Basic Hand Tool Kit for Making a Classical Guitar, Revised

Ours is really a simple craft.

James Krenov, The Impractical Cabinetmaker, 1979

So, you want to build a guitar.

Please see my May 5, 2021 post, A Basic Hand Tool Kit for Making a Classical Guitar - Another Look, for my latest thoughts on a hand tool kit. 

Since the original post, Basic Hand Tool Kit for Guitar Making, click here to see it, is the most popular post on this blog, I thought I would revisit it and adjust it to what I am using now to make a classical guitar.

2024 Update: Ron Hock retired in 2023, Hock plane blades, etc., are available at Lee Valley, where you can find a glue pot and pot warmer, Music Caravan ceased sometime around 2020. Luthiers Mercantile is closed its door in early 2024.

The first thing I recommend doing is to buy or borrow copies of the following books:

Guitar Making: Tradition and Technology, by William Cumpiano and Jonathan Natelson
Making Master Guitars, by Roy Courtnall
The Guitar Maker's Workshop, by Rik Middleton

These are required reading before you begin making a guitar.

Also required reading are these books by Roy Underhill:

The Woodwright's Shop
The Woodwright's Companion
The Woodwright's Workbench
The Woodwright's Apprentice

Why these books by Mr. Underhill? You will learn valuable wood working techniques if you make any of his projects. The dovetail joints used to join a drawer together are far more complicated than any joint you will use in making a guitar.

A modern classical guitar is made up of butt joints, you know, joints that butt into each other. The most exotic joint in a classic guitar is the scarf joint at the neck/headstock union. Pretty basic.

Yes, you do some inlay with the rosette and rout out a few rabbets for the purfling and binding, but there are no complicated joints, unless you join the neck to the body with a sliding dovetail.

I think it is easier to build a guitar than to build a Federal highboy.

With that said and out of the way, once you have memorized every word in every book, then and only then should you start your journey.


There is a plethora of information on the Internet about how to build a work bench, it's a little mind boggling! It seems that many wood workers would rather make work benches than anything else.

I recommend making the work bench that you will find in Underhill's, The Woodwright's Apprentice. It is simple, goes together quickly and I have been using that same bench for the last twenty years! See the above photo. If you want to, build yourself a Roubo bench; or a Peter Nicholson English bench, which I think is the best bench ever designed; or make a Shaker style bench. Whatever bench you chose just make it!

Next thing is to start looking for some vintage tools at local tool swaps, flea markets and antique stores. There are several books available on how to restore and keen vintage tools, not to mention the articles available on the Internet. If you can afford to buy brand new Lie-Nielsen planes, saws and chisels than do it! I think it is more fun to search for and find some good, old tools.

This is a basic list of tools that I use to build a classic guitar. And this is not a definitive list, just a place to start.

No. 3 plane
No. 5 plane
No. 7 plane

Low Angle block plane
If you buy vintage planes, replace the original irons and chip breakers with the same from Hock Tools. Yes, that is an endorsement. Mr. Hock's blades are incredible and you don't have to file or otherwise touch your plane to make the irons fit.

Lee Valley Spokeshaves, flat and round
Wooden Spokeshave, made from the Lee Valley kit (this is my favorite shave)

6, 7 or 8 inch drawknife

1/8 inch chisel
1/4 inch chisel
1/2 inch chisel
3/4 inch chisel
(the most used chisel in my shop)

Marking gauge (handmade)
Cutting gauge (handmade)

Sloyd knife, 2 inch blade (Mora of Sweden #120)
Sloyd knife, 3 1/4 inch blade (Mora of Sweden #106)

Card Scrapers (Bahco Brand)

Gramil, make your own.

Classic tuner drill jig, with 13/32 inch drill. Get the one from Stew-Mac. It is pricey, but well worth the money!

Handmade Rosette and Sound hole cutter, or buy the one from LMI

Razor saws with hand turned handles (make your own handles on a lathe!)
Fine tooth crosscut dovetail saw
12-14 inch crosscut back saw

20 inch rip panel saw
20 inch crosscut panel saw
If you have the money buy these from Bad Axe Tool Works.
Fret saw, get the Japanese style one from Stew-Mac

Bow, or Turning Saw, available from Tools For Working Wood.

Dial Caliper buy or make your own

Miller Falls #2 hand drill (or some other hand drill)

Fret Hammer, from Stew-Mac

Diamond fret crowning file, from Stew-Mac

Side cutters for cutting frets, from Stew-Mac or LMI

Nut slotting files

Bending iron, made from a piece of four inch copper pipe heated by a propane torch,
Or an electric iron and spot thermometer from Stew-Mac

A Shop Fox vise, available from Grizzly, Stew-Mac and Garret Wade

Clamps-cam clamps (which you can make yourself), bridge clamp, C-clamps, long reach C-clamps, spring clamps, clamps, clamps, clamps

Just some of my clamps!

A neat little brass glue pot and pot warmer from Lee Valley. I love hide glue!

I know I have missed some tools, but what you need is to get the Cumpiano/Natelson book and Courtnall's book, they list every thing that you need. And then some.

Don't forget to join the Guild of American Luthiers. You can learn much from their publication, American Lutherie. You can learn so much from them that your head will swim and you will get confused!

Another option, and I think this is a good one, is to enroll in a guitar making program at a trade school or community college. Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood, Colorado has a great guitar building program which has turned out some really good luthiers. I've thought about taking a class in French Polishing at Red Rocks, it is only an hour and fifteen minutes from my house.

Now do your research! Hit your local libraries and find all the books you can on guitars, guitar making and guitar history!

Research is a vital part of my guitar building, I want to know as much about making a Spanish guitar as I possibly can, and that means finding out how Santos Hernandez, Manuel Ramirez, Domingo Esteso, Hernandez y Aguado, Ignacio Fleta and other great masters made their guitars. At this point in my journey I am starting to read about acoustics, especially guitar acoustics, and what I have learned is helping me make better guitars!

Try not, do or do not. There is no try. Yoda


  1. Is the #7 plane for jointing tops?

  2. It is for jointing the top and back! You can also use it for smoothing the top, sides and back! If you can have only one plane, this is the one to own!

  3. thanks, makes sense. You mention having many blades for the #7. The old timers usually cambered the #7 blade, but a straight blade would be best for jointing. So we're up to 2 blades. Any others? I am starting to build again after a long hiatus, I have never thicknessed top/side/back by hand, only with a wide belt sander that I can't use now. So I need to take your advice and go build something instead of reading the internet.


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