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Disston Rip Saw, Stanley Scrub Plane, Douglas Fir Guitar Top

Towering up to heights as great as 220 feet, with sometimes 100 feet of trunk clean of branches, arrow straight, and with almost no taper below the crown discernible to the naked eye, an ancient Douglastree may be 17 feet in diameter.

Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of Western Trees, 1953

Douglas fir isn't often used as tonewood for classical guitars, many makers think that it is too heavy of a wood to be used for guitar tops. The strength of Douglas fir is phenomenally strong, its specific gravity is 0.50 and its modulus of elasticity is 1.95! Compare that to Sitka spruce's specific gravity of 0.42 and its modulus of elasticity at 1.57.

I think it is great wood, and, yes, I am biased because I was weaned on a chunk of Douglas fir, it was a playmate along with ponderosa and sugar pines, incense cedar and black oak.

The point of all this is there is a young classical guitarist who wants me to make him a guitar with a Douglas fir top.

This is the last piece of old growth Douglas fir that I possess, it was salvaged from old bleachers and I acquired it from a trim carpenter who was making doors out of this stuff.

Just think of all the butts that sat on this wood...

Ripping it down with my trusty No. 7 Disston rip saw...

To the saw horse for the last few inches...

One problem with ripping out tops from a piece of wood that is under an inch in thickness is you don't always get to rip out two sets of tops. I suppose if I owned a real he-man Norm-ite 10 ton style re-saw bandsaw this wouldn't be an issue, but I enjoy the gentle noise of a hand saw.

To make sure that I end up with two pieces that are 5/32" to 3/16" of an inch thick, I reached for the No. 40 Stanley scrub plane.

Running this plane over and through the wood I can get a sense of the sound, the voice, this guitar top will have. I just listen to the blade cut the wood and I hear music...

The top after is has been smoothed with a No. 3 Stanley plane.

I have drawn the plantilla, or outline, that is based on one created by Manuel Hernandez and Victoriano Aguado, in 1961.

The grain on this piece of wood varies from 15 rings per inch to 32 rings per inch.

Very beautiful wood.

I can't wait to start working on this guitar...

Here is a YouTube of Karmen Stendler playing one of my favorite pieces by Joaquin Rodrigo.


  1. Doug fir is my favorite wood, too! I grew up in the pacific north west where it is a revered tree. Sad that there is so little old growth left.

    I love the story of your reclaimed fir from the bleechers. Yep, that's wood with soul. I live in the Bay area now, and pick through the wood salvage places here looking for old doug fir. sometimes I get lucky and find a few quartersawn sticks.

    anyway, i hope the build progresses apace for you. you are certainly starting out with the best material for the job. suerte amigo!

    -Adam of Oakland, CA


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