CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: Quartersawn VS Plainsawn Oak and its use in conga making

Thursday, August 14, 2008

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Quartersawn VS Plainsawn Oak and its use in conga making


'If you are buying your lumber kiln dried, then you will have less to worry about. But if you are buying green or air dried, then your main concern should be on stability. The quarter sawn boards will generally have less movement (shrinkage) when drying. The way the cells are aligned will cause the quarter sawn board to shrink a little bit in width and very little in thickness. Quarter sawn boards are also much less prone to warping.

Plain sawn boards have grain in multiple directions, this will cause un-even drying and in turn cause the board to warp (cup, twist, and bow). The shrinkage rate is also much more pronounced in plain sawn boards. Due to the grain's orientation in the board, the board will shrink considerably in thickness as well as width.'

Yes, this article is about problems of warping during the drying, or curing process, but the same principals apply to the wood once its dry. Its not just warping, but how it expands and contracts, from day to night, winter to summer.. those twilight gigs near the ocean from dry to wet, or times you play in the sun... As well as how it reacts to being dropped, banged or knocked, for you bar gigging cats (i said that like i wouldn't take the gig ;)

You never know what happens... i feel a bad story coming on...

Once upon a time, I played a gig with a few other acts. We were third in the line up, with the headliner after us. We had to get our gear off the stage quickly, and the only place to put the drums was at the top of some stairs (3 of them) in front of a sliding glass door with a curtain drawn behind it. It looked like an unused room, with the light off.

So.. long a bit shorter, im watching the last band from across the way, and to my left, i see the curtain swing open quickly. I knew i was in trouble, as the drums were kind of in the dark. ... It was like slow motion... me, moving like quick sand through people to make it to my drums.. as the glass door slid smoothly open.

..a smiling dancing drunk girl squirts out of the room and simply bowling pins my drums.. all three of them (LP classics, two ply), with two tumbling down the stairs in front of a gasping audience...

... i try to put it out of my mind.. but it happens. Seriously... it was a bit traumatic. I guess my life must be easy, if i let that bug me, but to see those tubs bouncing down the stairs! ... it pains me to think about it.

Henceforth, i appreciate the durability of a conga a bit more than in the past.

These LP Classics from the mid 80's were very marked up, but solid as a rock. They are some of the best gigging drums, for your average working musician. You can easily get them for 250 each or so, on the used market.

Also, stability is a big issue in climates that go from hot to cold, humid to dry over and over. Even the Matt Smith plainsawn oak conga had cracking issues. That's why he does not like to make them that way - its was a special order against his advise.

This is one of the reasons an older Valje is so long lasting, given the relatively thin shell. These drums had very few cracks for how much they were used, and how old they are (30-40 years often, without significant cracking issues)

There was one issue, with his signature cross cuts on the inside of the belly..but man that is very thin there (a quarter inch, often) - you do see 'blow outs', or a horizontal crack on a stave from time to time at the belly. But the sound of that shape! man he pushed the wood to the edge of its structural will, to get that shape. Toms later work was not as fat bellied, for this reason, i believe.

But back to the issue...

The ideal stave is quartersawn and close continuous grain from head to toe, meaning you can follow the same age line from the top to the bottom of the stave. Matt believes, and i agree, that this continuous grain increases the sonic resonance of the shell, giving more projection, without as much ring.

There is an interesting thing to add... the warping of the wood is lessened and is more stable in quarter sawn oak, but the resonance is better, meaning the wood is more stable, and more flexible in its sonic characteristics, at the same time, if you follow me. These 'micro' movements of vibration that produce sound is not the kind of movement that would cause a well made conga to crack, usually. Wood that is not cured correctly, stress from the hardware, or warping of plainsawn staves, and dropping your conga off of a tall building will cause cracks. The Plainsawn Oak is more rigid, if not more stable, thus the ringing issues.

Virtually every crack i have seen, or fixed on a Valje has been on a stave that is not quartersawn, as some of his later LA models, or they were not continuous grain, as in this picture.

Ive seen some very very old, and very very used valjes used in dance class for over 20 years, among other duties. When i witnessed her, she was being beat with a fat stick, on the uncracked, tight continuous grained shell.. Man that Tom Flores was quite a craftsman. The more i know, the more i respect his work.


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