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Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie

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The Adventures of a Luthier Wilson Burnhamhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/17461017493297553603noreply@blogger.comBlogger286125
Updated: 1 hour 47 min ago

French Polishing a Classical Guitar Bridge

Tue, 05/26/2015 - 2:05pm
Keep the pad small and flexible. Shape it to the work. Apply finish in small amounts to the outside of the pad. Use "spot finishing" technique, gliding, then applying pressure wherever you want the varnish to adhere.

Eugene Clark, Shellac and French Polishing, 1998




I know many people shy away from the art of French polishing, which I think is too bad.

Yes, there is a bit of a learning curve to it, but once you start to get the hang of the application technique you will find shellac to be very forgiving, e.g.,if you mess up one area, let it harden for about an hour and then fix it with some more shellac and alcohol.

And once you really start getting into French polishing you'll discover that you can build up a gloss finish in less than one half hour!




To apply shellac to this bridge I took a square piece of cloth, folded it in half and folded it once again.




Then I folded that again, note the triangle that is on top of my left index finger tip.




Here, I have transferred the cloth to my right hand, I am right handed after all, and I have placed two drops of alcohol, two drops of one pound cut shellac onto the corner of the cloth that sits on my index finger. I also added a very, very small smudge of olive oil to it, also.



I blot it on a piece of typing paper until the cloth is almost dry and then I start to French polish the bridge.

If there is the "ghost" trail where I can see the alcohol evaporate as I apply the mixture I know I am using the correct amount of liquids.




I am sure you are thinking at this point that by using only two drops of each that it would take forever to build up a surface.

Take a look at the photo above, I worked only fifteen minutes on this bridge. I know with two more sessions I will have filled in any pores that I missed with pumice and alcohol.

I am a big fan of French polishing and I believe other wood workers should give it a try! And don't believe all arguments against French polishing, it is easier than trying to make your first Krenov-style hand plane!

Ron Fernandez has a great DVD on how to French polishing a guitar, so does Robbie O'Brien, both DVDs are available here.

For more information on shellac go to Shellac.net and read this wonderful article (click here) on French polishing.

If you are interested in French polish and don't have someone to teach you how to do it, do some research on the internet and get at it!



Categories: Luthiery

Hernandez y Aguado, Santos Hernandez and Antonio Torres Style Guitars

Mon, 05/25/2015 - 3:54pm
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the classical guitar finds itself at a level of quality and popularity that was unimaginable even fifty years earlier.

David Tanenbaum, Perspectives on the Classical Guitar in the Twentieth Century, 2003



Happy Memorial Day! Please make today a time of remembrance!


I did spend some time in the shop today French polishing the Torres/Santos guitar that I need to deliver to its new owner soon, and I worked on a copy of the 1961 Hernandez y Aguado guitar.



The 1961 Hernandez y Aguado guitar, seen in the foreground in the above photo, needed shellac applied to its sides. A couple of more coats of shellac and I will be able to start French polishing the sides again. I say, again, because I ended up sanding down to the wood to make sure that all the pores really were filled and get rid of some piles of pumice. The finish work you do can never be good enough!

This Hy A copy has a redwood top, the top came from a redwood board that was salvaged from a barn on the border of Yosemite National Park, and it has Indian rosewood sides and back, the sides are laminated with Alaska yellow cedar. This is a "speculation" guitar, I really made it for myself, but I will offer it for sale once it is completed.

The guitar in the background is close copy of a 1930 Santos Hernandez guitar, click here to see the plans that I followed, that also has a redwood top and Indian rosewood back and sides, both sets purchased from LMI. This guitar I am making for a young man who is in the guitar program at Metro State University, Denver.





The guitar in the foreground is a close copy of the famous FE19 guitar made by the great guitar maker, Antonio Torres. It has a bearclaw Sitka spruce top with grandillo back and sides, this is the one I have am in need of finishing soon. If you follow my blog, you know who this guitar is being made for!

All three of this guitars will be exceptional in sound, loudness and playability.
Categories: Luthiery

Colorado Engelmann Spruce Tonewood

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 3:26pm
The most dramatic tree of your first trip in the Rockies will almost be the Engelmann Spruce.

Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of Western Trees, 1953



Just arrived, two sets of Engelmann Spruce guitar tops!



I purchased these tops from Simeon Chambers out of Highlands Ranch, Colorado. I have heard good things about the tonewood his sells, so I decided to see that for myself.

Click here for his website and better yet, click here for his eBay store.




The order arrived within three days of placing it. Mr. Chambers did include four pieces of brace wood, enough I think for the transverse bars and fan bracing!

As you can see the wood is gorgeous, Mr. Chambers states that this wood is comes from trees that were killed in a forest fire back in the 1940's.

I want to pair one of these tops with curly hard maple back and sides...oh, so much work to do!








Categories: Luthiery

Another Way to Hold a Guitar Body with Two Holdfasts and a Box!

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 3:11pm
Without some way of holding the work, a workbench is hardly more than a table.

Scott Landis, The Workbench Book, 1987


A deadline is fast approaching and I have at least one more French polish session to do on the bearclaw Sitka spruce/granadillo guitar for Kyle Throw, an up and coming young classical guitarist in Denver, Colorado.

The trickiest part about French polishing a guitar is where the sides join the heel, you have to really smash down your polishing pad to get the shellac in the corner of the junction. And you can't work the area too much at a time or you will soften the shellac you just put down.

A bench mounted vise holds the guitar by the head stock or neck when I French polish, one problem with this is I have a limited view of that junction. Really, I can't the bench light just right to reflect off the shellac so I can see how much I am putting down.


Boards cut and ready to go!

I decided to remedy that problem today, I decided to make a guitar body holding box that can be mounted to the bench apron.

I got this idea from Scott Landis's The Workshop Book. Turn to page 31 of his book and you will see a photo of the workshop of Jeffery Elliot and Cyndy Burton. In the photo you see Jeff working on a guitar that is being held in a box.

Smart idea!

There was a handful of ponderosa/lodgepole pine boards in my other workshop, just right to make the box. No plans needed, I figured two inches wider and deeper than the guitar box. The rest I "eagle eyed".




Kyle's guitar swaddled in bubble wrap

A battery powered drill, some screws and the box quickly went together...





I marked the location for the holdfast holes and drilled them with my trust Stanley brace and Irwin drill bit...





and the hold fasts, well, um, hold the box tightly to the bench apron.





In this above photo, the redwood/Indian rosewood copy of a 1961 Hernandez y Aguado guitar sits well in the box ready for more alcohol/pumice pore filling.

The beauty of holding the guitar in such a box is the quick access to the sides on either side of the heel joint. It means a better job of French polishing!

Now, get out to your workshop and make something!
Categories: Luthiery

Making a Copy of a Miguel Rodriguez Guitar - Closing Up The Box

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 10:34am
Every maker has his own little secret twist, only truly appreciated by the public and the aficionados.

Miguel Rodriguez, Jr. (1921-1998), master luthier, Cordoba, Spain




Ten years ago, an older friend found out that I was making classical guitars.

He invited me over to his little handmade house of reclaimed wood, it sat beneath gigantic sugar pines and incense cedars, and Lassen Volcanic National Park was only 50 feet from his back door. He said he had some wood I might be interested in, an invitation I couldn't turn down.

Beneath those sugar pines and cedars were about 100 bundles of hand split western red cedar shingles, all leftover from when he roofed his house fifteen years earlier.

He said, "Go wild and pick out what you want".

I did and now when I look back at that day, I wish I had taken more.

We all know what wishing gets us.

The guitar in the above photo is the first guitar that I have made from a pair of those cedar shakes.





The three piece back is some "wild grown" Indian rosewood with a sapele insert.

The braces are Spanish cedar, so are the back joint reinforcement strips.





I use Lee Valley Fish Glue to glue on the back and as you can see I rope the back onto the sides with a two inch wide strip cut from a tire inner tube.





The guitar is ready for the bindings, which will be sapele to match the back insert.

The rosette is very similar to the rosettes created by Francisco Simplicio and Ignacio Fleta.





I will work on this guitar as I can over the summer and fall, there are three other guitars for me to finish this summer.

If anyone would like color photos of this guitar, please contact me and I will send them to you!


Here's a YouTube of Raphaella Smits playing one of my favorite J.S. Bach pieces!

Categories: Luthiery

Miguel Rodriguez Style Guitar - The Last Guitar of the Season

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 11:20am
It is easy to create a mystique about guitar making. There must be something magical about a process that constructs a wooden box, stretches some strings across it, and persuades delectable sounds to come from it.

Colin Cooper, The Classical Guitar Book, 2002


Back in January or February, I made the neck for this guitar. I jointed and glued the western red cedar top about the same time and installed the rosette.

Some where in this blog are postings of when I made the three piece back and when I split out the braces for the top.

I bent the sides last week.

All this was done so I can assemble this guitar by Saturday, the last guitar of the season. I go back to my day job as a historic preservation carpenter on April 28th, after that I will continue to work on this guitar and three other guitars as I can make time.




This guitar is braced in the manner that was used by Miguel Rodriguez,Sr. and his sons, Rafael and Miguel. Those of you familiar with Rodriguez guitars will notice that I did not include the diagonal brace that was on many of the Rodriguez guitars after, say, about 1963.

Click here to see plans of a 1977 Rodriguez to see the diagonal brace I am talking about and click here to read an article by Ron Fernandez on Rodriguez flamenco guitars.

In that article, Mr. Fernandez mentions that when he was in the Rodriguez workshop in the early 1960's he noticed that none of the classical guitars had the Jose Ramirez III inspired diagonal brace.

The point I am trying to get at is I want to make guitar that will be close to that earthy Spanish sound from the 1960's, a sound I remember hearing on the recordings of Andres Segovia and Narciso Yepes when they both played Ramirez guitars, not to mention the sound of the Rodriguez guitar that Pepe Romero used on his recordings in the early 1970's.




I graduated the cedar top as close as I could to the specifications that are on the plans of the 1977 Rodriguez guitar drawn by Tom Blackshear - 2.6mm in the center of the top, then falling off to 2.5mm, 2.4mm and finally 2.3mm along the outside edge of the top.

The "fan" braces are close to the dimensions in the plan, however, I am leaving the transverse braces (the braces top and bottom of the sound hole) rather tall in the manner of Santos Hernandez. I am looking for a big bold sound from this guitar, a sound that will bounce off back wall of an auditorium and I want it to sing like the best coloratura mezzo soprano so your heart melt.

Right now I am waiting for the glue to harden on the end block, sometime after lunch I should be able to start fitting on of the sides. Once the sides are on then I can install the back, after that I will work on it as I can. If I don't get to it this summer or fall it will part of my winter's work.

Winter work that I am looking forward to doing.



Categories: Luthiery

The Secret to Woodworking Is...

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 9:04am
Art and life are one and the greatest of the arts is the art of living.

Dorothy L. Pillsbury, Adobe Doorways, 1952




We got to enjoy a wonderful spring snow storm over the last several days, by early this morning we got close to a total of 36 inches of very wet snow at our little house.

One small community in Larimer County recorded five feet of snow from this past storm!

My wife and I dug out the Jeeps yesterday so we could drive to town to get groceries and dog food and this is my last week of freedom before I return to my day job as a historic preservation carpenter.

Here's where I heave a big sigh, I will miss my days in the studio making guitars.


Tools for making guitar bridges

I've been very busy on 3 guitars, 2 are custom orders and one is a "speculation" guitar that I assembled several years ago but couldn't complete because of orders, work and life.



A Lee Valley router is the ticket to inlay some mother of pearl

I started French polishing 2 guitars last week. I work at a day job seven months out of the year so when I get back to French polish I have a short learning curve to work through. It is frustrating at first, then the shellac becomes glossy, the polish builds up and the wood underneath it is gorgeous.

One glory of French polishing is it makes me slow down so I can consider what is really important in life.



Mother of pearl overlay on an Indian rosewood bridge

Many people dislike French polish because they say it takes too long to complete, just go to any forum on guitar making and you will see what I mean. You have to do from 4-12 sessions of French polish to cover the guitar, not to mention you need to let the shellac harden for 2 weeks before you can do the final rub out and there is that tedious task of pore filling open grain wood with pumice and shellac.

I did go to one guitar forum to see if anyone was using a certain brand of epoxy for pore filling, sure I was thinking about speeding up the pore filling time on next guitar in line, most thought the epoxy didn't work well or it took too many coats, hence too much time. Most of the older luthiers all said to give up the new stuff and just use pumice and alcohol for the pore filling. Not many liked those comments.

One guitar maker I know of states a person can French polish a guitar in one week, and there is an article on the Internet that says you can do it in three days!

Me, I'd rather take my time at it.



Three bridges distorted by the camera lens

If you have read this much of my posting, you are probably wondering why I am not disclosing The Secret to Woodworking!

Maybe you have figured out what that secret is, turned off your computer and have walked to your shop to start making something new or continue work on a current project.

Perhaps you are thinking about "surfing" to look at another woodworking blog.

Just bear with me another moment.



A redwood/Indian rosewood guitar

There will be close to 150 hours of work on the guitar in the above photo and I will sell it for $3000. I know some people think that is not enough money for the time spent.

I am not in this game for the money, if I was I'd have a big factory of workers that would crank out 50,000 guitars a year and all I had to do is to sit and watch the money roll in.

No, I work with wood for the experience, the joy, the knowledge and all the other stuff that comes along with time spent in the shop.



A Sitka spruce guitar top with some nice bearclaw


What is The Secret to Woodworking?

It is patience and love.



Categories: Luthiery
by Dr. Radut