Milling wood for guitar building can save you a lot of money. Wood for guitar back and sides can be milled from large planks if you have the equipment. And if you can find suitable wood. It is also an activity best suited for the strong and fit.
You can either buy large planks from a wood dealer or you can cut the tree yourself. Either way it works best if the planks are at least 2″ thick. This way you can get the graphics you are looking for by cutting it a certain way. Your choices are limited with a thin piece.
Do not cut planks to length right away. The length of usable wood you will end up with (due to end checking) cannot be guessed at beforehand.Sticker them and set them aside until they are dry before you start re-sawing them. Wood being stored should always be stickered (see photo) to get air on both faces to prevent cupping. The two to three inch thickness will take more time to dry but will result in less waste.
Cutting wood for guitar backs and sides means that you will be re-sawing wood at least 8 inches wide. That will require a good band saw with a minimum power of 3HP. Generally the larger the band saw,the more horsepower, the better.
Only use quarter sawn to rift cut wood for guitars. Depending on the diameter of the tree, you will get only the center 3 to 5 slabs. Use the rest of the wood for furniture or something else. Flat sawn wood is too unstable for guitars and should be avoided since it will cause problems down the road. Quarter sawn wood, if cut properly, should slice up pretty thin without problems and remain flat.
The thinner slices you make, the greater the yield. But make sure it is dry when you slice it up. If the wood is wet it will twist and cup as it dries after you cut it. On the other hand, slicing it too close to the final dimension is not recommended either. After milling and clean up it may be too thin and will result in more waste, so you have to judge how much extra to leave for safety. This will depend on how well your bandsaw can re-saw wood this size.
Sizes for Best Yield
When milling wood for guitar building purposes the optimal size piece for re-sawing backs and sides is 40″ lengths about 8′ wide. For every two slices you will get two book matched backs. Slice the backs to about .150″. Another two slices will yield two sets of sides. If you are laminating the sides they may be sliced thinner than the backs, or about .085 – .090″.
If you estimate how many sets of backs and sides you will end up, make all your back cuts first and save all your side cuts for last. This way you can cut 8 niches off the length before you cut your sides. This will give you enough wood for bridges and headpiece veneers. This is how to get the best yield from your wood.
Be sure to visit the section on guitar wood on the web site for more information about the desired characteristics of wood used in making a guitar.