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Showing posts from 2015

On the Bench: Western White Spruce/African Rosewood Concert Guitar

...the art of knowing and working with Mother Nature's wood is one of the noblest occupations created for the development and enjoyment of human beings.

Manuel Rodriguez, The Art and Craft of Making Classical Guitars, 2003


We've had a cold snap here in our neck of the woods, thankfully the temperature hasn't dropped below 0 degrees Fahrenheit at the house, but daytime temperatures haven't gotten about 25 degrees F. The relative humidity has dropped and my little humidifier is having a hard time keeping moisture in the air of my new little upstairs workshop, which means I have to watch the hygrometer and the wood very carefully. I doubt I will be doing much glueing until the temps get above 30 degrees.

That said, I have parts for another guitar ready for the bench, a spruce and African rosewood (bubinga).

I bought two white spruce tops from Stew-Mac several years ago, it was a limited time offering, the wood sold out quickly and Stewmac no longer offers this wonderful …

A Guitar Maker's Christmas Wish List

One Christmas Eve, I was told, certain payments due did not mature, and grandfather found himself unable to pay his men's wages. At that time the daily fare of the village was home-cured bacon: and when it was suggested that, for the family Christmas dinner, a piece of fresh meat should be brought from the butcher, he forbade it, on the principle that such a luxury was inconsistent with the non-payment of wages. And on that Christmas day the family sat down to nothing more than the everyday bacon.

Walter Rose, The Village Carpenter, 1937


Dear Santa:

This December I listed every step in making a guitar and identified every tool for each step.

I inventoried all of my tools and discovered more tools are needed to increase my efficiency, efficiency increases speed, speed means I make more guitars for sale, which means more money to pay off the mortgage.

I searched and searched tool catalogs, websites and at last I found every needed tool.

The list is a long one, but Santa, today when…

Snow, Snowshoeing and Hide Glue

Once again we are in the grip of that grim old gentleman familiarly known as Jack Frost.

D.C. Beard, The Field and Forest Handy Book, 1906



The first day of winter is only four days away and we got two good snows this past week.

It's been wonderful for me to trail after the dogs on my snowshoes for their morning and afternoon up the gulch to Forest Service property.




There are great views such as this to enjoy...



and the gulch is cozy with snow.



A dead standing Douglas fir makes for a good photo opportunity.




Josey and Rufus treed another chickaree (tree squirrel), Pete was off chasing a different chickaree.



Today, I am trying to finish up the interior of a Conservatory model guitar so I can glue on the back.

Chores and other obligations have slowed down my progress some, but now that I glued a dutchman on the neck foot I am one step closer to closing up this guitar.




Hide glue and Lee Valley fish glue on my standard glues these days.

I appreciate how easy it is to reverse hide glue,…

How Many Guitar Making Hours in a Day?

Life is for doing things slow, like trees.

Makoto Imai, Japanese shrine builder



I recently read an interview with a well known classical guitar maker, and in the interview he stated that he worked twelve hours a day to make his guitars.

The first thing that came to my mind as I read that was - does he works three days a week or five days a week? 36 hours or 60 hours? Another question was, does he make time to live a life?

I can barely get in an eight hour day at the work bench.

There are chores around the house and property that need attention; the dogs demand two walks a day; and I need to get in my daily run of two and one-half miles. Oh, and I cook dinner for my wife since she commutes four days a week.





Yesterday, I did bend two sets of guitar sides. One set of Claro walnut...


and the other was bubinga.

This set of Claro walnut bent like a dream, but I have noticed that walnut tends to have more spring back than any other wood that I have bent.

Bubinga is hard to bend, meaning yo…

Building an Antonio Torres SE 117 Guitar: Full Size Drawings to Start

What I can never doubt, or help admitting, is that the guitars constructed by Antonio Torres are the achievement of the highest degree of guitar lutherie.

Manual Rodriguez, The Art and Craft of Making Classical Guitars, 2003


I have a soft spot for small guitars, the first two guitars I made were based upon an 1816 Jose Martinez guitar which isn't much bigger than a baritone ukulele. Though small, these guitars have a loud, lyrical voice and are quite fun to play.

Two guitars made by Antonio Torres, his SE117 and SE151a have always intrigued me - they were both made with the same plantilla, or shape, both have bodies that are 17 inches long. SE117 has a 604mm, (23.750") string length and SE151a has a 610mm (24") string length. Compare that to the 1816 Martinez guitar which has a 616mm (24.25") string length and its body is just over 16 inches long!

The Martinez is a great sounding little guitar, I figure that with a larger body the Torres style guitars should be even…

Wide Cherry Boards

Black-or wild-cherry trees do not like competition for sunlight from other trees.

Roy Underhill, The Woodwright's Shop, 1981



This morning I took a trip to a local Home Depot to see if I could find some nice Douglas fir to use in the rehabilitation of my old workbench. (More on that in other post!) I found only four boards that were really usable, I wanted more so I thought I would head over to Lowe's to check out their inventory.

On the way to Lowe's, I stopped at a local flea market to see what hard wood they had on hand, all I wanted to find was some nearly quarter sawn cherry for a guitar neck or two.

I walked back to the stacks of walnut, cherry and oak and when I saw what was there I knew I'd never get to Lowe's...


...this is what I found!

I have never run across cherry boards this wide here in Colorado.

The first one was fifteen inches wide, the second one, in the above photo, was sixteen inches...


...the third one was 18 inches wide! Another was at the very …

What I've Learned About Woodworking - Hand Tools and Machines

Modern technology, with its vast capacity to produce cheaply everything needed by a burgeoning world population, has replaced the hand tools and the hand craftsmen which have attended mankind since its earliest days.

Alex W. Bealer, Old Ways of Working Wood, 1980


Perhaps I could cut out the back of the bubinga/ebony guitar faster with a bandsaw, but the coping saw makes me be aware of the wood and when I am done with this task the coping saw will hang on a peg.

A bandsaw makes noise, requires more space and electricity. I get to burn a few calories using a coping saw.

Now, if I were making doors and sashes for a living I would have shop full of power woodworking machines, I see their value in speed and efficiency for that kind of wood working.

I don't make doors and sashes for a living, I make guitars in a small shop.

Hand tools best suit my work...




...because they allow me to be intimate with the wood.

A guitar is a very intimate instrument, especially for the player.

Yes, I kno…

Another Use for Cam Clamps

There is quite a variety of clamps to meet the needs of the various kinds of work to be clamped.

Harry F. Ulrey, Audel's Carpenters and Builders Library No.1, 1965




There are days when I dislike using my Shop Fox vise to hold thin pieces of wood and today I needed to taper down a piece of ebony that is going to be inserted into a bubinga guitar back.

I used a technique that I figured out a while ago to hold the wood, a cam clamp front and back on the piece.

The clamp in the front gets butted up against the bench stop and the clamp on the back helps steady the piece while I plane away with my no.7 jointer plane.



This is what the back will look like, I still need to joint all edges before I proceed with the glueing process.

Yes, I do use exotic woods, but Auburn Hardwoods, where I got the bubinga and Luthiers Mercantile International, the ebony, both assured me that both woods were from sustainable sources.

Now, turn off the computer, get into your shop and do some work! I'm go…

A Monumental Tree

You have heard people say, "He cannot see the woods for the trees." Meaning, that he cannot grasp the meaning of the big thing because a part of the thing holds all of his attention. This could apply to the average man's understanding of the importance of forests. The average man does not see the forests except as so many trees.


Ned H. Dearborn, Once in a Lifetime: A Guide to the CCC Camp, 1935



I enjoy collecting photos of a photographer who worked out of Susanville, California in the early decades of the last century. I am always looking for postcards of the logging scenes that he captured with his camera, especially those that he took near where I was born and raised in Northern California.



I recently acquired this postcard, it's a great shot of two loggers preparing to fall a huge ponderosa pine.

The logger on the left has a Puget Sound style double bit axe, the logger on the right has a "misery whip", a two man crosscut saw over his shoulder and is hold…

When the Wood Tells You What to Make

I always think of wood as being alive.

James Krenov, A Cabinetmaker's Notebook, 1976





I ordered one piece of West African Ebony from Luthiers Mercantile International to cover the headstock on a Spanish cedar guitar neck, it was going to be a great contrast for the bubinga back and sides.

The headstock veneer fell to the floor and cracked, not a large crack and I was able to glue and clamp it together. When I was getting ready to dry fit the piece onto the headstock the ebony split full length when I was drilling a hole for one of the registering pins.

I guess this piece of ebony didn't want to cover the entire headstock.

I took one step back from the bench and recalled some advice that my father said to me when I young...

Sometimes the wood tells you what you should do.




The back of this guitar is going to have a tapered fillet of ebony down the middle, it seemed best to me to match that with a mirror image in the headstock veneer. This photo shows a piece of West African ebon…

Classical Guitar Necks: Black Cherry and Spanish Cedar

I believe in tradition as long as it doesn't interfere with some of my ideas. First, I differ in the kind of wood that I use to make my guitar necks.

Arthur E. Overholtzer, Classic Guitar Making, 1974

I was busy last week.

First, I joined a western red cedar top, inlayed the rosette and then thinned the top down to about 2mm thick.

I want to experiment with the so-called fan/lattice bracing that is very popular right now amongst classic guitar makers.

The idea is to have a very, very thin top that is reinforced with an ultra strong, ultra light style of bracing, the concept is similar how the drum head on a banjo works.

These days young classical guitarists who compete in guitar competitions are playing the loudest guitars they can get their hands on. Some folks call these guitars "uber guitars", others call them "Australian guitars". These guitars are very loud and some don't sound like a guitar at all, they are very controversial right now in the class…

A New Tool Rack

A tool rack gives every tool a place to call home without enclosing it inside a box.

Sandor Nagyszalanczy, Setting Up Shop, 2000




A couple of years ago I needed a tool rack in my shop, it was hard to make the time to build what I really wanted, so I cast around on the internet and found this design (click here) which I adapted. It went together quickly and I used it for several years even though I didn't like the design, the tools kept tipping over in the open rails.



You can see the aforementioned tool rack just above the right hand side of the work bench. As I said, it worked.




On a recent Saturday I made the time to disassemble the old rack and built what I really wanted from the remains!

I laid out all the tools I use on a daily basis onto the old rail board, figured two inch spacing between each tool and then went at the board with a brace and bit.

Every tool has it place and I don't have to worry about one falling through an open rail.

It's nice to have a little bit of…

Lufkin No. 386 Four Fold One Foot Ruler

Here is where it all begins. It is a fine thing to be able to plane square and saw straight but these skills are lost on work that is measured and laid out incorrectly.

Aldren A. Watson, Hand Tools, Their Ways and Workings, 1982


I try not to collect hand tools anymore, my tool chests are full to over flowing with wonderful antique tools that I don't necessarily need anymore, but I do have a soft spot for four fold one foot rulers.



I picked up this nice Lufkin ruler in Leadville, Colorado, on my birthday, my wife and I were on our way to Crested Butte and Kebler Pass for a short vacation.

This ruler was at the Western Hardware Antique Mall, in a case along with a gorgeous Stanley No. 1 plane ($1175) and a few other nice Stanley and Winchester tools. I picked it up so I can use it to measure the thumb to pinky length of potential customers to establish what string length will be best for them.




This unmarked one foot four fold ruler belonged to my maternal grandfather, Rufus Wilson (…

A Pepperwood Antonio Torres Style Guitar, SE 117: Re-sawing Back and Sides

...like the classic Laurel or Bay..., it[Umbellularia californica] has a spicily aromatic and evergreen leaf. Hence the name of Green Baytree, Spicetree and Pepperwood.


Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of Western Trees, 1950

Just north of Manton, California, on the back way into Shingletown, there is a series of springs that flow out of the volcanic mudflow ridge which are surrounded by pepperwood trees. This grove was a classic grove of the west slope of the Sierra Nevada, no under growth, gray to tan trunks whose bark gave out the same peppery smell of the leaves. It was a good place to stop when I would help my uncle gather cattle because of the luxurious shade. Here we would loosen the cinches on our saddles, lift saddle and saddle blanket off the back of the horse to air out his back some. After we and the horses had a drink of water, we'd cinch up, swing into the saddle and I'd grab some leaves off the tree and crush them under my nose as we rode off. The smell…