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Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie
Mark Twain, American writer
I realized the other day that I started this blog ten years ago!
My first post was on September 2, 1997.
My wife was the one who encouraged me to start a blog, she thought it was a good venue for me to become known as a guitar maker, to sell my guitars and to connect with others in the woodworking world.
I have met several wonderful people who are professional woodworkers through the blog, but I am still waiting for my first guitar sale because of the blog. All of my sales have resulted from people actually seeing and playing my guitars, either at guitar festivals, lectures I give at universities, or when players stop by my shop because someone told them I make wonderful guitars.
The Internet has done much to disseminate woodworking information, it's a little scary to see how much information there is online! When I started woodworking, if there was anything that I wanted to know I had to go to a library and look up the technique in a book or woodworking magazine!
Now, all one has to do is to surf the plethora of YouTube videos and websites to find the woodworking technique that you want to learn.
One thing I have noticed lately is there doesn't seem to be as many people blogging about their woodworking experiences and adventures. I find it a little sad these days to go to my favorite woodworking blog aggregator and see only three or four new postings. Maybe no one cares to write a full sentence or paragraph anymore because stringing together 140 characters is the most anyone can do. Instagram is a very easy platform to display yourself on.
Or is it that people just want information, but don't want to share it?
I know that it can be hard to write a weekly post for a blog, making time to do something can be a hard thing to do and accomplish.
In my experience, not knowing if I am reaching/connecting with anyone on Internet can discourage me from writing more posts, I don't get many comments about my posts these days, nor does anyone engage me in some kind of text dialogue. I stopped offering how-to information on basic woodworking several years ago because teaching online through my posts is not my intention. I noticed that when I stopped the how-to no one commented.
That said, visitation to my blog is up this year and I think it is because people want to learn more about the guitars I make. This is great for me, because if there is one thing that I will talk about passionately is making beautifully voiced guitars that will play beautiful music, that in turn will encourage young people to take up the classical guitar.
I will offer this advice about blogging -- don't be afraid to use what you learned in your college freshman English composition courses! Start writing today about what it is you are doing! Make stuff and share it and don't think you have to be the next Roy Underhill or Charles Hayward.
Get into your shop, make shavings and blisters!
Gila Eban, luthier, 1990
The last couple of days I have been leafing through the James Krenov trilogy, The Cabinetmaker's Notebook, The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking and The Impractical Cabinetmaker. As a classical guitar maker, I really don't need these books anymore, as I have said before, I make guitars, not cabinets.
Squares, rectangles and triangles don't interest me, shapes that are based on the human body do.
I keep Mr. Krenov's books because of all the little bits of advice on how to enjoy life and to see the world around you that he hid and tucked away in paragraphs about dovetails, sharpening, woodworking education, etc.
I am not a big fan of his writing style, a little too verbose and perhaps too sentimental, so these days I scan the pages looking for words that are familiar and excite me like spokeshave, friend, and curved edges and then I read.
Yesterday, as I was thumbing through The Impractical Cabinetmaker, which I first read way back in 1992, I glanced at a paragraph at the end of "Woodcraft Today", and remembered that the last few lines in that paragraph gave me much hope and encouragement back in then, which I took very much to heart.
This is what Mr. Krenov wrote:
The only good advice worth offering is: Keep your goal in mind. Get some fine wood in little bits and pieces, but get it. Put it away to dry properly. Improve the heating in the shop. And all the while think about finding or making better tools. You'll need those fine tools to do that real work. So when the time comes and you get that chance you will be ready.
This then made me think that I should explore The Impractical Cabinetmaker chapter by chapter from the point of view of a guitar maker and post about it. I sallied forth and re-read the first three pages of that chapter because I wanted to read his definition of an "impractical" craftsman.
He is the craftsman for whom an atmosphere of much-to-sell is a hindrance to doing his best always--and living accordingly. He is an idealist who wants to survive to have the chance to work with wood, but not at the price of having woodworking become something less than he hoped it would be.
Hmm. I guess that makes me an impractical guitar maker.
I say I am an impractical guitar maker because I enjoy making guitars and then selling them to people who have been affected (look it up if you don't know what it means) by the sound and playability of my guitars. That is far more rewarding that doing market research to figure out how to tap into and make money from the latest fads of the classical guitar world.
The latest fad is the same it has been since I started studying the classical guitar in 1974, it is to buy the same guitar that the hottest classical guitarist de jour is playing. In the 1970's-80's you had to play a Ramirez No.1A guitar because Segovia, Parkening, Boyd and Niedt all played them. Today you need to play a "double top" guitar by Dammann, Price, Smallman, Connor or someone else who has succeeded in making a guitar sound like a piano, because current greats likes Russell and Barrueco, etc., all play double top guitars.
Perfect practice makes you a better player.
Owning a really good guitar that you love will make you practice more, but popular makers don't always necessarily make the best guitar for you.
The are no jigs or outside moulds in my shop to create "the perfect shape" of a classical guitar, which some makers insist upon to make them "competitive" in today's global classical guitar market. I use a solera, a dished out work board to hold the top and neck while I attach the sides and back. A solera lends itself to asymmetry, which as I have discovered helps give the guitar a voice, a great voice that affects the human psyche.
Does this make me a better guitar maker? Not using power tools or jigs or moulds?
Maybe it doesn't, but as Mr. Krenov said, keep your goal in mind.
My goal is beauty.
The beautiful sound of a guitar that carries throughout the cosmos.
James Krenov, The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, 1977
Bluebird skies this morning in this part of Colorado, but no black bears, moose or elk hanging out around our place, only wildflowers are making any noise.
I did complete a project today, a blending board for my wife. I posted that on Instagram, you can check it out there, but what I want to share this afternoon was an attempt to do some work in my studio.
Last year I purchased a wonderful piece of curly Claro walnut from Northwest Timber which I re-sawed into guitar back and sides. The pieces weren't big enough to make a full size classical guitar so I decided to use the wood to make a close copy of a guitar by Antonio de Torres, his SE117 guitar.
It is a three piece back with maple fillets.
This is a lightly bear clawed Sitka spruce top set that I bought from Alaska Specialty Woods about six years ago that is a great match for the Claro walnut.
Torres SE117 guitar is a very small guitar by today's standards, it is even smaller than a so called "parlor" guitar. The string length for the original guitar is just under 24 inches, a standard classical has a 25 5/8" string length, and the body length is just under 18 inches, if I remember correctly. Compare that to a modern classical guitar length which hovers at or above 19 inches!
What this really means to me is that I need to make a custom rosette for this guitar, the sound hole is smaller than a standard classical guitar. The pre-made rosettes that I buy from Luthiers Mercantile are made for the larger guitars, they are too big for this tiny guitar.
I pulled out black, white, red and green veneer to see which colors would go best...
...with this redwood burl.
I have had this burl for about seven years and I haven't done anything with it yet. Now is as good of time as any.
The rosette should be stunning with this Sitka spruce. I need to come up with a good color scheme, something like a cherry or walnut fillet to start a WBWBW, then a WBW Walnut or Cherry WBW and then the burl with the same WB combos to complete the mirror.
Of course, since I pulled out all the veneers and thin pieces of cherry and walnut, along with the detritus left over from thinning down the walnut back, I can't really see the top of my workbench. Maybe I will clean it up tomorrow afternoon!
Anthony Lintner, guitar maker
Twenty five years ago, I bought my first fretting saw from Luthiers Mercantile. It was made in Germany and had a straight handle on it, basically it was a gent's saw.
First thing I did to the saw was to take off the straight handle and make a nice handle for it from some wonderful Claro walnut that came from a Cottonwood Creek bottom wild grown walnut. I used it to cut fret slots in dulcimer and classical guitar fret boards. The saw served me well for several years until I made the mistake of cutting some brass with it.
Well, I never did get around to sharpening the thing.
The blade is .015 of an inch thick with the teeth set at .022-.023 of an inch. I think it has 22 teeth per inch. It is a great saw and I was very sad to see that the company that made it went out of business a few years after I bought it.
Then I bought a fret saw from StewMac, which turned out to be far less than stellar. The saw blade was exactly .022 inches wide, which meant that the teeth had no set to them making it almost impossible to cut a straight slot in an ebony fretboard. That saw got put in my carpenter's tool box for everyday job site work.
I limped along with the saw from Germany.
Soon, I purchased another fret saw from LMI and once again, no set to the teeth, the blade was .022 inches wide which made life difficult for cutting ebony.
At that point I decided to use the fingerboard fret slotting service that LMI offers, they slot the board and all I had to do was glue the fret board on and use the new fret saw to deepen the slots after I tapered the fret board to final dimensions.
I was never happy with the LMI fret saw even for deepening the fret slots, so one day I broke down and purchased yet another saw from StewMac, this time a Japanese style back saw. It works reasonably well for deepening the slots, though I have to be mindful to always clean sawdust from the teeth gullets with each slot and apply paraffin wax to the teeth to make the saw operate fairly well. I still use the fret slotting services at LMI.
I wish I had a better saw even for cleaning out the slots!
Over a year ago, Kieran, at overthewireless mentioned on his blog that he was working with the folks at Bad Axe Tool Works to make a high end fret saw.
That saw is now available to order. Yep, I will be putting down the $100 non-refundable down payment for a saw.
I am sure that the saw will be worth every penny!
Kenosuke Hayakawa, Japanese wood worker.
Friday is the only day I get to be in the workshop. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to take a day job to cover our bills and with this job I have to work four ten hour days, thus Friday is really the only day I get to myself. Weekends are just that, trying to catch up on yard and house work along with having some fun.
Don't worry, by mid-November I will be back in the studio workshop cranking out guitars and capos/cejillas!
My studio workshop is a bit of a mess because I have no proper storage for the likes of fretting tools, sandpaper, wood cauls, etc., etc., many of these things make up an organized chaotic mess on the floor underneath the window, or are cached away in cardboard boxes.
To remedy this situation and help make the studio workshop look like a real studio workshop, on Fridays I have been making two sets of drawers that will support a work surface.
You won't find any dovetails in these drawers, twenty five years ago I discovered that I find cutting squashed triangles a very, very boring task. Rectangles and squares really don't excite me, either. Curves and circles, the shape of a guitar, are much more pleasing to me.
A trim nail gun, a router, a table saw and some glue helped me put this very basic, rough and tumble set together.
The nail holes were filled, now the set awaits primer and paint. I still need to build a base and the work top.
Yesterday, I was able to do some work on a guitar neck that I made about four years ago. It is Spanish cedar with an East Indian rosewood face plate and it is for a guitar with about a 25 5/16" string length or 643mm. When I first made it I tried a different technique for carving the heel, that was using a short knife on a long handle instead of chisels. I almost ruined the neck because of a slip of the knife.
The headstock crest started out in the style of Santos Hernandez, but since I am focusing on making near bench copies of guitars by Hernandez y Aguado, and that there was enough wood left, I cut a HyA style crest. The field between the tuning machine slots will get rabbeted and stippled just like some of the original HyA guitars.
It is nice work to do and a bit of a challenge.
We have had over ten days of thunderstorms and rain here in this part of Colorado, a very soggy start to August. It's been so damp that I had to fire up the furnace! Lots of mushrooms are popping up and in the above photo you can see that the woodland pinedrops are growing at a phenomenal rate! This is less than one week's worth of growth!
This photo shows the saw filer for the Sierra Lumber Company at Lyonsville, California, circa 1900. This was an important job in a logging camp, as you can well imagine, especially for the men who worked as buckers. This photo is from the Digital Collections at CSU Chico.
This flume carried rough cut lumber from the Champion Mill in Lyonsville to a planing mill in Red Bluff, California, a distance of over 30 miles. The flume was abandoned in 1914, this photo shows a crew of men dismantling the flume. I was told that my grandfather, Rufus Wilson, helped dismantle this flume, I like to think that he is somewhere in this photo. Photo from the Digital Collections, CSU Chico.
Vintage Fulton Tool Company Transitional Jointer Plane, 26 inch. This is a good user plane. Bottom and sides were jointed, not much patina is left on sides and bottom. A piece of ebony has been inlayed to close the mouth, finish work on mouth has not been completed. 85% of japanning remains on metal parts. Knob is in good condition, tote has some dings, patina remains on top and ends of plane. No manufacture mark on plane body, Fulton Tool Co. is on the 2 5/8" wide plane iron which still has plenty of length for use and no pitting. Light pitting on plane cap. This plane needs a good home! Please direct any questions to email@example.com
Jose Luis Romanillos, luthier
Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Antonio de Torres.
Those of us who love the classical guitar owe this man everything, he created a model of the guitar that continues to capture the hearts of true music lovers.
He really didn't do anything that hadn't already been done by other guitar makers - other makers had used larger bodies, the so-called fan bracing, domed tops, longer string lengths, all this was already known - but Torres guitars sounded different from others.
Many contemporary classical guitar makers build copies of the original Torres guitars, there are several well known classical guitarists that concertize on original Torres guitars because even after 130+ years those guitars still have wonderful voices.
Antonio de Torres apprenticed with a carpenters guild in Vera, Spain when he was 12 years and when he was 17 he was listed in the guild rolls as a master carpenter. Several writers have stated that Torres was a "simple" or "lowly" carpenter, but to be a master carpenter in 1834 was anything but simple.
You were expected to know all the latest building styles and construction techniques, many of these techniques were published in books which meant that you had to be able to read. At that time in Spain, 76% of the population was illiterate, yet, Antonio de Torres could read and write. Torres' father was a tax collector, perhaps he taught his son how to read and write. In the book, Antonio de Torres, Guitar Maker, by Jose Romanillos, Romanillos speculates that Torres attended local schools before he became an apprentice.
I have done some research on the Internet about traditional Spanish carpentry and discovered that Spanish carpenters of the time dealt with the same construction problems the rest of Europe had to deal with, namely how to keep the building from falling apart. As a master carpenter, you would know la carpinteria de armar(how to construct a building); la carpinteria de lazo, (loop carpentry) and perhaps mostly importantly tocar de madera, (how to work wood).
I want to believe that Torres was a carpenter, not a joiner, because a guitar is in a way, an architectural creation. It is constructed so it can stay together under pressure (a modern classical guitar is subjected to 90 pounds or more of pressure from the strings). If the top is not properly braced to take this tension it will collapse or even worse the whole guitar may fly apart. Most cabinets and chests are not subjected to a constant pressure. Cabinetry is not carpentry.
It is claimed that Torres went to Granada, Spain in 1836 to learn how to make a guitar, when he returned home he continued as a carpenter and tried several other business ventures. His first wife died in 1845 and that is when he moved to Seville and by 1852 was known as a guitarrero.
I would like to thank Don Antonio de Torres Jurado for the work that he did. The guitar is a beautiful instrument, but Torres took all the work of the great makers before him and made it the most beautiful instrument ever created.
If you are interested in learning more about traditional Spanish carpentry I recommend that you click here to visit the Albanecor website on carpinteria de lo blanco.