Roast Your Own
by Mitch Roberson
Luthiers have long used roasted or tempered wood in stringed instruments because the roasting process pre-stresses the wood and caramelizes the sugars, sealing the pores and rendering them more resistant to moisture. While these properties are beneficial for guitars and violins, it occurred to me that roasting could be advantageous in other applications.
Roasted maple also takes on a toasty, chestnut color that enhances the figure. Could I get similar results in a standard oven? Everyone seems to be roasting their own coffee and cocoa beans lately, so why not try to roast some maple?
When I first became intrigued by roasting, I looked into sources of roasted wood and found it available at specialty wood suppliers that cater to luthiers. The process seemed mysterious: They roast the wood in special vacuum-sealed kilns at 360° Fahrenheit (F).
I had some nice maple, so I experimented. I heated my kitchen oven to 360° F, put in a few pieces of maple and let them cook for several hours.
The wood became dark and toasty in some places, but a washed-out gray in others. I thought my experiment had failed and set the wood aside.
Once the wood cooled and acclimated for a few days, I started playing around with it and was surprised at how the wood had changed. The wood smelled like maple syrup, especially when I cut into it. But more important, the surface felt as smooth as marble.
I made a couple of cutting boards with it and was thrilled to see a rich, deep, chestnut color with a bit of red in it when I applied oil. Compared to untoasted maple from the same tree, it looked like a different species.
Web: Visit the author’s blog.
Article: “I Can Do That” host Chad Stanton looks at thermally modified wood.
Web: Read this discussion of whether heat treating the wood affects the tone of a
Article: Read about a different kind of unusual wood – mahogany reclaimed from the waterways.
To buy: “Step-by-Step Guitar Making,” by Alex Willis.
in our store: “Make a Wooden Smoothing Plane,” a video from Scott Meek.
From the November 2015 issue