Wood concerns

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by daveze, Sep 29, 2003.

  1. I have a friend of the family who works for one of the electricty companies down here. They had a job where they were replacing a couple of power poles, and being a real champ, gave us three fat hunks of wood to be used as firewood by my dad. Its passed winter, so the fireplace has fallen into disuse, leaving two of the logs just sitting around.

    I can't remember exactly what the wood was (Tallowood he might've said, can't find a 'Tallowood' though) but the stuff is real heavy, stiff and hard (being used for power poles kinda requires it), not to mention that after probly near 50 years of seasoning I imagine it'd be pretty well stablised by now. And it had a sweet tone (I think), I gave it a knock it rang like bell. Problem is, it hasn't been dried properly for instrument use and the ends are a mass of cracks which then run up the outside as well. Will it be the same in the middle of the log?

    I'm kinda interested in using it in the neck as laminates, so I'm not looking at needing great big broad bits. If the cracks are small enough, would it still be okay for use in the neck? I'm not being stingey, just 'cost-effective' for a first instrument.

    Josh D
  2. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    Are you saying that what you have is 50 year old telephone poles?

    The new ones are all treated with chemicals. Either way, I wouldn't use them in any part of a bass, since they have been under stress for years and years out in the elements.
  3. Bass Kahuna

    Bass Kahuna

    Dec 3, 2002
    West Lafayette, Indiana
    Luthier, Custom Builder
    Uh, unless I'm mistaken, power poles were and are all treated with creosote (sp?), which can cause chemical burns on your skin, etc.

    I would NOT use them for instrument wood, nor would I burn them in my fireplace. Creosote is a very dangerous chemical.

  4. yeah, that's some pretty nasty stuff. i read an article about a guy who "luckily" lost "only" 20% of his motor function from breathing in trace amounts of sawdust while sawing old treated playground wood. I wouldnt mess with this stuff if i were you.
  5. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    Not only shouldn't you use the wood for a bass, don't burn it either if there's ANY chance someone will breathe any smoke.

    Website I just visited mentioned cancer of the scrotum - ouch! - I would imagine due to power company workers climbing the poles.
  6. Hmmm, these power poles you're talking about, are you refering to the way its done where you live? Cause I'm under the impression these are untreated, just natural wood. The wood itself being termite resistant.

    Now I'm slightly worried...

    Josh D
  7. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    To the best of my knowledge, power poles in the US are made of wood that has been made insect-resistant by the addition of serious chemicals. In the past creosote (which actually refers to a few different things) was used, although it's possible that the chemicals used in "pressure-treated" lumber may presently be used. Both are dangerous to your health when not properly controlled.

    It may be that in Australia, a wood is used that is naturally insect resistant, and cheap enough to be used for the poles. But I would check.

    You could start researching with a search on "tallo" under "common names" here. The search will result in several possibilities. Once you find several possible species, you can look them up here and on any of the other linked databases. You're looking for something that's Australasian, and grows tall and straight enough to make poles from. If you find it, you could then see if that species is naturally highly insect-resistant (since a power company will not take any chances on their infrastructure falling apart).

    You could also inquire with the power company.
  8. HannibalSpector


    Mar 27, 2002
    Turpentine is used throughout Australia for telegraph poles. This is what it could be?

    Being seasoned and dry it would be very hard to work with , very heavy and hardwoods such as these don't glue all that fantastic.
    Not a good choice for an instrument.
    Good for the BBQ furniture though;)

  9. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Well, D, you're in Australia, and that continent is very special in both flora and fauna. So you need to check with someone around your place that knows what's been used for telepoles down under.

    On the northern hemisphere, almost every pole is softwood, mainly some spruce, that has been impregnated with some arsenic agent. Rather nasty, to use short lingo....

    So, be careful.
  10. Pilotjones, you are an absolute champ. So far I've found two different types of Tallowwood: Eucalyptus Microcorys and Corymbia Maculta, though I'm leading towards it being the Eucalypt.

    On the insect resistance front, the sapwood is susceptible to some borer, but only the sapwood. According to the DPI the heartwood is untreatable using currently available processes, so in theory the wood in the middle of the log should be sweet on that front.

    I'm tutoring the dude's son next week, so I'll find out some more definite stuff on treatments and that sorta thing, though I'm pretty sure its un-treated. I'm still going to be careful working with the wood, operating on the fact that its probably insect resistant for a reason.

    Until then, I'd like to go back to my original question: will I be able to get some timber that I can use out of this log?

    Josh D
  11. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    My first guess is that you would never use wood with any sort of a crack for a neck.

    However, maybe one of the luthiers may recommend something to fill a crack, or to glue it closed?

    I was thinking that you could get a glue that "wicks" into the crack, clamp it closed, and wait for the glue to dry. But there is a problem with this. Originally, the wood had internal stresses. It then cracked, which relieved the stresses. If you glue the crack, closing it up and fixing it that way, you have reintroduced the original stress. I would then be afraid of the wood cracking again somewhere else.

    As to whether the wood is cracked all the way through or just at the ends and surface, I would guess that you'll only find out after you remove this bad wood. If the interior is sound, you will still want to let it sit and recover and acclimate after the resawing, and see if new cracks develop. I'm not certain on the time frame for this, but I would guess a month to a year.