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Day 2: Bracing and Lots of Clamps
The bracing steps were repeated for the back of the guitar. Using the same dowels to hold it in place I left the braces to dry. The next step involved some serious elbow grease to take off the excess wood protruding from the sides of the mold. This is the step that makes the sides the exact thickness and radius they need to be to accept the back and top. Using a scraper tool I spent a good hour taking wood off each side until it was near flush with the mold. Once the rough thickness was correct, the last bit was done using two different sanding wheels that had different radii. For the top it was a flat wheel with no radius, and the back was a 25-foot radius (yes, feet, not inches). Using the heavy wheels made of plywood we basically held them like a bus steering wheel and twisted them back and forth until our chalk lines had disappeared from all edges indicating the side was shaped correctly. This step is both tedious and relaxing because you can let your mind wander a bit while intermittently checking the progress. When that step was finished I repeated the process on the top side.
With the top removed from the go-bar area, the next step was to shape the braces. Shaping comes in the form of carving with a finger plane, chisel and sandpaper. It was explained that the braces needed to taper down to 1/8” at the bottom to allow the top and back to lay flat on the sides. This was where I met my first technical problem, the finger plane. It seemed that no matter what I did that plane just wanted to chew the wood up. Diana came by and showed me the proper technique, but no matter what I did it seemed I was pulling chunks of wood away, so I switched to the sandpaper to dig away a little less aggressively. After some time my braces were scalloped and ready….and my shoulder was sore! I should mention that a few braces needed some super glue to put a chunk back that I had taken out with the chisel. Clearly, I’m not perfect.
The last step of the day was installing the kerf onto the sides of the guitar. Kerf is the surrounding material on the top and back of the sides that gives extra surface area and support to glue the top and back on. This is the step that Norm Abram would be proud of because it uses more clamps than I’ve ever seen in my life. Basically, you lay out 5-6” strips of kerf (made of Engelmann spruce) on each side of the sides and glue and clamp them with finger clamps into place. At any given point I would have around 36 clamps holding the kerf into place while the glue dried. After 10 minutes or so the clamps could be removed and reused on the next piece of kerf.
Day 3: Rough Body Assembly
Day 3 started with removing the ribs from the mold to prepare the top and back to be glued on. After final sanding was done on the kerf (once again using the chalk for reference) the sides were ready. Surprisingly it didn’t take long to glue the top on, but as you can see from the picture we used a lot of clamps again to hold it down. This step was repeated for the back and left to dry.
After the drying was complete I used a router to remove the excess overhang wood on both the top and back exposing what was now a “box” in its basic, final shape. The structural go-bars were then removed from the box by snapping them to fit through the sound hole. In a proud moment I tapped on the guitar to hear it resonate for the first time. I could feel the vibration of the sander across the room coming through the box too…a proud moment!
With the remaining time left in the day I glued the binding onto the sides of the fingerboard (which had already been slotted but not yet radiused). Unfortunately one side of the binding lifted up enough that it needed to be removed. This is where the glue showed its strength and required a heating pad to be applied to loosen up the glue while a tool helped pry it up and off. Unreal, that wood glue. And that wrapped up Day 3.
The Cliff Hanger
Since I’m out of space I’ll need to pick up from Week 4 next time. Suffice it to say I’ve learned a ton about guitar building so far and am extremely surprised that it’s working out so smoothly. Coming from a guy who has a warrant out for his arrest from the hammer police, this is truly a thing of beauty. Tune in next month as I continue my journey into the great world of weekend warrior luthiery.