Thursday, March 15, 2018

My Forty Year Old Shaving Horse

I've made all my tools, matter a'fact, everything I got. Well, this shaving horse I guess is about fifty years old.

Alex Stewart, bucket and butter churn maker, Foxfire 3, 1975

I made this shaving horse in 1978, when I was fifteen years old. I was tired of trying to hold stock in the leg vise on our grandfather's workbench, sticks of wood often would slip out when I took Grandpa's drawknife to it, and the jaws limited access to the wood I was trying to shape. I saw a photo of one in Foxfire 3 and decided I could make one.

My parents had all sorts of pieces of wood cached up in the attic of the old workshop, both were children of the Great Depression, they squirreled stuff away "because you never know when you are going to need it!" There was a five foot long piece of chainsaw milled incense cedar, pieces of old painted window, miscellaneous Douglas fir 2x2's and one piece of old growth Douglas fir that was just right for the bridge table.

I can't remember if my father helped me build this bench. There were no plans, I built the thing "by hand and by eye", something both my parents preached every time something was to be made.

I tried to smooth the bench board as best I could with a No.5 Stanley jack plane, there was an Atkins crosscut saw to use, plus a Stanley brace with Winchester auger bits and probably an old Plumb claw hand drove that nails.

The dumbhead was the bottom chunk of young ponderosa pine I cut down and hewed out with a double bit axe and at one point in its life, there was a treadle on the other end of the dumbhead.

The entire contraption is put together with nails...

and the bridge is pinned down to the riser with hand chopped Douglas fir dowels.  After I made this horse my mother saw that I had used that nice Douglas fir board for the bridge,  and boy, did I catch hell for that! She told me I should have used a "different" piece of wood.

I spent many an hour on this horse in the mid 1990's shaping out parts for stick Windsor chairs and other stock that got turned on a bungee cord lathe. The only "bad thing" about this horse is the bench is one foot too short, I have fallen off the end several times when I was draw-knifing some very long pieces.

Yes, I made two or three copies of Drew Langsner's shaving horse from dimensional Douglas fir lumber and I made sure the benches were long enough. However, those horses never worked as well as this one, maybe that style is not organic enough for me. I ended up giving all of them away.

I don't think I have used this horse in seven or eight years, I really don't need one for guitar making, but it does my heart good to know that it is in a nice shed protected from the elements and I can use it whenever I want.

It's hard to believe that in ten years this horse will be fifty years old!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Impractical Guitar Maker - Why I Make Guitars, Part One

The gifted hands of these makers turn these rare old woods, ideas and dreams into beautiful musical instruments.

James Sherry, classical guitar importer

I am often asked by the people who view and play my guitars how I got into this thing called "guitar making".

My pat answer is "I couldn't afford the guitar that I really wanted".

Good classical guitars are never cheap and here are some examples of prices past and present.

When I started studying classical guitar in 1974, at the age of 12, a Jose Ramirez III 1A classical guitar cost something like $3000 to $4000 - $15,175 to $20,234 in today's money. Back then, great players such as Andres Segovia, Christopher Parkening, Liona Boyd, Douglas Niedt played a Ramirez, because those guitars were the best.

In 1990, I stopped by a well known guitar maker in New Mexico to check out one his higher end guitars. It was $3000.  I think my take home pay at the time was only $800 a month, and I had to decline because I had student loan and car payments, plus rent, which ate most of my paycheck. In today's money that guitar would cost $5725, pretty much the average price for a mid-range classical guitar today.

My guitars are priced from $4500 to $5200.

Most classical guitars top name makers here in the United States and Europe start at $7500 and go up to $40,000!

However, truth be told, the first reason I make guitars is the romance of being a guitar maker.

Now, look at the cover of this 1974 edition of Art Overholtzer's book, Classic Guitar Making. It just oozes romance!

This cover pretty much convinced me I should become a guitar maker.

What is not to love about owning and working in an old shop with tall ceilings and tall windows that look out over a quiet street.  A shop where great guitarists would come to play your latest guitars and fill the space with music by Sor, Giuliani, Tansman, Ponce, etc, and then, when they would be done with their playing,  talk would turn philosophical about how beauty enhances our world and reaches out into the cosmos...

The second and main reason I make guitars is because of their beauty.

Classical guitars and the music that is played on them captured my heart and mind a very long time ago.

Just listen to some recording by the really great classical and flamenco guitarists and you will hear the beauty, the beauty that inspires me every day to walk up the stairs to my shop and work very hard to make something that can, perhaps, match that beauty.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

More French Polishing

Whenever you smooth down a freshly polished surface, always use your glass paper very lightly...

The French Polisher's Hand Book, 1910

I've been very busy lately pore filling two guitars, which gets to be a pain in the ass, pore filling is my least favorite part of finishing. It seems like no matter how hard I try to get the pores completely filled with wood dust and shellac, that when I get ready to start padding shellac I discover spots that aren't completely filled. I go ahead and pad down some shellac, wait for it to harden then go at those spots with a pad loaded with shellac and pumice then sand with Micro Mesh when the shellac is hard.

I pore fill with a combination of shellac and wood dust, East Indian rosewood dust for this guitar.

It makes a goopy mess that I sand back to (almost) bare wood with 400 grit sand paper. Lots of elbow grease and heart ache.

I know the old recipes for French polish use tallow or tinted whiting for pore filling, but for some reason in the traditional world of classical guitar building one is suppose to use pumice and shellac.

These last several years I thought I was getting good at the Art of French Polishing, that is, nice and shiny surfaces. My guitars look good, but this last month I used a suggestion from a guitar maker in Germany and added purified Manila copal, 10% by weight, to a two pound cut of shellac. Wow! Talk about shiny! The above photo shows the shellac after just two sessions! Granted, this work was done on top of previous shellac, but the build up and shine was just incredible!

This is different guitar, but this shows you how quickly the shellac/copal builds up, this is the first session!

The recipe is a two pound cut of Kusmi buttonlac with 10% Manila copal and 5% gum sandarac. The next recipe I want to try is the same but with 5% gum mastic, which is a recipe from The French Polisher's Hand Book.

Two ponderosa pines that I walk by twice a day...

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...