Koa Wood

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Koa Wood

Postby Ttaylor » Wed Jan 17, 2018 10:00 pm

I am thinking of possibly going ahead and buying me a piece of koa to have a builder build me a MD in the near future. How much Koa would I need for an all koa MD and how wide and long should it be. Thanks for any advice.
Trent
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Re: Koa Wood

Postby Frimp » Wed Jan 17, 2018 10:43 pm

Trent, several questions would have to be answered to determine a suitable size:

1. What particular dulcimer design will be used?
2. What will be the dimensions of the finished dulcimer?
3. Can the builder re-saw (and plane or sand) some of the blank into thin pieces?
4. Will the builder bookmatch the top and back panels?

I think a good starting size would be 3" thick (sometimes called 12/4) by 8" wide by 36" long.
But that's a guess only. Best wishes.
John
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Re: Koa Wood

Postby Ttaylor » Wed Jan 17, 2018 11:29 pm

Thanks For the information. Yes not knowing the builder or exactly how big it will be. I know it would be a guess as to how much I would need. But your suggestion gives me some idea. Maybe just go a little bigger to be safe.
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Re: Koa Wood

Postby KenH » Thu Jan 18, 2018 8:04 am

Here's my SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess) as to the amount of koa you'll need. If you're buying a single plank to be re-sawed, you'll want one board 36" long x 8" wide x 2" thick. Why? That gives you 3 slices of wood 1/8" x 8" x 32" for a top and a back and 2" wide side strips. You'll cut a 2" x 3" x 8" piece off of one end to make the core of a tuning head and tail block. There are lots of other ways to slice up this plank more efficiently that your builder will probably use; but this will give you more than enough wood to build even a large-ish Box shaped dulcimer.
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Re: Koa Wood

Postby Ttaylor » Thu Jan 18, 2018 9:29 am

That infomation is exactly what I was looking for. Now I can start looking for koa sellers to get that perfect piece.
Thanks for the help
Trent
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Re: Koa Wood

Postby dholeton » Thu Jan 18, 2018 10:25 am

Here's a url to a luthier who makes dulcimers with koa. The tops are spruce or cedar but the rest of the instruments are koa. If asked, the luthier might build one with a koa top.

http://electriclutist.com/The%20Electric%20Lutist/instrumentsforsale/Koa%20Dulcimer%201/Koa%20Dulcimer%201.html

Dave
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Re: Koa Wood

Postby Skip » Thu Jan 18, 2018 11:27 am

I did that several years ago. The piece I got was about the size KenH specified, maybe a bit thicker. I got mine from a wood supplier in Hawaii [don't remember the name]. The wood is hard and brittle, figured sides chip/crack easily and the piece I planned to use as a fret/finger board warped, so care must be taken in working it. The finished unit sounds and looks great. Be prepared for sticker shock as a good piece can be fairly expensive.
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Re: Koa Wood

Postby KenH » Thu Jan 18, 2018 4:50 pm

Yea -- Koa is NOT CHEAP, and shipping to the Mainland isn't either! I see that Hearne, out of Pennsylvania, claims to sell appropriate sized pieces for $44 to $66 per board foot. That board I talked about is 2x36x8 = 4 bd ft.
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Re: Koa Wood

Postby Ttaylor » Thu Jan 18, 2018 7:29 pm

Thanks everyone. I have contacted MMD to see if he would consider building me one out of koa. The sales person said he does not do custom orders much anymore but will ask. Appricate the help.
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Re: Koa Wood

Postby Robin the Busker » Fri Jan 19, 2018 4:58 am

Hi Trent,

Koa is a beautiful wood but the reason it is so expensive is that it only grows in Hawaii and the Islands have been largely de-forested and over-grazed, so large trees suitable for lumber are hard to find. Koa is not on the CITES list, and so not deemed endangered, but it still will have come a long way! Unlike many other instruments, the wood type used in a dulcimer has a lesser effect on tone than the instrument's general design factors (size, depth, sound holes, bridge position, stringing, tuning tension, etc). So perhaps you could look a little more local for material to have your special custom instrument made? All of the early dulcimer makers used timber local to their areas. Most intriguingly, they often used older reclaimed boards. For example, I have an old Ledford dulcimer that is made from yellow poplar boards that were originally installed in Howard Hall, Berea College in 1867 but taken out in a re-fit. Perhaps you could find an old church pew or similar locally or even an old piece of timber that's associated with your family (boards from a family home perhaps) to use for your custom build. In many respects this could make the instrument far more valuable emotionally to you than using shop bought exotic wood. And, in terms of the small effect wood type has on dulcimer tone, aged timber could certainly have the edge over new exotic.

Robin
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Re: Koa Wood

Postby KenH » Fri Jan 19, 2018 8:00 am

MMD builds superior, LOUD instruments. By the time you add his $800+ basic price tag to a couple hundred dollars worth of Koa, you'll have a small fortune invested in a custom instrument. That makes me want to ask a couple questions...

How long have you been playing? Is this your second dulcimer or have you been playing for a few years?

Why Koa? There are LOTS of beautiful woods (Bubinga, Rosewood, Satinwood, Myrtle, to name a few) which are not nearly as costly...

Why MMD, David is one of the most expensive builders 'out there'?
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Re: Koa Wood

Postby asterhunter » Fri Jan 19, 2018 9:06 am

Historically, Koa was used in Polynesian war canoes. Off hand, it's the only tree I can think of used in instruments that's a legume. "Koa" is a native name meaning "warrior" or "soldier." Although it has been made into musical instruments like ukuleles this wood is a bit of a double edged sword. On one hand it's very dense and strong, similar in characteristics to black maple. It can have beautiful multi-colored grain and takes staining and finishing well. It glues well, so no special techniques are needed there. And, of course, it has very good resonating qualities. On the other hand- koa can be difficult to work with as mentioned above. First off, make sure your tools are sharp and stay sharp when working with this wood. Dull tools can ruin your efforts in a hurry. Also, it can be brittle to work with especially if over dried. Pieces with swirly grain may be attractive to look at but that grain makes machining even harder. Be prepared to be extra patient working with this wood. Koa does have good stability- a 5% change in moisture content will produce only a 1% change in size, across the grain. This is true whether you're working with quartersawn or flatsawn wood.

To my knowledge at this time, this tree itself is not endangered, however it is home for some species of birds and other wildlife that are. Hawaii has instituted strong conservation measures with this tree.

David Elosser
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