We talk a lot about figure on our website. Figure is genetic, is only found in a small percentage of trees, and is highly prized by furniture makers and luthiers alike. In most cases it adds much to the beauty of the wood, though it can have a negative impact on workability. Flamed wood, where the actual grainline varies in direction many times per inch, can make planning and bending more difficult. It usually has little impact on the tone of the wood, though some say that Bearclaw in Spruce adds to the stiffness a bit and so therefore improves resonance.
Words like curly, quilted, bearclaw, and fiddleback all refer to different kinds of figure, and there are others. Here is a simple glossary of the most common types of figure:
- Flame: Flame figure (curly, fiddleback, tiger-stripe) runs perpendicular to the grain and adds a three-dimensional, liquid quality to the surface of the wood especially when it is finished.
- Quilt: Quilt is the term used when the figure has pillowy, oval shapes. It is rarer than flame and is sometimes even more three-dimensional in appearance.
- Birdseye: Birdseye figure shows an erratic arrangement of tiny, knot-like ("eye"-shaped) patterns in the wood.
- Bees-wing: Here the figure is more random, sporadic and disconnected, but can be very beautiful and intense. We sometimes have Bubinga, Mahogany and Narra sets with bees-wing figure.
- Waterfall: Waterfall figure is likened to a very soft, broad and undefined quilt pattern. The liquidity, three dimensional texture of the wood seems full of fluid motion – like a "waterfall".
- Spalting: Spalting is caused by a pattern of bacterial decomposition in dead wood that eventually looks like a black ink line. It is often very irregular and does not follow any other grain patterns. Wood with spalt should be handled very carefully as it often destabilizes the wood. It is a nice choice for inlay and electric guitar tops, but is not a good choice for thin acoustic guitar plates.
- Medullar Rays or Silk: The closer a soundboard is to perfect quarter, the more likely the top will exhibit good silk. Silk appears as a subtle, very tight, curl-like pattern running perpendicular to the grain.
- Bearclaw: Also known as hazelfichte, is found in only in softwoods. Hard to describe verbally, bearclaw looks a bit like it sounds, like a bear used the tree to sharpen its claws and left small waves in the grain which may or may not be symmetrical on both sides of the top.
- Black Line / Ink Line: Common to many Rosewoods, but also to Ziricote and few other woods, these are the attractive dark lines that run parallel to the grain, but are independent of the specific grain lines in the wood.
- Spider-webbing: On some woods you will find dark lines (ink lines) that cross from one annular ring to another in a pattern very similar to a spider’s web.