Understanding Hardwood

The Master music box craftsmen of the 1800's chose hardwood for their creative work. Wooden music box gifts created in my shop are all made from domestic hardwoods or exotic hardwoods to obtain the best sound quality. These beautiful wood species enable me to turn each music box into a work of art. We will handcraft our music boxes a few at a time paying attention to every detail. You will be pleased to display them in your home.

The contents of this page will help provide a greater understanding of hardwoods and show you some of the hardwoods we use for our wooden music box.

How do you recognize a hardwood from a softwood? You and I are typically able to distinguish a living hardwood or softwood tree with some exceptions. We do this just  as a botanist would by observing the characteristics of the tree. Observe whether it has leaves or needles and what kind of bark, seeds, flowers, or fruit it has.

To put it another way, a hardwood tree will lose its leaves in the fall. These trees are classified as deciduous. A softwood tree has needles that remain all year long and is classified as a conifer.

World's largest London Plane Tree was planted in 1749. It is 150 feet tall, has a crown exceeding 100 feet and is 30 feet in circumference. It is a hybrid of the American Sycamore and Oriental Plan. Located at the Jeannette C Hayner Park 355 Reser Road. in Walla Walla, WA.

World's Largest Plane tree (Sycamore) Walla Walla WA

Milled Wood Products

As a craftsman creating hardwood music box gifts, I look at the cut and milled wood products at the lumber store and attempt to identify each species by its color, grain, and origin. In effect, I can recognize the wood I am looking for by examining it closely. I am familiar with about 15 hardwood species and can often recognize them. However, many times I need to look for the identification tag the merchant placed on the product to know for sure what type of hardwood it is.

Fortunately, they separate the hardwoods from the softwoods in designated sections of the store. Even so, the task of distinguishing one hardwood (deciduous) species of wood from another is challenging. Because there are thousands of species worldwide. Besides, hardwoods have an abundance of unique colors, grain patterns density, etc. For these reasons, positive identification of every species is nearly impossible without using scientific botanical methods.

The following are the hardwood supply stores where I currently purchase my lumber. Jenson Hardwood, LLC of Walla Walla, WA. and Windsor Plywood of Kennewick, WA.

Softwood Species

Softwood species (conifers) only number about 30 worldwide. Accordingly, the cut and milled products are more easily identified by examining the end grain. But, it is still difficult for positive identification even for the seasoned woodworker.

As mentioned before, the master music box makers of the early 1800's learned that softwoods do not provide the quality of sound that hardwoods do. If you were to examine any of the old antique music boxes you will find hardwood. I would never use a softwood species for my music box.

Undeniably, only domestic hardwoods or exotic hardwoods will do for my handcrafted wooden music box.

Hardwood Hardness

The term used to classify the hardness (density) of your hardwood is called Janka. The Janka hardness scale ranges from a low of 410 pounds per foot for Basswood to 4,390 pounds per foot for Lignum Vitae. This is the number of pounds of force required to imbed a steel ball .444 inch in diameter into the wood by half of the diameter of the ball. This measurement is taken when the wood is at a 12 percent moisture level.

Selecting a hardwood with too low or too high of a janka rating will affect the tonal quality of your wood music box. I choose hardwood for music box gifts with a janka rating of between 1000 and 3000. If a hardwood I am using falls outside of this range I will use a different hardwood with a similar color for the bottom / resonator board. This works well since the music movement is attached to the bottom / resonator board. This is where much of the sound originates and is projected out from the music box.

Review the seven unique features of the perfect music box gift on our home page.

Black Walnut Curved Sides Hardwood Music Box Gifts

A Quality Movement For A Quality Music Box

Why should you buy a solid wooden music box when an engineered product looks great and is so much cheaper? The old saying, "you get what you pay for" rings true when it comes to buying a wood music box.

If you are buying an inexpensive 18 note or 22 note mechanical or electronic music movement, I wouldn't be concerned about the quality of the box. You can get some really attractive boxes for a reasonable price. These small music movements by themselves, without a box can be purchased  for around ten to twenty dollars. The boxes are often made with inexpensive wood or engineered wood composites in countries where labor is cheap and then shipped to the USA.

Music Movement quality begins with the 30, 50 and 72 note music movements. As can be seen with the wooden music box they are housed in.  The higher the number of "teeth" on the cylinder comb, the higher the quality.

The old master music box craftsman perfected the sound quality of the music box by choosing domestic hardwoods or exotic hardwoods. For instance, they usually used maple, walnut, cherry, mahogany and rosewood. As they experimented with these different wood species they discovered sound quality improvement depending on the music box, wooden they chose.

The best sound was produced with the right box and bottom material and thickness. More specifically, a sidewall and top of 1/2 to 3/4 inch and a thin bottom of between 3/16 inch and 1/4 inch. Since the music movement is secured to the bottom of the wooden music box, the sound resonates with a much purer tone with a thin bottom board. This improved the overall tone quality than one with a thicker bottom.

Hardwood Costs More

I think most people know that real wood costs more than engineered wood. I was surprised to learn of a competitor who used a quality music movement in an engineered box made of MDF. (Medium Density Fiberboard) What's more, it is covered with an attractive wood burl veneer. Of course, these music boxes are not advertised as such. They are advertised as burl wood music boxes with no further details about the wood.

Despite this, these MDF boxes may be able to produce reasonable sound quality. I am not sure since I do not own one. However, I don't believe MDF is rated for hardness either. It is made with pressed wood fibers and adhesives. So, moisture may be the greatest long term concern with this product. MDF will expand when subjected to moisture or high humidity.

It is my opinion that these artificial materials have become so commonplace, attractive and inexpensive that people no longer ask if it is real wood or a composite. But sadly, in the long run they lose out on the benefits of owning quality.

You can be sure that Especially Walla Walla will only use Solid Hardwood for our wooden Music Box Gifts. Take a look at our selection today. Domestic Hardwoods and Exotic Hardwoods.

Sankyo 72 note Orpheus Movement in our handcrafted Figured Hard Maple Music Box.

Master Craftsman Techniques

Many music boxes made today do not follow the Master Craftsmen's rule for the construction of the bottom resonator board. Consequently I have seen material up to 3/4 of an inch thick used. This is much too thick to produce a good sound.

As an illustration, I recently received a free copy of music box plans from a well known wood and hardware store. Basically, they call for a 3/4 inch bottom in the their music box which is too thick.

In truth, any woodworker can make a box. The mistake they make in creating a wooden music box is not taking time to study the old masters techniques.

Having trouble choosing? Need more information? Take time to review our notes of "what to expect of a quality music box" on the home page, then compare our quality wooden music boxes to the seven best online music box competitors thru links I have provided. 

Hardwood Color Changes

Everyone loves the look of the freshly sanded and finished Hardwood music box. But did you know that many of the most beautiful hardwoods change color over time due to sunlight exposure?

Even though I was aware that color change occurs, I was surprised to see a box I had made change color. The Brazilian Cherry (Jatoba) Box changed from its new reddish tone to a very dark brown after several years of use. Oh, it was still beautiful, but the change took me by surprise.

Funny though, I hadn't even realized it. Because, it happened over such a long time. In this situation, I had displayed it where it was always exposed to sunlight.  So, I recommend displaying your custom wooden music box gift out of direct sunlight. So as to preserve the color a bit longer.

At some point, if it does darken more than you like and you wanted to restore the original color, you could have your wooden music box re-finished. So that you can enjoy the new fresh look again. Then again, you may prefer the rich dark color.

Hardwood Movement

The wooden music box you enjoy were all once a living tree full of moisture. Once that tree is cut and milled and the lumber dried for sale, it has lost most of its moisture content. Because of this, the wood cells are no longer either absorbing or releasing moisture.

Nevertheless, wood is still subject to movement due to its surroundings. Cold, heat, high, or low humidity in the surroundings in which your wood music box is located will affect your wood creation.

Your wooden music box will expand or contract ever so slightly. Over a long period of time, you may see a crack develop where two pieces were joined together.

So just as with the hardwood color changes mentioned above, your wood creation may require some maintenance in the distant future to fill a crack.

The good news for the music box is that it is small. As a result, it is not as susceptible to movement as larger furniture and cabinetry is.

Know What You Are Buying

Can you tell the difference between a real wood product and an engineered product with a nice veneer finish? Many people have purchased what they thought was a real solid wooden music box only to discover they bought  an engineered wood product with a thin veneer covering.

Sankyo 72 note Orpheus Movement in our handcrafted Jatoba Brazilian Cherry Music Box.

Engineered Wood and Veneers

Engineered wood with a veneer finish used to make furniture looks like real wood, is less expensive than solid wood and is more resistant to changes in temperature and humidity. It is constructed from multiple layers of wood that have been reformed using glue, resins, heat and pressure.

The most common engineered wood products.  are plywood, particle board and medium density fiberboard. Most engineered products tend to swell and become unstable in high humidity and direct moisture. Plywood is the most stable of these products.

In my opinion hardwood plywood may be used as the bottom resonator for a music box. That being said, I have always used solid hardwood as the resonator board on our wooden music box.

Veneer is a very thin layer of actual solid wood that is applied with adhesive to the surface of an engineered product or real wood to add beauty and to seal and stabilize its wood fibers. Thickness varies by manufacturer but they range between 1/32nd to 3/64ths of an inch. (0.794 mm to 1.0 mm) Our wood veneers which we use in marquetry or inlays are 3/64th or 1 mm.

Laminates need to be mentioned here because they are used substantially in small and large furniture products. A laminate is a synthetic material made of plastic having an appearance of wood grain through a printing process. These are paper thin and are attached to the surface of an engineered product with adhesive. They may be as thin as a piece of paper. They may range from between 1/64th to 1/32nd of an inch. (0.3 mm to 0.397 mm)

Inlay, Marquetry and Parquetry

Inlay is the artistic insertion of a design or object into a cut out of the same shape and size in the substrate of a piece of furniture. Often the words inlay and marquetry are used interchangeably but they are two different forms of artwork. We use wood inlays and wood marquetry in the creation of many of our handcrafted wooden music box gifts at Especially Walla Walla.

At the present time we purchase our inlay and marquetry from Inlay Product World in Swarthmore PA. An exception are those music boxes we have imported from Sorrento Italy.

Marquetry is a very labor intensive art craft where thin wood pieces are cut to certain sizes and shapes then fit together to create a picture or design. It involves beautiful artworks such as flowers, leaves, musical instruments, birds or animals or nature scenes.  They are often cut into a solid sheet of  thin wood veneer where they are used by wood craftsmen as the decorative surface of a furniture project. And in our case, used as decorative insets for our handcrafted wooden music box.

Parquetry is the art of creating geometric designs or patterns in wood in a recurring pattern. It is typically used in larger architectural features such as a hardwood floor or wood paneling.