Tuesday, November 9, 2010

building templates 1

When building a solidbody guitar with a router, it's common practice to first create a set of templates out of something sturdy (and easily machinable) like MDF. The purpose here is to create a reusable guide to use when carving the body with a flush trim router bit. A flush trim router bit has a bearing on it, that allows you to rest the bearing on a template and follow that template, cutting the wood in the exact shape of that template.

So, step 1, I got my hands on a blueprint. For my first build, I decided on a Telecaster style body - they're simple, they're flat-top, they don't have forearm and belly contours, and I just happen to like Telecasters.

Lucky for me, our good friend Terry Downs over on TDPRI has created an extremely detailed Telecaster blueprint, that he shares with the home-guitar-building community freely.

Now is as good a time as any to mention that basically all of my preliminary knowledge of home guitar building came from the good folks over at TDPRI. I would like to extend a special thanks to Jack Wells, Colt W. Knight, Scatter Lee, and jkingma, and motor_city_tele. The build threads posted, and the feedback on other peoples' build threads offered by these gentleman has been absolutely imperative to me getting started, and I am very grateful.

So, I printed the blueprint up, pieced it together (most folks just run to Kinko's and get it printed up on one big sheet of paper), and glued it to a piece of MDF.

After I glued it down, I rough-cut the section of my MDF plank to the dimension of the blueprint, first with a circular saw, then with a jigsaw.

I  cut as close to the outline as possible, leaving a little room to finish the edges with the spindle sander, since the jigsaw has a bit of "blade walk," where the bottom of the blade will swing to the outside of the top of the blade while cutting, and the spindle sander gives a perfectly square edge.

After the rough body shape is cut by the jigsaw, I take it to the spindle sander. To be more specific, it's an oscillating belt / spindle sander. Oscillating = the spindle (also referred to as the drum) moves up towards heaven, then down towards hell at about 30 cycles per minute. This action serves to keep the sandpaper clear, and also keeps the sandpaper from heating up in one spot and burning the work. The unit I have, by Ridgid (pictured above, and also in that video link) is convertible, so it can act as both an oscillating belt sander and an oscillating spindle sander. Converting the machine from belt to spindle or spindle to belt is a very simple, no-tool process that takes about 30 seconds.

A Manhattan on the rocks is a great way to celebrate a job well done, but should never be enjoyed while working by men who like having ten fingers. 

On the spindle sander, I sand the template to the outline on the blueprint. This yields a perfectly square, smooth edge, and now we're looking at a template that has been machined down to exactly the shape of a Telecaster.

There you have it - the first steps of creating a reusable body template. In the next steps, we will modify this template to include the pickup and control cavity routs.


Monday, November 8, 2010

getting outfitted 2

After I got my drill press, my good friend Daniel said I "better get a sturdier table for that 500 pound drill press." The drill press is only 100 pounds, but the point landed. Using a plastic folding table for a workbench was not going to work for several reasons.

Hardly a workshop

One was that the drill press that was sinking into the hollow polyethylene table, but also the height of the table was too low to work comfortably, and the footprint of the table was not large enough to fit everything .

So I decided to build a workbench. First things first, what did I want out of the workbench? Well, I wanted it to be strong, I wanted it to be tall, and I wanted it to be deep and wide.

So I made a design on a piece of graph paper and headed to the Home Depot to pickup some 2x4s.

Note: I elected to use 2x4s for the legs of this workbench, but not for any particular reason. I am aware that 4x4 legs are more common, and make more sense. In hindsight, I should have gone for 4x4 legs, because the 2x4 legs on my  bench seem to have more flex in them than a workbench should have. The bench is stable, but it could be better.

2x4s mocked up to show dimension of the bench against the wall

I came home with a pile of 2x4s and two melamine shelf boards (96x16x0.75) for the bench top. The melamine boards have heat-resistant, low friction, wipe-clean surface - perfect for a workbench. 

Since both the 2x4s and the melamine boards were 8 feet long, I decided to just make the bench 8 feet long. Since the melamine boards are 16" deep, I decided to make the bench 32" deep. After measuring 100 tables, countertops, benches, etcetera, I decided on 38" for the bench height. I am a tell person, and I hate bending over, so this awesomely tall bench is perfect for me.

Workbench finished and basement organized

Doing the entire build alone presented a few trials, but I got it done and that's what matters. I would not recommend building something of this size alone.

After getting the workbench built, I was ready to start making templates for my guitars. I will jump ahead a minute here and mention that in the time during and after building my workbench, I picked up a few tools that will be essential to guitar building.

First up was a solid circular saw. I only had a batter powered circular saw when I started the workbench build, and anyone who knows me knows this: I HATE BATTERY POWERED TOOLS. So I found a very, very solid feeling unit that made short work of not only the workbench cuts, but also helped and will help me rough-cut pieces of MDF and wood for guitar builds.

Another piece I picked up was a Oscillating Spindle / Belt Sander. Both the belt and the spindle sander will be immensely helpful in getting smooth edges on my guitar templates and bodies, and the belt sander will be helpful in shaping guitar necks out of raw wood.

Next up, I HAD TO get some dust collection going. If you've ever worked with MDF, you know, but if you haven't, hear this: the dust from cutting and sanding MDF is toxic, it WILL irritate your respiratory system, it WILL make you feel bad, and it WILL take years off your life.

So, I picked up a simple wet-dry vac at Home Depot, but MADE SURE I got a dust collection bag for it. Dust collection bags are tighter / finer than a regular vacuum filter, and they prevent the fine dust from cutting and shaping wood (and MDF) from passing through the filter and recirculating. In the picture above, you can see the wet-dry vac under the table. What you can't see is that there is a hose running directly from the vacuum to the spindle sander. The table surface of the spindle sander has slots cut into it that are plumbed to a vacuum port on the back of the unit. Simply hook up a vacuum hose to the sander, and enjoy integrated dust collection.

As a secondary precaution, and since I do not have integrated dust collection on my circular saw, which produces a lot of dust, I picked up a respirator. There are all sorts of units out there, some of which have canisters rated for paint and finishing, and others, like mine, that have canisters rated for fine particulate matter. I picked up an MSA model with dust canisters, and it's both comfortable and effective. It takes some getting used to, though --- inhaling through filter canisters and exhaling through a tight 1-way valve is a bit restrictive at first, but once you get the hang of slow, deep breaths, you're all good.

Also of note, I have been using simple "science goggles" when working with dust. Getting MDF or wood dust in my eye is not something I'm interested in. I wear glasses - pretty large frames, too, and the goggles fit over them with little interference.

Phinn, I am your father

At this point, I am fairly well outfitted for basic guitar body building. I will need a few more specific tools to get into guitar neck building, but we're not quite there yet.

Next up, let's start making some templates!


Sunday, November 7, 2010

getting outfitted

Building guitars requires a few tools that most folks don't have lying around.

To get going with building guitars, I had to pick up a few new tools.

First thing I bought was a drill press.

I went with a Ryobi 12" drill press. In guitar building, a drill press is used for hogging out cavities using a forstner bit, drilling string-through holes, drilling tuning machine holes, and, with specific attachments, can be used to press frets, plane headstocks and more.

The next tool I picked up was a jigsaw.

In guitar building, jigsaws are used for rough-cutting the shape of a guitar body into wood. Some folks use a bandsaw, but a jigsaw with a good blade and the proper technique will serve the purpose just fine.

Next thing I bought was a router.

I went to my local Woodcraft and talked to an old guy for about an hour about what I was doing, and asked him for a recommendation on a router. He stopped for a second, and hollered to the 5 or so other guys in the store, all retired-looking guys that knew each other, and he said "who here runs a Porter-Cable 690?!"

All 5 hands went up, and so did his. After reading hundreds of guitar build threads, and seeing a Porter-Cable 690 in almost everyone's shop, he confirmed what I already pretty much knew.

I sprung for the 694VK kit, which is the variable-speed version of the 690, plus both a fixed base and a plunge base and a very nice case.

Next up, I needed to build a workbench.


the idea

In February of 2010, I found out that my wife and I were having a son in October. I love guitars, and I had the bright idea to assemble a guitar for my son this year, then mothball it until he was old enough to play, or expressed interest in playing, at which point I'd present it to him and explain how I built assembled it in the year preceding his birth, symbolism galore, etcetera. Happy family moment.

Well, I also wanted the guitar to be perfect.

I don't mean perfect like "flawless finish," or "incredible inlays;" I mean perfect like "everything you need, nothing you don't."

The "...nothing you don't" is easy.

The "everything you need" is tough.

I communicated with the well-known custom guitar shops that most folks use for building "Partscasters." My design was too far off the beaten path for them, and neither of the shops I talked to would make the guitar body I had in mind. I hadn't considered that they might not make it; and my plan was back at square one.

Then it dawned on me - with the amount of money I had saved up for a custom made guitar body and neck, I could buy the tools I needed to make my own.

I like Stratocasters. I like Telecasters. I like Les Pauls. I like ES-335s. I like Flying Vs. I like Rickenbackers. I am not a polarized guitar player that proclaims loyalty to one brand family. I hate poorly executed "compromise" guitars. I love well executed "compromise" guitars. Even though I basically have one of each type in the rack at home, for some reason I like and want to build "do-it-all" guitars.

I have decided to make the goal for the guitars I build to be the condensation of everything I like about guitars.

This seems simple to me - put everything I like on it, leave everything I don't like off of it. But there are times when you cannot have it both ways - for example, if I like the single-cutaway low-mid focus of Telecasters and Les Pauls, but I like the double-cutaway balance, ergonomics, and access of Stratocasters and 335s, I have to pick one. Or can I design a guitar that gives me both?

There are many choices similar to this that I am making and will continue to have to make as I build these guitars. Right now, since I am just starting out, I am going to get going by building some familiar shapes, and blending features in the hardware department. Once I learn how to build by walking myself through the process a couple of times, then I will begin to create my own designs, solve the riddles of a do-it-all guitar, and move forward into projects that bring excitement to myself and others.

We named our son Phinn. He is the reason that I am starting to build guitars, so I am naming the whole guitar building experiment after him.

Welcome to phinn guitars.