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Figured, Quilted, Flamed

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by boofis, Mar 13, 2004.

  1. Hi
    I'm not very experienced, but I was wondering how you can get a quilt, figured, or flamed piece of wood? Is it how it grows? How its cut? Or is it just a different wood?
  2. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    It's all in how the wood grows. These types of figure are generally caused by irregularities in the grain direction of the trees as they grow. When cut, the light reflects off of the differently oriented fibres err... differently, causing flame or quilt.
  3. If you ever want to see exactly why these woods look like they do, try getting a little little field microscope - 30x - or something similiar and take a close look at these specimens. You'll find the smallest fibers aligned into tight curvy patterns. Some of the arcs go sideways to the top grain and some of them go up and down (into the wood) so you get fibers going every direction. The direction of the fibers allows light to penetrate the surface to different depths and this gives you that great variegated pattern.

    Some terms for describing figured woods AFAIK:

    Figure - Any wood with visible patterning. It refers to grain figure as well as flame figure.

    Flame - Generally the "fingerlike" striped figure but the term is used generically for most types of figure.

    Quilt - Large, chunky figure appearing like bubbles of padding on a quilt or the bottom of a sandy stream.

    Fiddleback - small, narrow and tight flame figure. Called that because of it's popularity in violin construction.

    Tiger flame - only gets this designation if the striped fingers originate from opposite sides of the board and, instead of the stripes appearing across the entire width, end near the center of the board and interlace with the others originating from the other side. I know, it's sort of an esoteric delineation.

    Curly - Usually a generic descriptive term for all flame figuring.

    Birdseye - Small, randomly spaced pattern of tiny "eyes". Sometimes these eyes are large enough and close together enough to have their edges begin to blend together. I have heard this type of figure called "blistered".

    Hope this helps
  4. Figjam


    Aug 5, 2003
    Boston, MA
    I have a question. Is the quality of a piece of .say.. quilted maple.... is it more valuable if the 'quilts' are bigger, and less if they are smaller?
  5. gyancey

    gyancey Supporting Member

    Mar 25, 2002
    Austin, TX
    It depends. Which do you like better? That's the one with higher value. Also some figure is better shown with certain cuts of wood. Flame figure shows best on quartersawn surfaces, quilt and birdseye on flat. Good, quartersawn spruce has this magical, fluffy "silk" appearance that I love.
  6. I can say with some certainty that symmetry, depth, coloration, and rarity will each have some affect on the price. I'm sure there are more and the experienced eye will see them better than I would.

    Hey Larry! (of Gallery Hardwoods) We could use a hand down here!! :help:
  7. schuyler


    Aug 5, 2003
    Atlanta, GA
    to add some terms to hambone's list:

    bearclaw: looks kind of like a bear used the tree for a scratching post, leaving small swirls of figure. only found in softwoods such as spruce.

    burl/crotch: think psychedelic here. lots of swirls, but usually without any sort of pattern. often found in the root burl or the crotch where the tree branches, hence the name. this wood is usually only suitable for veneers, as it is very unstable.

    bee's wing: similar to quilt, but with a pattern that resembles a, uh, bee's wing.

    in my experience, the various types of figure occur most commonly in maple, cherry, walnut and mahogany, although i've used a board of lightly curly padauk and i've got a nice board of swirly teak at the moment. the pricing of figured wood is more subjective than regular lumber. generally, i've found the price to be dictated by the seller's sense of aesthetics and the percieved rarity of the piece.
  8. I thought of another term: Fleck

    This is a tough one. Fleck is found in certain woods like Oak after cutting in a particular way that I'm not sure of. It looks like narrow ribbons running the length of the board with each ribbon having little dark and light stripes across it's width. It's considered very desirable in acoustic instruments but I haven't seen too much in solidbodies.

    Schuyler is right about where you see these types of figure. Aside from the burl/crotch look, these are the most common species. That's why we covet certain other species when we can find them. I've got some nice flamey ash veneer and you all have seen my beautifull AAAA flame ash top I posted a couple of months ago. I've also got a mother board of some type of SA ebony with longitudinal variegation and a nice rolling flame pattern along it's entire length. BEAUTIFUL!!! I can't wait to bring out that boards' looks. I've also got some curly pear (very white and hard) and I think I've got some curly red cedar around here.
  9. Bard2dbone


    Aug 4, 2002
    Arlington TX
    Curly red cedar? Does it look like redwood?

    That would be seriously cool. What are you planning to use it for?
  10. Yes, it sorta looks like redwood but the contrast between the flame figure and the...uh...unflame/negative flame(?) is pretty dramatic. The surface of the wood has a very bright reflection. Unfortunately the pieces aren't big enough to build anything substantial from. I'm also afraid of doing anything as far as a finish - other than something clear.

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