~The Woodpile~

Otis A. Tomas ~ Stringed Instruments


Wood is the foundation of an instrument, and its individual character is expressed in the completed work. Each tree has its own peculiarities and qualities of voice that make every instrument unique; and each luthier chooses his wood for the characteristics he hopes to find in his or her finished work.

My workshop is stocked with a variety of woods from around the world -- ebony, rosewood, mahagony and many others; but I am especially fond of the lovely curly maple and spruce from trees that I have known and harvested myself -- that share with my own life a connection with the land around where I live.

Below are some pictures of a couple of my favorite trees.

Sugar Maple








To the right here is a picture of what has become a companion to the maple tree above. It is an ancient red spruce tree that had grown for hundreds of years in the beautiful woodlot of Windhorse Farm (now owned by Jim Drescher and run as an Eco-Forestry school) near New Germany, Nova Scotia. This example of careful and sustainable forest management is encouraging in the light of the rapid depletion of truly fine instrument quality timbers worldwide.


For soundboards, the stiff, light, straight grain of old growth red spruce is ideal for its musical response and tone.







Below, you can see the spruce logs being twitched by horse through the snow and out of the woodlot.









 To the left is a picture of a giant old maple tree that grew on the hillside across the road from where I live.


I remember the Autumn day some years ago when I took this grand old maple tree down. Until that day, it had reigned for many years over the forest on the mountainside on the other side of the road, serene and unchallenged, its huge girth and towering canopy dominating all the other trees around. If ever the forest had a wise and experienced guardian, this was it. It had obviously stood there for what would have been many generations of my kind, watching the seasons come and go, growing tall and strong as the trees around it grew and died and grew again.


I had come to know this tree, having visited it many times since I came to live here. I had looked at the burly spreading flanks of its trunk as it rose out of the ground, and marvelled at the years it had taken to grow, one layer of grain at a time, year after year, a living record of the cycles of climate and history of one forest community. Remembered somewhere within those deep layers were summers of growth and plenty, late springs and sudden thaws, long droughts and autumn rains. I felt humbled in its presence.


I debated within myself well over a year before bringing myself to claim this majestic giant. I knew that with its richly figured grain, fiddles and 'cellos could sing with the unique character of these woods I knew so well. I only hoped that I could do justice to the immensity of the act of cutting it down; that somehow the voice that it would gain in our company would balance the loss to the community on the hillside across the road.


Before I went to it with the saw, I visited it with my son and played for it a tune on the fiddle. If it could have taken any notice of us, I wonder what it would have made of the strange sounds we were sending it, and if it would have understood that someday it too would learn to play that same music?


Red Spruce







A stack of fresh cut spruce starting to season. The ends are first sealed with wax to prevent checking.

Wood must be air dried for several years before use.

Here it is stored in the upstairs loft of my workshop.


Sugar maple, from the tree pictured above.



A selection of figured Cape Breton maple.










"Bird's eye" maple salvaged from a local firewood pile.






In addition to native species of spruce and maple, I also keep a selection of imported woods such as ebony, rosewood, mahogany, and other species. Glenn Drodge (www.spanishbaydesign.ca), a fine local woodworker and supplier, is for me a convenient source for imported woods.

To the right is pictured some beautifully figured imported Brazilian rosewood for guitar backs and sides.




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