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Scrapin’ Around

Photo 1 – The leading edge technique on a new neck Since Gene Baker is covering the process of building a guitar, I thought I would contribute some pointers

Tooling Around
Photo 1 – The leading edge technique on a new neck
Since Gene Baker is covering the process of building a guitar, I thought I would contribute some pointers on working with hand tools. Using hand tools – a jackplane, for example – has numerous benefits:

  • They may be all you have room for, or can afford, if you’re just starting out.
  • They give you a really intimate, organic understanding of the structure and behavior of wood fibers – which can give you experience to help you avoid large-scale errors (such as tearing
  • For some tasks, there is simply no better tool than the one you have in your hand
The one tool that is in my hand the most is a cabinet scraper. A scraper is a flexible rectangular sheet of tool steel; I prefer a thicker one and it is indispensable for the final shaping of necks, fingerboards and body sides. I also use it to scrape down the first group of clearcoats before the final spray coat – and I use it again after that prior to wet sanding. You should try using a scraper instead of rasping or sanding because it gives you much better spot control and doesn’t leave deep scratches.

Wood magazines and books will give you instructions on using and sharpening a scraper, and it’s good advice for general woodworking. However I usually stop at “stoning,” and don’t proceed with “turning the hook” or “burnishing.” The scraper requires stoning pretty frequently when I use it, but it has only taken seven years to wear away over an inch of metal. I think the hardness of my materials and the technique I use depend more on a fine square edge than a burnished hook. The technique involves pushing or pulling the scraper nearly flat across the surface, using the leading edge to get a very fine, continuous shaving cut. A hooked edge – the traditional scraper edge – won’t cut in that direction. It will if you stand the scraper higher on its trailing edge to hog away more material, but I use a separate tool for that kind of carving.

Tooling Around
Photo 2 – The leading edge technique on a new clearcoat finish
The first photo shows the leading edge technique on a new neck, after rough shaping. Push or pull diagonally to gently shear down high or irregular areas. Try this with just a slight flex in the scraper and scrape at an angle to the grain going around the curve. If you start to gouge the grain, stop and go over the gouge from a different direction, or sand the gouge out. I routinely alternate this technique with sanding (100 or 120 grit with a concave block) when doing the final taper and rounding, and frequently check my progress with a straightedge.

The second photo shows the same technique on a clearcoat finish. This won’t work well on softer coatings like nitro, as it tends to grab and pull the paint off, but on hard stuff like polyester it is a great way to level runs, edge build, orange peel and drop fills without having to worry about sanding through.

It is essential to use both hands when scraping like this – you can’t control the tool with only one hand. So you need to find a way to hold your work firmly… perhaps in a future column!

Jeffrey Earle T.
Jeffrey Earle T. handbuilds JET Guitars in North Carolina, USA.