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Lignum Vitae (Vera Wood) fretboard?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by pa304, Mar 3, 2010.

  1. pa304


    Mar 3, 2010
    London, UK

    am new here. I'm currently building a 6-string frettless and when I was setting up and buying wood, I got hold of a piece of Lignum Vitae for the fingerboard. I'm getting to the stage where the fingerboard is going on and was just doing paranoid googling.

    The guy who sold me the wood runs an exotic wood dealership and happens to be a luthier, and he said that it'd be great - waxy and hard - ideal for fretless.

    But today I found some references to lignum vitae cracking and drying out, which is no good, so my question is:

    Would I be able to use Lignum Vitae for a fretboard?


  2. pa304


    Mar 3, 2010
    London, UK
  3. kuso


    Feb 25, 2010
    Plymouth, MA
    I don't have an answer for you, but I will say that you have to wait longer than seventeen minutes for an answer, usually :)

    This forum isn't always very active, but moreso than any other luthier forums I've found. Just be patient.
  4. pa304


    Mar 3, 2010
    London, UK
    thanks - looked on the main TB page that a lot is going on, didn't want it to be lost forever!
    I've got plenty of time to wait . . .
  5. mikeyswood

    mikeyswood Inactive

    Jul 22, 2007
    Cincinnati OH
    Luthier of Michael Wayne Instruments
    The drying is critical to success.

    If the moisture leaves the wood too quickly you will be screwed. Lignum Vitae made wheels from a hundred years ago are still able to be used.

    If the board is waxed you will want to let it acclimate for six months or more. If it is open I would let it acclimate to your shop for at minimum one month.
  6. M0ses


    Sep 11, 2009
    Los Angeles
    Don't worry, those of us who read the luthier's forum always read the luthier's corner.

    back to the OP, I have never even heard of this wood, but I'm sure someone (lots of people) will eventually chime in with their own differing opinions.
  7. Rickett Customs

    Rickett Customs

    Jul 30, 2007
    Southern Maryland
    Luthier: Rickett Customs...........www.rickettcustomguitars.com
    Yessir LV is a very hard wood, like mikey said, if it dries too quick, you are screwed. IIRC, when automobiles were in their infancy, it was used for some mechanical parts, before metals took it's place.

  8. pa304


    Mar 3, 2010
    London, UK
    Thanks for all the responses!

    I've had the piece of wood acclimatising since September. Should it be fully dry by now? It's a nice olive-green colour.
  9. I used Lignum Vitae for the bridge, binding, and fingerboard on this bass:


    It worked great for the bridge; I recommend against using it for a fingerboard. It is very hard to glue, and it moves around like CRAZY. I planed another fingerboard at the same time as the one used in this thread, it is now very twisted, sitting in my woodpile in San Diego (mild climate.) It is not a particularly hard wood to work, it is actually kind of pleasant. It smells nice. I ended up making a new neck for that bass, after the truss rod broke :( Ziricote is my new favorite fingerboard wood; polishes up to a beautiful gloss, has a gorgeous grain, it's very hard and relatively stable dimensionally.
  10. I agree with barnaclebeau... it's difficult to glue because it's such a waxy wood. LV (a.k.a. "ironwood") was used as bushings for propeller shafts on boats and supposedly on submersible water-craft as well due to it's self lubricating properties... almost like a natural alternative to a bronze bushing regarding applications. It's an amazing wood and very strong and hard but just as long as it's used for appropriate applications... fingerboards not being one of them IMHO.
  11. pa304


    Mar 3, 2010
    London, UK
    The tone and the mwah on that guitar are great! nice job btw. that's the sort of sound I'm looking for. Dilemma!

    When you say it moves do you mean it's not temperature/moisture stable?

    I've got a mahogany and purpleheart neck-thru neck with two truss rods so hopefully that should do a good job of holding the fretboard straight! (right?)

    Took a long look through your build thread. Is that fretboard just plain (i.e. unfinished)?
  12. pa304


    Mar 3, 2010
    London, UK
    Just as well I waited - I was going to do it all before christmas last year!

    This is where I got the original idea of using the wood from :
    He lists vera wood (alternative name?) as a fretless fingerboard wood
    but then maybe there are many woods that 'vera' could mean?

    so the waxiness is good for the sound, but bad for the gluing . . .
  13. David's designs and execution make him one of my favorite luthiers. Maybe he has a good method or adhesive to adhere the LV as a fingerboard. I'd sure like to know what he uses. ;)
  14. pa304


    Mar 3, 2010
    London, UK
    I guess everyone has their secrets! My brother spent 3 months working in the factory for Zai who make skis out of crazy combinations of materials (think granite glued to wood!) so I'll ask for some pointers.
    If I can get the whole thing to stick together I'm sure it'll be worth the effort :)
  15. I didn't have moisture issues, the heartwood is completely saturated with natural oils. (The sapwood seemed drier, was more difficult to work without chipping, and seemed even more inappropriate.)

    When I say it moves, it literally changes shape, signifigantly. I can't really relate it to temperature or moisture issues, San Diego is 70 degrees all year, and I keep my instruments in their cases in my closet. I've seen that characteristic shape-changing in other things made of Lignum Vitae as well, a box I found at a vintage store comes to mind...it busted all of its own glue joints. I think how much it moves is why it's called "Lignum Vitae", Tree of Life.

    As far as gluing, I wiped it down repeatedly with acetone to remove the oil, then glued it down with System Three structural epoxy, carefully avoiding squeezing all the epoxy out. After the trussrod broke, I took the neck off and put it in the closet. The fingerboard eventually popped completely off!

    One last thing, and I'm not trying to start Tone War 5, but the lignum FB on the ziricote/cocobolo neck sounded really muted and dead compared to the ziricote FB on the maple/walnut neck at the end of the thread. Nothing else changed, it was even the same strings. Significant tone difference.

    Both necks were Tung oiled, FB was bare.
    Big Shrek likes this.
  16. pa304


    Mar 3, 2010
    London, UK
    Ah - i only listened to the clip at the end (oops!)
    In that case . . .
    The guy I bought the LV from stocks Ziricote (not exactly bargain bin stuff is it!) so I'll get some of that!
    I was hoping to inlay Bubinga into it - if I get a darkish piece, hopefully I still can without it being invisible.

    Purple/Maple/Red-brown/dark-brown is a better combo than Purple/Maple/Red-brown/Grey-green anyway . . .

    Anyone out there building a nuclear submarine need a prop-shaft?;)
  17. Tdog


    May 18, 2004
    Tonal characteristics (pro/con), hardness, and movement properties aside...Lignum just isn't a good looking wood....It's a weird green-gold color. I've used enough of it on other projects to know that it wouldn't be in my top 50 choices for fretboard material consideration.
  18. I agree, it's not the prettiest stuff out there. I chose to use it because I thought it would be the most durable fingerboard ever, which turned out to be less of an issue than I thought. Amazing how much we learn from our experiences. The great thing about LC is that we can learn from each others' experiences!
  19. organicbass


    Dec 24, 2009
    I have heared of glued joints with waxy woods (such as cocobolo and lignum vitae) coming apart after a few months. fortunatly I found that if you use special formulated tropical wood epoxy and avoid wiping it down with acetone the natural oils in the wood react with the tropical wood epoxy in such a way that you get a the desired effect. a bit counter intuitive but it seems to do the trick
  20. bronzehydra


    Oct 14, 2008
    Mukilteo, WA
    I have a piece of LV, and all I can say about it is that its as hard as iron. I probably won't use it until I can find a good way to use it

    Barnaclebeau, the bass you built is gorgeous! It's honestly one of the best looking basses I've seen!
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    Primary TB Assistant

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