Monday, January 31, 2011

routing the body 1

This past weekend, I routed the shape of my template into the mahogany body blank.

As mentioned in building templates 1, this process involves a pattern bit for the router, whose bearing rides along the template without doing any cutting, while the bit spins and cuts the wood - in the exact shape of the template.

I had very good luck with a Whiteside pattern bit, part number 3004. It cut through the mahogany so well, I could barely believe it at first. I can attribute some of the effortlessness to my router, a very stout Porter-Cable 690 series variable speed unit, but I definitely have to give a tip of the hat to this Whiteside bit. It felt like I was cutting styrofoam - hardly any resistance, and total control. Now I know how having the right tools for the job can truly make your work enjoyable. I chucked the bit into the router, then mounted the router into my router table, and off I went.

It's important to note that routing wood like this creates a lot of shavings / sawdust. It seems like a cubic inch of wood, routed, makes a cubic foot of shavings. If you have the means to hook up a vacuum hood to your router table or workspace, do it. I was continually using a brush and dustpan to collect shavings so I could see my work, and I thought "all this extra hand movement near the spinning bit is not a good thing." I will rig up a dust collection hood next time I rout.

I secured the .75" MDF template to my body blank with two #10, 1.75" wood screws. Some folks use double-stick tape and say that it's sufficient for holding the template in the exact same spot throughout the routing, but I know that with wood screws, the template is definitely not going to shift on the body blank. If you go the woodscrew route like I did, there are two important actions:

  1. Countersink the screw heads on the template. I have a countersink drill bit set that I use all the time, and it's exceptionally important to use them here - because the template, affixed to the body blank, will be against the router table surface, so the surface of the template must be perfectly flat and smooth
  2. Locate the two attachment points somewhere where they won't be visible on the finished guitar. I located one where it will be beneath the bridge of the guitar when finished, and the other where it will be beneath the pickguard when the guitar is finished
 As advised by more experienced builders, I took "small bites with the router bit, only routing .25" to .50" at a time, as illustrated here:

In that photo, the template has been removed, and two passes have been performed already. After the depth of the edge rout is roughly equivalent to the cutting depth of your router bit, obviously, your router bit won't be able to extend far enough to cut any more wood. So what I did was remove the template, then let the already-routed portion of the body serve as the template. It worked perfectly. I did probably 4 passes on this body, each about .50" in depth. The picture above shows the approximate halfway point of my routing.

After I was there, there was nothin' to it but to do it, and I finished up. Here are a few pictures I took along the way:

The next step from here is creating templates for the neck, pickup and control cavity routs. Since this is an original design, I may actually have to use my brain, some pencil and paper, and possibly even a calculator to get it laid out, so watch out!

All in all, this weekend's work was very fulfilling. It taught me that spending a few extra bucks for the right tool can really increase your ease of work, enjoyment of the work, and most of all, the safety of the work. I've said it a million times, and I'll say it again - there's no better feeling than the peace of mind that comes from trusting your gear.

Until next time,

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

my first design 2

This week, I finished up my template. I logged a lot of hours with the spindle sander, getting the edges smooth and getting the shape just like I wanted it. I am pleased with the result.

This is not necessarily the hardware layout the guitar will have - I just put this Tele hardware down down to envision the shape of the template as a guitar and not just a shape.

I just got a 24" x 12" sheet of tortoise shell pickguard material in the mail, so I will make the pickguard out of that. I haven't settled on a pickguard shape yet, but trust that it won't come up as high on the upper bout as the Telecaster pickguard pictured above.

Also, I rough-cut an awesome, awesome slab of mahogany to the shape of this template last week, and I'll be routing it this week. The mahogany is so light I can't believe it.

My mom got the slab of mahogany for me from USACG as a Christmas gift. She told me that Tommy at USACG asked her what kind of finish I was going to do. She figured I would do some sort of a see-through finish, and so Tommy picked out a very nice looking piece of mahogany. She also got me a gift certificate to USACG (to buy more wood), and on the gift certificate where it has the To / From lines, it says "To: Hunter, From: Your Very Cool Mother." He thought it was so cool that my mom was helping me build guitars. I think it's cool too --- thanks, Mom!

More to come as I do some routing this week.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

my first design

OK, so I'm pretty well outfitted now --- I have enough tools to build, at the very least, a rough guitar body that you could put strings on and play. I am not fully set up for finishing yet, but, as they say, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I had started making templates for a Telecaster style guitar - noting that Telecasters are generally the easiest starting point for a novice builder (no carved top, no tummy cut, no forearm contour, etcetera), but I began to realize, the guitar I want to build is not a Telecaster, so why warm up on a Telecaster --- why not warm up with the guitar I have in my head?

So, I got out a piece of cardboard, and started drawing lines. I traced the lower half of a Telecaster body, and then I traced the upper half of a PRS Singlecut body. I like Telecasters and I like Les Pauls, but I have always found the PRS Singlecut shape to be a better fit for me, if not slightly less cliche.

My first draft looked like this:

I drew it on New Year's Eve, on the floor of our living room. In the above picture, you can clearly see the Telecaster shaped lower bout, and you can also see the signature Singlecut shape on the upper bout, but with a confusing neck joint intersection.

Because of the neck joint issue, I had to make a revision to the first template. I like how far up the neck the upper bout comes, so I decided to simply round the upper bout down to meet the neck heel. Here's what I came up with:

I drew this template on 3/4" MDF, rough cut the shape with a jigsaw, then did a lot (but definitely not all) of the sanding on the oscillating spindle sander to remove MDF down to the line that I had drawn.

In the above template, I still want to:

1) Round out the upper bout, near where the strap pin will be --- it's not perfectly rounded yet, and I feel like the overall look of it could benefit from having some more material removed

2) Finish sanding the bottom / endpin area --- sanding a flat spot is remarkably difficult with a spindle sander --- it's tough not to get a scalloped looking edge, like a cartoon of the ocean's surface. I have a belt sander attachment for my oscillating spindle sander, but I screwed up the adjustment on it last night, and got tired of tuning it, so I just went with the sanding drums for the rest of my time in the shop. If you have advice on getting smooth edges with a spindle sander, please leave a comment. I would love the help.

Also new this week, I placed several orders for guitar parts. Coming to me this week:

1) A big sheet of tortoise shell pickguard material
2) A P90 routing template
3) A humbucker routing template
4) Electrosocket jacks
5) Solid / no holes Tele style control plates, so I can drill my own holes where I want them
6) A Wilkinson Tele style bridge - string-through + toploader
7) An aged white Tele style pickguard with a humbucker neck pickup rout

I will probably put that aged white pickguard on this body (after I rout it for a neck humbucker), that I received in trade for a pair of Gibson BurstBucker Pro pickups from my good buddy Crane in Boise, ID. Not a bad deal.

He is a DIY CNC'er, and he cut me this crazy one piece purpleheart Tele body. If I had to estimate it's weight, I would say it's just slightly lighter than a Ford truck. It will probably sound like heaven high-fiving hell.

Until next time,