Sunday, December 13, 2020

Replacing a Classical Guitar Top, Part One

 Few realize the influence of the luthier on the life and career of the artist.

Andres Segovia, In Memoriam of Hermann Hauser, The Guitar Review, 1954


Recently, a classical guitar made by a well known, highly respected Spanish maker came into the shop for evaluation. The current owner had removed all the original lacquer finish from the top and sanded so much that areas of the top were less than 1mm thick.  The first day it was in the shop I spent over an hour scrubbing the top to remove remaining finish remover and other chemical crud that was leftover by “a home repair”. 


The top after a one hour scrub with NAPTHA...


The bridge with remnants of finish remover...

The next day I spent some time with the guitar to learn more about the damage with the hopes that all I needed to do was to re-finish the top. With the aid of an inspection mirror I found a repair completed at some point in the guitar’s life, a “floating brace” was installed to prevent the top from further collapse and an ugly repair done by the owner, a piece of teak veneer and lots of epoxy. I gently flexed areas of the top with my fingers, one section so thin that the wood immediately split. At that moment I knew I would need to replace the top. The neck, fretboard, sides and back were in great shape, those parts need only touch up of the finish.


A floating brace to prevent further collapse of the top. You can see the smeared epoxy to the left.



These two photos so how much wood was removed by sanding to remove the original finish...

I called the owner with what I discovered and we both concluded that the guitar deserved a new top. The owner stopped by the shop later that week, he selected a nice redwood top and a new rosette.

The biggest challenge with this guitar is the original binding had to remain to preserve of the guitar’s integrity. My typical procedure is to rout off the binding, cut off the top, replace top and re-bind with in-kind wood binding. After some research for different techniques I found a short photo essay on top removal by John Greven and a video by Fritz Damler, both master luthiers. I am very grateful that they shared their knowledge and techniques! 


This guitar has an armrest which is glued to the side and is part of the resonator, this is the first pass with a laminate trimmer.


At the leg rest I used my old Ibex brand purfling cutter. I later set up a variable speed Dremel on a Stewmac precision router base with edge guide, which proved to be very efficient.


The guitar with top removed.


A photo of the owner's patch and epoxy.

The original top with bracing.



I didn't try to match the original bracing, this bracing has worked well for me on other guitars that I made.



The new top fits like a glove...


The owner told me that I could put my label next to the original, I declined.

The new top glued on an ready for purfling.


The purfling channel was cut with a Dremel and router bit and lots of hand work. If you zoom in on the photo you can see the original binding, which is about one millimeter thick. The BWB purfling you see in the channel is part of the original purfling.


The purfling ended up as East Indian rosewood, which I scraped down to exactly 0.0430", so it would added up with the B/W/B/W popular and curly maple veneer and fill the channel. I glued all strips in with CA glue, I feared that any other glue would make the strips swell so much that they won't fit!


Everything worked!


 Close up of the original binding and new purfling. I am quite happy with the result!

To conclude Part One, I present some photos on how I glued the fret board extension back onto the top.






Again, my thanks to master luthiers John Greven and Fritz Damler for sharing information on their top removal techniques! 

In Part Two, I will cover installing the bridge and maybe a few other things!



Monday, November 23, 2020

Who Says Hand Tools Don't Make Dust?

A couple of months ago, I posted a photo on Instagram of my air cleaner's filter after I had ripped a piece of East Indian rosewood with a hand saw, the filter was nearly black from the sawdust and I ripped only two small pieces. After I posted it, someone commented on the photo and said something like "What!? I was told that hand tools don't make wood dust! I was lied to!"

Yes, hand tools do make dust!

Saws make, well, um, saw dust when the teeth cut the wood.



The iron of your hand plane, or spokeshave, makes dust as it cuts and lifts a shaving of wood, and you should see the amount of dusting and shavings that a sharp hand rasp can make!



Anytime I pull out a rasp to work on a guitar neck I don a respirator, when I rip saw by hand a guitar top or back and sides from a billet I do the same. Even with an air cleaner in my tiny 238 square foot studio space I think about protecting my lungs from dust.



Look closely at this photo and find all the wood dust on the handle of the spokeshave! These shavings are from carving a guitar neck.

Every week I clean the filter on the air cleaner, the only power tool I use in my shop is a laminate trimmer for cutting binding ledges and that happens only once a month!


This is what the filter looks like after I have planed some wood and sanded a guitar just a little bit. 

If you look through my blog you will see that photos of my experiences as a historic preservation carpenter. I have worked in several nice shops that were set up to reproduce any kind of sash rail, stile or muntin, along with being able to reproduce any kind of wooden door or other part for a historic house, so I know how much dust, shavings and noise professional woodworking machines can make.

Don’t lose yourself in the romanticism using of hand tools, sure they are not as loud as power tools, but they can bite, cut, tear and make your life a little bit miserable. 

The point of using tools is to make something beautiful...




Sunday, October 11, 2020

My Favorite Hand Plane

 As far as we know now, the story begins in Roman times. The Romans themselves said the plane was invented by the Greeks, but so far no Greek planes have been found.

W.L. Goodman, “The Story of the Plane”.


My favorite plane is a Lie-Nielsen (L-N) No.62 low angle jack plane that I purchased from L-N earlier this year. 



I bought it because I was tired of fighting tough wood - e.g., wenge, ebony, ziricote - with a vintage Stanley No.5 jack plane set up with a toothing iron and that got swapped out for smoothing iron to finish the work. 

I ordered the No.62 with two extra irons - a toothing iron and a regular iron. The toothing iron makes short work of reducing wood down to desired thicknesses, the other iron got a 35 degree angle on it, which, if  sharpened it well enough, will produce a glassy smooth finish.

It took a while to make the decision to purchase this plane, the price of the plane and extra irons was a bit of an issue, but after I saw that most used L-N tools sell for the same price, or more, as a brand new L-N tools on eBay, price was no longer an obstacle.

When I looked at reviews of how well this plane performs, reviewers loved it or hated it. Do an Internet search of reviews if you want to read what was and is said about this plane. 

This plane is a joy to use. It hogs off wood, it can produce a smooth glassy finish, and the best thing about it for me is that I can joint a guitar top or back with far more precision and ease that with my well tuned circa 1994 English made Stanley No.7 jointer plane. I haven't used the No.7 to joint a top or back since I got the No.62; the only time I use my Stanley No.5, type 10 jack plane is to clean up the faces of a rough cut board, and my Stanley No.3, type 11, smooth plane hasn't seen any bench time. For the work I do, building classical guitars, this plane truly lives up to its sobriquet of jack. 

Will I be selling my Stanley planes on eBay anytime soon? Not yet, sentiment is holding me back. Someday, maybe, and replace them with the same size Lie-Nielsen planes.


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

What's On My Workbench - 8 String "Brahms" Classical Guitar, Spruce/Ziricote

The Brahms guitar is a relatively new design developed by guitarist Paul Galbraith and the late luthier David Rubio.  It is a unique instrument in that it is played in the cello position, while increasing the range with an additional treble and bass string.  The guitar features fanned frets and a cello style endpin.

Erez Perelman, luthier


I am making my second "Brahms" classical guitar, this is a custom order for a young guitarist/composer who asked that I make the guitar from Engelmann spruce and ziricote.

I made and used an external mold to make this guitar, I am not completely sold on the idea of an external mold, other than holding the guitar firmly in place when I sanded the sides to accept the back, I don't see any advantage over an open work board. And it is heavy! Perhaps if I had started out making guitars with an external mold I might have a different opinion.

The top is bracing with a five strut pattern over a bridge patch and I added a Yuris Zeltin style floating brace to catch the top just in front of the bridge. The idea of a floating brace is to prevent the spruce top from caving in from the torque of the strings on the bridge. With eight strings, this guitar is subjected to the same tension as a standard steel string acoustic guitar and I want the top to have a long life.

Other than having eight strings and a wider neck to accommodate the extra strings, it is for all purposes a standard classical guitar, however, this model will not have a sound hole in the top. The sound holes will be located in the side on either side of the heel of neck. The player I am making this for records a lot of his own music and tells me the microphones pick up the sound of the air leaving the sound hole on the other Brahms guitar I made him. The "no sound hole" top will make for a louder guitar and he will have cleaner recordings. One nice this about having the sound holes on both sides of the heel of the neck, the new owner will have instant feed back of the sound of the guitar. The guitar has a nice bright tap tone right now, it will be interesting to see how much lower the tone will go once I cut and open up the sound holes. 


















Saturday, September 5, 2020

Laminating Classical Guitar Sides

I showed my guitar to the Maestro (Andres Segovia), pointing out that I was not looking for kind words, but rather his most severe criticism to help me to excel in my work.

Jose Ramirez III, Things About the Guitar, 1990

About six or seven years ago, I laminated a set of guitar sides, East Indian rosewood with Alaska yellow cedar veneer, using Titebond, an external mode and a seemingly unlimited amount of clamps. When the glue dried I removed the sides and was shocked to discover the sides “sprung in” (the opposite of “spring back”!) nearly one inch at ends of the bouts. It took some pressure and more than a few clamps to hold the sides in place on the guitar top while I glued the kerfing blocks to top and sides. Even if I had used an external mold many clamps would have been involved.

I never gave up on the idea of making or using laminated sides, they are stiff and can help improve the sound of a guitar. A guitar is similar to a banjo in that the top is attached and anchored to stiff sides (think of a drum).

After buying and using a vacuum pump and clamp to glue on guitar bridges, I thought I would explore using vacuum bags for laminating guitar sides. After searching on the Internet, I decided to purchase a vacuum bag kit from Roarockit, they also sell kits to make skate boards, and give laminated guitar sides another chance. I made an external guitar mold, a matching work board and purchased slow cure epoxy.

To use the bag method, I still had to bend the sides and laminations (birch and curly maple) to shape on my electric bending iron.






Then I carefully placed the laminations between two sheets of 1/16” thick styrene and somehow get all of that into the vacuum bag. The kit comes with a handy vacuum pump the allows you to pull out all the air and then I clamped the bag with sides onto a mold.



Twenty four hours later I removed the side and wow! 





No spring back, spring in and the sides fit the mold with minimal clamping!

If you are interested in experimenting with a vacuum bag without investing in an expensive vacuum pump, visit Roarockit’s website and take a look at their products and videos.

I’m ready to use a bigger vacuum bag with my vacuum pump so I don’t have to clamp the sides to the mold, I want the mold and sides in the bag! 

Now, turn off your computer and get yourself out to the workshop and make something. 

Monday, August 31, 2020

Western Woodworking, Part II

If you can't build a piece of furniture or guitar from claro walnut or Douglas fir, there's no point in making such a thing. 

Frank Black, logger, cowboy, forest ranger, master axeman.


In a previous post I asked the question, "Are there any woodworkers living West of the Mississippi River?" 

I received comments from several amateur woodworkers, one was Joe from San Francisco who has a delightful blog and is now on the Norse Woodsmith aggregator, and from one gentleman in Fort Collins, Colorado who isn't blogging judging from my research. Bob Easton chimed in, also, but sorry, Bob, living on the west bank of the Hudson River isn't far enough West for this matter! 

As I stated in the earlier post, I know that there are woodworkers living West of the Mississippi, I am aware of all the well known and not so well known woodworking schools here in the West - College of the Redwoods, Anderson Ranch Art Center, Port Townsend School of Woodworking, etc., etc.- and that Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco are just several of the major cities for high end woodworking. 

I did some digging on the Internet and found some wonderful woodworkers that blog, such as The Joinery in Portland, Oregon; Fremont Occasional Woodworks, in Seattle, Washington, and Katie Gong in San Francisco, California. I found more Western woodworkers who are blogging, and these professionals are talking about their creations and commissions, not “how-to-make-something”, which may not appeal to most beginning adult woodworkers, though it should because much of the work that is being done West of the Mississippi is quite inspiring. 

I know I don’t blog as much as I should, Instagram is a great platform for sharing my work and I don’t have to do as much work to create a short post, unlike the time I spend to write a decent blog post. I will make a point to blog more and I ask other woodworkers to do the same.

Let the rest of us know what is motivating you to do your work, my motivation is to make the best classical guitar that I possibly can.

What is your motivation?


Saturday, July 25, 2020

Western Woodworking

The wood of choice was the ponderosa pine which was felled, split, and adzed to a workable thickness and fashioned into larger pieces of furniture, no two of which were alike. 


Kingsley H. Hammett, Classic New Mexican Furniture, 1996




I'm not comparing Western style woodworking to Japanese style woodworking in this post, I want to ask this question: Are there any woodworkers living West of the Mississippi River?

Yes, I know that there are woodworkers west of the 100th meridian - there are woodworkers and co-op's in most major Western cities, many of the world's best known classical guitar makers live here in the West - but to look at a typical woodworking blog aggregator one would suspect that there are no woodworkers living west of the confluence of the Wabash, Ohio and Tennessee rivers. I know that I haven't been posting on this blog as much as I use to, creating a decent post takes time, whereas posting on Instagram is as simple as taking a photo and telling everyone about it in 40 words or less.

Recently, I subscribed to Woodworker West so I could get an idea of who is working out here in the West and what they are doing. Like most magazines these days, it is sparse with pages and information, but I did feel a little lonely as I thumbed through the latest offering.

To find a quote for this post, I went to my small library and started to dig through the volumes to find some quote about woodworking in the West and, once again, I was surprised that the only books I had on that subject were on furniture making in New Mexico. I have a good selection on the logging and lumber industries of California, the trees of California and the West, log cabin building techniques of the Inland Empire (parts of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington), but no books on West Coast furniture making, probably because my interest in Arts and Crafts style furniture faded away about 25 years ago. 

Are Western woodworkers too busy making a living to blog, vlog, podcast etc., about their work? Do they have enough clients that they don't have to talk about or advertise their work? Or, dare I ask, is blogging about woodworking a thing of the past? 






Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Welsh Style Stick Windsor Chair

I made this Welsh style stick Windsor chair fifteen or sixteen years ago for my wife when we were living at Cedar Grove, outside of Paynes Creek, California.

At the time, chair makers like Don Weber, Drew Langsner, etc., referred to these as Welsh style stick Windsors, and if you look at the research they did back in the late 1990's, early 2000's, you will see why they used that term. I had read all the available books and magazine articles on chair making, then I went out into the forest that was my backyard, selected and felled the trees that would become this chair.  

The seat is ponderosa pine that I milled from a tree on our property with a Husky 385 chainsaw and a Granberg Alaskan mill attachment and carved out with a gutter adze, planes and spoke shaves. The spindles and arm rests are black oak (quercus kelloggii) from a tree on the property, the legs are red oak dowels my father acquired when he worked for Kimberly Clark paper company sometime around 1970.

California black oak has a tendency towards brash failures, and the support spindle on the left hand arm rest failed one day, not too long after my wife painted the chair. It has been broken for a long time.




A few days ago, I decided I needed to fix the chair. One concern was to make sure I maintained the arm rest's height above the seat. I drilled out the spindle tenon ends of the two supports, removed them and went to the lathe to make replacements.


The front support I made from a length of beech, the only non-tropical hardwood piece I had on hand that was wide enough, and the secondary support is turn from a piece of black oak that once help hold my work bench together.


I originally turned the spindles on a bungee cord lathe that I had made in 1995, I sure miss that thing, but a power lathe works pretty good. The new pieces measured out to match the old and every thing fit without too much pressure and wrestling. 


Tenons were kerfed...


 wedges were glued...


and driven home.


A little filler is needed around the tenons and everything is solid once again!


It is such a pretty chair, I am glad I fixed it!

A Basic Tool Kit for Making a Classical Guitar - Another Look

I was looking at a blog post of mine from eight years ago, Basic Hand Tool Kit for Making a Classical Guitar, Revised and saw that I have m...