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Guitar build – in the right order

Posted by is9582 on February 29, 2012 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

OK, I know I said the next of my guitar build articles would likely get down to the actual build. But…some aspects of this build are predicated heavily on a proper progression of steps. What the heck does this mean?? Well, after finally making a nice piston fit mortise, for the neck tenon, the first inclination is to grab some glue. Let’s get this bad-boy installed, so it really feels and looks like a guitar. Whoa there. That would be a bad decision, since there were other steps that must come first. Some of these steps are such that jumping ahead would be an inconvenience, while others could transition your up-and-coming guitar into expensive fire wood.

So, if I’d installed the neck, immediately after the initial fitting (which did not include creating the 5 degree downward slope of the mortise floor nor the top of the guitar), I’d have no way to create the backwards sloping angle of the neck. Firewood! If the angles were already accomplished, before gluing the neck, but the holes for the guitar’s tuners were overlooked, I’d likely still be able to find a way to make it happen. It would be a pain, working with the length and weight of the full guitar, and trying to find a way to hold it, while using the drill press. Big inconvenience!

In this vein, I found some nice Sperzel locking tuners at a local guitar store yesterday, so I have what is necessary to move forward with the build.

Trim-Lok 3×3 for Les Paul style guitar.

There are quite a few different brands of tuners out there, and they have sizing and usage differences, of which you should be aware prior to buying. The Sperzel’s I purchased require no screws to hold them to the headstock, as did most of my previous guitar’s tuners. This will work fine, since this is a from-the-ground-up build and there are no existing screw holes, but could have been a problem if I were replacing old tuners. The Sperzel tuners do require a small precisely located hole, offset from the main tuner shaft hole, for a small positioning pin. This pin prevents the tuner from spinning, and ultimately takes the place of the attachment screws.

Now that I have my tuners, I know what size holes I need to drill in the headstock, and where. After all the holes are drilled, I can move towards finally gluing the neck into the body. I will still have a number of stepped operations left to claim a guitar is born, but at least I’ve avoided the firewood pile. So far…

Guitar build tip

Posted by is9582 on February 27, 2012 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m making steady progress on the guitar, but haven’t had a great deal of time to write on this topic. This mini-tip is something I believe could easily transfer to other furniture, so I’ll talk about it separately and have another “regular” article on the full build later.

One super critical aspect relating to a Les Paul build, is the neck/body connection. The neck has a tenon and the body a mortise of sorts. These two pieces must fit to exacting tolerances, to best utilize the tone in the wood and strings. What I’m trying to say is, if the fit is sloppy, it will sound lousy as well as you’ll be lucky to keep the instrument in one piece. The strings, when tensioned to pitch, work quite hard to tear a guitar apart.

Rough neck, with tenon final length and width.

OK, so we know that the guitar will have less than optimum sound and sustain, and might just self-destruct, if the neck/body joint is even so-so. Let’s talk about a method that worked insanely well for my build, and I expect will for all of you readers, too. I wish I could claim I was the brilliant mind that came up with this method, but I’m not. My buddy Phil Edwards, of Philly Planes, used the same technique before me, and I believe many others have done so, as well.

I started the process by cutting the tenon on my neck blank, so the sides are completely square and the bottom parallel to the top. After the tenon is complete, it’s time to pull out some MDF. The thickness isn’t super critical, but I still feel better using 1/2″ or 3/4″, since it will end up as a surface my router’s bearing will follow. I was lucky enough to have some MDF that was left over from a previous jig, and it was about 12″ x 12″. It doesn’t have to be this large, but I do like it wide enough so it is about the same as the guitar’s width. Cut the MDF just shy of the half width point, lengthwise, which I did on my table saw. Obviously you can use whatever you have available, but make sure your cut leaves a completely straight, smooth edge. Take the wider of the two pieces, and mark the width of the neck’s tenon, onto it. This portion of the jig creation is very important. Make absolutely sure the cut-off from the second piece is either exactly the same width as the neck tenon, or just slightly large. If it is slightly larger, you still have the opportunity to sneak up on the perfect fit. The three pieces of MDF are put back together, with the narrow piece placed between the other two pieces, but pulled back, so there is a  “pocket”in which the tenon will fit snugly, both width-wise and length-wise. Now if you cut the narrow piece too slim, your neck’s tenon won’t fit at all, and you will have to get another piece of MDF. Once you have the three pieces the correct dimensions, put the two outside pieces up against the shoulders of the neck’s tenon. Now slide the middle piece up so it just touches the end of the tenon. A practice run-through is never a bad thing, so after you’ve got it down, put some glue on the mating surfaces. Just make sure to leave the section dry, that will touch the neck’s tenon. Not a good time to glue MDF to your neck! I put the actual neck tenon, into the “pocket”, so I could clamp up the three pieces, with perfect alignment. After clamping up the glued pieces, remove the guitar neck from the mix, and let the MDF jig dry.

Glue applied and neck tenon removed for clamping.

Once it is dry, it will be the guide for your router, using a pattern bit with a top-loaded bearing.  This will allow a router to remove material to the exact width of your tenon, and will make you seem like a god, with the perfect fit.

You could use this same technique on any other project with a mortise/tenon joint, that is only enclosed by three sides. Leave this to your imagination. I expect the next “guitar build” related post will have more details on the build itself. Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts.

What makes a great Japanese dovetail chisel

Posted by is9582 on February 19, 2012 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , , , ,

To start with, Japanese chisels are a different breed. Most other chisels are made from a single piece of steel, but for those uninitiated, most traditional Japanese chisels are a two part process: hardened steel on the bottom as the cutting edge and softer iron on the top to help absorb the shock. The hardened steel can range from about Rc 62 – 69 or so. Without the softer iron portion of this mix, there would be a much higher chance the hard steel would chip.

The high polished lower section on the bevel, is the hardened steel, with the more cloudy the iron.

Focusing in, there are quite a few different choices of Japanese chisels, and when making dovetailed projects, the concept of their “dovetail” style chisels (also called Umeki-Orie-Nomi) is hard to discount. Some of these chisels are exactly as expected, but many are somewhat less triangular in shape than expected. Some of these so called “dovetail” chisels have that preferable narrow bottom edge, making it almost exactly a triangle in cross-section, but others have such a pronounced flat along the side’s edge at the bottom of the “triangle”, they can easily bruise the area where each tail meets the baseline.

Look closely and you’ll see the flat section, at the bottom of each side, which is the hardened steel.
Another side view, with the chisels flat on their soles.

Part of this can easily follow the fact above, that Japanese chisels have a piece of very hard steel on the bottom and it seems some makers prefer to leave the steel’s side edge almost perpendicular, rather than apply the same angle as is applied to the iron.

You’d think the shaping of “dovetail” chisels, would be somewhat consistent across all brands, but there is actually quite a bit of variation.  I’d suggest checking out each and every brand in which you’re interested, prior to purchase, just to make sure you get what you expect.

A view from almost straight down, hopefully providing additional shape comparison.

 Good hunting!

When is Cherry not Cherry?

Posted by is9582 on February 16, 2012 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I was reminded the other day, how selection of wood for dovetailed boxes, can make or break the project. I’m sure this initially seems like I’m only talking about aesthetics, but in actuality, the physical characteristics are at least as much of concern. A man brought me a piece of wood whose species was not […]

Does the Tooth Fairy like Houndsteeth?

Posted by is9582 on February 8, 2012 with 1 Commentas , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve always enjoyed the craftsmanship of nice hand-cut dovetails. Something in them has always called to me. Many of the dovetails I’ve cut were used in smallish boxes for family/friends, and usually those are of what might be called “standard” dovetails. Hand-cut dovetailed boxes I’ve made for family. This morning I was playing with a […]