Material Densities

Designing a bowed psaltery (or any musical instrument for that matter) requires you to be a bit of a scientist, or even a bit of a physicist at times. While not everyone likes this aspect of lutherie, (usually those that like to stick strictly to the prescribed plans), I tend to enjoy this “research and development” phase.

Accordingly, one thing that is very helpful is knowing the density of a material. 

  • How heavy is that? 
  • How well will it resonate a musical vibration? 
  • How will it stand up to wear?

While you may not necessarily be able to get a full picture of how a given material will react simply from its density, it is a good start, and certainly better than a blind guess. So, to help measure and compare all sorts of different materials, whether they be wood, metal, plastic, or some other form, I’ve complied a table of material densities from several different sources. (Various books, internet sites, and some of my own measurements.)

Material (common name)

Density (kg/m3)

 Metals

Aluminum 2,768
Beryllium 1,868
Brass 8,500
Cast Iron 6,975
Chromium 7,197
Copper 8,940
Gold 18,878
Lead 11,349
Magnesium 1,743
Molybdenum 10,214
Nickel 8,553
Phosphor Bronze 8,858
Platinum 21,452
Silver 10,491
Stainless Steel 7,861
Steel 7,861
Tin 7,308
Titanium 4,512
Tungsten 19,293
Zinc 7,141

Woods (weight listed is average dried weight) 

Acacia Blackwood 660
Ash, White 660
Balsa 160
Basswood 420
Beech, European 720
Birch 700
Bloodwood 960
Bocote 800
Brazilwood 1,280
Bubinga 880
Butternut 450
Cedar, Western Red 370
Chakte Kok 640
Chechen 850
Cherry, Black 580
Cocobolo 1,040
Douglas Fir 520
Ebony, African 1,000
Ebony, Gaboon 1,193*
Ebony, Macassar 1,090
Elm, American 560
Goncalo Alves 940
Hickory 820
Holly 800
Jarrah 800
Jatoba 900
Kiaat 700*
Kingwood 1,200
Koa 660
Kwila 963*
Lemonwood 820
Lignum Vitae (Ironwood) 1,310
Mahogany, Honduran 640
Mahogany, Philippine (Lauan) 382*
Makore 620
Mango 570
Maple, Hard 720
Maple, Soft 620
Oak, Red 770
Oak, White 770
Padauk 720
Panga Panga 930
Pink Ivory 990
Poplar 450
Purpleheart 930
Redwood 420
Rosewood, Brazilian 850
Rosewood, East Indian 830
Rosewood, Honduran 940
Sapele 620
Shedua 748*
Snakewood 1,295
Spruce, Sitka 420
Teak 640
Tulipwood 960
Verawood 1,218*
Walnut, Black 640
Wenge 880
Yellowheart 860
Zebrawood 740
Ziricote 880

 Plastics

ABS 1,052
Acetal (Delrin) 1,356
Acrylic 1,163
Neoprene 1,384
Polyamide (Nylon) 1,100
Polycarbonate 1,190
LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) 913
HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) 941
Polypropylene 913
PVC 1,467
Teflon 2,159

 Other

Carbon Fiber 1,743
Human Bone 1,439
Water 1,000

Denotes my own measurements

 

 

 

 

This table is not meant to be exhaustive, nor is it to be seen as authoritative. For instance, there are many different types of aluminum alloys, and while I could list something like: “Aluminum 1100, Aluminum 3003, Aluminum 6061, etc.” I’ve instead chosen to simplify things and simply write a good representative number for each material as a whole. I’ve intended for this table to be used to get a broad overview of materials, and how their densities relate to each other, and not as an in-depth and ultra-precise reference guide.

But as an ongoing project, I’ve begun The Wood Database, which is a much more exhaustive and thorough examination of all the different wood species, including data on hardness, strength, density, etc.