM EATON FROM RV AND HIS GUITAR HARPS BUT THE DUDE IS A GENIUS .THAT IS NEITHER HERE NOR THERE SO I WOULD SAY POPLAR KEEP TRYING IT IS GOOD PRACTICE ILL GIVE YOU THAT AND YOU MIGHT EVEN BE ABLE TO SALE IT FOR SOME CASH $$$IN THE FUTURE
Paul, one of my hobbies is perusing the lumber yards for very wide 8/4" boards, and seeing how many board feet of lumber I can talk the fork lift operators into moving in order to liberate the wide stuff. Sometimes it goes well, other times I'm asked not to come back.... Anyway I think I read you have had similar experiences with ranchers and orchard owners out there, ha ha. Supposedly poplar was used for the original Music Man basses, plus its real cheap around here, and I'm curious as I've never tried it.....
While neither of the woods has any noticible problems with using seasoned good quality good are you talking about 'yellow" poplar - liriodendrom tulipefra - or one of the "Populus" species that dominate the colder northern parts of this plant (also included cotton woods). Yellow poplar has been use for electric guitars a lot lately and it is very stable wood and only suffers from light fugitive "mineral" streaks (some beautiful purples and greens that don't last) and isn't durable in ground contact. In general it's a bit more dense than most Poplus species but since there are tens of these and only two Lirodendron (one in China) comparison really have to be species specific. In the southern USA this is the largest native species and eight foot diameter/120 feet tall trees were girdled and burned to make "new ground" when this part of the world was "civilizied."

With the terminology barrier I'm not sure who's talking about what but I already know that Paul lives on one or near the left coast where these magnificant trees live. If he great up in the Central Appalachians I suspect wouldn't find popular (L. species) "cheap" as folks have literally been born, rocked, fed, lived, and buried in this wood and it can be staned easily to look like black cherry and with talent black walnut.

Solid body electric guitars are essentially a slab of wood and the electronics and skill are the critical part. Fender made it's reputation on Alder - which isn't that far removed from yellow poplar in density and hardness or tone and if Leo had settle in the east I'm pretty sure that his painted guitars would be made of Yellow Poplar since cost was one if his prime design factors. And his "blond' guitars were made from water/swamp ash - a light soft basically unmarketable ash species that is nothing like the ash used for tool handles and baseball bats. Again, if Leo was here, the clear finish Fenders would probably be made of sasassafras - nicer grain than the swamp ash and smells good too!
Rob, it's yellow poplar for sure, with the green/brown/purple mineral streaks. Like a giant prehistoric weed tree in my opinion, very unusual grain, fibrous and stringy. My plan now is to minimally hog plane it, gradually over time to minimize the cupping on the finished pieces, well see how it goes.

Thanks, guys...
Mac,

I dunno, having seen truly magnificent poplars and worked with a lot of it it's hard to think of the tree as either a "weed' (try alanthus) or fibrous and stringy. The grain is quite similar to soft maple and any of the other magnolias that are common around here. Not the hardest, shiniest, more durable wood I'll admit but my house - made in 1948 - is largely constructed of it (with American chestnut sub flooring) and it was widely solde as "whitewood" before the large softwoods were stripmined after WWII. Guess it's what you want a tree to be and I've found it to be predictable with my only complaint of it's having absolutely no rot resistance - but many other good woods are the same.

Around here you just can't help but like Yellow Poplar - it's like not liking the sky !

Rob
Hi,

Thought I'd pipe in.
Well my first 2 teles were poplar and my 3rd is sassafras.
I found the poplar excellent to work with and very stable easier on tooling too.
The sassafras is very nice too.

One piece poplar, or multiple pieces? Assuming you've worked with ash and maple a bit, what's your opinion on its (poplar) propensity to curl? I think I got burned with non kiln dried wood.....
Hi mac,
The poplar are 2 pce and the sassafras is 3 pce.
The poplar had ever so slight cupping but nothing that I couldn't sand out, I could have used a thickness sander but I did it by hand. Now the bodies did sit for awhile I might ad, my goal is to have a few sitting in rough shape so it can do all the moving it wants to then do a final thickness sanding. The poplar body weights are 4.2 lbs. the sass is 5ish.
The poplar & sass came from a reputable specialty wood store in Cambridge Ontario, AMWood inc. so it was already sitting awhile which is a key to stable lumber too.

I should also mention that they sound real good, I wind my own pups too.

Here are the three bodies, the one poplar is the blackguard and I still have one more to finish, probably amber burst.

Bill,

Nice - glad you like the woods! While I've worked with a lot of poplar - local mills cut thousands of board feet for rough construction and I can pick up "1/2 body" sized pieces from packaging lumber for free if you don't mind a few nail holes . Sassafras isn't milled as much nor does the tree often get that big. It more fits the description of a "weed tree" if you consider primary succession (those trees that first reclaim disturbed land, old farm land, etc., such as black locust, sumac...) so the trees get shaded out by the secondary forest before they get very big. Hence most of the pieces I've worked with are fairly small but occasionally I've encountered a 30-40 foot tree that's around 20" DBH. And one of these is what I'm going to try to find when my health improves cuz while playing around with pieces of sassafras that were destined to be kindling (a truly great kindling wood if you heat with a wood stove) I noticed a nice "ring" tap tone - especially for a wood with such a wide grain. So what I'd like to do is try the sassy for an acoustic guitar top. Might turn out to sound like mud but it's intriquing and I've heard a nice sounding lap dulcimer made of sassafras.
If you ever hit any of the tourist shops in Arkansas, or at least the northern part I was visiting, there's a cottage industry in carving fake oak items out of sassafras and damned if sassy didn't realy look like white oak with the right stain! The only thing missing were the medulary rays and few buyers of oak "antiques" know to look for them.

Rob

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