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Awesome, Ridiculous Rosewood

December 29, 2023

Good Morning, Y'all!
This is the last shop blog of 2023. What a year this has been! I owe a big "THANK YOU" to my amazing shop staff (Dad & Cheyenne), and to Pam (our shop sewer & all-around organizer), to Aly (the shop wife - mine!), and to all of you who made this year possible. Y'all are awesome!
I'm going to talk about East Indian rosewood today. One of my all-around favorite woods, but a giant pain in the neck to deal with.
Why is East Indian rosewood one of my favorites? Because it looks great, and it sounds great. The dark purple color is stunning, and the warmth of tone is amazing.
Why might this be a "pain in the neck" wood? Sourcing, cost, dry time, and irritation. 
Sourcing. During the virus a few years ago, most of my domestic suppliers stopped importing all kinds of lumber, rosewood included. Luckily, I've since found "a guy" in India - and he's provided us with awesome wood.

two 35 inch slabs of rosewood
Two slabs of rosewood - thirty-five inches long, nine inches wide, and two inches thick.

Cost. This stuff is expensive. Ridiculously expensive! We charge an extra $410 for dulcimers made of rosewood - and while it is worth every penny, that's a lot of money to me, and to a lot of you.

slabs of rosewood cut down into dulcimer sized pieces
Two slabs cut into smaller pieces. I'll get backs from the two pieces on the left, sides from the two middle pieces, and fretboards from the two pieces on the right.

Dry time. The lumber comes to us wrapped in plastic. Soaking wet. It is wrapped in plastic so it won't dry out (and crack, horribly!) during transit from India to Indiana. When a slab arrives here, I have to immediately slice it into finished parts, and then let it sit for a year or two. Which ties up a lot of money - and shelf space - for wood that's not usable until well into the future.

rosewood dulcimer planks
Here's what I got from those two (very expensive) slabs of lumber. From left to right: Six backs/tops (6" wide, for resonator dulcimers); two fretboard veneers; Seven backs/tops (4 1/4" wide, for standard dulcimers); Six sides; Two fingerboard blanks; and Seven sides. Keep in mind that each side/top/back needs to be a book matched pair, so "six sides" is enough for three dulcimers.

Rosewood dust is an irritant. Worse than Western red cedar, even. I have to wear a mask when dealing with the sawdust, otherwise I can get congested for a week or more. Rosewood dust isn't a known carcinogen (unlike walnut), but rosewoods are seriously annoying to work with.
I mentioned "pain in the neck," but I still think rosewood is awesome. Too bad we can't grow rosewood trees here in Woodburn!
Thanks for everything, Y'all - you're appreciated more than you know!
Richard Ash, luthier-with-rosewood-dust-under-his-fingernails