Saturday, March 30, 2013

Julia's Guitar, A Copy of a 1933 Santos Hernandez Guitar

I started back at my regular day job 2 weeks ago, I've spent it working on the flat lands at Walden Ponds. As I say, any time I spend away from the mountains is time wasted.

I finally got a chance to finish binding Julia's guitar, a copy of a guitar made by Santos Hernandez in 1933. I did some research on the internet looking for images of guitars that he made after 1921 and before his death in 1943 to get a better idea of how he "trimmed" out a guitar. Here is my interpretation of what I learned.

On some of his guitars Santos used a very wide maple purfling.

This makes for a very bold look. He also made a heel cap from the same wood as the bindings. I used ebony bindings on this guitar and used ebony and maple for the heel cap to make the binding theme.

A photo of gluing on the heel cap.

You would be surprised at the amount of stress a guitar receives while it is being made! It gets all covered with glue, my hand slips when the binding tape breaks and a finger nail scrapes the sound board, it can be a bit of a brawl between maker and guitar! (Sorry for the blurry image!)

The sound board cleaned up after the binding is complete.

This guitar is very special, Julia chose a redwood top that came from a board that was rescued from a barn that stood outside of Yosemite National Park. I was able to re-saw only two guitar tops from this board, one that is on this guitar and the other will be used for a copy of a 1968 Hernandez y Aguado guitar. The rest of the board has too many knots to make it useful for guitar tops, I will probably use them for ukuleles at a later date.

Wood with this kind of provenance is rare, not often can a maker claim this personal of a connection to a piece of wood.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Old Brown Glue Arrives and Other Luthier Goodies

Manner is personality—the outward manifestation of one’s innate character and attitude toward life.

Emily Post

Remember how your parents always told you (and if they didn't they should have!) "If you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all!" I was also told to be sure to tell other people about the good things that someone has done to you.

Yesterday, I received a complimentary 20oz. bottle of Old Brown Glue from Patrick Edwards!

Thank you Mr. Edwards!

It is the best hide glue on the market!

To make your own hide glue click here for Stewart-MacDonald's video.

20 ounces of hide glue! Wow! What will I ever do with it?!

My order from Luthiers Mercantile Inc, micro pipettes, mother of pearl overlays, Dr. Duck's Axe Wax and blonde shellac.

Though it doesn't stand out, the three white pieces against the bag of shellac are mother of pearl tie block overlays. One of them I will use on the bridge for Julia's guitar.

I made some fresh shellac from this bag today, I look forward to French polishing a few instruments. Okay, how many luthiers, or woodworkers, do you know who can say that?

The Dr. Duck's Axe Wax is recommended by Rick Turner for fret boards. I haven't tried it yet, I am sure that it is good because Rick has been making guitars for almost as long as I have been alive. (I was born in 1962, if that helps!)

The pipettes are for CA glue. I never thought I would like CA glue so much.

The sock on the head stock is to protect the crest!

Binding rebate ready to receive binding on Julia's guitar, which is a close copy of a guitar made by the great Santos Hernandez in 1933. Installing bindings on a guitar is the most nerve racking aspect to guitar making. After installing a binding strip, without huge tear outs from the router or chisel, and there are no major gaps between binding and guitar all I want to do is to drink heavily.
Or go for a 15 mile hike.

Cosmetic flaws on a guitar mean nothing, how well the guitar sounds and how it plays are the most important aspects, though there are people who think that the cosmetic aspect should be flawless.

Some people even look inside of the guitar for flaws.

Let me ask you this-when was the last time you played the inside of a guitar?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

World Champion Horseshoers

I just have to share these videos! These guys are amazing! It brings back many memories of the horses I put shoes on and all the forge work I did. In the Eagle Eye competition you get to see these guys forge weld, I did that, too! Wow, it is something for me to think about, I could do everything that you see in these videos.

I was a professional horseshoer in another life, I am a graduate of the Horseshoeing School at Montana State University and I was certified by the American Farriers Association.

What different paths we follow in our lives!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Old Brown Glue-Now That's the Stuff!

Today, W. Patrick Edwards, the maker of Old Brown Glue, left a comment on an earlier post, Guitars, Ukuleles and Old Brown Glue that gave me a bit of an education on Old Brown Glue.

If you look real hard you can see the bottle of Old Brown Glue sitting in the background on my bench.

This is what he said:

I just discovered this post. I make Old Brown Glue and keep a sample bottle of each batch to test the shelf life. My shelf life testing is at room temperature, here in San Diego, where it is often hot. Naturally, storing in a refrigerator extends the shelf life.

We put a shelf life on each batch and keep records of each sale. We conservatively put a date of 18 months from the date of manufacture. Our testing indicates it has a longer shelf life than that.

Wilson bought batch 149. According to the printed shelf life date, it was technically out of date. However, my test bottle of 149 is still good, and it has been sitting at room temperature.

The glue is supposed to have a thick (gel) viscosity in the bottle, It needs to be heated to be used. When the glue decays over time, it becomes very liquid in the bottle at room temperature, and has a strong ammonia smell. Those are indicators that the glue is bad.

Unfortunately, I believe he tossed the glue simply since the date was passed, not because it was bad.

Since he said nice things about our glue, we are sending him a complimentary 20 ounce bottle as our thanks.

Patrick Edwards

I publicly apologize to Mr. Edwards for disposing of that bottle of glue, I know that hide glue has a smell to it, but when I opened that bottle one day to check its smell, my head snapped back a little bit. I assumed because of the smell and the date claimed that the glue had expired, I decided not to use it. Now, I know better!

I heartily recommend Old Brown Glue, I can't say enough good things about it!

It dries hard making it ideal for instrument making; you have the convenience of having it in a bottle; a longer working time than AR and PV glues; there is nothing not to like about it. The only reason why I made my own hide glue is because I wanted the experience of making and using old style hide glue.

Thank you in advance, Mr. Edwards, for the complimentary bottle of glue that you are going to send me! I look forward to using your glue again and I will always recommend your glue to anyone looking for a glue with such versatility!


I just read Dennis's comment about how hide glue gets a bad rap in luthier forums, so in light of that let me say that I had a really good experience with Franklin Hide Glue, 10-12 years ago, that guitar top is still together. I have also learned first hand that when Franklin Hide Glue expires, it expires.

If you want to see the strength of freshly made hide glue please click here to see my post on making a copy of a Santos Hernandez guitar.

I heartily recommend Old Brown Glue and Lee Valley's High Tack Fish Glue from my experience with them.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Baker&Hamilton/Stiletto Tool Company Try Square

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.

Bernard S. Mason, Woodcraft, 1973

I found this square in a dumpster while working at a national park that hosted a CCC (Civil Conservation Corps) camp during the Great Depression. I was shocked that someone threw it away, but happy that I came along to rescue it. I don't use it much, I keep it more out of nostalgia. I knew men who had served in the 3C's, as they called it, and all talked about how it changed their lives for the better.

It's a Stiletto square, and Stiletto Tool Company (originally called Baker&Hamilton) was highly regarded by all the old timers that I grew up with. Other than the high quality of tools that Baker&Hamilton produced, those old men like the company because the tools were made in San Francisco, not somewhere "back east". That was a term of derision used by those of us from the west slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains, hell, it was used throughout the entire West. This square bears the patent date of April 1909, three years after the Baker&Hamilton factory was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. How it ended up in a 3C camp I'll never know.

The square is still accurate. I tried to do some research online to see if I could find a current value, no luck yet, though I'm not sure I really want to know.

As a side note, I visited Chris Schwarz's blog just to see what he was up to and his latest post mentions that he bought a used Bridge City Tool Works TS-2 square. After some surfing I found out that the original price for the square was $89. There is one on eBay and its current bid is $125, there are 8 days left in the bidding. I wonder what the final bid will be. I think that Bridge City Tool Works should make those squares again, now that Chris Schwarz owns one, everyone will want one. The classical guitar world is the same way-Ana Vidovic plays on a Jim Redgate guitar, many amateur guitarists want a Redgate guitar so they can sound just like Ms. Vidovic...

But I digress.

Having that square in my shop is a wonderful connection to a time when a group of scrawny boys built some of the finest buildings and structures that stand in the United States today. Do visit the 3C's website that I highlighted above.

Here's short YouTube of Ana Vidovic

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Guitar's Scale Length, Your Hand Size and a Chart

I will cite the case of a marvelous concert player, a Japanese lady who is barely 5 ft. tall and with hands that are real miniatures. She plays a 664 mm 10 string guitar and demanded that I build this guitar with an action 1 mm higher than normal, which she handles with incredible ease. This is serious study!

Jose Ramirez III, Things About the Guitar, 1990

Here is the hand size and scale length that I found on the forum at

Thumb tip to pinky tip span of 250mm+,  664mm scale length
Thumb tip to pinky tip span of 230mm to 250mm,  656mm scale length
Thumb tip to pinky tip span of 210mm to 230mm,  650mm scale length
Thumb tip to pinky tip span of 190mm to 210mm,  640mm scale length
Thumb tip to pinky tip span of 170mm to 190mm,  630mm scale length
Thumb tip to pinky tip span of below 170mm,  615mm scale length

Here is my flexible imperial/metric ruler.

Here is my hand properly placed on the flexible imperial/metric ruler.

Today my reach from little finger to thumb is 240mm. I should more or less be playing a guitar with a 656mm string length. I studied on one that has a 664mm string, but I find a guitar with a 640mm string length is much easy to play!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

One Reason Not To Have A Tool Chest In A Small Shop!

Tool chests are an obvious convenience, and are usually made by the workmen in all trades for convenience in storing their tools.

Bernard E. Jones, The Practical Woodworker, 190?

The best reason not to have a tool chest in a small shop is that is quickly becomes counter space!

Though it is nice just to walk over to the cool new lathe that I own and turn a tool handle or something on it real quick.

Click here to see what I want to build (with modifications, I don't need the vise!) to replace this tool chest.

Making a Copy of a 1933 Santos Hernandez Guitar

In all glueing operations remember to "hasten slowly".

George Ellis, Modern Practical Joinery, 1902

Last month, a young classical guitarist asked me to make her a guitar that she could play, comfortably. She has very tiny hands and can hardly play the 650mm string length classical guitar that she owns. I handed her a metric ruler and asked her to measure from the tip of her outstretched left hand little finger to the tip of her outstretched left hand thumb. The distance was 190mm. The same distance on my left hand is 235mm. What that means is that she should be playing on a guitar that has a 630-635mm and I should be playing a 650mm, not a 665mm.

We decided that she should have a 635mm string length guitar. I chose the Santos Hernandez pattern, it is an elegant outline and Hernandez did make the 1912 Ramirez guitar that made Andres Segovia famous. Following the original plantilla, I reduced the guitar's body size to what is considered a small box, around 470mm in length, this reduction is to match the proportions of the guitar to the string length.

I also chose the same bracing pattern that Santos used, the original was for a flamenco guitars, flamenco guitars need to be "punchy", almost drum like and since this guitar will have such a short string length I want all the help I can to make it project. I found this wonderful website on guitar design, click here and here to see a comparison of famous bracing designs. The Santos design centers the vibrations on the bridge.

This time I decided to use hot hide glue to glue the braces onto the top. Usually most blogs and websites you will see the maker using a go-bar deck and clamps, I've done that before but I wanted to be old school with this guitar. I got the hide glue up to 145 degrees, brushed it on the brace and then rubbed it into place on the top. I did not use a clamp to hold the brace at all, I just tried for "a rubbed joint", I did use clamps to hold the top against the work board, but not on the brace. I held the brace in place for 4 minutes and then went on to another.

I am so impressed with hot hide glue! The curve that you see in the braces is from the glue holding it in place! I had not quite a 16th of an inch spring back went I took off the clamps and the sound board off the work board.

My glue pot, a hot pot!

1912 Ex-Segovia Cedar/East Indian Rosewood Classical Guitar

Inspired by AndrĂ©s Segovia’s famous 1912 Manuel Ramirez guitar, I chose Western red cedar top and East Indian rosewood back and sides from m...