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Basic Hand Tool Kit for Guitar Making, Part 1?

My grandfather himself used to say that if a guitar maker did not die in a social welfare hospital, it was because he did not have the means to get there.

Jose Ramirez III, Things about the Guitar, 1994


Rain again today, flood warning until 11 am, thought I would go out to the shop and tidy it up a little. This gave me the idea of what a basic tool kit would be for guitar making, because when I made my first guitar I didn't have much. People back then would ask me if I would show them how to make a guitar (they still do) and would they need a shop full of power tools? As soon as I told them that they could build a guitar with hand tools, their faces would go blank, they'd take a step back and mumble something about going home to see if they left the iron on.

I revised and updated this list December 12, 2013. Please click here to see that post. Thanks!

This is not a definitive list, just a place to start (please note that all of these tools are in the above photo on the work b…

How to Make Guitar Bindings from a Baseball Bat

The craft of the wood-turner is ancient. Turners are recorded as having reached England at the time of the Norman conquest and they introduced the pole lathe at that time.

Tom Crispin, The English Windsor Chair, 1992



A while ago I bought a maple baseball bat blank from Rockler with the idea of making bindings, because it gets a little pricey buying pre-made bindings from LMI. I carefully ripped the blank down on my table saw into 1 1/2 inch wide strips and ran those through a thickness planer.



These are the tools I use, a cutting gauge and a Frost knife. The holey board that you see is my shooting board, once I cut a binding off the strip I joint the strip to have a straight edge to register the gauge on for the next binding. This also makes the edge that will go against the shoulder of the rabbet on the guitar.



First, I mark the strip with a cutting gauge on both sides of the strip. These bindings will be a 1/4 inch wide.



Then I take a knife and make the cut deeper working from both sides…

Getting Ready to Install Guitar Bindings

The woodcraft way is the simple way. Few tools, and simple tools, supplemented by a helpful gadget or two fashioned in the woods, plus a little ingenuity! The pioneer with few tools, sometimes none besides his ax, applied his intelligence to the task at hand and figured out some way to get it done.

Bernard S. Mason, Woodcraft, 1973




I like to tape the binding in at the waist and work my way back to the end block, simulating how the binding would be glued into the rebate. This way I know exactly where to trim the binding's end.



A butt joint. I shave it a few times with a very sharp chisel to get it right. I guess I had better take a photo of the finished joint and post it!



The bass side binding has been glued into place and looks good! Honestly, it does! I didn't mean to set the block plane right in front of the guitar, I'll post some more photos later!

How to Make Guitar Purflings

The good worker loves the board before it becomes a table, loves the tree before it yields the board, loves the forest before it gives up the tree.

Wendell Berry, Landscape of Harmony. 1987



I am such a process freak.

It's been quite a few years since I have bought pre-made purfling, I bought one sheet each of white and black veneer from LMI, made a cutting gauge from a piece of walnut on hand and made a board for cutting the strips. The board came from watching an episode of The Woodwright's Shop where Steve Latta showed how to do traditional Kentucky style inlay with holly strips, etc. Here's shot of the board, veneer and cutting gauge.



The process is pretty simple: set the fence to the width of the strip you want and start cutting. Be sure to pay attention to the grain of the veneer, it can change directions quickly and you'll end up with a strip of uneven width.



All the strips cut, ready to be glued in with the maple binding.

The Best Books on Classical Guitar Making

Skilled use of the knife and ax is seldom described today because there are few persons who master these tools. Those who do are often more articulate with their hands who master these tools.
James Rudstrom, from the introduction to Swedish Carving Techniques, Wille Sundqvist, 1990



If you want to make a classical guitar these are the two books to get!

Making Master Guitars, by Roy Courtnall is like having an old master looking over your shoulder prodding you to listen to him, because he knows the most efficient way to do it. Besides, it is tradition! I love this book!

Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology, by William Cumpiano and Jon Natelson, is "the" book that I used to make my first guitars and I still reference it. I have leafed through it so much that the pages are falling away from the binding!

I can't recommend John Bogdanovich's book Classical Guitar Making, it is for someone who already has a well-equipped professional cabinet shop that is capable of turning…

How to Make a Guitar

By its very nature and design, a good, well-tuned, well-sharpened and well-maintained chain saw is a very precise tool that can be used by almost anyone to make almost anything.
Walter Hall, Barnacle Parp's Chain Saw Guide, 1977



Many apologies to everyone, it's hard to keep up with a blog when you have a full time job (I am gone from the house 12 hours a day!), plus I am enrolled in a historic preservation certificate program at Bucks County Community College in PA. Now that the historic planning and sustainability class is over and with two weeks off from work for Christmas, I thought that I would try and catch up with the blog.

The above photo the laurel/douglas fir guitar, based on a guitar by Rene Lacote, circa 1830, that I am working on. Last night I bent the maple binding and glued it on this morning, I will try to bend and install the other top binding today. The purfling is BBWBB, I thought that if I went with a BBWBBWBB like what is around the sound hole the guitar woul…

A "Mae West" style Lacote Guitar, part 2

"You see, Doctor Archie, what one really strives for in art is not the sort of thing you are likely to find when you drop in for a performance at the opera. What one strives for is so far away, so beautiful that there's nothing one can say about it."

Thea Kronberg, The Song of the Lark, Willa Cather, 1915

Here are some photos of the Lacote, I just glued the back on this afternoon, along with some photos of the shop. Will write more later, it's time to head to our water hole, River Rock Cafe in Mariposa.


The top is ready, I made a caul to use when I glue on the bridge, the back bars are fitted to the basswood lining.


I like to use fish glue (from Lee Valley) to glue the main parts of the guitar, it dries so hard that it is almost impossible to remove it with a sharp chisel. I really like using spools clamps to glue on the back with, so much easier, and less smelly, then the inner tube strap that Cumpiano suggests in his book.


Eat your hearts out, you people who think t…

Moore Cottage, Wawona Hotel, Yosemite National Park

"...to quote an old saw from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, 'A good plan makes a good elevation'.
Harvey Ellis, The Craftsman,1901-1904



The Moore Cottage at the Wawona Hotel complex at Wawona in Yosemite National Park, built in 1896 for the Washburn family that ran the Wawona Hotel at the time. It is part of a national historic landmark. Quite the Victorian era building. The nomination form states that the windows in the cupola are Palladian, one of our interns thinks that is incorrect, so I told her that maybe we should say that the windows are "Palladian-esque". She said she could live with that.


In 2003, the Historic Preservation crew lifted the porch and put a foundation under and replaced all the 2x4's that were inside the porch columns with 4x4's and now I am going back through attaching straps from the top of the posts to the bottom plate of the cripple wall that supports the porch roof. It takes an hour to pull off all the molding, cornices and fascia, 2…

Splitting Firewood

The ax is a symbol.

William Coperthwaite, A Handmade Life, 2007


The back porch thermometer reads 103F right now, and there is only a slight breeze. The last two mornings I have worked at splitting the oak and ponderosa pine I felled and cut up this spring, the oak (valley oak and black oak) is almost dry, but the pine is almost as wet as when I first cut it. Amanda and I plan on replacing the pellet wood stove that came with the house this winter for a real wood stove, one without a fan, an auger and doesn't have to be plugged into an electrical outlet. Living down here in Mariposa County has made me soft, because the house is insulated and I now that I work all winter, I haven't had the need to cut and split 4-5 cords of wood every year. I didn't realized how much I miss splitting firewood.


Before all of you start saying "What is he crazy? Who would miss splitting firewood? That's alot of work!" Yes, it is work, but it is enjoyable work and splitting wood is ve…

Superintendent's Residence, Yosemite National Park

In slating or shingling a roof, great care should be taken at the hips, ridges and valleys. Where the roof is shingled, two or three courses should be left off at the ridge until the two sides are brought up, then the courses left off should be laid together, and in such a manner as to have them lap over each other alternately. This can easily be done if the workman uses a little judgment in the matter; and a roof shingled in this manner will be perfectly rain tight, without the ridge boards or cresting.

William Radford, Practical Carpentry, 1907



I had to get up on the roof of Residence #1 this week with Fritz and Paul to find out why the roof is leaking. This photo from HABS taken in 1979 shows you the valley on the upper roof where we were working. We tore up the shingles in the valley, put ice and water shield down on the sheathing and then installed new cedar shingles. Will see if the roof leaks over the winter.

By the way, the building is boarded up and the interior is in terrib…

A "Mae West" style Lacote guitar

My face is my passport.

Vladimir Horowitz




(Dear Friends: There are more posts on this guitar, please see the months of January, June and July 2010. This guitar is being french polished this month, November 2011, stay tuned for postings on that. Wilson)

The sides are on the "Mae West" Lacote, when the tendinitis in my right elbow subsides (it is so bad I can't swing a hammer or shake hands with someone, the pain is pretty righteous!) I will attach the back. Before I do that I need to cut away the sides from the heel block so I can start "chalking in" the neck, the joint is very similar to a violin neck joint, just a "V" joint.



I am building this guitar for myself that is why I used pre-made basswood lining from Stew-Mac. I know that the lining of these old beasts should be solid, but I just don't have the time anymore to bind solid linings. The next romantic guitar I will build on an inside form just as a violin maker would do and also laminate the…

A "Mae West" style Lacote Guitar, Bending the Sides

The piano is a monster that screams when you touch its teeth.
Andres Segovia


An afternoon of bending sides for the "Mae West" Lacote. Believe it or not, California laurel bends like a dream, it took me only 15 minutes per side.

I admit that there is still alot of touch up to the sides that I must do, but laurel is wonderful wood. I just ordered an electric bending iron, I may regret doing that, I made my bending iron from a length of copper pipe 15 years ago, I have gotten so use to using it. The tip that is on the propane bottle is much easy to regulate then the standard cheap torch tip.

Here's the top all braced, I need to hurry and assemble the guitar before the humidity drops too much more!

Hunting Sequoia Trees

I am back to working four 10 hours days at the park, it makes for a tiring week but I do get Fridays off. Today, Josey the Wonder Dog and I took a hike up the old skid road and rail road bed in the Nelder Grove Historic Area in Sierra National Forest. Here you can actually walk up and hug a giant, in Yosemite NP fences politely keep you back from all those wonderful trees. I wanted to find the tree that is called the Old Granddad, I never did find it or at least the sign saying that it was.


My favorite tree on the trail, it forces Nelder Creek past its roots.


That's Josey on the old road bed and the Kiowa tree on the right. We could hear the whistle from the shay engine at Yosemite Sugar Pine.


I like to think of this as the old grand dad, but there was no trail leading to it, had to bushwhack through deer brush to get to it. There were lots of other nice trees around this one, but never did find the old gent.

Work has me swamped, I will try to post some photos of the Legnani Lacote, …

#705 After Rehab

New images of #705 now that the rehab is done and the new residents have moved in. The building has not been lived in for 20 years, we should really celebrate! This is the main facade that looks east towards the old barite mine.


This is the service porch as viewed from the the north.


This is the south elevation.

Piedras Blancas Light House

Photos from Piedras Blancas Light House



The BLM has a great website for the lighthouse, I will try and post the address later!

Trials of a Dodge Pickup

The Dodge and the Go-Tag-Along at the KOA at Green River, Utah

Dear Friends:

The check engine light came on in my '02 Dodge pickup a couple of weeks ago and I took it in to a local mechanic to see what was wrong. It turns out that engine coolant is leaking into #2 and #7 cylinders, the cooling system is under high pressure from the engine compression and the heads might be ruined. However, the pickup was running as well as it ever did and never overheated, which the mechanic told me it should be doing. He quoted me $3000 for machining the heads and if they were bad it was $6200 for a re-manned engine. He looked at me with disbelief when I told him that no way would I put a re-manned engine in a vehicle that has a blue book value of $3500! As it is it is going to cost me $2200 just to have them put the engine back together, now that they tore it apart to see what was wrong. Now all I can do is hope that the engine doesn't blow up before we can buy a replacement vehicle.



This is th…

Collins Axe

Nearly all our talk, though, was about logging, because logging was what loggers talked about. They mixed it into everything.
Norman Maclean, Logging and Pimping and "Your Pal, Jim", 1976



My father gave me my first axe on my 11th birthday, he bought me a single bit Collins axe at the Lyon and Garrett Hardware store in Red Bluff, back when the store was on Main Street and still in business. That axe's been re-handled a couple of time and the poll still wears that "Collins blue" paint. I use to use it to split kindling, but now it sits in the tool box with the rest of my axe collection. I found this wonderful Collins axe advertisement, I think it was part of a calendar, at an antique store in Redding.

A "Mae West" style Lacote Guitar, The Beginning

The beginnings of the guitar, like the beginnings of man himself, are buried deep within the pages of history books yet unwritten.
Christopher Parkening, The Christopher Parkening Guitar Method, Vol.1, 1972


I spent part of a Saturday afternoon thickness-ing the sides of the Legnani model with the help of a card scraper. In an effort to keep the dust down in the shop so I don't have to wear a dust mask, I am trying to stay away from the use of sandpaper. It is amazing how smooth of a surface a card scraper can make, if it is really sharp, the surface appears almost as if it was burnished.


The sound hole has been cut into the top and this afternoon I thicknessed the back with a scraper, both the top and back weigh 7 ounces. I just read an interview with John Gilbert, a wonderful American luthier, who said that he and his son, Bill, tried to keep the top and back the same weight so that both would be the same pitch. It makes since, so now I will try and weigh all the parts.


A simple …