myrtle (Umbellularia Californica)
The Myrtle Tree
The myrtle we sell grows naturally in parts of California and southern Oregon, west of the Sierra/Cascade mountains. Oregon Myrtle is also known as California bay laurel, but is not to be confused with the bay laurel from which bay leaves come. A mature tree has a trunk two to three feet in diameter and averages 50-75 feet in height--more or less depending on whether it is growing in the open or in a forest. This tree is considered a senior citizen once it reaches 100 years, though some trees will reach 200 years before the trunk rots and the tree falls over.
Myrtle wood comes from private and public forests, farms, or urban forests. Because of its relatively small size and low volume, the wood is not widely available except perhaps in the heart of where it grows. The Oregon coast has dozens of wood shops that cut myrtle and make gifts, bowls, furniture and such.
At Notable Woods, we try to buy myrtle logs or lumber from people who are engaged in selective cutting or are salvaging trees.
Myrtlle is a medium-density hardwood. It has an average specific gravity of .55, oven dry--about like walnut. Its color is generally a creamy white with yellow-green hues and dark, almost black streaks. The pores are open and may require filling when finishing the wood.
Myrtle is prized for its figure. Pronounced fiddleback curl is relatively rare. More often its figure comes from dramatic grain patterns and dark stripes, sometimes creating flame patterns.
Our Myrtle Grading
In general, our instrument hardwoods are graded by the degree of figure present. Borderline grades get bumped up or down depending on the presence of color and the consistency or the figure. We sell sets that have non-structural flaws within the pattern area; these 2nds follow the grading below but are discounted due to the defect.
From time-to-time we have Master Grade myrtle which is "off-the-charts" because of its rare, exceptional figure or curl. Instrument-quality myrtle is found in, I'd guess, one of ten or twenty logs, and the rarest master grade is a small subset of the instrument-quality wood.
Check out our Gallery page for photos of myrtle sets. Our general grade guidelines:
• A Little or no curl or figure
• AA Medium curl or figure
• AAA Full curl or figure
• MASTER Premium full curl or figure