LMI Help Center

Defining and Photographing Bearclaw Figured Spruce

What we call ‘bearclaw figure’ is a rare phenomenon among woods as a whole, but is not too uncommon in Spruce. The source of this nickname is obvious; the wood appears to have been scratched by the claws of a bear. Of course, the behaviors of our Ursidae family friends have no real impact on a tree’s figure or growth patterns. There is little information available about the causes of bearclaw figure, but there is reason to believe it is the result of unfavorable growing conditions where the tree introduces interruptions in the natural grain line in order to strengthen the wood (against heavy wind, or poor location—on an incline, for example).
There are two distinct types of bearclaw. The most common and desired shows striations that cross perpendicular to the grain line. The lines are erratic and there is little, if any, mirroring of the figure on either side of the bookmatched top. The other type of bearclaw figure roughly follows the grain line. The striations are shorter and usually are placed more closely together. In Europe, bearclaw is called “hazelficte”. Opinions vary about whether this term should apply to just one or the other type or both. Our bearclaw tops will have one or the other type. We do not separate them.
We see a fair amount of bearclaw in both Sitka and German Spruce. With Sitka, there is a clear division between bearclaw and ‘non-bearclaw’ soundboards. German Spruce is far less plentiful and so we often accept some small inclusions of bearclaw and do not consider the figure to be a defect. When there is just a little bearclaw, we also do not consider the top to be ‘figured’ and so we include them among the general European or German spruce offerings. Bearclaw is far less prevalent in Adirondack or Carpathian Spruce and it is very rare in Englemann Spruce.
With many variables in preference, and in the figure itself, we avoid typical grading tiers and choose to photograph each top individually to let the customer choose the top that best suits his/her needs. Check out the different photos on each top’s product page. In addition to a straight, standard, unaltered photo, we are now placing the top at an angle. We do this to better show the quality and amount of figure in the unfinished top. It is challenging to faithfully photograph Spruce. But unlike other suppliers, we avoid adding shellac, solvent, or water to the wood, as it can compromise the wood.
All of our soundboards are expertly quartersawn, and so the potential for great sounding tops exists at every grade and price point. Many believe that bearclaw figure, especially the primary kind (with striations across the grain) adds a small measure of stiffness to the top. Stiffness, of course, is a coveted quality in top wood. What is your experience when building with bearclaw Spruce?