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R.A. Salaman, Dictionary of Woodworking Tools, 1975
I am a little tired of my tool chest.
As soon as I close the lid things magically appear on top of it.
I remove these items so I can rummage through the chest to find what I need.
And the stuff reappears once the lid goes back down. I think the wood working elves are having fun with me.
I work in a small studio, it's 10'x11' and is between our bedroom and kitchen. I have some storage with shelves, but I desperately need another work surface for finishing my guitars.
I spent most of last week working on building the carcass (yes, I am using the American form of the word) for a new work bench. I sawed out the tenons by hand, I drilled all the mortises with a brace and bit. While doing all that I remembered why I never got into furniture making, I really don't enjoy making squares and rectangles. When you make a guitar you work with voluptuous curves, you can't mistake the feminine shape of a classical guitar. Curves are more fun to look at and handle than sharp corners.
I found the plans for this bench at Shop Notes, click here to see the plans. I like the looks of the bench, but I found the plans to be a little over worked and who ever came up with it loves dadoes! All I really need is a flat working surface and some nice storage space. I am going to adjust the drawer sizes to fit my tools and because of limited space I will make a set of sliding doors instead of those that swing out. And no vises. There isn't enough room in my studio to have the vises that are on the plans!
Just having the unfinished plywood top done has made my work life a little easier, it is so nice to have an extra work surface. I plan on spending one day a week working on finishing the bench, I need to start assembling some guitars!
If I were ever to make another bench, one out of hardwood instead of Douglas fir, I would make a close copy of Norm Vandal's Shaker inspired bench that is in Scott Landis Workbench book. His bench makes much more sense when it comes to its construction than this one does. This one will work and serve it's purpose.
I do know that as soon as this bench is finished the tool chest gets the boot!
Merle Burnham, my father, 1976
This is a neck for a copy of a 1929 Santos Hernandez guitar, it's all glued up from heel block to head stock. In this photo I am adjusted the sides of the neck with a draw knife so I can carefully plane the sides of the head stock perfectly square so the tuning machines can have some where to sit.
What happened next is that I drilled all six holes in the head stock only to find out that I had laid out the positions for the holes using the wrong reference line. Whoops!
Spanish cedar is getting scarce, I bought this blank from Stew-Mac just before they stopped selling Spanish cedar neck blanks. I didn't want to throw it into the wood stove, I owe it to the Universe to persevere and use this neck.
With my trusty knife, block plane, Porter Cable 14 volt drill and a 13/32 inch hole drilled into a piece of bubinga, I made three dowels from a scrap piece of Spanish cedar. Some fish glue from Lee Valley and a few taps with a live oak mallet and things are as right as rain again!
Yes, you can see the plugs, but when you a play a classic guitar you are watching your hands, not the headstock! This will not affect the sound quality of a guitar.
The tuning machine's plate cover the plugs! Don't they look great!
The headstock carved and slotted.
Now, to finish carving the heel!
Ok, time to get back to my guitar building progress. There’s lot’s of catching up to do! The next few blogs will be about my progress on the headstock.
After shaping the neck and heel, I continued on the headstock. First I planed the edges to get the right headstock width and taper. I wanted a ‘crown’ design similar to the headstock on my steel stringed acoustic, as it would match the wavy olive wood grain of my rosette. I had to adjust the pattern slightly, since the width of the classical guitar headstock tapers outwards less than the headstock on a steel stringed acoustic.
The picture below was taken while I was planing the sides of the headstock and shows the pencil outline of the crown:
I used a coping saw to cut the basic shape of the crown, followed by a chisel and carving gauge to smoothen the curve. Then I glued on a thin rosewood veneer that I made using off-cuts from the back plates:
Note the block between the veneer and the clamps. This is crucial not only to even the clamping pressure, but also to stop the edge of the veneer curling up as a result of the moisture in the glue on the thin wood.
I trimmed the veneer back to the headstock edges to reveal the final shape. More to follow soon!
It seems appropriate to be writing this post on Thanksgiving.
In a previous post I had mentioned I was having a second back surgery on November 14th. The surgery went well. There were no complications and recovery has been going much easier than it did the last time around.
The nursing staff was exceptional as were the students working with them. They clearly cared about people and had chosen the right profession.
I am resting a lot, going for short walks, and doing exercises I was given in physical therapy.
Here I am performing one of the more challenging exercises:
It will be several more weeks before I can start slowly easing into a little work in the shop. People waiting for instruments have been very patient and supportive.
My current abundance of unstructured time has provided an opportunity to think through design changes and methods of work. I am looking forward to trying them out.
I’ve been able to play mountain dulcimer and new ideas are springing up; a little more counterpoint is finding it’s way into my playing. I’m also arranging some new pieces and revisiting some old ones.
I’ll be playing a contra dance this coming weekend with “Oh! Contraire.” We are all good friends and I’m looking forward to getting out for an evening playing a gig with them. I’m not up to playing hammered dulcimer yet so I’ll be playing tinwhistle for the night.
I want to thank all of you who have written and shared your love and support as well as those of you who sent love and support silently.
Life is good.
Joseph Moxon, Mechanick Exercises, 1677
I made my first bow saw over twenty years ago using an idea from Roy Underhill and Drew Langsner. I still use that saw, I made the frame from some black oak (quercus kellogii) that I had harvested from my Paynes Creek, California property and the handles are mulberry that were turned on a spring pole lathe. The blade is made from a band saw blade.
Like many wood workers, I have longed to have a sexy curvy bow saw just like those joiners of old, so last night and most of this morning I made a nice bow saw from some black walnut.
It was over six months ago when I purchased handles, pins and blades from Tools For Working Wood and I had this crazy idea that I was going to convert a couple of hickory pick handles into sticks to make this bow saw. Those pick handles are still in the other workshop and last night I dimensioned some walnut that I had on hand. This morning I made a template from the Gramercy plans, which are available at Tools For Working Wood website, and started in on work.
I made sure that I got the mortices and tenons completed before I started shaping the uprights!
Then came the shaping work. I used a draw knife, a sloyd knife, several wood rasps, a coping saw and some spokeshaves.
The finished product.
This isn't an exact copy of a Gramercy saw, I didn't want to spend a lot of time shaping the wood where the handles enter the uprights, I need a basic saw to get the job done. I used some 20lb. fly line backing for the cordage and made a very simple tongue, or toggle, to tighten the cord. This saw is amazingly light, I can't wait to use it!
R.A. Salaman, Dictionary of Woodworking Tools, 1975
I made the wedge last night and then went at the plane body with a horseshoeing rasp and a series of spokeshaves. The plane works on soft wood, but I need to round the corners of the blade and then turn a hook on the edge. The real test will be on Indian rosewood that I am using for one of my guitars.
The only power tools that I used to make this plane were a table saw, used to rip the sides off the main body, and a sliding compound miter saw to cut the bed angles. I did use a drill press to drill the hole for the cross pin. I could have done that by hand with a brace and bit, which you can do if you do your layout properly. The other tools used were a No.7 Stanley jointer plane, a No.4 Stanley smoothing plane, a sloyd knife by Frost, a compass and a ruler. A back saw and gouge were used to shape the wedge and I used a horseshoeing (farrier) rasp, several spokeshaves and a No.7 sweep gouge for the final shaping of the body.
Yes, you can make a Krenov style hand plane with just hand tools, all you have to do is take your time.
Next week I finally get some time to start building two new guitars.
The top on the left will become part of a close copy of a guitar constructed in 1968 by Manuel Hernandez y Victoriano Aguado. The top is redwood, I re-sawed it (by hand using a Disston rip saw) from a board that came from an old barn outside of Yosemite National Park and I was able to get only two good tops from that board. The original guitar had this asymmetrical bracing, this helps to center the fundamental mode (or tone) of the guitar on the bridge and will help make this guitar's sound carry to the back of a concert hall. Hernandez y Aguado are believed to have developed this style of bracing after seeing the inside of a guitar that was made by Jose Ramirez III in the early 1960's. I used this bracing on my guitar No. 5 with great success. This guitar will have Indian rosewood back and sides.
The top on the right is Englemann spruce and will have nearly parallel bracing, I got this style from a guitar made by the great Santo Hernandez in 1930. I expect great sound from this bracing, it should make for a very balanced and loud guitar. Masara Kohno used a variation of this design on some of his guitars, everyone who has played one of those Kohno guitars tells me that they were very loud and balanced. The back and sides for this guitar will be California laurel which was re-sawed from a board that I purchased at a redwood burl store about 30 miles north of Eureka, California.
Oh, the joy of being able to work on some thing so beautiful as a classical guitar!
wheat or girls, small where miners lived.
Some fell while we were crawling up the hill.
Standing shacks are pale. Old weeds believe
Richard Hugo, Ghosts at Garnet, The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir, 1973
Friday, November 8, 2013, I and my crew walked away from the cabin at the Rocky Mountain Mammoth mine. Everything is done, new roofing, foundation, siding, flooring, even half round gutters (which are not historically correct, I'm not the one who wanted them!). Drainage and landscaping is done and I am happy. I am also sad, it is a wonderful place to work and to visit.
An aspen leave that was stuck to the siding. A beautiful parting gesture.
I’ve mentioned before that I have been having adventures with back problems. After waiting a year for my insurance company to decree I was worthy of a needed surgery I had said surgery this past March. There were some complications and recovery was not as advertised.
Two months ago I was feeling about 75% back to myself. I was working in the shop a little more each day. Trained professionals told me I could expect a full recovery within a year and that seemed very likely.
Six weeks ago I started noticing my legs would tire more easily than they had a few weeks before. Then I started having some numbness, pain, and cramping.
An MRI revealed another vertebra was jealous that it didn’t get to play with the surgeon during the previous operation so it is now yelling for attention. “Hey, what about me!” says vertebra L-4. “Why couldn’t you cry for attention before the last surgery!” says Doug.
So friends, I will be having another surgery on November 14th.
I did not know an MRI could be taken while I played the dulcimer. Here is the MRI the surgeon will refer to while operating:
Here are some of the tools the surgeon will be using. Or are these my tools?
It would be dishonest of me to deny that I have had moments of frustration during the course of this adventure but in general I remain optimistic.
I have been organizing the shop and getting materials together to make it easy to begin making dulcimers after I recover from surgery. Depending on how things go I could be working on a limited basis within a month though it may take longer. I’ll keep you posted.
I have some beautiful sets of walnut, curly maple, Adirondack spruce, sassafras, and butternut ready to become dulcimers. I’ll be sharpening tools and getting everything ready so I can easily work a few minutes here and there as I am able.
I have not been able to work as much during the past few weeks as I had the weeks before but passion always finds an outlet.
I have been studying construction techniques used by those who make classical guitars, romantic guitars and other instruments. These luthiers often use just a few hand tools and rely on skill more than tooling and jigs. This is the direction I lean towards and I am feeling an inner growth spurt that I imagine will express itself in the instruments I make after recovery.
My study has also included musical explorations, primarily while playing mountain dulcimer. Here again I am finding joy in deeper simplicity. Perhaps I will record and upload some music during recovery as I am able.
I have a loving wife and a community of good friends near and far. I love making instruments and playing music. I live indoors and eat every day.
Life is good.
Cheap fiddles have been sold as long as fiddles have been sold. The customers are the poor or uneducated. It looks like a violin. I want to see if I like it before I spend much. The usual story we've all repeated when trying to save some money on something.
One came into the shop the other day. "Doesn't sound so good," was the complaint. Actually, "sounds really bad" was the complaint. The e-string was unbearable. Starting off with bad equipment is an easy way to answer the question "will I like it?", but that's part of the education angle.
Here's what the soundpost looked like.
This was how it was sold by a music store in the area -- a starter fiddle -- and at least implied that it was a product ready-to-go. It was not. Note the minor contact of the soundpost with the back. Not only will this prove less than optimal in tone, it is also dangerous for the instrument. Over time, this can create a crack in the back. Once a back-crack occurs on an instrument like this, it's all over. Out it goes with last week's garbage.
This factory-installed soundpost had badly cut bevels -- I actually doubt much thought was given to them at all -- and the post overall was too short.
We put a new one in.
We replaced the strings as well, the factory strings being only decorative. I probably shouldn't use the word 'decorative' that way.
It sounds much better now. Never going to be great, but at least it is essentially firing on all cylinders The owner might actually grow to like playing the fiddle.
Random Posts From The Archives:
After years of bending dulcimer sides using a heating blanket and bending form I am beginning to prefer the traditional method of bending sides over a hot pipe. I often touch up sides, linings and binding on a hot pipe after they have come off the form because wood has memory and tends to spring back to its original shape.
Bending sides freehand is not difficult but like many things requires developing technique and skill that come with experience. Touching up sides, linings and binding has given me enough practice at the bending iron to feel more comfortable bending freehand from the start.In the grainy photo above you can see the ubiquitous electric bending iron used by luthiers around the world. It is basically an aluminum pipe with an internal heating element controlled by a thermostat. This style of bending iron has an oval shape as opposed to the round diameter of the simple hot pipe setup I used in the past. Both work well though the shape of the electric bending iron offers a variety of curved surfaces that makes bending some shapes easier.
The bending iron is heated until drops of water bounce off it. The wood is lightly moistened and the area to to be bent is rubbed against the pipe in a stroking motion until it starts to have a little give. As the wood becomes soft it yields to pressure and can be coaxed into the desired shape.
On the bench is a mold I sometimes use to hold the sides in shape when gluing in linings or putting on a soundboard or back. It is upside down on the bench serving as a template for me to check the sides against as I bend them. The outside of the mold is the same shape as my standard model dulcimer.
My recent preference for bending freehand is due to my continuing appreciation for simple technology that relies on skill more than tooling and jigs. Bending freehand also makes it easy to vary the shape of a dulcimer without the need to build a new bending form each time.
Many of the tried-and-true methods of work used in the past have been replaced in modern times by technical advances that offer consistency, repeatability and accuracy. This is very helpful in a production situation.
As I continue to gain more skill using traditional methods of lutherie I am sometimes surprised by how quickly I can accomplish certain tasks. Over time I suspect I will be bending sides freehand as fast or faster than I have using a heated form.
But speed is not the goal. I enjoy the process of doing what I do.
And on the subject of using tried-and-true methods and tools; these two guys showed up the other day looking for work. I told them I wasn’t hiring, that I was a one person operation and didn’t have enough work to keep them busy.
They said they had they did all their work by hand and had their own tools. They had fallen on hard times and really needed work.
That hit a soft spot in my heart and I decided to let them work around the shop on a trial basis.
If you see any 25 foot long dulcimers you’ll know where they came from.
Random Posts From The Archives:
I was just sent an email from a customer asking what wood his neck should be made out of, and how this would affect the tone.
I’ve decided to cut and paste the email response here, as it may be of interest to some, and will hopefully spark a discussion on the effect of neck material on tonality.
Firstly, I have to do a quick rant on questions of tonality.
I have no doubt that, being interested in guitars, you have read any number of forums and articles about the effect of wood on tonality. A lot of it is good, a lot not. Just like any other subject. The worrying thing I find is that it is a lot of opinion dressed up as fact. A dangerous thing.
Being from a scientific background, I am used to talking about theories. I therefore, when questioned, will give my opinion based on the theories that both make the most sense to me scientifically, and that can be backed up with empirical evidence.
So, everything you read from me about tone is my opinion. You are welcome to add your own opinion, and if you can give me sources, all the better. I am by no means precious about my theories, and am always open to new ideas.
So, back to necks. Yes, I usually make my necks from mahogany. Why? Because everyone else does. That’s kind of flippant. What that means is that guitarists are, as a rule, quite traditional, and they don’t want different species necks because they’ve always been mahogany so it must be right, right?
Electric guitars have long been made from a variety of materials. The best example is Fender. He decided that, from an engineering perspective, maple would be better than mahogany, because it is harder and stiffer, so it will be more hardwearing and less susceptible to deform under the tension of the strings.
This seems to have led people to believe that the maple neck makes the guitar more trebly. Well, a strat is certainly more trebly than a Les Paul, but that is probably more to do with single coil pickups on a strat, and a massive slab of mahogany on a Les Paul body.
Let’s look at the science. A maple neck will be heavier. Momentum = Mass x Velocity. In guitar terms, Momentum is sustain and velocity is how hard you pluck the string, so a more massive guitar will have more sustain.
So in conclusion, a heavier guitar (eg. an acoustic with a maple neck rather than a mahogany neck) will have more sustain. Great.
However, sustain comes at a price. There is only a certain amount of energy to go around, so if there’s more sustain, so more energy at the tail end of the note, then that energy has to come from somewhere, and it comes from the start of the note. So, more sustain must equal less attack.
So, which is better? Neither. A guitar with lots of sustain will suit a classical guitarist, but a flamenco guitarist wants all attack and no sustain. Hence flamenco guitars are made from spanish cedar, nice and light, and a classical guitar is made from rosewood, a much heavier wood.
Then we come on to stiffness. The stiffer the neck, the less likely it will move at all. So less energy is lost flopping around the neck, and more energy from the string goes into the top. A completely stiff neck will, in that case have no effect on the tone. However, having no effect on tone actually IS an effect on the tone. Because we are used to mahogany necked guitars, which soak up energy from the strings, a maple neck will sound different because it has less effect. Does that make sense?
So, this is all very complicated and confusing and hasn’t led to any conclusions at all. Let’s start using some examples.
I once made a guitar with an ebony bridge, fingerboard, back and sides and a maple neck with a sitka top. That should be a bright guitar, but because I made the back really thin, used an pretty floppy piece of thin spruce, and braced it quite loosely, it ended up having a really nice balance between bass and treble.
So, I guess what I’m saying is, Let’s make the neck out of whatever you want. I try and add a bit of mass to things like neck block and tailblocks anyway, since I go pretty thin on the top and back. I need to make up that mass somewhere, or it would be all attack and no sustain, and it’s better to make it up in non-moving parts.
The stiffer the neck wood, the more longevity in the neck. Lots of people are adding carbon fibre rods to their mahogany necks these days, so you can’t rely on species to give you an idea of neck sound, unless you know what is going on inside.
And yes, you will reduce the mass by making a very thin neck, but all my necks are thin. As you rightly point out, why should only electric guitarists have comfortable necks?
Regarding headstock shapes. It’s the same thing, a big headstock will be more massive, so will increase sustain, but flopping that big headstock around uses up energy that would be better used driving the top.
So, in conclusion, make the neck out of whatever you want. It’ll be fine. The stiffer the better, I reckon. That Oregon tonewoods place has got some amazing myrtle neck blanks that I would love to see on a neck. We could probably get some claro walnut to match the back and sides, or we could laminate different species together to get that stripey look that is popular with electric bassists.
I’ve recently been thinking about a zebrano neck. That might look cool. It’s stiff as hell. Rosewood, ebony, ovangkol, wenge, Limba. These woods have all been used in electric guitars and have been fantastic.
Bernard E. Jones, The Practical Woodworker, 190?
I'm starting to prepare for winter work, that means building a few guitars, by finishing up some projects I started a while back. One of those projects was to re-tooth one of two panel saws I own: an early 1900's 18 inch long Disston crosscut or 1920's-ish Warranted Superior saw that is 20 inches long. The Warranted Superior saw needs some time at the anvil for straightening, so I opted for the Disston.
One reason for the conversion is that at the moment, I am not willing to shell out $250 for a Lie Nielsen rip tooth panel saw. I know such a saw is a bargain at that price, but I need a few more orders to justify the expense.
The main reason for doing this work is the 26-28 inch Disston rip saws hanging by the window behind the work bench can be a little big for ripping smallish pieces of wood.
First thing I needed to do was to turn a new handle for the four inch extra slim saw file I used for re-toothing. A piece of walnut on the mini lathe was just the thing and in a couple of minutes I was off to the saw vise.
I bought this saw about five, six years ago from Sandy Moss of Sydnas Sloot, just because it was a panel saw. The etching is pretty much gone, I can't make out the model number, the saw is wonderfully straight but had never been jointed properly. By the time the jointing file touched the teeth in the middle of the saw I needed to re-shape the teeth on the heel and tool before I jointed any more, otherwise there would have been no teeth in those locations.
Success! I didn't set the teeth and the saw cuts straight! The kerf is nice and narrow, though at the next sharpening session I might have to pull out the saw set, I don't want the saw to bind in the cut.
I didn't measure how points per inch, I assume it is still around 10 points, which the saw was originally.
Now, I have the rip panel saw that I always wanted, all I needed to obtain it was to use a little elbow grease!