Build day 19: Professional Sawdust Maker

Taking off all of the spool clamps revealed an actual guitar body! I picked it up and just marveled at it. So amazing to see a guitar body where not too long ago, there was just some nondescript wood and some promise.

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I had one little extra step to do before I get to the “biggies”. I cut the top to clear the top of the neck dovetail. Not very long ago, I would have considered this a bit scary, but today it was a no-brainer.

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So now I’m at a bit of a crossroads. To truly finish the guitar body, the overhang of the top and bottom need to be trimmed. But even more to the point, something called a “binding channel” must be cut so that the trim (the binding) that goes around the front and back edges can be mounted properly. This is a right of passage for guitar builders, because to do this involves some steps that can easily  destroy all the work done so far. There are many approaches to cutting the binding channels, and all I can say is that the amount of hours I’ve spent trying to figure out what I should do is embarrassingly large. In the end I decided to use a laminate trimmer, and I bought a Bosch Colt for this purpose.

I was going to make an elaborate jig to securely hold the guitar body while I was routing it. I spent much of today trying to figure out how to make it with the materials at hand. After a couple of attempts, I came up with a MUCH simpler idea. Basically, I just need the guitar to be relatively level, and prevent it from sliding around. I had a roll of that stuff you use to prevent things from sliding (sold as tool drawer liner), so I just cut pieces to secure my workboard to the table and also between the guitar and the workboard. I also used some bench cookies to level the guitar out. I used a bungie cord to hold the guitar body down. The assembly was surprisingly rock solid. I could even remove the bungie and simply press down on the guitar body to keep it in place.

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So with that problem solved, I figured I should at least take the first baby step with the router. Before the binding channel can be cut, I need to flush trim the top and back to remove the overhang. I could do that with a knife and rasp, but why not do it the way the big boys do it and use a router and a flush-cut bit. My binding channel kit includes a bearing for flush cutting. So I practiced on some scrap wood, tried to control my hyperventilation, and – started a flush cut. The edge cut like butter. Only seconds later I had a portion of the guitar back cut flush to the body.

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Nice! Making sure I kept track of the wood grain direction to prevent tear out, I only took about 30 minutes to finish flush cutting the top and bottom.

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Afterwards, I can’t really put words down to describe how I felt. What was before me was a real guitar body – I thought I had one before, but the flush cutting made a huge difference. I was so happy, I took the guitar body upstairs to do a show-and-tell with Candi and Lucas. I think they were duly impressed.

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I did make a few test cuts to check the fit for the actual binding channel – and that experiment went very well. However that operation will wait for another day. At least now I feel like I can do this! One thing I did have to deal with was the large amount of sawdust generated while routing. So I cleaned up. But rosewood and spruce sawdust is actually kind of attractive. Sort of.

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Build day 18: Piroshki and the Art of Guitar Building

With picturesque light snow falling outside, today would be a perfect day to get the guitar body completely glued. I had everything prepped and ready to go – so just some clean up inside the body and I’d be ready to do the dervish of the spool clamps once again. But – did I mention the picturesque light snow? The first thing that comes to my mind on a cozy winter day is a bowl of beef barley leak soup and some piroshki. I know, that’s pretty obvious, right?

So I made the soup and Candi and I made the piroshki. We now have a system where this isn’t even that big of a deal anymore. Maybe I’ll put up a new revised recipe one of these days, but today this is about guitar building. So here’s the guitar build version of the piroshki that we made today:

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Properly fortified after that awesome meal, it was time to close up the guitar body. I cleaned up any excess glue, removed every spec of sawdust, and generally worked over the inside with a fine tooth comb. After all, I’d never see it again. As a final touch, I signed the top, as is tradition.

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Next came the crazy time-critical clamping insanity. Like I did with the top, I practiced the clamping ritual over and over. I made some adjustments from last time – for example I made sure the clamps couldn’t fall off the table, I also taped some acrylic cauls to the top and bottom so I didn’t have to waste time setting that up with glue drying. I also had a brainstorm – and taped the cam clamps so they would be exactly the right width. That’s the one problem I always had with cam clamps, is they take some time to adjust, and they usually slip a bit when you put them on. So I was pretty happy to simply pick them up and put them on without any adjustment.

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Then with nothing left to do – the time had come to do it. I started the timer, and ready-set-go! The funny thing is moments after I started, the Songza playlist I was listening to as a guitar making soundtrack changed to something resembling gangsta rap. I couldn’t stop to change the music, so I had to suffer through it while I frantically put the clamps on. It actually went pretty smoothly, but it was not without a few rough moments. Soon, it was done, and I could change the music.

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The next step involves using a router and is one of the more tricky and high stakes operations in building a guitar. I’ve been nervous about it from the first day I got the kit. I’ve spent many hours watching videos, reading forums, and researching the various ways of cutting the binding channel, and amazingly, it’s now NEXT. I bought a Bosch Colt laminate router for this purpose, and I’ll be practicing quite a bit before I go at my guitar with it.

Build day 17: The guitar loses its training wheels

I’ve been on vacation since Wednesday, but I spent the last two days working on non-guitar projects. Now that the microshop has a vent and I have some room in the basement, it’s back to the guitar. Today I entered the home stretch of finishing the guitar body, pretty exciting stuff!

Way back when I just started this project, I was worried about the kerfing not being flush with the end blocks. Funny how that seemed like a big problem not that long ago, but now it seemed an easy matter to simply sand the rim and blocks with the sanding sticks. It didn’t take very long to get the rim looking good.

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Next step was to prepare the back for fitting. Again, my experience with the top bracing made prepping the back braces seem quite easy. This time I used some bits of Lexan to guide the chiseling. The reason I chose the Lexan was I was shooting for about 0.1″ at the ends and the Lexan was about 0.093″ – I figured that was close enough. Putting a piece on either side of the braces made it really easy to make the tips even.

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Then it was time to fit the back to the rim. So I dry-clamped the back and marked the sides where the braces crossed.

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Then came the now-familiar notching of the kerfing to accept the braces. But this time, I knew that the brace ends were exactly the thickness of the Lexan, so I used a small piece as a guage when filing the sides. This made it MUCH easier to know exactly how much to file and only small adjustments were necessary.

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I used some spool clamps to test the fit, and I was pretty pleased. This is really looking like a genuine guitar body!

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Then came a BIG moment. I cut the inner form out. This is like the guitar has finally matured to the point it no longer needs training wheels. It seems like forever ago that I put the form in, and now the guitar body is structurally sound enough to stand on it’s own.

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Its also the first view of the top bracing from inside the guitar. Pretty cool to me, I must admit.

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Before I can close up the body, there’s a few other things to do. One of them is attaching reinforcement strips of wood onto the sides. Using the blueprint, I plotted out where the strips should be mounted, and then I had to cut individual small pieces of wood and sand them so they looked like they belonged there.

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The trickiest part was figuring out how to clamp them. I think I wound up using almost every clamp I owned.

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I’m pretty excited, because I know that I’m nearing the end of the first phase of building the guitar. Although I always had confidence I could do this, getting the body done seemed quite daunting at one time. Now that I’m starting to get more comfortable in some of the basic skills, I’m ready to face the many challenges still ahead of me. It doesn’t get any easier from here, but I can see that I’m not terrible at this, and that’s pretty comforting.  I’ve got to say – guitar building seriously rocks!

Getting all my ducts in a row

I need to vent. Vent the microshop that is.  I need proper ventilation to use certain glues and solvents with any safety in the microshop. I bought a good size bathroom vent fan a few days ago, and today I installed it. First I worked on the ducts. The idea was to use the dryer vent hole in the sill and connect a second duct to it. I would also have to install some one-way dampers so that the dryer wouldn’t push air into the microshop, and any fumes from the microshop would not enter the dryer.  It took me way longer than I expected to get everything hooked up.

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Then I prepared the wiring for the fan, installing a junction box, and ran wire to a switch and fan. I left the switch hanging outside the microshop for the moment, I’ll deal with mounting it some another day. And then I cut a hole in my nice pine panel wall – I hated to do it, but I figured the vent would not work well without a hole.

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Installing the fan was pretty easy, because I rigged up a mounting scheme that simply allowed me to slide the flanges between the studs. When I turned on the fan, I could tell that it really sucked. Air that is.  Ok, that’s probably enough puns for today.

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Taking back the basement

I have a few days off from work, and today I opted to clean the basement rather than work on the guitar. Every time I cut any wood, it’s been a real puzzle as to how to cut it because of the very limited amount of space available in the basement. The bottom line is I need more room, and there’s only one way to get it – clean out the junk.  It really wasn’t fun at all, and I’m now sore all over – but here’s the before and after:

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Build day 16: Back braces finished, Optivisor mod

After removing all of the clamps that caused me so much anxiety yesterday,  it was amazing for me to see a guitar body coming to life before my eyes.

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I figured I should make some more progress on the back, so I glued the rest of the braces:

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I think that might be the last use of the go-bar deck for this guitar!

I spent much of the afternoon at Lowes – mostly to find a venting solution for the microshop. I will have to use some glues and solvents that really need good ventilation.  I found a bathroom vent that moves quite a bit of air through a 4″ duct.  I spent some time figuring out how to mount it into the wall, and it looks like its going to work pretty well.

And I did one more thing, something I wanted to do since I got my Optivisor.  From Dan Erlewine came the idea of mounting two lenses at once, and I really wanted to try it.  Dan used guitar binding – which is genius – but since I didn’t have any extra, I used strips cut from Lexan instead.

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I know it’s seriously geeky, but I don’t care, because this is awesome. I can see CRYSTAL clear at two different useful distances. And one more cool thing is that I can pretty much ditch my reading glasses – or not, depending. With them on, the two focus zones are closer to me, and without them they are a bit further away.

Our viewing highlight for tonight was Downton Abbey – you know, the episode that was seriously sad. We knew it was coming, but didn’t know anything specific about what would be so sad about it. And after having seen it, I must confess I was sad :(

Build day 15: Top glued! Back braced! Heart rate increased! Film at 11

Today a major milestone was reached in the guitar project. I glued the top to the sides, and that might sound like a no-brainer to you, but let me tell you it was a little nerve wracking. The problem is that roughly 30 clamps are involved, and they all must be applied within about 5 minutes because of the glue set time.  Everything I’ve read suggested practice, then practice again, and then practice again. I did that, and I did pretty well in the end, but it took some doing.

I had to prop up the guitar body so that I could access both the top and bottoms easily. Then I did a few dry runs using cam clamps and spool clamps. The first time I did this it took me over 20 minutes to set everything up. I needed to get this down to 5 minutes somehow.

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So I adjusted all the spool clamps so that they could be put on and tightened with only a few turns of the wing-nuts, and then I numbered them all and arranged them in order so I could grab them quickly.

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I practiced again, and this time it took closer to 8 minutes – so I did it again and got it done in just under 5 minutes. This included about 1 minute to apply glue, which tried to act out to see how long it would take. It was finely time to try this.

And what followed was a complete frenzy of activity, although I really worked on trying to stay as calm as possible. But it wasn’t so easy. I applied the glue, and because of the complex surface I had to coat, it took nearly 2 minutes just to apply the glue. Then I affixed the top, checked the alignment, and put on the end clamps. Only they didn’t go on as quick as the practice run, and now I was almost at 4 minutes in without even getting to the spool clamps.  No stopping now, so I just kept grabbing clamps and putting them on as quickly as possible.  Of course, some fell on the floor, which cost some more time, but I did get all the clamps applied and tightened and the whole operation took nearly 8 minutes. I figured that was good enough. There was almost no glue squeeze out, which hopefully means I got just enough glue on the edge – and doesn’t mean that the glue set before pressure was applied. I’m going with the more optimistic view.

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After I started breathing again, I decided to glue up the back braces before I called it a day. Armed with the cauls I made yesterday and my new improved go-bar deck,  I glued down the back braces

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Yay! I’m pretty pleased with the progress this weekend.  The guitar body is only a few days away from being assembled – and that’s when things start to get very tricky.  Should be a pretty interesting week coming up!