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Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie

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The Adventures of a Luthier Wilson Burnhamhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/17461017493297553603noreply@blogger.comBlogger279125
Updated: 4 hours 23 min ago

Making a Three Piece Guitar Back, or, When You Choose the Wrong Wood

Sun, 03/29/2015 - 3:37pm
It is important to make a nicely fitted joint.

Dean Kimball, Construction the Mountain Dulcimer, 1975


I picked up a back and side set of "wild grown" east Indian rosewood from the Woodcraft Store in Loveland, Colorado a little over a year ago. I remember that Woodcraft had advertised this wood on their website then and by the time I got around to ordering it they had sold out. I think it sold for $49.99 a set and I bought this set for $70.




Originally, I had planned to make with this rosewood was going to be simply fitted with bubinga bindings, nothing fancy, but after glueing in a bit of bubinga between the two back halves I realized my mistake. The reddish bubinga disappeared in the field of browns and olive greens.




What to do!

First thing I did was to cut the back apart with knife and straight edge, then I spent some time going through my wood cache.

Curly maple was too showy and I had already fitted out the last two guitars in maple; California laurel didn't look right; walnut, nope; another piece of rosewood?




Then I found some sapele. It fits well with the rosewood and compliments the western red cedar top that will go on this guitar.

The no.7 Stanley plane in this photo is now one of my favorite planes, it is remarkable how easily you can adjust the blade depth on these vintage planes when you use the original blade and there is very little backlash.




This jointing operation was a little tricky, I didn't have much excess wood in which to place indexing pins. I used an original hole for one pin and then I had to use a brass brad for the lower bout. Sorry about the fuzzy photo!




Ah, the glue up! White/black purflings border the sapele insert and I used Lee Valley High Tack Fish glue to glue the whole thing together.




The back after clean up.

It's always nice when you can fix a mistake and make everything look better!



Here's a YouTube of the wonderful guitarist, David Russell!


Categories: Luthiery

Junk Sitka Spruce

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 2:40pm
It seems but natural and reasonable that the woodworker should have at least an elementary knowledge and understanding of "wood", the principal material with which he works.

Herman Hjorth, Principles of Woodworking, 1930



I purchased several sticks of Sitka spruce bracing material six months ago from a well known lutherie supply (which will remain nameless, I still need to buy tonewood from them), I used one blank to make braces for one guitar and I had no problems working it.



Prep work started on the "conservatory model" - a high quality, lower cost guitar aimed at students who can't afford a $3,500 guitar - with jointing, assembling the cedar top and installing a rosette, making the neck, etc., and splitting out the Sitka spruce braces.

In the above photo you can see what happened to a brace when I gently (yes, I said gently) flexed it, it broke!

The reason it broke under light pressure is because the early growth rings are much wider than the late growth rings. I noticed this when I received the wood, but figured, hey, it's Sitka spruce it should be tough.


I was wrong. Here you can see how wide the growth rings are, this wood isn't even suitable for the beefier transverse braces that go above and below the sound hole, it flexes too much.




Here is a piece of old growth Douglas fir that I've been hoarding for fifteen years, you can see how tight the growth rings are.

The piece split well and is very light. I used Douglas fir for guitar bracing when I first started on this adventure that is lutherie, it's terribly strong, though can be a little heavy. Several guitar makers told me I was crazy to use it because it is too heavy.

Not all Douglass fir is "too heavy", the braces that I split out were as light as the Sitka spruce. Yes, I weighed them!






So once again I am back using Douglas fir, this time for braces on a Miguel Rodriguez style guitar.

I grew up with Douglas fir because it was a tree that lived in my backyard which was the million acre wood known as Lassen National Forest. I know how Douglas fir responds to an axe, a plane and a nail. Sitka spruce doesn't grow where the Cascade Mountains buried the Sierra Nevada, I didn't get a chance to work with until I was an adult.

Sometimes it isn't a bad thing to stick with something familiar.
Categories: Luthiery

More Wooden Straightedges

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 8:10pm
A straightedge of convenient size should be made for ordinary use, and almost any kind of well-seasoned wood is suitable, mahogany and walnut being usually favored...

Bernard E. Jones, The Complete Woodworker, 190?




I posted else where on this blog about making straight edges from one of my favorite woods, California laurel.

My mistake was making only one straight edge from the laurel, I should have made two.

Why?

Two straight edges the same length are easier to check for straightness, you just put the edges together and look for a gap, then you can plane the edge straight again.

I realized I need an 18 inch straight edge, instead of a 17 inch straight edge, to check the flatness of the fret board that I recently put on a copy of a 1930 Santos Hernandez guitar.


My stock of California Laurel is getting low, what I have is reserved for another blanca guitar, I have some nice eastern black walnut on hand so it was off to the table saw.

I ripped out two slats, clamped them together and jointed the edges. I didn't taper the pieces as per instructions given by Jones in the aforementioned book (or what some former editor[s] of a woodworking magazine says you are supposed to do), I left them chunky so when I go to re-shoot the edges all I have to do is butt the ends up against the bench stop. I don't have to chuck them into Shop Fox vise, just fix them and go back to work.

I do plan on beveling the edges as Jones suggests doing, those edges give a better reading when placed on the surface that is being observed.




Ah, just what I needed!

The guitar is now fretted and after I run some errands tomorrow morning, I get down to the business of carving the neck.

Once that task is completed I will then have three guitars - a Torres FE19 guitar, a 1961 Hernandez y Aguado guitar and this Santos - to French polish!

Stay tuned, I will be posting photos of the latest 1930 Santos Hernandez style guitar!
Categories: Luthiery

Stanley No.101 "Toy" Block Plane

Sat, 03/07/2015 - 9:35am
Fine guitars can be made without any power equipment.

Irving Sloane, Classic Guitar Construction, 1966



The other day I needed to finish shaping the braces on the back of the latest guitar, a copy of a 1930 Santos Hernandez guitar. I didn't want to fuss with my No.60 1/2 block plane...



so I pulled out this little number. I bought it about two years ago at a meeting of the Rocky Mountain Tool Collectors for $5 and it's been sitting on the shelf until this week.





I locked the blade in the sharpening jig and took it to a diamond stone, didn't take long to get a good edge on it.





I flattened the back using "the ruler method", the blade took on a nice polish...





and I swiped the sole across the stone a few times. Still needs a bit of work, but really, I'm using this plane to shape braces not a table top.

If it only had an adjustable mouth...


I know you can find these planes used for around $25 on the Internet, pick one up and give it a try, it's a fun little plane!
Categories: Luthiery

Santos Hernandez Style Classic Guitar - Late Night Work

Tue, 02/24/2015 - 7:53pm
The classic guitar is a difficult and demanding instrument. There are no short cuts.


Vladimir Bobri, The Segovia Technique, 1972



I got back to work on a close copy of a 1930 Santos Hernandez guitar yesterday by glueing on the so called "fan bracing", as you will notice, these braces are nearly parallel to each other, and the transverse braces to the top.

When I got up this morning I un-cinched the clamps and discovered that the top had a definite twist to it.

Hmm. Bad glue up technique on my part and the humidity had dropped from 39% to 29% overnight, not good for a guitar top or my nerves. That is the problem with working at lutherie this time of the year, especially during and right after a big snow storm, the relative humidity can really drop. The humidifier can't keep up.



I needed to run errands this morning, when I got back I split the transverse braces off the top and shaved the remnants down to the glue.

Then I made new braces.

I clamped the top down to the work board and glued on transverse brace number one, once the glue was set then I glued on the wide flat brace closest to the neck.

After that, time to walk the dogs and make dinner.




The brace below the sound hole has a 1/16th of an inch arch to it to help dome the top.

Doming the top gives the guitar a real voice, one that has volume and character. It's like a drum head, you want it tensioned to be loud.

When I glue this brace on I usually use two slats as backing cauls and a C clamp at each end. Then I push two shims in between the slats to force the top to the brace and the glue.

This action is what can cause twisting.

Tonight, I used the slats, but I started by clamping in the middle, the a C clamp on each side of the Quik Grip, and continued on down to the ends of the brace.

I couldn't see any twisting or winding to the top.




Then it was a little trim work on some laminated all walnut cam clamps, which I should work on tomorrow..




and then double check the neck. If all goes well I can bend the sides tomorrow and attach the top to the neck.




Now it's bed time.

It's not that late, maybe nine o'clock, but I never could work late into the night, even in college I couldn't work on term papers past 11pm. Back then I had an electric typewriter that could erase the last ten words that you typed, I thought I was lucky to have such a beast.

Still, I have a jar full of incense cedar bodied pencils that are more fun to use than any computer.

Categories: Luthiery

Making an Antonio Torres Style Guitar: Carving the Neck and Heel

Sun, 02/15/2015 - 12:12pm
As you can expect, the neck is the most complex part of the guitar. In the Spanish school, every part of the classical guitar is built in conjunction with the neck and in line with it.

Manuel Rodriguez, The Art and Craft of Making Classical Guitar, 2003




I am often asked what part of the guitar takes the longest to make, everyone assumes that the task of calibrating the top consumes the most time.

I find that carving and shaping the neck takes the longest, other than the French polishing. As a classical guitar player, I know the importance of a well shaped neck, the profile must not be too round or too thick, both will tire a player quickly and can lead to physical issues. I spend as much time needed to make the neck perfect!

Here is a short photo essay of carving the neck and heel on Kyle's guitar...



The heel...





Refining the heel to match the profile used by Santos Hernandez...




Almost there...





Refining the other profile...





Time for the draw knife...





The neck after using the draw knife, spokeshaves, knife and files...





I shape the neck to have a sort of flattened "D" profile. I find this to be a most comfortable shape and I have yet to have a client complain about it.





Almost done!

A little more finish work on the headstock and heel and the guitar will be ready for French polish!






Categories: Luthiery

Some Things I Learned About Working in a Small Workshop

Tue, 02/10/2015 - 7:52am
The workshop at home is generally a spare room, maybe a surplus bedroom or a room in the basement...

Bernard E. Jones, The Practical Woodworker, 190?


I've always worked in small spaces.

When I was learning how to use hand tools, my grandfather's workbench was so crowded with stuff I had only five feet of surface to work on.

When my wife and I first were married, I had shop that was a spare room in the log cabin we rented, maybe it was 8'x10'.

Our next place had an old shed, 10'x11', that I fixed up into a nice unheated space.

When we moved to our place outside of Lassen Volcanic National Park I built a nice 12'x16' studio that I got to work in for only four months before we moved to work at Yosemite National Park. There our house had a 10'x 10' space that worked well...



...and now I use a room off of our bedroom for a studio. I think it measures 10'x11'.




In random order, here some things I have learned over the years...

1. Have a work bench that suits the space and the work that you do.

2. Have a work bench that has a tool cabinet underneath it.

3. Have only the tools that you need for your work.

4. Organize those tools well and have them readily available.

5. Tool boxes take up valuable floor space. Tool box lids become places to put things which you have to move some where else so you can open the lid. This drives me crazy, I really need to finish the new work bench and its drawers so I can get dispense with my tool chest!

6. Have a focus - know exactly what it is that you want to make. I know many people need to sample making a lot of different things before they know what it is that really makes their heart sing, but having a focus will reduce work shop clutter.

7. Have another storage area. There is another building on our property that serves as part-time work shop, storage shed and fire wood shed, it houses all my power tools, carpenter tools and lumber for projects around the house. I store all my tone wood in an upstairs closet.

8. Keep your work space clean.

9. Good lighting is a must.

10. Don't get uptight about working in a small space, a small space is better than no space!



My ideal work shop.

You can find this illustration on page 1 of The Practical Woodworker, edited by Bernard E. Jones.

Whenever I see this illustration I realize how it has influenced my work spaces over the last 20 years, it is simple and efficient and lacks power tools, which is a most alluring thing.

I find wood working very romantic and I always treat it as a way to enhance my life, even if I am trying to make money at it.

There are people who visit my studio and can't believe I actually make classic guitars in its small space. I tell them that Julian Gomez Ramirez, a Spanish guitar maker who immigrated to Paris in 1914, whose guitars today valued at over $20,000, worked in a shop that was 8'x 10' and had only one light bulb.



Categories: Luthiery


by Dr. Radut