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PostPosted: Sun Jan 03, 2016 10:48 pm 
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Hi guys. I'm a bit of a lurker, but I thought I'd blog my 1st guitar build. I also posted this on the Official Luthiers Forum, but I like it here too so hopefully you are interested!

I’m beginning my first guitar build and I want to record it as a blog since I love reading build blogs and I want to keep a record of how I did things anyway. I appreciate any input or advice you have. I am an electrician and my only previous woodworking experience was in high school. From my work I think I have good attention to detail and mostly patience and willingness to do things over if they don’t work right. This project is gonna be a bit slow but I am committed to keep working and keep posting.

Anyway, with that brief introduction complete, I thought I’d start with a few posts about getting ready to build, building my workbench, and collecting the tools that I have to start. This is mostly geared towards other beginners because I love reading things about tools and there are never enough luthiery tool blogs to keep me satisfied so hopefully there are other people out there who want to see my take on things.

I have access to my boss’s workshop with a bunch of awesome machines, bandsaw, drill press, thickness sander (woohoo!) and a big ole bench but I’ve decided I don’t want to be over at his place all the time, so I claimed a little underused corner of the basement (I have an understanding wife) and I plan to do most of the work there, taking parts over to the boss’s place when I need to use his tools. So I need a workbench right? Initially I figured I’d slam a couple pieces of plywood on some 2x4s and call it a day. But my wife casually mentioned that she would rather my bench not look like a piece of junk since it will be a semi permanent piece of furniture in our house. So this gave me an excuse to start researching benches online, reading books (Schwarz is awesome!) and generally obsessing like I love to do with all my hobbies. More fun than actually doing the hobby sometimes it seems! Gradually I started considering through-tenons, thick tops, fancy vises ect ect. This is all before I had touched a tool to wood keep in mind. But I grabbed some huge pallets from work (mystery softwood, they call it SPF up here) and plunged onward.

I ended up deciding on a Ruobo ish bench with a 4 ½ inch top. I found a used Craftsman quick release vise for $50 (I have no idea what it is actually worth, but the guy wouldn’t budge on price). The top ended up being about 24”by 45” which was limited by the space I had and I made it 38” high. I am 6’5” and often find countertops too low. I also figured the detailed work of guitar building justified a higher top. I laminated the top from the pallet wood and bought more construction grade lumber from HD and Laminated it for legs. Since the legs were laminated from 3 pieces, it was easy to include tenons though the top and a lap joint for the rails. All in all I think the plan worked well, but I had all kinds of trouble putting it together. The lumber was definitely not straight and I didn’t handplane all of it perfectly square so there are some cracks at the glue joints. I was originally going to put an MDF covering over everything so I wasn’t careful with the glueup, which ended up being a pain when I decided to skip the MDF. Many joints have a little shim here or there to tighten things up, which worked really well, but doesn’t look great up close.

All in all I am pretty thrilled with it. After screwing it to the wall it is rock solid and doesn’t rack at all. It wouldn’t be nearly heavy enough if it was free standing. Just having a solid surface with a vise is totally awesome. I haven’t flattened the top yet because the bench already took way longer than I thought and I want to start on the guitar! Also I only have a #4 plane and I think it will be easier someday when I have a 7 or 8. If I need a really flat surface I will clamp some MDF on top for now.

Things I would do differently next time:

If I were going to laminate construction lumber I would make sure I could use a jointer/planer and table saw. The design is not ideal for hand tools.

I would buy some bar clamps. Since I am already focused on guitar building, I wanted to spend money on that instead of the bench, but it’s really hard to do without bar clamps. I used threaded rod drilled through pieces of my top to clamp it together (worked ok actually and I took the rod out at the end) and used woodscrews as clamps in many places, but the clamps would be way easier and the screws look a little lame.
A couple of my dog holes are really crooked. It wasn’t till I stopped messing around with little tricks to make the holes straight and just trusted my experience that the holes came out nice.

My through tenons are too short. I meant to have them a tiny bit short so I wouldn’t have to plane the end grain, but they ended up shorter than I wanted. Someday I may glue in a little cap over them, and glue in dowels over the screws, but for now everything seems to work ok.

Hope some people out there enjoyed reading this. Please comment if you have some advice. Next I will post about the ragtag collection of tools I have gotten together.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 04, 2016 7:36 am 
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Welcome to the forum; we like lurkers, especially if they join and turn into posters! Oh boy; another person after my own heart. I LOVE tools! I especially like renovating old tools. It's great that you have a well-equipped workshop.

I like your vise. I needed a decent vice to hold anything and everything. I'm on a budget, so I haunt flea markets and Ebay for most of my tools. Sometimes it can take me a couple of months to find what I'm looking for, but I'm the ultimate sniper. I ran across this Black and Decker Workstation. It's a tabletop worktable/vice that's about 17" long, and the cool thing about it is that the top can be tilted to an angle. It was a lifesaver with my last build. I can clamp everything from a bone saddle to the entire guitar in it, then set it at any angle that I need.

My biggest mistake in building my first guitar was cheapening out on the hand tools, which has cost me more than I could have imagined. I used cheap chisels that wouldn't stay sharp. I damaged my hands so badly that I needed surgery on both to release trigger thumbs and to revise the carpel tunnel surgery that I had several years ago. I had the double surgery on my right hand in July and I'm scheduled at the end of this month for my left. There is no doubt that this has happened from using chisels that wouldn't stay sharp. So, the moral of the story is to use only quality tools.

My most useful tools have been:

1. 1/2" and 1/8" chisels (Marples blue chip Vanadium)
2. Vintage Stanely English made adjustable throat Low Angle Block Plane #G12-060
3. Quality cabinet scrapers
4. 10" Bandsaw
5. Compact router (I bought a Rigid, which I love)
6. Dremel

You are so lucky to have a thickness sander. I don't have one, but I've ordered a drill press planer (Wagner used to make one called the Safe-T planer). Even though we have a drill press, we also have a large professional radial arm saw, which can be converted into a drill press. It gives me a larger table to use the safety planer. Robbie O'Brien demonstrates his safety planer on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfaLmBGKjJY

I'll be posting photos of my setup when I get the planer this week. I'm working on renovating a classical guitar at the moment, so I'm adding fret nippers, guitar nut slotting rods, and a new gizmo called a high speed fret crowning tool. I'll be posting more information and a review on the fret crowning tool, which is suppose to ensure that the frets are crowned accurately.

We love blogs. I look forward to seeing your progress.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 04, 2016 9:44 am 
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Welcome! I'll echo Diane's comment about quality tools, especially planes and chisels. They need to be shave-with-them sharp, and be able to hold an edge. Which brings up sharpening..... Learn (if you don't already know) how to sharpen chisels and plane irons. Lie-Nielsen has a good system, the key to which is the use of sandpaper as the abrasive to establish the correct bevel. It's described on their website at https://www.lie-nielsen.com/nodes/4114/sharpening
One can spend big bucks for the whole Lie-Nielsen setup, but one can achieve much the same result more cheaply. The L-N honing guide is superb, at $125, but this one http://www.rockler.com/honing-guide?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=%28roi%29+product+listing+ads works, especially if one improves it a bit with a file. A honing guide really helps. If one can maintain a repeatable angle, the sharpening goes a lot faster. (Maybe you already know all that, anyway.)

I look forward to reading your blog.

_________________
Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects. -- Will Rogers
There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory. - Josh Billings
Anything is possible if you don't know what you are talking about.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 04, 2016 5:47 pm 
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As Mainegeezer said, sharpen those chisels and plane irons wicked sharp! If they don't shave the hair on my arms, they don't pass inspection.

I leveled the soles on all of my planes. You know when you have quality steel, because it takes forever to level the sole, but it's essential for a good setup. There are a few very nice sharpening systems out there, including one in which you work the edge side to side when you sharpen. But a decent honing guide coupled with a double sided whetstone works. I'm currently using the Stanley system, which isn't the best in the world, but it does the trick for right now. A nice system, like the Veritas is on my tool "wishlist".


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 08, 2016 10:10 pm 
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Hi guys! Thanks for the encouragement. Diane, that workstation looks pretty cool. I've been thinking that someday a little tiltable vise would be nice for nuts and small parts. I've seen some you can clamp in a regular vise. I have many things to get before that though. I do have a sharpening system now, and am getting good, if somewhat inconsistent results. I have an inexpensive diamond stone that goes to 600x, a 3000x Sigma Waterstone, a 8000x Imanishi waterstone, and as of last weekend, a piece of MDF with Lee Valley green stuff. No honing guide so far since it seems I can get a sharp edge without and I need so much other stuff that costs money. Last weekend I was preparing my handplane to joint the top and back and finally got an edge that would pop hairs off my arm. I think that was either because I was more patient with the process or because I got the MDF and honing compound working. I'm happy for now though and I think sharpening will only get easier as time goes on. Someday I want a 1000x stone, but for now the 600 to 3000 works ok, or I use sandpaper on glass. Stay tuned, I have a bit of a tool summary written, and just finished making a shooting board so pretty soon I will actually start working with the wood I bought months ago for the guitar!


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 09, 2016 6:08 am 
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Yup. Been there and done that with the honing. It took me a few times before I got the knack of getting my stuff wicked sharp. The honing guide is what made me consistent. When you're able, I'd recommend the Rockler honing guide, which runs around $15. I'm using the Stanley sharpening system, which works well; it costs about the same as the Rockler guide. I really understand what you mean about needing tools. I'm still adding to the tools with each guitar. Prices seem to double when a tool is labeled as a "luthier" tool.

I started out wanting to make a guitar that I loved to play, that was unique to me, and I ended up leaning about myself. I learned that I really love working with wood to create a thing of beauty. I really love working with the chisels and hand planes. It puts me into a kind of "zen" state.

I hope you have the same experience. Relax and have fun. If you get frustrated, let us know in your blog. There's a lot of really good people here to help you.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 09, 2016 12:28 pm 
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Well, here is the basic assortment of tools I have collected so far. I have a few more laying around; a bunch of clamps, drillbits, screwdrivers, cordless drill, and router bits, but these are the interesting ones I think. Most are second hand, and they look pretty limited now that I pile them together but there’s still a couple hundred dollars here. This is an expensive hobby if you are starting from scratch!

I got three chisels and a #4 Stanley plane from a guy in town who collects and sells vintage tools. Not as cheap as finding them in a bargain bin for $2 each like some guys do, but there aren’t as many bargains up here as I would like, and it isn’t impossible to get screwed buying used tools. Two of the chisels are Bergs, since they were some of the only ones that I recognized the name and the middle one (1/2”) is an unmarked one that looks like a Stanley 750 but I have no idea the actual brand. I really like that handle though. The left one (3/4”) has a crappy plastic handle that doesn’t really fit the socket and keeps falling out, thus the electrical tape holding it on. I have a chunk of torrefied maple offcut I got cheap from Lee Valley that I’m someday going to make a sweet handle from (somewhere on a huge list of things I would like to do but am putting off in lieu of actually touching tool to guitar wood). The one on the right has an original handle and is ¼ inch. So far I’ve only used the ¾ inch one, and it seems to take and hold a good edge, but at this point what do I know?

The handplane was $40 I think, and considering I knew nothing about planes when I bought it, it isn’t too bad. I think I looked it up to be a type 7, but I could be wrong. It has a sweetheart (not original) iron that looks like it has hardly ever been sharpened. What I missed when picking it out was that it has a chipped lever cap (not a big deal I think) and the frog is missing a bit of metal from its leading edge. This does cause a problem because wood shavings collect under the frog and I worry that they will interfere with the blade, and also the frog can’t possibly be bedding down properly if shavings can get under there? I had many problems getting the plane to work properly and fettled it as best I could based on what I read online. As I’ve continued using it I’m realizing that the problems are mostly with me and not the plane though. The frog was screwed down too loosely and crooked so that the blade would never stay straight. My main problem was that I had the lever cap screw too loose (everyone recommends not over-tightening it) and as a result, the blade kept moving. What a pain! Now that those things are sorted though, the plane does a nice job and I am enjoying using it. If the frog really is causing problems, I don’t think I’ll worry about it as long as it does what I want.

To the left of the chisels are my digital callipers, purchased from Lee Valley for about $35 to $40. I originally bought a cheaper set but testing them out on my feeler gauges, they were all over the place, and wouldn’t stay zeroed. I became suspicious that they were just crappy, so I returned them and got these ones. They are “EZCal” from iGuaging and they immediately seemed better. They consistently returned measurements that made sense to me, stayed zeroed, and just felt like better quality. Because of this experience I have decided to try to buy more stuff from Lee Valley and try to avoid painful junk when I can. I suppose there may be tools I should have bought before the callipers, but online tutorials and blogs often give measurements in decimal inches and especially for the thickness of the top back and sides I thought it would be useful to have a good set of callipers.

For my birthday I got an apron plane from Lee Valley. I thought that it would be a good size for guitar tasks, and frankly I couldn’t have justified asking for the more expensive block plane from Lee Valley. I kind of wanted one new plane to see what it was like. It has the PMV-11 blade and so far the only thing I’ve used it for is chamfering the corners on my workbench. That was awesome though! I could do that all day, maybe I should switch careers? I’ll have to restrain myself or all the corners on my guitar will end up nicely chamfered. New trend anyone? I still have to decide if I want to put a secondary bevel on the blade. Everything came so straight and flat that I couldn’t bring myself to add a microbevel and just polished the whole main bevel. My other plane blade is probably sharper at this point though.

That’s probably enough for one post. I’ll write about a few more later, and there are still some luthier specific ones to aquire!


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 09, 2016 2:47 pm 
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That apron plane is on my absolute MUST HAVE list. I think you made a really good choice. All of my planes are vintage. I think that's the only way of getting a quality plane without spending a bankroll. I've gotten quite a few old stanley chisels and a plane from a local guy that sells at the flea market. It took me a while to figure how how to adjust and use a plane. We all have to start some place. The cost of the wood for guitars isn't nearly as much as the tool cost. We've all been there. I'm still there! I used (dare I say...) a Harbor Freight cutter, which wasn't a true router; it tore out a small area on my peruvian walnut sides when I bound the OM. Before starting the 00, I bough a good compact router.

You have a good start.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 24, 2016 2:44 pm 
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So I thought since I’ve actually started work (finally) on the guitar I would post about that and follow up with some other stuff later. It was starting to seem the guitar would never get started. The bench took a long time to build, and building a shooting board and a joining board took a surprisingly long time. Also, a small part of me was nervous to start working on all that expensive wood for fear of messing it up right away.

I started with joining the top and back. First I made my plane absolutely as sharp as I could. Usually sharpening a plane blade doesn’t take too long but I really took my time and it got sharper than ever. Then I got out my newly built shooting board. I started by clamping the two boards at either end, planing, and taking it apart to check the fit. Eventually I screwed pieces of wood at the sides and end of the boards so that I could take them in and out easily and wouldn’t need to clamp, as it turned out I would need to repeatedly check the fit of the plates.

The top went very smoothly. I took maybe 15 minutes, carefully identifying where the plates weren’t meeting and concentrating planing the high spots. Holding it up to the light above my bench, I saw no light coming through, and proceeded to glue the two halves together. I used the method in Cumpiano with a straight board on one side and wedges on the other. It worked really well, although I forgot to make sure the plates were perfectly even where they met and there was a tiny offset in some spots at the seam. The boards are almost ¼” thick though, so the difference will even out no problem.

When I tried the same thing with the back, it didn’t work so well. I spent at least 4 hours all told trying different things to try to get the fit right. In a moment of madness, I tried using my router against a straight edge. When the straight edge clamp was too loose, I took a little gouge out of the edge. Even after reclamping and rerouting, the joint was worse than before. Luckily I have plenty of extra width. Then I went out and bought a level, to which I glued some sandpaper. This, along with some planing got me close. I had been candling the joint on the window, so I held it up to the light above me and saw no light. I realized that the joint I did for the top probably had gaps too that I would have seen if I had held it up to the window. So I got as close as possible and just glued it up. I’m pretty sure the back joint is better than the top joint, and I know some people purposefully leave a gap or ‘spring’ to the joint. We’ll see I guess. There was just nowhere else to really go with it. Next time I think I need a longer plane. I am writing this after having thickness sanded the top and back, and everything looks great, except for a spot at one end of the top, which will mostly be cut off and the rest will go under the fingerboard.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 24, 2016 5:04 pm 
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Getting that joint right can be quite a challenge for newbies like us. I've always candled the joint against the window to ensure it was flat, so I've had the same problems that you had with your back. I've used the planer as well as a metal level, and sometimes getting that joint so zero light comes through can be frustrating in the extreme. It took me 2 days to get no light when I candled the back joint on my OM.

I was sanding back and forth, creating uneven pressure. When I started sanding in one direction, it took me less than 15 minutes to get a perfect joint. The bookmatched set for the top of the repair that I'm doing, had a very uneven and chipped out area, so I planed the defects out and got it very close, then sanded with the level (one direction only). It was done in 5 minutes flat.

You're top looks good. I wouldn't worry about that little off that you spoke of. You'd be surprised at how fast that seam disappears when you sand; finding it again can be almost impossible and nobody will be see the offset.


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