Building An Acoustic Guitar – The Sides

It’s finally time to start constructing this guitar. After all the initial lumber prep has been done and I’ve built a few tools that I’ll need it is time!

After some thought I decided to start with the body of the guitar instead of the neck. While the neck is a bit intimidating I figured the sides, particularly bending them would be my biggest hurdle in this project. I like to get the hard stuff out of the way so that made my decision to begin working on the guitar’s body an easy one.

I began by making a template of the shape of the sides from the plans I purchased. From there I could use the template to transfer the shape to my stock for the sides. Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 9.57.28 PMI then took the stock to my bandsaw and cut them out. I stayed about 1/8″ outside of my lines though. This allows me to attach the template back to the roughly cut out side and use a pattern routing bit at my router table to make the side an exact copy of the template. I did this for both of the side pieces.  At this point the sides are still too long. They will be trimmed to their final length after they are bent.

Next I needed to transfer the indicator lines from the template to the side. Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 9.59.22 PMThese marks indicate the length of the sides as well as the places the bends will be made.

With all of the layout complete its time to bend them. I used my shop made bending iron for the job. I found that spraying the area of the side to be bent with water then immediately applying the side to the iron worked best for me. It took a little while for me to figure out the proper amount of pressure to use while bending as well as the rocking technique I used. I found that I was applying a significant amount of pressure. More than I had anticipated prior to starting the bending process. At a certain point you can actually feel the wood loosen up and accept its new shape. I also discovered that rocking the piece back and forth and around the iron worked well. This meant that I put pressure on the sides of the iron as well as straight down. It seemed to produce a cleaner bend as opposed to sliding the wood over the iron and only applying pressure straight down.

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 10.03.10 PM

Frequently during the bending process I took my piece to the mold to compare my bend to the shape of the mold. I found it was pretty easy to get the wood to bend nearly exactly to the shape of the mold.

 I did burn the sides a little bit. I’m not sure if this is a result of letting the wood become too dry or leaving it on the iron for too long. Either way the burning is minor and I’m sure I can sand and scrap it out later on in the project.

Once the sides are bent I took them to my bandsaw and trimmed them to their final length. With the sides having the proper bends and trimmed to length it’s time to put them in the mold and use the spreaders to hold them tight its sides.

Next I needed to make the heel and tail blocks for the guitar. These get glued to the inside of the guitar and are what hold the two halves of the guitar’s sides together. I referenced my plans and cut the blocks from mahogany. All of the internal structure will be from mahogany. With the blocks made they can be glued in place.

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 10.09.59 PMAfter the glue dries on the heel and tail blocks it’s time to glue the kerfing to the inside of the guitar. I didn’t show it in the video but I wetted the kerfing and clamped it to the outside of the guitar to help it take the proper shape. Reversed kerfing, the kind I made, has a tendency to break more often than traditional kerfing so I figured pre-shaping it couldn’t hurt. With the water dry and the kerfing roughly bent I was able to glue the strips on the sides of the guitar without issue. I did attach them slightly proud of the guitar sides. This way I could come back later and trim the kerfing and the sides flush with a block plane.

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The final step in the construction of the sides of the guitar is to install the wedge where to side pieces come together on the bottom of the guitar. I always thought this wedge was purely decorative. Now I know it is put in to hide that the joint where the sides come together may not have been absolutely perfect. I didn’t attempt to make mine perfect because I knew I’d be putting the wedge there but I can imagine a luthier a long time ago installing the wedge after discovering that his side pieces didn’t come together as perfectly as he or she would have liked. Likewise the joint where the sides come together at the neck doesn’t need to be perfect either because it’ll be cut away when the joinery for the neck is cut.

To install the wedge I found a scrap of mahogany, to contrast the walnut sides and cut a quick wedge shape from it. I then used the wedge to layout where I needed to cut to insert it. I started by sawing on my layout lines down to the tail block. I then chiseled out the wood between the cut marks. Once the wedge fit in properly I glued it in and flushed it up the to rest of the guitar.

   I’m really happy with how well this part of the process turned out. I feared that this might be the demise of the whole build. It wasn’t though and I could t be happier with how it turned out.

Next up is to start working on the top and back of the guitar!

Thanks for reading.

A little “Press” for one of my videos. 

Every Saturday Jay Bates at Jay’s Custom Creations writes an article highlighting interesting stuff from around the web. Aptly titled, Interesting Stuff From Around the Web

This week while reading over his article I was pleasantly surprised to see that he included a video of mine on building the Extending Trestle Table!  I’d include the video for your viewing pleasure here but I want to encourage you to visit his site. So here are the links again!

Jay’s Custom Creations
Interesting Stuff from Around the Web
Thanks for reading!

Started the Guitar Build

In my last shop update video I mentioned that I only had a few commissions left and then I planned to go on a 52 week spree of building cutting boards, bowls and boxes.  I also mentioned that at some point I wanted to build a guitar.  At the time the guitar was more of an after thought though.

As I thought more about it and did some research I couldn’t get the thought of building a guitar out of my head.  Before I knew it I was in the shop resawing some mahogany and walnut to make blanks for the pieces that would eventually become the guitar.  So much for the boards, bowls and boxes idea.

I am by no means a luthier (guitar builder).  I’ve never built a guitar in my life.  I have however played the guitar for the vast majority of my life.  That combined with my passion for woodworking really can only lead one place.  It’s time to build a guitar.  I love the Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar.  I’ve wanted one for about a decade and a few years ago my wife surprised me with one of them.  It, in my opinion is the perfect acoustic guitar.  The neck feels great, the size is perfect and it sounds amazing.  Because of this I’m modeling my guitar on the J-45.  I purchased plans for the build from Stewart-McDonald.  Based on the research that I’ve done they seem pretty reputable in the world of guitar building.

I’ve already produced three videos documenting the guitar build.  I haven’t gotten too far into it.  The videos are basically all the beginning work.  Milling the lumber, making the blanks and some other miscellaneous parts that I know I’ll need.  Here is the first video in the series thus far.

In this video I mill the rough lumber in to blanks for the guitar.

After milling the lumber, I glued the blanks together to form the pieces that I’d need to start building the guitar.  You can what me do that in this video.

Finally in the third video of the series so far I take care of a few housekeeping tasks. These include squaring up the neck blank, sanding the blanks for the back and soundboard as well as making kerning for the guitar.

So as you can see I’ve been pretty busy getting things ready to really dig into this build. I’m pretty excited about it while being a bit apprehensive at the same time. I’m worried that my guitar won’t even come close to the quality of a J-45 and that all the time I will have spent building it will be for nothing. Anyone can go pick up a crappy guitar for a few hundred dollars and call it done. I really hope that this build lives up to my expectations. I guess only time will tell.

I hope you continue to follow along with this project. I can promise that it’ll be a lot of fun. Win or lose I’m sure to learn something new!

Thanks for reading.

Shapeoko 2 Test Run and First Project Fail!

I got a used Shapeoko 2 about two weeks ago from a friend of mine and I tried it out for the first time today. Originally my plan was to just cut a simple shape to take the machine for a spin. Part way through cutting it I decided to make an inlay for the cut out shape. This didn’t go so well.

I decided to cut out a heart shape. Then decided to cut another heart from walnut to contrast the oak and make a heart inlay. I thought maybe my wife would like it. Just a little nick-knack type of thing.  No big deal.  The first step is to set everything up in Easel, the software provided by Inventables, the creators of the Shapeoko 2.


I went through all the set up options without an issue.  Cutting the heart recess went fine as well.  While waiting for the Shapeoko 2 to finish cutting the heart recess I decided to create the inlay.  I prepared the piece of walnut and got it all set up, making a few changes in Easel to cut the outline of the heart as opposed to a recess.  This is where I must have gone wrong because when the walnut heart was cut out I attempted to inset it into the recess and it wouldn’t fit.  The walnut heart was too big for the recess.  I’m sure that I did something wrong in setting up the cut for the walnut heart.  Perhaps I changed a setting that I wasn’t aware of or maybe I accidentally changed the size without realizing it.

Even though the impromptu project wasn’t successful the test run of the Shapeoko 2 was.  And in the end that is really all I set out to do.

Shapeoko 2 CNC Mill
Cutting the heart recess
Cutting the heart recess

Extending, Turned-Leg Dining Table

This was a pretty fun build. Definitely easier to do that some of the other pieces I’ve built. Take a look at the build video. 

The client wanted a distressed table. She provided me with a very popular photo of a DIY dining table online. I’d post it here but I’m not sure if I’d be violating copyright laws or anything so for that reason I won’t. At any rate, if I had a dollar for every time someone sent me this photo I’d be a wealthy man. The table in the photo she sent is essentially a turned leg table build from lumber you’d get from one of the big box stores. SPF lumber to be exact. I wrote another post about using SPF for furniture. You can read that HERE.  The short of it is that I don’t advocate for it. At least not yet. 

The table I built is from oak, a wood used for furniture construction for 100’s of years. 

The video leaves out what I’d consider the most interesting part of the build, turning the legs. This was a lot of fun and I was looking forward to showing it. Unfortunately the battery died in my camera and I didn’t capture enough of the process to even make it worth including. 

The distressing was done by applying the stain and then sanding it back once it dried. This gave the table a weathered or ashy look, which is what the client was looking for. Here is a before and after photo of the distressing. 

 What do you think of the distressing?  Is that a style you like as well?  Let me know in the comments. 

Thanks for reading. 

52 Weeks

Currently I have one commission to finish up as well as one more table to build, also a commission. It has been a long time since I’ve only had one job on deck. For a while I was worried. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I was concerned about not having to run around my shop finishing work that I’ve been hired to complete. 

However now, after some thought, I’m excited by the idea of not having to build anything in particular. I’ll get to build the things I want to build and on my own time. Maybe I’ll even have the option of building something I can pick up with one hand. 

So as a result I think I’m going to do a 52 week challenge of sorts. 52 weeks of bowls, boards and boxes. Each week, once I finishing up these last commissions, I’ll make either a bowl a cutting board or a box of some kind. Already I can see the bowls becoming more of a loose description for vessels, vases and other bowl like art pieces. But “Bowls, Boards and Boxes” sounds better than “Bowls (including vessels, vases and various bowl like art pieces), Boards, and Boxes.”

This will be great. Each project is pretty small compared to the things I’m used to building. I’ll get to flex my design muscles a bit more and I’m pretty sure I can turn out a small project each week without using up too much of time away from my wife and the kids. I’ll also have the opportunity to try out new techniques and hone some skills that I normally don’t have the opportunity to use. 

Of course at the end of the 52 weeks I’ll have a large collection of bowls, cutting boards and boxes. I’ll have to figure out what to do with all of them. Have suggestions?  Leave them in the comments for me. 

I’ve also been toying with the idea of building an acoustic guitar. That’s a topic for a different post though. 

What do you think of this new idea? Have you ever presented yourself with a similar challenge?  How’d it go?

Thanks for reading!