This section hopefully will assist you in the selection of woods for your instrument. Displayed are visual samples of many, but not all, of the woods that could be used. I should remind you that although a photo is helpful, wood in its amazing variety will almost always be different than what you see. Even in the same species there is a lot of variety. You should also be aware that almost all woods go darker in response to ultraviolet light (sunshine) some more then others. Although I've tried to keep the colors close to reality, their colors are going to be altered by your monitor. Regardless these photos will at least get you in the ball park.
Although generally a renewable resource, woodworkers everywhere face increasing difficulty obtaining quality woods from sources where responsible harvesting is taking place. Many of the tone woods take a generation to grow and are becoming more difficult to find. Some of the exotic trees like Brazilian Rosewood are so scarce that it's wood is like ivory and illegal to export. Substitutes will have to eventually be used. I strive to use quality materials and try to use most of what I purchase; smaller pieces going into bowed psalteries, thumb pianos, zithers and finally into hammered dulcimer playing hammers. What doesn't end up in an instrument or a cutting board usually warms my shop in the winter.
I encourage you to become informed about the economics and politics of the use of this resource. The key word is sustainable. The issues are many. I would also suggest you donate time or money to organizations that preserve, protect, or promote responsible use of our international resources. Planting a tree and limit your consumption.
If you have any questions regarding your choices, please e-mail or call me. I have a lot of experience to draw on.
Increasing number of wood suppliers are selling at lot of the more exotic species by the board. You can actually shop for them on line and get an accurate portrayal of its qualities. You will run across a lot of species you may have never heard of. If you'd like to do that, you can purchase the board yourself, have them ship it to me for use in an instrument. Make sure you check with me see if the board is large enough for the project.
Natural Wood Soundboards (colors will vary)
These woods are desirable for soundboards as they are light, strong and acoustically responsive.
L-Nutmeg Stained Cedar, R-Cedar
Stained Soundboards (over Redwood, Mahogany or Cedar)
Note: Stain color is not predictable as it depends on the the initial wood coloring and how it accepts stain. I don't stain spruce. It just doesn't take stain evenly. Staining enables you to still see some grain as opposed to painting with solid colors (below) which eliminates it. Check out photos that have stained soundboards. If you can't find one, contact me and I'll email you a jpg.
The photo below is of the three stains I use most; Java on the top, Brown Mahogany on the left and Georgian Cherry on the right. There is a piece of black paper in the center for reference. Nutmeg stain on Cedar, sample on right block above, can also be used.
Solid Colored Soundboards
Note: I can do almost any painted color you'd like although black and maroon are the most popular. Painting involves a coat of color on the soundboard leaving trim, sound hole design and pin panels natural wood. This is followed by clear finish over the whole dulcimer.
Walnut, Cherry, Paduak and Maple are the most common woods used for bridges. Other exotic woods can be used for bridges but they will cost more. Because of the scarcity and price of Ebony, I no longer offer that as a bridge wood although I can paint any of the above woods black to approximate Ebony.
Woods for frames, back and sides, etc (colors will vary)
Other exotic woods from the next section may be used for frames and back and sides of fretted instruments.
Woods often used for trim and pin panels. (colors will vary)
These woods, if they are exotics, can be used for bridges and frames of hammered dulcimers but there is additional cost depending on the species. Woods such as Ebony, Cocobolo and others are now cost prohibitive and as a result I rarely use them.