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Thread: Olive wood for mandolin body?

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    Default Olive wood for mandolin body?

    Would olive wood work for a mandolin back and sides. Has anyone here ever tried olive wood?

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    Just on the fact that the mandolin originated in Italy, I'd guarantee that many have been made from olive wood.

    If you get a bit more nerdy, consider the Janka hardess scale. Maples, the most common choice for back and side materials tend to be around 950 for the soft versions; hard maples 1450+. I've used Brazilian rosewood very successfully on many mandolin back and side sets at approx. 2900 Janka. Olive is approx. 1520, so you are in the ballpark.

    Having spent a lifetime using non traditional materials, I'm most concerned with the individual board:

    - Does it inspire me when I pick it up?

    -When I tap and rub and scratch on it, does it respond with musical qualities or just a wet dull thud?

    -Is it visually something that I find appealing?

    -Did my test pieces glue up and hold together easily and did they take the finish I like to use with ease? ALWAYS makes tests on new woods, even if they are known species!

    -Has it been in my shop or a known place drying sufficiently long enough that I feel it will be stable?

    - Is it well quartered and dimensionally cut such that I feel it will be stable?

    -For all of the time and effort it will take me to build a nice mandolin, am I choosing this piece of wood based on sound outcomes or is it simple an act of convenience...like it was in the way on the shop floor, but it was paid for so why not use it...

    -Is it an emotional attachment to the wood? Did my 9x great granddaddy cut it down by hand when he worked as a 13 year old apprentice for Stradivari back in the old country? (Condino is a bicycle ride from Cremona!)

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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    According to the Wood Database, olive wood glues well and works well but with some tear out due to interlocking grain. It also has pores so filler might be necessary. The most worrisome observation is that it is not considered dimensionally stable. That, to me, would be enough to disqualify it.
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    Olive wood is gorgeous, even without finish, but: The trees are cut when they start bearing less, so though there are a lot of them, the lumber is quite small. And, the wood is really, really unruly, as you can see with the kitchen implements made out of it. I have a spoon that’s nearly corkscrewed. How it does with very careful seasoning, I don’t know. Laminated up or veneers might be better.

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    The only musical instruments I've seen made of olive wood were some various woodwinds. I'm curious if any mandolins were made.

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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    Olive wood has a very irregular grain with lots of knots. I would wonder how it bends. It can look great.

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    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    Given that olives have been cultivated for centuries, I’d suspect that if the wood were suitable in any commerce it would be well known.

    Like many ‘fruit’ trees, olives are not grown from seed and are grafted. Orchard trees typically are grown under high stress conditions, not known to produce great timber.
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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    Oh, there are gift shops in Athens that sell nothing but items made from olive wood. There is no question of its commercial value. I do not know about its suitability for instrument making, however, Given the characteristics noted in this thread, it sounds like it might be more trouble than it's worth.
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    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    Here’s a video of a violin out of olive wood...kinda different, very fun grain, meh sound, but the builder was not a skilled builder.
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    He also made the top of olive wood. It probably would be better with a spruce top and using the olive for back and sides.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    I have a favorite kitchen spatula and spoons made from olive wood. Bill Kirkpatrick is a ex-pat musician who used to hang around here a bunch who oversees or owns an olive orchard in Tuscany. Do you wood gurus know how large the olive trees get? Can you get a quarter-sawn piece wide enough for at least a two-piece top?
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    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    Quote Originally Posted by mrmando View Post
    Oh, there are gift shops in Athens that sell nothing but items made from olive wood......
    Tourist shops worldwide are known for the use of native materials in high quality items. Myrtlewood?
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    Liked this from James Condino! “ -Is it an emotional attachment to the wood? Did my 9x great granddaddy cut it down by hand when he worked as a 13 year old apprentice for Stradivari back in the old country? (Condino is a bicycle ride from Cremona!)”
    But would this be a plus or a minus? All the other questions seemed like positives. Maybe if they all got Yes answers, this would ice the cake?

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  22. #14

    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    I am not a wood guru. Olive trees tend to be slower growing and smallish in diameter. They can eventually grow into large trunks that I have no doubt you can get pieces wide enough. However, the older they get, the more twisted and gnarled the trunks. So it is possible to get wood wide enough, but it is not a sustainable production method. It would have to be one-off pieces carefully selected.

  23. #15

    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    One interesting takeaway from the nicely-produced video MM found is that it wasn’t necessary to bend the sides of the violin at all, as they were just hogged out with grain direction completely arbitrary. Since the same thing could be done with a bandsaw, and those parts aren’t ‘acoustic’, I guess there may be some other reason for not doing this. Another bit was carving the bass bar directly as part of the top. Not sure why internal green LEDs were included!
    By the way, this lesson on advanced jig design for CNC wasn’t intended to produce a musical instrument, for several obvious reasons, but it certainly made four distinctive VSOs. The starting wood shipment does seem to indicate that large pieces are not easily available.

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    ...... Myrtlewood?
    Myrtlewood is an excellent material for steel string guitar backs & sides. It was one of the local domestic woods that we used regularly back in the day when I worked for Kim Breedlove; 'can't say enough good things about it for guitars. I also made approx. 11 mandolins for them using myrtle for the back, sides, and neck that turned out great.

  25. #17

    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    Anyone know whether Russian olive might work assuming one can find the appropriate size and grain? They are cutting a shyteload of it around here. Its invasive. Looks like heartwood could be a nice dark color but most pieces are small.

    Gary Davis

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    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    Quote Originally Posted by j. condino View Post
    Myrtlewood is an excellent material for steel string guitar backs & sides. It was one of the local domestic woods that we used regularly back in the day when I worked for Kim Breedlove; 'can't say enough good things about it for guitars. I also made approx. 11 mandolins for them using myrtle for the back, sides, and neck that turned out great.
    Apparently the subtle mention of tourist shops failed to stimulate a link to the ubiquity of Oregon coast souvenir shops selling a wide variety of ‘exotic’ myrtlewood items. Unfortunately, many of these are no longer in business.

    Myrtlewood trees are large, wild and produce fine, unstressed lumber which is not the case of most olive, I suspect.
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    This thread made me curious to see if any instrument makers from Crete used olive wood, but I couldn't see any sign of it.
    Mulberry seems to be popular for the bodies of various instruments.

    When I was in Crete, I was told that olive is often used for firewood, and as there was a lot of olive groves around, that seemed to be the main use for wood which had been trimmed from them. That suggests to me that olive is not much good for instrument making.
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    I have a mid-Eastern, probably mulberry bowl-back instrument, carved from solid! There are dozens of similar traditional types in the area, many also hollow forms. The wood isn’t particularly interesting, but the astounding thing is that it can be hollowed that much without drying cracks, and presumably without fancy recipes or PEG. The very long, narrow and seemingly stable necks (wood unknown) are also impressive.
    In the West, carved or turned food bowls were often made from burls, where the interlocked, crazy grain helped long-term stability.
    Before they imploded, I’d browse Pier 1 or similar importers just to see the items made from all sorts of interesting woods mostly from Indonesia, although I never knew what they were.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    Quote Originally Posted by GaryDavis View Post
    Anyone know whether Russian olive might work assuming one can find the appropriate size and grain? They are cutting a shyteload of it around here. Its invasive. Looks like heartwood could be a nice dark color but most pieces are small.
    I am no wood expert but perhaps the experts on this site can comment on the difference between real olive and Russian olive woods. Looks like they are different genus and species and have much different properties. It sounds like Russian olive is a rampant invasive species. Too bad it might not work for musical instruments or other useful things.

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    I spent yesterday afternoon looking through approx. 30 million dollars of exotic woods over at West Penn Hardwoods main warehouse outside of Hickory, North Carolina. While there, I was able to checkout a big pile of seasoned olive wood. It was lightweight, had a variety of beautiful figure and colors, and was very resonant when tapped, scratched, & pounded on. I could see no reason why it would not make a fine mandolin wood for a skilled maker.

    That place is amazing and I found their prices very fair and competitive. They are one of the last giant type wood shops around that still let you go through the stacks and wander around unattended. Amazing inventory & the folks who worked there were all very nice & helpful; well worth a visit if you are in the area....

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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    This thread makes me think of the trees we've planted on our property and the possibilities they might hold for some luthier who perhaps hasn't yet been born. We have cherry, mesquite, grape, peach, plum, apricot, pomegranate, apple, lemon, lime, tangelo, grape, blackberry, olive, pear, mulberry, mandarin, and one more that's escaping my recollection at the moment. If at some point after I'm gone, some deadfall from our orchard should serve a luthier, my soul would rest easy.
    Now, what was I after when I wandered in here?

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    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sheila Lagrand View Post
    This thread makes me think of the trees we've planted on our property and the possibilities they might hold for some luthier who perhaps hasn't yet been born. We have cherry, mesquite, grape, peach, plum, apricot, pomegranate, apple, lemon, lime, tangelo, grape, blackberry, olive, pear, mulberry, mandarin, and one more that's escaping my recollection at the moment. If at some point after I'm gone, some deadfall from our orchard should serve a luthier, my soul would rest easy.
    Holly cornucopia! I’m guessing you like fruit salad?
    Sounds delicious!...except for the mesquite, unless you’re smoking meats.
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  36. #25
    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Olive wood for mandolin body?

    Maybe not for fruit salad, but mesquite makes a kick a$$ D28!

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